[Review written for Gallifrey One: 2005]
Boom Town" was possibly more aptly named than intended.
Stories by Russell T Davies have certainly caused a small division in fandom. Regardless of RTD's success in bring Doctor Who back to strong form, his style of writing for Doctor Who has been a cause of concern for many fans.
So with fans from both camps, for and against RTD, anxiously waiting to be proved righteous as to whether he can deliver anything en par with "The Empty Child", "Father's Day" or "The Doctor Dances", "Boom Town" has a burden of expectation that it could probably do with out. Is this episode in which Doctor Who self destructs, derailing it's past success? Well, no. In fact, it's a mixed affair, a messy one at that. One could argue it offers strong evidence to either side of the divide. There is good and bad here.
"Boom Town" is very much a character story hidden within a plot-orientated affair. As such, it offers an odd mix of direction and pacing. Unfortunately this feels far from intentional. While it may have been hoped that the intense plot dialogue about a nuclear facility being placed in Cardiff as part of an attempt for a Sithreen to escape Earth by destroying it (and breathe..) would form a good red herring to the actual direction of the story, it simply feels messy.
The biggest problem with "Boom Town" is it tries to do too much when the premise is strong enough to work in a far simpler format.
This is the biggest surprise from RTD. Whether one likes his humour or general light drama approach to his stories, his tales are always well paced and easy to digest. With the story both trying to be an action tale and a character tale at once, this is certainly not the case with "Boom Town".
Which is a pity really as there are some great moments in “Boom Town” which would make any RTD, nay, Doctor Who fan, proud. Christopher Eccleston is given a wonderful mix of serious and humour based scenes to work with. What makes his role even stronger is that for the first time in a while, he's not focused on Rose. We get to see the Doctor rather than the DoctorRose symbiote. While Rose is a good companion for the season, the Doctor's dependency on her weakens his character. Here we see a Doctor who isn't fawning over his companion or overtly worrying about her. In fact, this feels very much a Doctor/Companion relationship of old.
Part of this has to be attributed to Captain Jack. Jack is a great addition to the crew, diluting the Doctor/Rose dynamic and offering a new element to the crew. It's nice to have a companion that doesn't serve as an interface for the viewer. Sometimes Doctor Who suffers with three crewmembers. The show doesn’t need two companions both asking “What’s going on Doctor?” for the sake of explaining plot to the viewer. You only need one companion to use that phrase. If one is to have two companions, they both have to offer something different to the mix from each other. Like Turlough and Romana, Jack is more on a technological wavelength of the Doctor, which means the show has another character to motivate the more sci-fi elements of the story. Jack makes a nice medium between Rose and the Doctor and I really hope he stays in for a good few more episodes.
The character plots primarily revolve around the nature of the Doctor and Rose's relationship with Mickey. To my surprise Mickey really pulls these scenes together. His frustration and exasperation is a credit to the actor and the writing.
The Doctor's restaurant scene is wonderful also. It is a totally different atmosphere to the Rose/Mickey scenes, but just as emotionally charged. Credit to both Eccleston and Annette Badland for their strong performances and again to RTD for the solid script.
The failure for Boom Town is it doesn't really go anyway. It doesn't really feel like it resolves the issue of the Doctor's destructive lifestyle or his culpability for the damage he causes. Not that there is probably a sufficient answer, but the questions RTD asks are ones not really considered prior to this series. He paints the Doctor as a man who almost murders through intent to interfere who then rushes before the dust falls. We see very little evidence of that in the show so it does seem a rather odd proposal. Certain the character seems to feel there is a hint of truth there - which is fair enough. People who can carry responsibility and power often have high expectations of what they can do, I don't see why the Doctor shouldn't have those same high expectations of the good he wants to achieve and the guilt he feels for failing the few. That said, the script almost makes the hypothesis feel like fact, rather than maybe an issue simply plaguing the Doctor and that doesn't really sit right. I think one is very hard pushed to make such comparisons between the murderous Siltheen and the Doctor nevertheless the script tries.
So it's the lack of resolution that makes Boom Town feel most confuddled. The ending just pops up out of the blue and resolves just as fast. The power of the TARDIS jars for the same reason. It's importance in the story resolution has no hint earlier on and so comes out of no where... that seems a little odd in terms of story writing. If you don't present the audience with some hint of what the means of resolution in an earlier chapter, it can leave viewers feeling cheated.
So the story is a mix of pros and cons. There are some great scenes and dialogue, but a story that feels rough around the edges. It has a good set of characters, but lacks any real cohesion between their roles in the tale.
I would say this is way above average, but certainly the most inconsistent story so far. “Boom Town” is certainly more interesting than “Rose”, but feels as if it needed another draft. In that respect, perhaps the first story to be akin to the old series ... how many of those stories do you want to pick up the script and give one final rewrite?