Home Featured TV Shows All TV Shows Movie Reviews Book Reviews Articles Frequently Asked Questions About Us

Doctor Who: Boom

"Thoughts and prayers."

Doctor Who delivers a taut, tight, character driven slice of drama, only slightly marred by one or two many callbacks from the Moffat Greatest Hits collection.

But only slightly.

If you might indulge me in a pretentious sidebar to open with.

Ancient Greek theater was based on the principle of the Three Unities. Unity of Place (the whole play takes place in one location without ever leaving it), Unity of Time (the length of the play is the exact length of time of the events taking place), and Unity of Action (everything focuses on one situation). And while this episode does break slightly from Unity of Place by cutting a couple of times to the Anglican Marine base camp, they nail the other two, so I'm willing to let them have it.

Aristotle would have been totally down for this episode's structure. That's what I'm saying.

Although he probably would have needed one or two details explained to him along the way. What Anglicans are, for starters. And robots. And space/time travel. And you know what, let's maybe just agree to leave Aristotle out of this and appreciate the discipline of the screenplay.

This is a story set in one place: a dugout pit in the middle of a warzone. (Barring the aforementioned couple of times that it cuts away to the basecamp, which we're all agreeing to forgive in this case.) It's told in the exact same time that it takes the events to occur, and the action is entirely focused on one person, standing on a land mine while trying to understand and then stop a war.

That's not a format that we see often in television, and I have to believe that Steven Moffat did it deliberately as a way to tighten the focus and create tension. If nothing else, he's much too well educated to have accidentally observed the three Greek Unities without noticing.

In pre-broadcast interviews he was very clear that his starting point for the script was to put the Doctor in a dangerous situation and take away the Doctor's ability to do the one thing that they absolutely, always do. He was a little coy in the publicity interviews about what that one thing was, but the obvious answer was the Doctor's ability to run. Once you establish that the tension is entirely built around the Doctor being forced to stand in one place, the rest just sort of fall into line.

And he does a fantastic job of using that to ratchet up the tension at every turn. Every time a new character arrives on the scene, they do it in a way that leads them to immediately, if understandably, make the situation more dangerous. Splice hears her father's hologram speaking and immediately tries to run to where she thinks he is, threatening to set off the landmine either by straight up stepping on it or freaking out the Doctor enough that he triggers it. Mundy arrives and immediately tries to get the Doctor to drop the only thing keeping him from setting off the mine by repeatedly shooting him in the arm. Canto arrives just in time to see Ruby about to shoot Mundy (the woman he loves) and shoots the ever-loving shit out of her, which not only puts Ruby's life in danger but also risks causing the Doctor to go thermonuclear and wipe out half the planet.

And while I'm mentioning that, how absolutely wonderful is it that first Ruby figures out that the only way to get the Death Ambulance for Cutie away from the Doctor is to initiate combat nearby to distract it, and how even more wonderful is the way that Mundy very practically determines that there needs to be casualties for that to work, sets her gun to the lowest setting, and instructs Ruby where to shoot her to get things done. I absolutely adore how on top of their game both of them are in that sequence.

But what really sells the regular escalation of the tension and stakes is the same thing that really sells the episode. There simply aren't any bad guys. (Well, except the weapons corporation, but we'll get to them in a second.) Everyone actually on scene is reacting in a completely reasonable and understandable way. It's just that the consequences of those reasonable and understandable actions make things so, so much worse, in every case.

If I was Splice and trying to find my missing father in a warzone, I would, without question, do exactly the same thing she does here. If I was Mundy and saw some random stranger holding my friend's corpse and refusing to let go of it, damn right I'd shoot him in the arm. If I was Canto I would without hesitation kill the everlasting shit out of someone who was about to shoot the person I love most in the world. It's good drama because everyone is responding so reasonably and yet the consequences of those actions keep getting worse.

And so, the stakes just keep getting bigger, in a natural and understandable way. We build from 'The Doctor's in danger' to 'Ruby's in danger too because she's helping him,' to 'because of the nature of the explosive, if the Doctor goes, he's going to take the whole planet with him.' And from then on we just keep piling on the factors that could cause that to happen. Excellent structure all around.

