Doctor Who Discussions: Season 1 – Boom Town

The most underrated episode of Season 1.

Boom Town
Boom Town

Boom Town, nestled in between the excellent Second World War two-parter and the deeply satisfying conclusion of Season 1, is an episode that almost didn’t exist. It was added to the season at the last minute when another script fell through. Russell T Davies decided another episode featuring Annette Badland, last seen in her true Slitheen skin in Downing Street just before it exploded, was the order of the day. And what an excellent decision that was on his part.

Boom Town is, in my humble opinion, not only the most underrated episode of Season 1, but also one of the most underrated episodes of all of New Who. Annette Badland is the standout guest star of the season – yes, even more than Penelope Wilton, Simon Callow or Richard Wilson and, although it pains me to say so, even more than Zoë Wanamaker’s Cassandra (my beloved). Badland goes toe to toe with Eccleston in this episode and it says a lot that one of the most absolutely compelling scenes in Eccleston’s whole run is the two of them at a table in a little restaurant on Cardiff Bay, discussing morality.

Before we get there though, what is the episode actually about? Well, the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack have landed in present-day Cardiff and parked the TARDIS on top of the rift to charge it up. Basically, it’s a petrol run. Mickey turns up to visit them and they spend a lovely afternoon in a café until the Doctor spots Margaret Blaine, aka Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen, on the cover of the local paper. She’s the mayor of Cardiff now, and it doesn’t take long for Team TARDIS to uncover her true motive for wanting a nuclear power station right in the middle of the city; she’s going to blow it up and ride the wave back into the stars. The Doctor takes her prisoner and declares he will return her to her home planet. But all that awaits Margaret there is a death sentence, and the Doctor has to wrestle with the moral dilemma of that.

Boom Town is simple. Aside from the Doctor and Margaret’s posturing, the only other storyline is Rose and Mickey having it out over their relationship, with Mickey sharing some home truths about how Rose’s abandonment of him affected him. I really feel for Mickey, generally, and although the way that they tease him in this episode is definitely friendlier than it has been before, he’s still right when he finds the three of them super annoying. I’d be annoyed by them. One of my few criticisms of Season 1 is that the way Mickey is treated doesn’t always land as I believe Davies intended it to, but at least by Boom Town things are improving.

Anyway, back to the Doctor and Margaret, and that restaurant scene. Margaret asks if she is allowed a last request, and when the Doctor grants it, they go to her favourite eatery for dinner. There’s some light comedy where Margaret tries three times – a bit half-heartedly – to kill the Doctor before they’ve even had their starter, and then they settle down for the confrontation. Their conversation is an intricate dance and also a perfectly frank one; the Doctor is resolute in his decision to take Margaret back to her home world. She wheedles, tries to explain she’s changed, and he tells her that letting one person go doesn’t mean she has changed. Margaret changes tack and calls him out on his whole deal – the way that he turns up, makes choices and leaves. You might as well be a god, she says, and the Doctor has no answer to that.

This Doctor, so freshly scarred from the reality of his choices in the Time War, is the only one who could have sat down and had a conversation so open and honest with an alien who really has him figured out. I can’t for a moment imagine the Tenth Doctor tolerating this, or the Eleventh. Maybe by the time we get to the Twelfth, he might be ready for it, but this is such a Ninth Doctor episode that it really could only be him.

Eccleston and Badland are as perfectly matched as their characters; both of them are actors capable of finding traces of humour in the bleakest dialogue, as well as being terrifyingly intense when they want to be. The two of them spitting the usual excellent RTD dialogue at one another is really something, and makes this episode.

Of course, in the end, the Doctor doesn’t have to make the moral decision over Margaret’s fate. She has been covering herself all along with a tricksy Plan B for escape. But it isn’t his fault that she tricked them. For what it’s worth, I think that the Doctor would have let her go anyway. This is not the Tenth Doctor, with his slightly too frequent bouts of megalomania; Nine is deeply sensitive, more than he lets on, and he knows more than anyone the value of a second chance.

With the conclusion of Boom Town, we are on the way back to Satellite One and the excellent finale of the season. And it’s almost time to say goodbye to Nine – sob.

READ NEXT: Doctor Who Discussions: Season 1 – The Doctor Dances 

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