Steven Moffat has once again delivered another classic Doctor Who episode. Doctor Who: Boom is brilliant.   It is the best episode the programme has produced in the past several years and will rank high in any list of Doctor Who episodes. It is dark, emotional and “woke”, taking on everything from capitalism, arms manufacturers, and artificial intelligence algorithms to blind faith.   This is Moffat’s hero without a gun but with an extra heart.

“It’s hard to talk about the importance of an imaginary hero. But heroes ARE important: Heroes tell us something about ourselves. History tells us who we used to be, documentaries tell us who we are now; but heroes tell us who we WANT to be. And a lot of our heroes depress me. But when they made this particular hero, they didn’t give him a gun–they gave him a screwdriver to fix things. They didn’t give him a tank or a warship or an x-wing fighter–they gave him a box from which you can call for help. And they didn’t give him a superpower or pointy ears or a heat-ray–they gave him an extra HEART. They gave him two hearts! And that’s an extraordinary thing. There will never come a time when we don’t need a hero like the Doctor.”

Steven Moffat

Doctor Who - Boom,John (JOE ANDERSON) Carson (MAJID MEHDIZADEH-VALOUJERDY),BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,James Pardon
Doctor Who – Boom, John (JOE ANDERSON) Carson (MAJID MEHDIZADEH-VALOUJERDY), BBC Studios/Bad Wolf, James Pardon

Boom has a simple plot. The Doctor and Ruby arrive at a war-torn planet. While racing towards a cry for help, the Doctor gets captured on a landmine. With Ruby’s help, he talks himself out of a no-win situation, ends the battle and saves countless lives. Most of the episode is set on one stage, in a battle-damaged quarry. It is an episode that needs little of the huge Disney budget but instead garners its magic from the story, the characters, and the talent of the actors.

The episode sees the return of the Anglican Marines from the Eleventh Doctor’s era. Two Marines wearing white priest collars are wandering through a minefield on Kasterion 3, attempting to get back to base. John Francis Vatar, the elder of the two, is temporarily blinded and being led by his younger companion, Carson.

Vatar is unique; he is a caring single father with a daughter back at the base. Even amidst this failed mission and his injuries, he calls his daughter Splice to perform the mundane of family rituals, the bedtime routine. Within minutes, the mission home goes wrong, and both men are dead.

Carson falls onto a landmine, and the Marines’ own AI Medic euthanises Vatar due to his injuries. The four-week recovery time for his eyes is not a cost-effective use of resources, and he is promptly compressed into a tube casket. The TARDIS is parked on the planet, and Vatar’s death cries bring the Doctor running into the battleground to help. But instead of being able to save Vatar, he finds himself in peril as he is trapped on an unexploded landmine.   And so, the story begins.

The Doctor

This is Ncuti Gatwa’s best outing as the Doctor. It usually takes a few episodes before the actor who has been handed the keys to the TARDIS makes his own, and in Boom, he has found his stride. Everything Gatwa does in the episode works. He has a perfect delivery of his lines, a beautiful play of emotions as he snaps in frustration, anger and fear for his life. The familiar beats of the Doctor’s rant against war and weaponry exist with a refreshing modern delivery.

“I’m a much bigger bang than you bargained for. I’m a lot more explosive than I look, and, honey, I know how I look. Put a quantum chain reaction through me, and I will shatter this silly little battlefield of yours into dust. All of it, in a heartbeat, into dust..”

 The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa), Doctor Who: Boom

Doctor Who Boom,The Doctor (NCUTI GATWA) ,BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,James Pardon
Doctor Who Boom,The Doctor (NCUTI GATWA) ,BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,James Pardon

Gatwa’s voice drips with disdain as the Doctor lambasts another Anglican Marine, Mundy Flynn (Vasada Sethu), about her blind faith. The Marines’ lack of questioning has resulted in them being sent to an uninhabited planet, battling the weapons they purchased. Their death count is determined by the Villengard Corporation’s algorithm, designed to maximise their customers’ spending on weaponry according to their budget.   (Aside – If Villengard sounds familiar, recall an exchange between Captain Jack (John Barrowman & the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) about a newly created banana grove.) Similarities parallel today’s military conflicts, where the military corporations have shifted from the Cold War arms race to supplying conflict worldwide.

Ruby Sunday

Ruby Sunday spends a significant portion of the episode dead or dying on the quarry floor; however, during the time she is vertical, she has a huge impact.   There is always a comparison to previous companions, but Millie Gibson has created a unique character. As a young 19-year-old human, she possesses an extraordinary amount of self-confidence, unlike some previous companions; she does not need the Doctor and again demonstrates this as she refuses to back away from the landmine peril.

The Doctor: “Okay, throw it to me.”

Ruby: “No.”

The Doctor: “Throw it to my right hand. I need to use it to counterbalance. I’m going to catch it at the exact moment that I put my left foot down on the ground.”

Ruby: “I understand, but it’s too unstable. Let me give it to you”

The Doctor: “No”

Ruby: “You will have a much better chance if I just put it in your hand.”

The Doctor: “If it goes wrong, you will be caught up in the blast.”

Ruby: “Then let’s get it right then.”

The Doctor: “Ruby, I forbid this.”

Ruby: “Yeah Good luck with that.”

Doctor Who: Boom

Doctor Who - Boom,Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON),,BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,James Pardon
Doctor Who – Boom,Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON),,BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,James Pardon

This current episode adds more questions than answers to Ruby’s story. The snowflakes return, and she cries only to pause in mid-air when she dies.   The AI ambulance dates her age as over 3000 years old. However, that conflicts with the previous TARDIS view, as her age is 19. Which is right? Does her time travel influence the Villengard AI’s results?

Other Mysteries – Mundy Flynn & Susan Twist

Another mystery is Mundy Flynn, portrayed by Varada Sethu. According to the BBC press releases, Varada will be a future companion of the Doctor. Her name, Mundy, even suggests this. But is this character Mundy or another character similar to the Clara, Impossible Girl thread? We will need to wait and find out.

And, of course, Susan Twist has returned for another role in another episode.   This time as the AI Ambulance. However, unlike last weeks’  “The Devil Chord”, the Doctor and Ruby fail to recognise her. More questions and more mystery.

Easter Egg Path

As with the previous episodes, Boom has several Easter eggs, just a few of which are discussed here.   However, as showrunner, Russell T Davies and others are setting the audience down the path of discovery, we will be creating an ongoing list in a series of posts.

A Parent’s Love

In the end, the efforts of the Doctor, Ruby, and Mundy fail to stop the Villengard mine from continuing to its foregone conclusion: the destruction of half the planet, killing all the living beings on the planet, including the Doctor. The failsafe in the design leaves no way out, so it is up to the AI-created facsimile of a young girl’s father to save the day.

“ Dad to Dad. You never let them down. Ever. To the end. Right.”

The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa), Doctor Who: Boom

In a poignant conclusion, the AI facsimile of John Francis Vatar defeats the Villengard mainframe, disabling the mine and surrendering to save his daughter, Splice, in response to the Doctor’s speech. This reflects Vatar’s enduring love for his daughter even past death, which is particularly resonant considering the Doctor’s own tragic past. How the Doctor’s speech will play out going forward in the season will be interesting, especially given the canon that the Doctor is responsible for the death of his own children.

Conclusion

“Doctor Who: Boom” is a standout episode, rich in narrative and emotional depth. It’s a testament to the show’s enduring appeal and relevance. Be sure to catch our Second Sight review of “Doctor Who: Boom” on Wednesday, and don’t miss the next episode.

 

 

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