Tuesday, 04 June 2024 08:35

The Doctor

The Doctor

While the Doctor became Ncuti Gatwa way back in The Giggle, Ncuti Gatwa only became the Doctor with the Saturday-night debut of this episode. The actor’s abilities have, up until this point, been more or less a matter of faith and guesswork, since the material he’s had to work with hasn’t given him the chance to shine. In Boom, however, he’s finally given the opportunity to make the role of the Doctor his own and he fucking nails it. We see the rage and intellect and compassion of a Time Lord for the first time since Gatwa got the gig and it was, I have to admit, well worth the wait.

Right, then. The premise: the Doctor and Ruby arrive in a futuristic warzone and the Doctor, rushing to help an injured man, steps on a landmine. It’s a single, easy-to-make mistake that defines the whole episode. The landmine works by turning the person on it into an explosive using a DNA-level chain-reaction. The Doctor, however, is a Time Lord, so if he blows up, he’ll take the whole planet with him. Thus begins Doctor Who’s answer to cult horror classic Landmine Goes Click (but with sci-fi taser murder instead of rural French farmhands committing al fresco sex crimes).

Now, this is companion Ruby Sunday’s first time on an alien planet and her grasp of the tech and stakes just isn’t quite there yet, so she gets to be brave and loyal and insightful, but only up to a plausible limit. The fact she didn’t step on a landmine doesn’t make her a convenient ex machina figure. Before long, the landmine is also surrounded by a couple of soldiers, a child looking for her father in the war-torn wasteland, a hologram of said father (who is, like, super dead by this point) and a for-profit AI ‘ambulance’ that can and will kill anyone whose treatment would be prohibitively expensive. And absolutely none of them are listening to the Doctor as he tries to explain what will happen if the landmine goes off with him standing on it.

I won’t spoil the ending, but we get to see the Doctor at his best here: trapped in an impossible situation and a de facto prison cell the exact size of his own body (he can’t even move without triggering the explosion), yet clearly the only person who can defuse the situation. We see him calculate the planet’s gravity in order to shift his mass and allow himself some movement. We see him gradually persuade those around him of the importance of not setting off the world-ending fucking landmine. We see him fighting the impersonal algorithm of the ‘ambulance’ in a way that I’m categorically not going to reveal and the trenchant stupidity of the military-minded berks around him at the same time. It’s great.

The evils of capitalism

Of course, all this would be show-offy, cerebral cleverness devoid of substance if the episode didn’t pivot on a compelling theme that serves to incite great emotion in its protagonists. To whit, Boom! is about the evils of capitalism. Yeah, it’s not exactly an original sentiment that arms dealers are the scum of the Earth (or universe) but the thought has rarely been expressed so viscerally, nor linked so directly to the logics of capitalist economics themselves.

See, the landmine was supplied by a company that sells to all sides in all conflicts. The ambulance and weapons were supplied by the same. And the horror isn’t just that someone is profiting from war: it’s that all these pieces of tech are part of the same system. A system that is specifically designed to kill people at just the right rate to keep them invested in the war and keep them buying new products. The guns and bombs and mines and field ambulances don’t serve the people using them. They serve the bottom line of a faceless, remote company that regards people as part of a fiscal equation: disposable and expendable so long as they turn a profit.

The Doctor gets a little speech about it, and it’s here we get to see the rage and pain of a man who has seen more war and suffering than anyone else in the universe. I’m normally against straight-to-camera speeches, since they’re basically the writer of an episode or film beating the audience over the head with their own personal viewpoint rather than leading them to it organically, but here it’s completely in character, beautifully acted and justified by context. Yes, the Doctor is talking to us, but in-universe, he’s talking to Ruby, and the questions she’s asking, coupled to the extremity of his plight, would provoke a bit of a rant.

Also, the speech itself shows more joined-up thinking than most straight-to-camera mouth-blarts. This isn’t a right-on, smash-the-[insert-oppressor-class] woo-hoo moment. This is a meticulously laid-out, carefully extrapolated explanation of evil that dares to look at the way it functions on the wider, systemic level instead of just picking a group of perceived perpetrators and yelling about how rubbish they are. It’s a hard-left message which will probably turn off a few viewers, but it’s proper hard-left, not fucking Hollywood-style, boneless wokeness. It’s true, and important and dark and bitter and, for once, as a dyed-in-the-wool lefty, I’m happy to say that ‘yes, this man does represent us’.

Boom!’s hard-left leanings are also a necessary bit of course-correction for a show that’s always had those implications but which has strayed away from them recent years in favour of insipid bandwagon-jumping. Let me take you back, gentle reader, to the loathed and despicable Chibnall/Whitaker era of Doctor Who. There were a lot – and I mean a lot – of bad episodes during Chris Chibnall’s time as showrunner. In fact, there was rarely a good one. But the episode that made the whole run completely irredeemable in my eyes was Kerblam!, the episode in which Whitaker’s ‘Doctor’ (a title she never really earned, hence the Inverted Commas of +10 Sarcasm) discovered a giant mega-corporation exploiting its workers and sided with that corporation over the freedom-fighter trying to blow it up.

It was morally disgusting, and revealed Chibnall for the rancid little corpo-Tory fucksponge he is. Now, what’s a synonym for Kerblam! (with an exclamation point)? Answer: Boom! (also with an exclamation point)! Both episodes are about capitalism; both have the Doctor making explicit commentary on the system itself; both have titles that denote an explosion appended with a certain piece of well-known punctuation. Boom! isn’t just a very good episode of Doctor Who: it’s an address to the fans of the show. It’s disowning, in no uncertain terms, the ideology of the Chibnall era. For in-universe purposes, it’s saying “These slimy, pro-corporate, pro-exploitation views were confined to the Thirteenth Doctor. She doesn’t speak for any other regeneration.”

Fuck, BBC. What are you going to do for an encore? Show up at my house with a letter of apology and a free sex robot that both me and my wife can enjoy? It’s interesting, of course, that Boom! wasn’t written by showrunner Russel T. Davies but by fellow Who alumni Steven Moffat. Now, Moffat’s tenure as showrunner back in the day was divisive in its own way, of course, but it’s nice to see that the man still has balls the size of fucking Jupiter. He might as well have called episode “Fuck You, Chris” and had done with it. Guess we know who wears the trousers in the Davies/Moffat Odd Couple Household that I just involuntarily and reflexively imagined (complete with theme-tune).

Don’t get me wrong, Boom! is not a perfect episode. Even confining ourselves to the current era, it’s not as fun as The Giggle or as conceptually interesting as Wild Blue Yonder, but it is a sign that the show is finally hitting its stride. It’s a lean, claustrophobic no-bullshit episode free of unnecessary cameos, gratuitous musical numbers and over-the-top Disney-esque villains. Happy ending aside, it’s brutal and vicious and doesn’t mess about for one gosh-darned minute. More of this, please.

Read 234 times Last modified on Saturday, 15 June 2024 15:54
Paul Victor Tims

Paul Tims is a writer, living in Consett. When he isn’t writing really weird stories, he practices sleight of hand and hopes one day to be recognised as the Magician King of Britannia.