BOOMTOWN– 4th June.
Written by Russell T. Davies.
Review and Commetary by Andrew Panero
A low key episode this week, very much an interlude in the series between the dramatic high of last week and what promises to be a spectacular concluding two parter starting next week.
This story allows Russell T. Davies to excel at his characterisation, as we are once again confronted with the moral problems associated with the Doctor’s travels through time. Mickey returns to find his girl friend not just travelling with the Doctor but yet another man- the preternaturally handsome Captain Jack. We learn of other adventures in the TARDIS as well as Rose refers to visiting other planets with the Doctor, which is something she has yet to do in this series.
The fact that the TARDIS has been far and wide since we last saw it is reinforced by the fact that the Doctor has parked it in Cardiff in order for it to refuel. Here RTD makes good use of the continuity already established within the new series; the time rift which formed in Cardiff in 1869 (see ‘The Unquiet Dead) has left a residual ‘scar’ that the TARDIS draws energy from. This also serves as a useful plot device in that it means the crew of the ship are forced to stay in one place for at day whilst it refuels. Time enough to sniff out the rogue Slitheen who survived World War Three.
The presence of the Slitheen and the proposal to build a nuclear power plant in the centre of Cardiff were prominent in the trailers for this show. This turns out to be a nice bit of distraction by the producers as it leaves the audience with the expectation that this is going to be another run around save the world type romp that the first Slitheen story was. Instead we have a more thoughtful study of morality, retribution and redemption. Annette Badland practically steals the show as ‘Margaret’ the one surviving Slitheen who is defeated by the Doctor and faces death on return to her home world. Here the device of making the TARDIS wait around whilst she charges up is put to good use. For the TARDIS crew and the Doctor are forced to have to deal with the consequences of Margaret’s capture in a way that they wouldn’t be if they could leave straight away. With her life in the balance she will of course do all she can to plead her case for mercy.
The subplot involving the nuclear power station does have one more useful purpose, for the name of the project is Blaidd Drwg, Welsh for ‘Bad Wolf’. For the first time the presence of these two words ‘following us around the universe’ is acknowledged by the Doctor and Rose. However the Doctor quickly dismisses the idea as just a trick of the mind, an unconscious mechanism where you notice something that would otherwise appear to be random and see a pattern. (This works much better on the screen, believe me!)
One really feels for poor Mickey in this episode, for we already know from Father’s Day that Rose was indelibly imprinted on his psyche when he was still a young boy. Therefore when Rose rings him from Cardiff to tell him that she needs her passport and can he bring it up for her, of course he comes running to see her. We see the TARDIS crew very much from his point of view- very much a scene he cannot get into- a bunch of self-serving hedonists on an eternal jolly. Even when they involve him in the capture of Margaret he cannot get it right, whilst Captain Jack athletically vaults over obstacles Mickey runs straight into them and ends up with a bucket on his foot.
One compensation in all this for him is that Rose didn’t really need her passport and obviously wanted to see him. So whilst the others guard Margaret they slip away for a romantic evening, anxiously watched by the Doctor in the TARDIS.
Meanwhile Margaret, sensing the tension in the air, pointedly observes that the Doctor isn’t used to hanging around and that he is probably the first to leave the scene. ‘You butchered my family and ran off to the stars, is that right?’
Despite himself the Doctor is drawn into conversation with her and she persuades him to grant her one last request- dinner in her human form. Reluctantly the Doctor agrees, but only when Jack produces an advanced set of handcuffs that will electrocute her if she gets more than ten feet away.
A lot of fans have been very derogatory about RTD’s writing for this season. I think the problem is that the writing on the other stories has generally been so good that he has seemed pretty banal in comparison. His strengths have generally been in the character based drama, some fans have suggested he should write soap, which I think is being unfair. In this episode we have less of the slap-stick puerile humour that was so irritating in the Aliens of London/ World War Three, the focus being on the consequences for the Doctor and Rose of their travels through time. For the Doctor this involves a surreal dinner with the condemned ‘prisoner’, for Rose it is the realisation of what effect her travels have had on Mickey.
The best writing is in the scenes between the Doctor and Margaret, who swings between being coldly manipulative and pleading for her life. The Doctor is for the most part unimpressed, knowing that if he lets her go she will kill again, at the same time you can see how difficult this dinner is being for him. The Slitheen family are all under sentence of death on their home world; as soon as Margaret sets foot there she will be executed in a vat of vinegar, boiled away into a living soup. The Doctor insists that he didn’t make the law on her home planet, that it isn’t his problem and that he can’t let her go. Margaret pleads that her life was shaped by her family, that as a young Slitheen she had no choice but to join in with their murderous ways.
Meanwhile Rose is busy telling Mickey all about her off-screen adventures with the Doctor; he chooses this moment to tell her that he is now dating one of the girls from the shop where she used to work. Rose is cut to the quick by this news (nice bit of acting from Ms Piper) and they end up in an argument about this girl who Rose sees as a bad match for him. For Mickey it’s a double tragedy, because just when he is getting on with his life Rose pops back into it and throws everything into turmoil. He is quite simply desperately in love with her and just wishes that she could choose to come back of her own accord. Fortunately for Rose she doesn’t have to answer Mickey because at that moment all hell breaks loose.
There had to be a dramatic climax somewhere and this one is neatly provided by the device that the Doctor took from Margaret earlier on, a kind of cosmic surf board that she was hoping to use to ride the energy waves of the rift to escape Earth. She had planned to use the energy released by the meltdown of a nuclear reactor to open up the rift, that was before the Doctor came along with his TARDIS, a pretty phenomenal energy source in itself. Now her surfboard is draining energy from the TARDIS, using that to open up the rift.
I love the way that we are kept in a state of ambivalence about Margaret all the way through this episode, for at this moment she seems to revert to form, at least partially. With Cardiff crumbling around them, everyone bar Mickey returns to the TARDIS, which is shooting a fountain of energy into the time rift. As Rose enters the TARDIS Margaret grabs her with her Slitheen arm. The Doctor has been outwitted, trapped by his own ‘Magpie nature’ as Margaret puts it, for it was his idea to rig up the surfboard device to the TARDIS in the first place. Now Margaret believes she can escape, probably destroying the Earth in the process (what was that I said about this not being a run around romp where they end up saving the Earth? Opps!)
This time it is the TARDIS that saves the day, by opening up and exposing Margaret to its full power. The Doctor had already explained to Rose how the TARDIS could get inside her mind in ‘The End of the World’ and here it gets inside Margaret (or Blong Slitheen as her real name is). There it is able to read her deepest desires and grant her what she really wants, which is to be given another chance. So the TARDIS regresses her to an egg stage in her development and the Doctor is able to shut down the power and stop the rift tearing the world apart. With Margaret now an egg the Doctor can return her to her home world’s hatcheries where another family will bring her up.
All in all, a very neat ending for all concerned, with the exception of Mickey and Rose who are left with unfinished business. Certainly a good outcome for RTD, who puts in his best work since the very good ‘End of the World’. This is encouraging, as I believe he is to write the last two shows of the season.