Picture the scene. It’s the 30th April 2005, and you’re a nine-year-old boy whose only previous experience with the Daleks was seeing one of them blow up in The Five Doctors. I had spent the entire week prior being incredibly excited, discussing with my not-we friends what was to come. When the time arrived, and I saw this wonderful new design, I really felt that New Who was here. Not only did Robert Shearman’s script return the Daleks to our screen, but it also managed to make up for 16 years of public mockery. In short, he managed to make Daleks cool again.
At the story’s heart, it’s a very basic base-under-siege setup. The museum is the high-security base, Henry Van Statten is the project’s misguided leader, Diana Goddard is the smarter underling and the lone Dalek is the monster attacking them. But this is no ordinary Dalek. Shearman’s script not only reintroduces the Daleks and makes them cool again. He manages to take the most genocidal species in the Universe and makes them sympathetic.
Dalek provides Eccleston’s most powerful performance in his painfully brief time as The Doctor. The first interaction between the Doctor and the Dalek showcases not only the Time-War backstory that Russell T Davies had woven into the series, but also the depth of the Ninth Doctor’s characterisation and the levels of hatred and anger still locked away inside. It also contrasts Rose’s infectious humanity, and it the first time that we really see the Nine/Rose companionship work in a way that compliments them both.
The character of Adam Mitchell does seem like it doesn’t really belong in the story, but in reality Bruno Langley’s character feels like a clever parody of 80s companion Adric – a young boy genius with a penchant for ruining the Doctor’s plans through his own incompetence. Adam Mitchell is a statement by RTD: he’s not going to make the mistakes of the past, and especially those made in the JNT era.
Dalek isn’t just entertaining, but it’s also RTD’s mission statement for the new series. He’s gonna bring back those old monsters, he’s gonna make them awesome, and he’s not gonna mess it up. And what a mission statement that is, because it works, and Dalek is one of the best stories in Season 27. I think that today and, more importantly, I thought that as an excited nine-year-old boy waiting for his first Dalek story.
Written in place of a Cartmel-esque story about how Rose was a custom-made companion, Boom Town is often put down by fandom simply for how unassuming it is. It may at first glance appear to be a rather dull story, seeing the return of an unpopular villain lambasted for being too silly. But the story of Blon Fel Fotch Pasameer-Day Slitheen is one that proves, in its way, that RTD was better than his detractors gave him credit for. Instead of an adventure written for the kids, Boom Town presents us with a surprisingly adult examination of how the show treats morality, looking not only at the effect that companions have on those left behind, but also at the nature of heroes and villains.
My favourite scene in all of NuWho is this episode’s café scene. Filmed on the quick, due to Annette Badland’s other filming commitments, the scene not only cuts into the core of Blon Fel Fotch’s motivations, but also looks at why The Doctor does what he does and why this incarnation in particular feels such a weight of guilt. Even though he is easily able to shoot down Blon’s transparent attempts at moralising, he is affected by her accusations against his character. Even though we know that he is a far superior being morally, his own guilt from the Time War arc prevents him from believing it. Eccleston and Badland manage to portray two conflicted alien beings, both of them grappling one another morally and spiritually.
Elsewhere, the characters get a chance to do a Black Orchid and just goof around for a bit. After the absolute scare-fest of Moffat’s Empty Child two-parter and the devastating series finale, Boom Town is the perfect break to give our Tardis team (plus Mickey) a chance to get their character development in before the end. The episode is a concession, an admission that character and story have to sometimes take precedence over action and romance. Boom Town is 45 minutes of character drama that both lets our characters breathe and puts them in greater personal pressure than they’d seen for the entire twenty-seventh season.