by George Wellard
Can you redeem the irredeemable?
This is the question Boom Town ponders over. While still taking the time to make gags, show off the brilliance of the TARDIS team of Nine, Rose, Jack and Mickey and explore the mundane yet wonderful city of Cardiff, beneath the surface lies a war of morality and what it takes to earn redemption.
We have Margret Siltheen, the only surviving Siltheen from the events of Aliens in London/World War Three, who is currently plotting the destruction of Cardiff as a means of getting a lift. We also have the Doctor, a man trying to make up for his actions in the Time War and find himself again; who Margret has to prove herself to that she can change before he takes her to her sentenced execution. These two individuals, from seemingly different ends of the moral spectrum, are about to take supper.
At first, this goes about as well as you’d expect. Margret makes desperate attempts to escape her captor while the Doctor comically foils all of them. Eventually Margret finally has to try and persuade him, recalling a small act of mercy as a testament she can turn good, but the Doctor knows better. He knows this is how she lives with herself and this act is nothing more than a simple reassurance that she can be kind. Yet from Margret’s point of view, what makes the Doctor any better? This is the man who butchered her family and who’s willing to take her to her death, he may save lives but he’ll happily play with them. The hard reality hits the Doctor, especially with the burden of the things he’s done during the Time War, he is forced to contemplate that perhaps their morals aren’t quite so vastly different after all. All you really need is Eccleston’s eyes to see how Margret’s words have broken down his previously comical defences, indeed this is emphasized through the direction, with Joe Aherne’s choice of the extreme close ups on both actors faces during this exchange making it all oh so personal.
This battle of words and morals only ends with the lines between them blurring. Of course this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this happen with the Ninth Doctor (See: Dalek) but it is a moment where he instead tries to change this whereas before he would fall into temptation and give in to cruelty (Again, Dalek). He considers his options and listens to her pleas with the hope that maybe it is possible she can change into someone better perhaps in the hope that he can do the same, reflecting his own journey and arc of self redemption.
This hope however, is shattered once we learn of Margret’s true intentions. The whole date was merely a distraction for the Doctor so the extrapolator can do its work and open the rift through the TARDIS. All time as she begged and seemingly wanted to prove she could show kindness, she was lying through her teeth. Perhaps as the episode suggests she can’t really find a way out of her old ways, that being raised with the ways of the Slitheen family (having previously referred to being taken on her first hunt when she was very young), she is too far gone. It appears to the Doctor that the irredeemable cannot be redeemed after all.
These lies and deception somewhat parallel Rose and Mickey’s relationship in this episode as Mickey tries to convince Rose he’s moved on by saying he’s going out with someone else. It’s a sad example of how unadaptable Mickey is, he can’t face the fact that what he had with Rose is gone as shown when she leaves him to deal with the earthquake. Even after he confronts her for leaving him and turns his back on her when she comes back, we next see him in the finale he’s doing exactly what he said he always does: he will come running towards her.
It’s a complicated and rather sad place to leave the pair of them. This is the consequence that’s been a long time coming for Rose since she ran off with the Doctor, leaving her relationship with Mickey tarnished and now making Jackie the one thing to really tie her back to earth and not staying in that box forever.
But it’s from here that Mickey can ultimately rebuild himself and eventually be able to let go of Rose to the point where he can help her get back so she can save the Doctor in the finale. It prepares Mickey for his own redemption arc: of proving his worth to not only himself but to the Doctor and Rose, which would ultimately pay off in series 2.
Yet for the Doctor and Margret, there is a chance. Margret’s betrayal doesn’t exactly go to plan when she ends up opening the heart of the TARDIS. With a gentle push from the Doctor, she sees there exactly what she had been begging for back in the restaurant: a chance to start again. She takes it and starts a whole new life. Suddenly we’re able to get a new insight into that war of morals over the dinner table that maybe at some point her words no longer became lies and she did truly consider want a new life. Yes, on face value the egg may seem quite ridiculous and it is in its own Doctor Who-ish way, but it means that Margret can now have a new life and live a life free of the vile ways of the family Slitheen. It’s not a reckoning for Margret; it’s hope for a new and better start and really, isn’t that reflective of what this show is?
It goes to show the Doctor and company that perhaps once in awhile, on a whim, when the wind is in the right direction, the irredeemable can be redeemed.
Many of the themes of Boom Town resonate with those of the finale. Margret’s redemption parallels the Ninth Doctor’s own search for self-redemption with his choice of taking her to her execution or letting her go being a similar choice to destroying the earth or leaving the Daleks. It even goes so far to have an enemy from the Doctor’s past return with consequences from his previous adventures. All of this foreshadowing the epic battle to come.
So while Boom Town remains a charming, witty and genuinely funny episode, it’s also an episode that holds some deep and profound undertones for its characters and themes of the first series. It’s all about redemption and whether it’s possible for someone so seemingly far gone to be able to achieve it, ultimately setting the theme for the Ninth Doctor’s final battle in which he will face the same test as Margret and finally complete his redemption.
George is our resident Ninth Doctor fanatic, who spends most of his days watching, thinking or talking about Doctor Who.