"Oh, just little me..."

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What a shame.

There are pieces of a really good episode in here. But add it all together, and it's so much less than the sum of its parts. Boom Town just doesn't work.

Shall we start with the good stuff? (That makes us seem less bitchy.) Annette Badland didn't get much of a chance to shine amongst all the comedy farting in Aliens Of London/World War Three, but when the opportunity was there, she grabbed it and ran with it. We were seriously impressed, particularly with the venomous way she spat "Doctorrrr..." She's back again as Margaret Slitheen in Boom Town, and her performance is a total knockout. There aren't many actors who could make a baby-faced alien sobbing on a toilet touching rather than hilarious, but she manages it. (The guy actually in the suit's not bad, either.) While the humour in this episode isn't exactly likely to make you sprain your rib muscles ("It was a very icy patch"? Puh-leeze), she wrings every ounce of comedy out of it (we particularly liked her delivery of "Dinner in bondage? Works for me!"). And she effortlessly edges the character with both menace and sincerity, bringing it truly alive. It's one of the best performances we've ever seen in Doctor Who.

No surprise, then, that the best scene has her in it. The Doctor's restaurant discussion with her about the morality of sending her home to face a death sentence is a stunning piece of writing: his riff about killers convincing themselves they're actually okay because they spare the odd victim is one of this Doctor's most powerful moments. Christopher Eccleston is always at his best with the gritty stuff, and here he excels himself. Two actors at the top of their game, coupled with stellar writing: it's got to be one of the best scenes in the entire series.

Direction, too, is terrific. It's obviously a show with budget starvation, but Joe Ahearne's wonderful use of the prettier parts of Cardiff, together with superb framing and lighting, means that the show doesn't suffer at all as a result. As well, the episode's low key gave it a quietness we really enjoyed: we don't think we've ever seen anything quite like it in Doctor Who before. A chance to rummage around in a villain's personality beats out insane ranting any day in our book.

Good stuff. Scrumpled up into a little ball and chucked away. Because put it together, and it doesn't make a particle of sense.

It's been six months, right? Six months, in which a runaway Slitheen who at least one person (Harriet Jones) knows by sight has managed to get herself elected as mayor of Cardiff and commission a self-destructing nuclear power station, involving demolishing Cardiff Castle, all without anyone noticing, objecting, or ever taking her photograph. (A publicity-shy politician? Well, this is science fiction.) Er... Yeah, we heard the Welsh in-joke about nobody in London caring about Wales, but come on. And not only does she have a fiendish plan as above, but she has a fiendish back-up plan. Ooh, organised. (Not so organised, however, that she thinks to put her super-extra-special alien tech that's her surfboard out of here somewhere where nobody can nick off with it, but hey, whatever.)

So far, so improbable. But compared with what happens next, that's almost forgivable. Our brave heroes show up, play spot the Slitheen and hustle her off to the TARDIS. Mucho BAFTA-winning deep stuff about hands soaking in blood follows, then Ms Slitheen persuades the Doctor to take her out for a bite to eat. Aha! But she might escape! No worries there, as the doughty Captain Jack produces some handcuffs (and where they've been we'd rather not imagine). The dinner date proceeds nicely: alternating with assassination attempts, Blon begs for her life, and just as we're starting to feel sorry for her the Doctor points out she's a stone-cold killer. Bloody but unbowed, she makes a heartfelt plea for redemption.

Like we said, great scene. Moving. Real. Profound. But in context, totally stupid. Remember the fiendish backup plan? It depends on the surfboard being harnessed to some alien tech - no problems there, of course, since ever so luckily the TARDIS crew have just so happened to do that very thing. (We're not even going to comment on the utter utter idiocy of a pandimensional surfboard. See us not commenting?) However, for the plan to work, Blon Slitheen has to be hanging ten when the rift's powered up the surfboard. So. Why does she ask to go out to dinner, thereby leaving the TARDIS? Why does she try and kill the Doctor, given that if she does she is going to have to stay next to his corpse, a long way from the TARDIS, not to mention that it'll be a lot easier for her to get back into the TARDIS with the Doctor than without him? Most important of all, why all the philosophy and begging when she knows perfectly well that soon she'll be surfing out of there? Not only is all of it pointless plotwise, but it kills characterisation as well. Forget all that deep introspection into a villain's personality that was so interesting, because she's lying through her (dead) teeth. It's all a complete waste of time.

