Sunday, 2 October 2016

Story 165 - Boom Town

In which the Doctor takes the TARDIS to Cardiff, so that the ship can refuel. It materialises in the Bay area, in Roald Dahl Plas. Here it will be able to soak up energy from the temporal rift which runs through the city - the same phenomenon which the Gelth had tried to exploit. Rose asks Mickey to come and visit them, claiming she needs her passport. He and Captain Jack do not hit it off straight away. They all go to a cafe for breakfast, as the ship will need 24 hours to refuel. The Doctor spots a copy of the local newspaper, and is shocked to see that Margaret Blaine - Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer Day Slitheen, in other words - has become the city's new Mayor. She has initiated a new scheme to build a nuclear power station in the heart of the city - the Blaidd Drwg Project. Everyone who has threatened this project has so far met with an often bizarre fatal accident.

The Doctor and his companions go to the City Hall. On hearing that the Doctor would like to see her, Margaret tries to escape. her teleport is over-ridden by the Doctor's sonic screwdriver, and she is captured. Studying the model of the proposed power plant scheme, they discover that it hides a piece of alien technology - a tribophysical wave-form macro-kinetic extrapolator. With enough energy, this can be used as a travel device to transport its user half way across the galaxy. The Doctor notices the name of the project. Blaidd Drwg is Welsh for Bad Wolf. He points out to Rose that this phrase seems to have been haunting their recent travels. He dismisses it as coincidence, and they take Margaret to the TARDIS. The Doctor and Jack realise that the nuclear power station has been designed to fail catastrophically. Margaret was planning to harness this massive release of energy to use the extrapolator to get her off the Earth. The Doctor plans to take Margaret back to Raxacoricofallapatorius, to be judged by her own people. She tells him that her whole family were declared criminals in absentia, and she will face an automatic death sentence on her return home.

The TARDIS will not be ready to leave until morning. Jack starts experimenting with the extrapolator, whilst Rose and Mickey go for a meal. The Doctor offers to take Margaret to a restaurant. She first of all tries to kill him, but the Doctor has read up on Slitheen habits and biology. She informs him that her death will not be a quick one, but the Doctor is unmoved. She is talking to him from the mouth of a woman she killed, and her family had almost destroyed the planet. The extrapolator suddenly comes to life, and begins to tear open the Rift. Everyone hurries back to the TARDIS where Margaret reveals that the extrapolator was a trap. She knew anyone finding it would activate it and so open the Rift. As the city is threatened with destruction, the TARDIS console suddenyl opens of its own accord. A blinding light emerges. The Doctor encourages Margaret to look into the heart of the ship. She vanishes. The console - and the Rift - close. They discover that Margaret has been regressed to her egg stage. Mickey has tried to get back together with Rose, but he now knows that this will never happen, and so wanders off into the night. The Doctor decides to take the egg back to Raxacoricofallapatorius, to be left with another family. Under a different upbringing, she now has a second chance.

Boom Town was written by Russell T Davies, and was first broadcast on Saturday 4th June, 2005. The eleventh episode slot, in Davies' original plan for the season, was to have been a story with a different town going boom - namely Pompeii. As it was, this was now to be a cheaper episode, with fewer CGI needs. Davies had felt that Annette Badland had been somewhat underused in the Aliens of London two-parter, and had sounded her out for a return visit. Her Slitheen version would only be seen briefly, and this would be augmented with some CGI to make the face more animated.
Davies had also wanted to show off the programme's new home - which was also his own adopted home. He lived in a flat overlooking Cardiff Bay where the story would be filmed.

