Sunday, June 05, 2005

Rats

Prefect Slog"Boomtown" may not be quite bad enough to have everyone singing 'I don't like Saturdays', but really, what a pile of rubbish, I wouldn't be surprised to find a few rats foraging around in there - in search of something, anything they can get there teeth into. Give it up, rodents, there's nothing. Now, fair enough, the episode was onto waste ground from my point of view anyway, in endeavouring to bring back the Slitheen. Doctor Who has been perennially knocked for its wobbly sets and men-in-rubber-suits monsters, so resurrecting a man-in-wobbly-rubber-suit monster seems like retrograde motion, especially given that the new series was allegedly setting out to distance itself from the poorer aspects of the old show's reputation. Still, even given a patch of waste ground, you ought to be able to build something on it, rather than just rearrange the mess into a bigger heap. It has all the silliness of the earlier two-part Slitheen outing, a modest fraction of the farting and, given the confines of a single 45-minute episode, a heavier concentration of stupidity. Stupidity which begins with the basic premise: an alien with the ability to disguise itself as any human being by slipping into a new skin escapes to become the mayor of Cardiff, but neglects to switch disguises and prefers instead to protect her identity merely by being a bit camera shy. And goes on from there. There must be something in the Cardiff air that dulls the Doctor's wits too, as the last time he was here, he was easily duped by the angelic appearance and pitiful appeals of the Gelth - he even mentions them and the rift here, some little while before delivering a surprised "I should have known" when the Slitheen Mayoress turns nasty in the TARDIS. This, after the Doctor has been goaded into taking her out to dinner. Although I suppose, relatively speaking, this is only comparable to Tom Baker's Doctor sharing a philosophical discussion with Davros as intellectual equals in "Genesis of the Daleks". Yeah, right. I suppose it doesn't help that I rarely go a bundle on the kind of bleeding heart sympathy vote that they were aiming for here, as this poor lonely Slitheen that had been prepared to reduce the entire Earth to radioactive slag - and who had murdered the woman whose skin she was wearing - did her best to appeal to the Doctor's soft side. I'd have hoped that at least one of the TARDIS crew had the backbone to look her in the eye - particularly a Doctor who could watch Cassandra shrivel up and explode at the end of "The End of the World". The other thought that occurred during that scene was that the TARDIS was a mite overcrowded, and it may (what do I mean, may!) have been a mistake to bring Mickey in, when we had only just recruited Cap'n Jack (who has precious little to do here, but he needn't feel left out as the others are only involved in the plot equivalent of make-work) and only had a single episode to play with. On the other hand, the plot is so flimsy, Mickey is much-needed padding, but unfortunately padding something out with Mickey is like padding it with vacuum. Ordinarily, I've been giving each story a second watch before writing any sort of review, but I honestly can't bring myself to waste a second 45 minutes on this one. There's not even enough story to merit the one watch, let alone a second. Okay, there's some stuff about the rift, cracks (appropriately enough) opening up in the scenery, and there's a danger of the Slitheen surfing away to freedom, leaving the entire planet to blow up in her wake. But luckily, she looks into the heart of the TARDIS and turns into an egg. Huh?! Bring back the reset switch of the McGann TV Movie, all is forgiven. Or better yet, roll on the Daleks, and if they get to exterminate Anne Robinson then maybe "Boomtown" will be a distant memory by next Saturday.

5 comments:

Mike Richards said...

The real disappointment with this episode (which was almost as unwatchably, unforgiveably dull as 'Father's Day') was that they could have actually taken this one an interesting way.

What if the Slitheen actually had regrets for her previous crimes, that they had reformed and wasn't going to be a threat in the future? To be frank the whole unreformed, supposedly-reformed criminal plot has been done so often that even novice time travellers wouldn't fall for it. It's almost up there with 'we're new here' and 'look! behind you!' as excuses go.

There would have been a fine story in having the Doctor taking her back to her homeworld and not showing forgiveness and (erm) humanity.

Does the Doctor consider judicial execution a reasonable punishment? I wouldn't have thought so, but why not explore the controversy we have on Earth over if it is ever acceptable? Why mention a death sentence if you aren't prepared to consider the various ethical dilemmas it raises?

Even a monster as poor as the Slitheen could have been salvaged somewhat if it had been given some emotional depth in pleading for its life. But here? Nah, another plot from the Master's box of cast-offs.

To try and salvage something from it; Annette Badland is a fine actress who does 'cuddly, scary' really well and seemed to be relishing her lines. But, to be honest, I won't grieve if we never see the Slitheen ever again.

Oh and one final thing. What sort of sick, disturbed, depraved, desperate individual would have Anne Robinson featuring as the Big Bad in a Doctor Who story?

SAF said...

All good points, Mr Richards, although a Doctor who executes Cassandra and is all set (twice) to execute a helpless Dalek might be considered a hypocrite if he was that firmly against judicial execution. I think there was potential for some kind of story here, but the Doctor's moral standpoint on this was much more effectively explored in Dalek. And I can't think why anyone would want to bring Anne Robinson into the equation.

SAF said...

Plus I find it telling that there was more pathos in the fate of the poor Dalek. And not just because I think the Slitheen are rubbish! :)

Mike Richards said...

Good points, I'd argue (and you know me too well to know I wouldn't) that there is a difference between killing something that is an immediate threat to you and sending that same creature off to be killed for a crime committed long ago when it can't cause further harm.

(Casual viewers might want to know that Simon and I have had some - ummmm - intense debates on this issue in the past)

There is a good story (and another good debate) in all there, but it is far too late for me to crack open the Laphroaig and ponder the various absurdities offered up by both sides of the capital punishment debate.

It's just sad that DW had such a good opportunity to discuss guilt, remorse and justice - and blew it. One power of SF is to hold a slightly distorted mirror up to our own world and see it anew.

So do I have to rely on you to come up with a DW story where you can't be sure the Big Bad is in fact so very bad after all?

;)

SAF said...

Yes, there is a difference, but if you recall the Doctor attempts to exterminate the Dalek while it is helpless and in chains. And of course the Slitheen in this case could quite easily go on to cause further harm, and indeed endeavours to do just that. It is a wasted opportunity, and I think any story that wishes to explore these issues should field views from each angle. Hence, my comment that at least one person on the TARDIS - possibly the Doctor, even - should have been able to look the alien bitch in the eye :) A story like this needs a real bastard, and perhaps the idea of an apparent bastard who turns out not to be a bastard would present a nice contrast to an apparently remorseful villain who turns out to be a not-remorseful-after-all villain. I'm not sure though that the real crime in this episode that it was all embedded in such an utterly lame (absence of) story.