The trio of The Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack take a short pit-stop in Cardiff as a chance to recharge the TARDIS. Mickey joins them at Rose’s request, but the reappearance of a lone surviving member of the Slitheen Family suggests that perhaps their arrival wasn’t the huge coincidence they thought it was!
Following the events of The Doctor Dances, it seems that the Ninth Doctor has been off on a roll. He’s in a delighted state of mind as the episode opens, happily bantering back and forth with Rose and Jack in the TARDIS. He’s also patching up the inside of the ship, which through the rest of the series becomes something he does whenever he’s feeling particularly at ease. When he has people around he likes and trusts, he feels home, and so he’s happy to do upkeep on the ship that serves as his actual home. It’s almost like the TARDIS is his wife, and he doesn’t want to introduce her properly to people until he’s sure of them… but I’m sure we’ll get to that later.
It turns out that when the Doctor is happy, the whole series brightens up. He’s been slowly loosening himself up and is in this transitional place where he has a celebratory mood but isn’t a regeneration naturally given over to celebration. He’s been so cautious and wary, and prone to anger through the series so far – you could suggest that when the War Doctor regenerated, his battle had finished. He tried to regenerate into someone who could be “the Doctor” again, but he struggled to get the whole way there. The Ninth Doctor can enjoy his victories, but he remembers the cost of them and there’s always that reflection in the back of his eye.
When he picks up a newspaper that shows Margaret on the front, it’s played as a fun moment which’ll be good in the trailer. But it’s also subtle vindication for the fact that the Doctor is always going to be one foot away from stepping into huge trouble. He’s had several victories in a row, it sounds like, and his friends have all formed into a tight knit unit – he’s even happy to welcome Mickey into the fold for a bit, which shows how he’s changed over the series. As he crests his greatest moment, though, we now start to see how that ever-continuing journey of his has to lead to an eventual downfall somewhere. His past victories are returning. This week it’s the Slitheen, and in a sense Mickey (who has still not warmed to the Doctor, unsurprisingly) and next week it’ll be greater enemies still.
Having said that, the Doctor is in control for the majority of the episode, with a fairly handy capture of Margaret early on. Their dynamic is mainly of captive and captor, with the Doctor saying he’s going to hand her back to face justice on her home planet, even though she claims that means she’ll face a death penalty. He’s firm on this – and weirdly, the three others onboard are all in agreement, which seems a little callous of them. So it’s up to Margaret to plead her own case, using the form of the woman she killed even before the season started.
The conversation between the two is the centrepiece of a contained and controlled overall episode, and has been written up several times. You can see why. The Doctor started the series alone while Margaret had her family around her, and now things are reversed. Both are essentially lone survivors of their recent battles, and find themselves trying to work out who they are and what they should do next. The Doctor thinks he knows – have fun adventures round the galaxy – but his meeting with Margaret sours it a little whilst she’s onboard. Eventually she looks into the heart of the TARDIS and magically regresses, which is super-convenient for the story, but while she’s around the Doctor slowly grows less confident of himself.
At the start of the meeting he has everything in hand, and casually stops her repeated attempts to murder him. As her conversation goes on, though, and she pleads her case, you can see him cracking. The Doctor he wants to think that he’s becoming would a find some other way to save her, but the Doctor he feels he is and has been is sterner and harder. He’s just been through a war, and in war you have to have a solid sense of what you consider to be justice simply in order to keep yourself sane. His story in this episode is of working out who he is, who he can be, and if there is a natural way for him to develop between the two. He can, is what we’re offered, but the return of Mickey (and dissolution of Mickey and Rose’s relationship, which has barely functioned onscreen anyway) is another small reminder that he won’t be able to control everything forever.
Rose and Mickey’s story in the episode doesn’t function once they split off from the rest of the group and have their own conversation, but you can see it as fitting into the Doctor’s overall story at this point, which is my main concern this close to the end of the first series. The Doctor and Mickey had established a truce of sorts, just as the Doctor had previously defeated the Slitheen. The Slitheen come back in a slightly different way here, and so does Mickey – he’s pissed off, and barely repressing his rage. He is upset about Rose in an understandable way, because from his perspective they were happy and she ran away for no apparent reason.
If you watch the first episode, you can of course see that Rose is fairly bored with her life, and wants something else, though. Mickey is too self-centred to have noticed that, though, and his attempts in this episode are firstly to try and make her jealous before then going off at her in a pretty strong display of his own privilege. Ultimately they break up, and he walks off without attempting to be amicable about it. Rose returns to the TARDIS, the big problem is solved, and the Doctor is happy. Then he realises something has happened with Mickey.
He puts on a big smile, exchanges a quick glance with Jack (who is a brilliant foil in this episode for the other characters), and flips the switch for their next adventure. But he’s a little rattled now. Things are going on. His old foes weren’t as defeated as he thought, his friends are struggling, and there’s this weird phrase “Bad Wolf” following him everywhere. Those doubts are doing to start building up now. We’re heading towards scary new ground.
Doctor Who Series 1 Episode 11: Boom Town
Written by Russell T. Davies
Directed by Joe Ahearne