[2005, Season 27/Series 1, Episode 11]
The setting: Cardiff, modern days. The plot: return of the Slitheen.
Yeah. I could not be more unenthused. But within 10 minutes, I was totally won over, and except for the anticlimactic ending, I think Boom Town is a strong, undervalued story that gives a refreshingly low-key and mostly light-hearted reprive from the darkness and epicness of the surrounding episodes.
At the beginning, we get to see The Doctor, Rose, and Jack, visiting with Mickey, and it’s a joy to watch them all together. The earlier three make a terrific team, and seem like they’ve been travelling together for years (and perhaps they have…). It’s too bad we don’t get to actually, you know, see all those wonderful adventures in time and space, instead having a fourth of the season centered on the Slitheen, but hey, at least it’s fun here. The more screen time Noel Clarke gets as Mickey, the more likable the character gets, and the better RTD gets at writing him. All the stuff with these four interacting is just wonderful.
Annette Badland returns as the only survivor of the Slitheen, and she’s even better than the was before, making the creature both sympathetic and deeply, deeply evil. She’s also hysterically funny; her explanation for all the mysterious deaths is hilarious. And since she’s only out of the “human costume” and in the rubber suit briefly (and the fart jokes are subtle and restrained to the opening scenes), you get the full force of a great character.
The first section of the story is fun, but the mid-section is the highlight. The Doctor insists on bringing her back to her home planet of Raxacoricofallapatorious to be tried by her own people. But she argues (very persuasively) that by bringing her for trial, he’s condemning her to her own death, and in doing so, is murdering her. She’s wrong, of course, but it’s a point she makes very well. The verbal and psychological duel between the two is fascinating (and made more fun by her constant attempts to kill him and the Doctor casually thwarts all of them):
Margaret: Public execution’s a slow death. They prepare a thin acetic acid, lower me into the cauldron, and boil me. The acidity is perfectly gauged to strip away the skin. Internal organs fall out into the liquid. And I become soup. And still alive. Still screaming.
Doctor: I don’t make the law.
Margaret: But you deliver it.
Margaret: I promise you, I’ve changed since we last met, Doctor. There was this girl, just today, young thing, something of a danger. She was getting too close. I felt the blood-lust rising, and just as the family taught me, I was going to kill without a thought… and then, I stopped. She’s alive somewhere, right now, she’s walking around this city because I can change, I did change. I know I can’t prove it…
Doctor: I believe you.
Margaret: Then you know I’m capable of better!
Doctor: It doesn’t mean anything.
Margaret: I spared her life.
Doctor: You let one of them go, but that’s nothing new. Every now and then, a little victim spared. Because she smiled, ‘cause he’s got freckles, ‘cause they begged. And that’s how you live with yourself. That’s how you slaughter millions. Because once in a while, on a whim, if the wind’s in the right direction, you happen to be kind.
Margaret: Only a killer would know that.
This is terrific stuff. You can see her manipulations starting to crack him just a little, even though he knows he’s being manipulated and is right. He’s not going to give in, but it’s difficult. It’s great drama.
And then… and then the climax happens, and instead of getting to see whether the Doctor would truly go through with the justice or give unearned and dangerous mercy, it turns out she was just playing for time, and there’s a bit crisis and special effects and this scene:
|Yes, that's a 55-year-old woman in heels on an intergalactic surfboard.|
And it all goes for nothing. Yes, Joe Ahearne executes all the effects and action very well, but it’s a cop-out, leading to a ho-hum monologuing villain bit and a senseless Deus ex Machina that does pay off in a couple of episodes, but which tramples all the build-up in the story. It makes that entire dinner conversation totally pointless. What a rip-off.
That climax is bad. Really, really bad. It's difficult to believe that the writer responsible for such a brilliant scene as the dinner sequence is also responsible for such an awful finale.
It’s frustrating, because until the last 10 minutes, it’s really, really good, full of strong character work, great dialogue, and thoughtful moral dilemmas, and totally excuses wasting yet another episode on a modern-day Earthbound story. I like it a lot, and find the solid execution of the finale at least a minor consolation. But still, there’s a great episode here that gets away because RTD is afraid to stick through to the end.
* * *
· You know what would really would have improved this season? Collapse Aliens of London and World War III into one episode, and then use the leftover budget to give us a 45-minute off-world adventure with Nine, Rose, and Jack. Even if it had to be done on a restricted budget, it would have added immensely to the show.
· The relationship between Rose and Mickey is superbly written here, and Piper and Clarke perform it beautifully.
· I want to note one more time how great Joe Ahearne’s direction is. This was a low-budget episode, but he frames everything so well and gives it enough energy that it doesn’t feel it at all.