There is a lot of humour in the story - mainly down to the interplay between Margaret and the Doctor. There are farcical elements to their diner date, as well as her attempts to evade capture earlier on. Underlying this are some serious themes, however. The Doctor reminds his companions - and the audience - that the TARDIS looks like a Police Box, which could sometimes be used to incarcerate prisoners. The ship fulfills that role with the captive Slitheen. The Doctor is challenged about always leaving before facing the consequences of his actions, but Margaret forces him to think about this when she points out that he will be taking her to her death. Elsewhere, the issue of those left behind when someone travels with the Doctor is revisited, as we find out what Mickey has been up to since Rose last left the Powell Estate. He finally accepts that he can never compete with the lifestyle she enjoys with the Doctor. His initial antipathy towards Jack is as much about jealousy as his dislike for his brashness.
Story Arc items: 

  • Blaidd Drwg being Welsh for Bad Wolf. This time the Doctor actually notices the phrase, only to apparently dismiss it as coincidence.
  • The story is a sequel to Aliens of London / World War Three
  • It also sees mention of The Unquiet Dead, as this is the Rift which the Gelth were using.
  • In hindsight, we know that the Torchwood Hub is built directly beneath the Plas. The spot where the TARDIS parks will retain its camouflage traces, and a lift from the Hub to street level will emerge here.
  • The TARDIS will park here for refueling once again in Series 3, which will tie in with the finale of Torchwood's first season.

Overall, what at first appears a slight, inconsequential adventure has a lot of serious things to say. Annette Badland is superb. You almost feel sorry for a Slitheen. Murray Gold provides a beautiful suite of music, which you can't help but think of if you ever visit Cardiff bay. Voted a lowly 179th in the DWM 50th Anniversary poll - undeservedly I think.
Things you might like to know:
  • As well as Annette Badland, there are just two other significant guest artists. One is Mali Harries, who plays Cathy, a journalist who is spared by Margaret as she is pregnant. The other is William Thomas, who plays the doomed Mr Carver - yet another expert who has spotted design flaws in Margaret's power station. Thomas becomes the first actor to have appeared in both the Classic Series and the New version. He was the undertaker in Remembrance of the Daleks. We will see him again soon as Gwen Cooper's father in the second and fourth series of Torchwood.
  • The Doctor Who Experience runs regular location tours, and these take in much of what you see in this story. Save your money and do your own tour. Everything's within a short distance, other than the City Hall - which you would be visiting on a day trip anyway as it is next door to the National Museum of Wales, which doubles for all the museums which you see in other episodes of Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures.
  • The fountain of the metal water tower next to where the TARDIS is parked is designed to switch off if the temperature falls too low. This happened on the nights they were filming, and the local council had to turn it on again specially.
  • What is it with the TARDIS needing to refuel? This has never been mentioned before. It has always been implied that the TARDIS has unlimited power. Some later stories say the same. Edge of Destruction had mentioned calamity if the console opened up, but other stories have seen the old console dismantled.
  • The Doctor is determined to take Margaret back to her home planet. In the past, however, he has been willing to take alien criminals to uninhabited worlds.
  • This story sees the first mention that the Doctor and Rose have had unseen adventures - the visit to Woman Wept for instance. Justicia is also mentioned - setting for one of the first of the Ninth Doctor novels.
  • Tribophysics was previously mentioned by Sarah Jane Smith in Pyramids of Mars. It has something to do with friction, apparently.
  • After asking the Doctor to give her some "Spock" in the last story, here Rose describes the Chameleon Circuit as a sort of "cloaking device". The Doctor is quick to correct her, though his Eighth incarnation seemed okay with the phrase.
  • Little did we know it at the time, but there are actually three Captain Jacks around at the same time in this story. Presumably the one that runs Torchwood 3 is out of town with his team when the TARDIS arrives - probably deliberately so Jack can avoid any nastiness with the Blinovitch Limitation Effect. However, there is still the third version in cryogenic suspension in the Hub from the finale to Series 2 of Torchwood.
  • The little office where Ianto Jones sometimes works will have a copy of that Western Mail front page from the top of this post hanging up, at least until the Hub gets blown up in Torchwood Series 3.
  • This story was made in a recording block of its own. It was recorded between The Long Game and the two part series finale.
  • The synopsis when released mentioned a returning character, and everyone at the time assumed it was someone from the Classic Series.
  • As it was broadcast, media and bookmaker speculation about who or what Bad Wolf might be was at fever pitch. For some reason Adam Mitchell was quite a popular notion - out to get revenge, but the reference to a wolf also saw the return of Fenric gaining a lot of support. Once the "Next Time" teaser at the end of this episode had been shown - telling us the Daleks were back - Davros became a favourite. No story arc has gripped the wider media than this first one.

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