Ncuti Gatwa as the Fifthteenth Doctor; Courtesy of BBC One/Disney+

Doctor Who Episode 3 Recap/Review: “Boom”

Director: Julie Anne Robinson
Writer: Steven Moffat
Cast: Ncuti Gatwa, Millie Gibson
Streaming Service: Disney+

Doctor Who, like its protagonist, is a constantly shifting organism. Returning show runner Russell T Davies said he considers the series an anthology series and he’s right. Where shows like Star Trek or The X-Files can do one off episodes that are westerns, musicals, or self parody, they must go back the next week to being Star Trek or The X-Files. Doctor Who though can be anything. It just needs The Doctor, a companion (or two), the TARDIS, and putting those characters in a setting. The ability of the show to travel through both time and space gives the creatives and viewers a rare gift; a show willing and able to be anything. 

So far this season, Davies has really showcased Doctor Who being an anthology series in the vein of The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone. The is season so far has seen a Christmas special that was pure fantasy, a space romp with “Space Babies” and period surreality with “The Devil’s Chord”. Now we get “Boom”, a hard sci-fi parable. The episode sees The Doctor and his companion Ruby Sunday trapped in a situation that only gets tenser with every second. “Boom” continues this current era’s willingness to let Doctor Who be whatever it can be.

Doctor Who Boom
Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday and Ncuti Gatwa as the Fifteenth Doctor; Courtesy of BBC One/Disney+

The two travelers arrive on the planet Kastarion 3 in the middle of a war between the Anglican army and the Kastarions. The Doctor hears a scream and runs to it. Their foot hits a landmine designed to turn the victim into an explosive. Except with the Doctor’s physiology, he could potentially destroy most of the planet. Every action that either they, Ruby, or the people the encounter takes only ratchets up the tension. 

Ncuti Gatwa’s time as The Doctor has so far operated a lot of on his numerous charms. Gatwa has been an absolute joy to watch as an actor in the role with his boundless energy and optimism. But “Boom” seems like a defining moment both for his Doctor and his performance on the show so far. He spends the majority of the episode stationary. If the Doctor moves, everyone dies. It takes an actor of great skill to to keep an audience as captive as he is on the landmine but Gatwa pulls it off.

Ncuti Gatwa as the Fifteenth Doctor in Boom
Ncuti Gatwa as the Fifteenth Doctor; Courtesy of BBC One/Disney+

But the episode also once again shows a Doctor willing to be emotionally vulnerable. So often the character remains guarded and mysterious. That’s part of the appeal of the character. The Fifteenth Doctor will cry in front of his companion. Seeing those tears throughout the episode, whether they’re joy or relief, is a big deal. It allows Gatwa to create a Doctor who uses empathy, mindfulness, and kindness as tools to combat their foes.  

The episode marks the return of controversial show runner Steven Moffat as a writer. The writer was criticized during that tenure for overly complicated storylines and poorly developed female characters. “Boom”, for the most part, is a return to form for the writer. Like his best episodes “Blink” and “Girl in the Fireplace”, it’s a simple enough premise showcasing why Doctor Who can do anything. Here the show gets to do hard sci-fi social commentary. 

Joe Anderson as John Francis Vater in Boom
Joe Anderson as John Francis Vater; Courtesy of BBC One/Disney+

And what does the episode comment on? Take your pick folks. Writing like he won’t get write The Doctor again, Moffat uses the war torn setting to tackle capitalism, the military industrial complex, the Anglican Church, and uh, algorithms. It never really digs too deep into how all of those things are interrelated. Only Doctor Who would make use so the villain be a self-perpetuating capitalist war planet.

Still Moffat can’t help but get up to his old habits in this episode. Millie Gibson doesn’t get to do much as Ruby in “Boom”. She spends most of it running around getting things for the Doctor before getting sidelined to ratchet up the tension. Gatwa and Gibson have such undeniable chemistry that they’re not boring together. Gibson, like Gatwa, is such a winning and energetic presence that she never looks bored in the episode. But it’s noticeable that she gets sidelined by virtue of not doing much. 

Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday in Boom
Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday; Courtesy of BBC One/Disney+

The real star of this episode though is director Julie Anne Robinson. Robinson directed “Space Babies” and showed a faculty for getting the most out of confined spaces in that episode. She shows a similar faculty for the one location in “Boom”. It would be very easy for this episode to become a theater piece with the audience looking at The Doctor and Ruby from one angle. Robinson almost makes you forget the heroes are trapped in this pit for 45 minutes.  “Boom” is also a great looking episode. From the orange and green color scheme to the bombed out look of the setting, there’s beautiful and eerie images in this episode that are quintessential Doctor Who.

Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday and Ncuti Gatwa as the Fifteenth Doctor in Boom
Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday and Ncuti Gatwa as the Fifteenth Doctor; Courtesy of BBC One/Disney+

As the season progresses, it’s obvious how willing Russell T Davies is to take chances with his second run on Doctor Who. It’s always been a show that could go anywhere and be anything. Now both the cast and crew seem willing to do new things on this series. “Boom” is proof of that. Not many other science fiction series can make compelling television with their lead trapped in one place for forty five minutes. 

New episodes of Doctor Who airs every Friday on Disney+.

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