And that's not all. At least the questioning of the Doctor's morality was worthwhile, right? Wrong. Because after we spend the entire episode holding our breaths to see which way he's going to jump, Slitheen-slaughtering-wise, along comes a deus ex machina ending that neatly gets the Doctor off the hook. Grrr! For an episode so heavy-handedly about consequences, it's maddening that neither the Doctor nor Rose have to make any kind of decision. If the actions of the lead characters aren't going to make any difference to what matters in the story's ending, why bother with any of the rest of it at all? The TARDIS crew could have sat around playing tiddlywinks or popped out for a pizza for all the difference it made.

And what about those consequences, anyway? It's pretty clear Russell T Davies thinks he's ploughing novel ground with this territory, but he's only partially right about that. Seeing the consequences of the Doctor's actions is hardly original: we've seen it in The Ark and we've seen it in Face of Evil, both times more interestingly handled than here, since we actually saw the consequences rather than hearing people yap about them. Come to that, we've seen rebirth as a second chance before too, since that's what happens to Pangol in The Leisure Hive, and they did the "I'm tortured, probe me" villain in Dalek. As for the Doctor leaving a trail of destruction in his wake, we're unconvinced. Sure, it must happen sometimes (*cough*greatfireoflondon*cough*), but the Doctor sets out to help people, not harm them, and we find it hard to believe that it would backfire as often as that - hasty departures notwithstanding. That's not the Doctor we've known before, and enjoyably angsty though it may be to contemplate it, we don't think it's this Doctor either.

As for Rose and Mickey, it's certainly true than in examining the effects of a companion's departure on her nearest/dearest Russell T Davies is boldly going, etc. In Rose, Mickey's character's an unlikeable mess, but he's improved so much over the course of the series that here he's one of the highlights. Noel Clarke's performance is great throughout, but the standout is the "You left me!" speech, which could so easily have seemed whiny but instead is genuinely and touchingly anguished. He shows a lot of maturity, too, in working with the others even though the Doctor insults him and the entire TARDIS crew excludes him with their in-crowd high-fiving.

He certainly comes out of things a whole lot better than Rose. Rose is half in love with the Doctor (God help her), half in love with Jack (God help us) and can't help flirting with any man in her vicinity: she clearly doesn't give a toss about Mickey. Nevertheless, she wants him around to worship her in a puppy-like manner on command and so she can show off to him - the rest of the time, it's out of galaxy, out of mind. Not only doesn't she have the guts to let him go so he can rebuild his life without her, she can't even resist making a snarky remark about his new girlfriend's weight. Charming. As with the Doctor, it's deeply annoying when Cardiff exploding gets her out of responding to Mickey. It's a great moment when Mickey leaves without speaking to her, and her grief is no more than she deserves.

Apart from the whole complete-waste-of-time aspect (and that's a big apart), it's a great story for the Doctor. He's best when he's serious, and he's way serious here. John Barrowman's performance is fine, but it's a thankless task: Captain Jack seems totally grafted on to this story. He could be removed without it making any difference whatsoever, and then we wouldn't have to put up with that godawful banter. (Hmm, banter in which the Doctor implies he's sexually available to a male companion. Proof of our Mary Sue theory or what? And what's with Jack's hair? He looks as if he's had an unfortunate encounter with an unearthed electrical appliance.) Put everyone together, though, and it hits a low point. Russell T Davies couldn't possibly like Buffy more than we do, but nevertheless, we hate the Scooby Gang scenes. All that high-fiving and restaurant hilarity is infused with a horrifically fakey manicness that sets our teeth on edge. Please, stop making Chris Eccleston and Billie Piper do comedy. It's just cruel.

Some really good stuff, utterly wasted. We could cry.

MORAL: In Wales, anyone can get elected.



Our hearts sank when it became clear it was going to be a Slitheen story, but it's a great reverse when Margaret lets the reporter go.


It's a nice touch when Margaret neatly hangs her skinsuit up on a hook.


That just-the-right-side-of-Benny-Hill chase sequence is brilliantly done. Genuinely funny for once, probably because it didn't involve leaden banter.


When Rose says she can't believe they actually get to go to the Slitheen home planet, all we could think was "Amen, sister". And those stories about the places they'd been were even more annoying. Please! Get us away from Earth! We're stir-crazy!


"Nicely done. Thank you, all." We're supposed to believe the Doctor said that? We're supposed to believe anyone said that?

Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK Buy Doctor Who DVD at US: DVD not available

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Buy first and second seasons box set: UK: box set not available   US Buy Doctor Who DVD at

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