Doctor Who episode 3, Boom, review – Steven Moffat offers up an explosive return to form

Doctor Who episode 3, Boom, review – Steven Moffat offers up an explosive return to form

After space babies and The Beatles, the third episode in the new Doctor Who series starts with two soldiers are navigating their way through a battlefield shrouded in fog. One is talking on the phone to his daughter. “Kiss kiss,” he says as he signs off. A bad sign, right?

Indeed, a few minutes later, they’ve disappeared, the Doctor arrives, and the episode kicks off properly when he lands himself in a spot of bother by stepping on a landmine. For the rest of the episode, he’s stuck there, while his companion Ruby attempts to save him. Until things go wrong, which of course, they do.

This tense set up comes from the mind of Steven Moffat, the former showrunner (and author of that iconic Who episode Blink) who has returned to give us the series’ darkest episode yet. Both thematically and visually – the whole thing takes place in shades of grey and black, with the occasional flashing red light.

It has all of his traditional hallmarks of Moffat: a killer setup, twisty plotting and a deus ex-machina type ending that wraps things up very neatly. There’s even a reference to fish fingers and custard, the fave food of his Doctor, Matt Smith.

And with him at the helm, it’s no surprise that Boom is packed full of one-line zingers. “Had to deactivate one of these once,” the Doctor tells Ruby, gesturing towards the explosive under his feet. “At a lesbian gymkhana. Underwater. For a bet.”

 (James Pardon/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios)
(James Pardon/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios)

There’s also some cracking performances here. Pack the tissues – Ncuti Gatwa could do with some too as he cries enough salty tears to fill a bathtub (his Doctor is many things, including in touch with his feelings) and then pivots to joyous in the space of a heartbeat.

This episode also marks the first appearance of next series companion played by Varada Sethu – and she appears, surprisingly, wearing a dog collar. Sethu makes for great proto-companion material: her character Mundy is an Anglican Marine fighting a religious war (there’s a lot of talk about divinity and God, so buckle up), and while it’s not certain if Mundy or another Sethu character will eventually be joining the Doctor in the Tardis, she more than holds her own against Gatwa and Gibson.

Speaking of religion, there’s a lot of contentious stuff here. In addition to the fallibilities of faith, there’s also a surprising amount of barbs directed at the modern British state and the collapse of the NHS. Just check out what happens to those two soldiers from the beginning.

Subtle this is not, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. Hasn’t it been fixed, one soldier asks the other about their medical care? “They ran out of money,” the other replies. Ouch. Can anybody say austerity?

In another scene, the Doctor lambasts the way weapons companies profit from the business of death. “Life is cheap. Patients are expensive,” he tells Ruby about the landmine’s manufacturers, Villengard (they’re evil - get it?). “War is business. And business is booming.”

If the episode is heavy on political commentary, it’s light on plot. The Doctor is stuck. Ruby attempts to help him. There are convenient coincidences galore, including how a deceased soldier’s young daughter manages to appear on the battlefield at an opportune time, and why the Anglican Marines are there in the first place (no spoilers, but let’s just say they didn’t do their due diligence before rocking up on an alien planet in search of a fight).

But sheer tension sees the whole thing through, and in classic Who form, there’s still space for joy here. This landmine-infested wasteland happens to be Ruby’s first time on a new planet. “It flips the stomach, doesn’t it? A brand-new sky,” the Doctor says. “Wait until you see the dawn.”

Those moments of wonder, with a schmaltzy score oozing underneath, is what we keep coming back for. More please.

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