OK, I have to make a small exception to my compliment about the structure. There's way too much time after the Doctor gets off of the mine for them all to stand around navel gazing and saying 'very deep and meaningful things.' I've noticed in the past that this is an issue that Moffat occasionally falls prey to. (The Twelfth Doctor's final speech comes immediately to mind. Almost all of it is great, but it's at least twice as long as it should be, to be effective.) In the same vein, I didn't dislike any part of the reflections and pontifications that take place in the final scenes of this episode, but it went on too long.

I did really love the reveal that there were never any aliens for them to be at war with in the first place, and it was all just their weapons technology keeping them dying at a brisk enough pace to keep them buying more weapons. The fact that the slogan of the weapons manufacturer was 'Thoughts and Prayers' is not going to go down in history as the most subtle political commentary ever written, but it does have the virtue of being true, so I'm finding it hard to criticize.

Bits and Pieces:

-- OK, let's face this uncomfortable truth together. There were a LOT of Steven Moffat's favorite things in this episode. Anglican Marines and a comment about how for most of history the church and the military have been the same thing. Check. Sinister technology that's essentially a block with a human face on it repeating a catch phrase. Check. The Moon and the President's Wife. Check. The Villengard Corporation, first heard of back in 'The Doctor Dances,' check. The snow freezing in time, a la 'Twice Upon a Time,' check. Even the snowflake zooming into camera at the end is a direct lift from 'The Snowmen.' Although, to be fair, it was Russell that brought the recurring motif of Ruby's magical snowfall into things, so it's not like we can blame Steven for leaning into it.

-- I love everything about Canto, most specifically his observation that Posh Greg probably now thinks that Canto is into him because he asked to see his thigh tattoo. And I really enjoyed the brutal way Canto was murdered by the ambulance right in the middle of his big Rom-Com moment.

-- Ncuti Gatwa continues to be completely amazing as the Doctor. And it's interesting that this is the first time we've seen his performance as the Doctor as written by anyone other than Russell. You can hear the way that, for random example, Christopher Eccleston could have delivered these same lines and see the places where he would have played them differently and yet still be the same Doctor. I'm fascinated by that.

-- This week, Susan Twist is the face and voice of the killer Ambulances. I'm really enjoying her repeated random appearances this season.

-- They keep making references to the fact that the Doctor is a 'Dad.' Not 'Grandfather.' Is Mrs. Flood going to turn out to be Susan's mother? Or father?

-- I absolutely despise the lie that children are told that 'God loved your mom so much he had to bring her home to be with him early.'

-- This episode waffles a bit on the question of faith in an interesting way. Where the Doctor lands isn't wrong, it's not an entirely bad thing and can even do good. But he's also not wrong that it's served up as an excuse for so many terrible things.

-- I liked the vacuum robots that cleared the air so that we could see the full alien sky.

-- Vater's AI being able to leap from the smelted body canister into the Doctor through the Ambulance probe wires and into the network makes aesthetic sense in that moment but doesn't really hold up to even a second's logical consideration. So don't give it a second's logical consideration, because it's a nice moment. Why mess it up by insisting on bringing logic into things.

-- Mundy really is being deliberately obtuse about the way Canto clearly feels about her. I wonder why?

-- I like the detail that Mundy is apparently a quite good tattoo artist on the side, and it just never becomes relevant.

-- I really liked the detail that the mine works by converting your body mass into an explosive as opposed to containing any explosive itself. That's an interesting concept and allowed the plot conceit of the Doctor's DNA making the process that much more dangerous.


Mundy: "As God as my witness. On my soul eternal. I’ll let you see my tattoo."

Ruby: "I didn’t ask what you were singing, I asked why."
The Doctor: "I’m getting my zen on."

The Doctor: "Ah, give it time. Everywhere’s a beach eventually."

Ruby: "Why does a landmine have lights on it?"
The Doctor: "Capitalism."

The Doctor: "They're hoovering up all the smoke so that no one can choke to death before they are safely shot."

John Vater: "I was humanely terminated on the discovery of the fatal condition, blindness."
Ruby: "Blindness isn’t fatal."
The Doctor: "You literally just said that to a dead blind guy."

The Doctor: "Great name, Mundy Flynn. You should marry Ruby. Then you’d be Mundy Sunday. Go on, get married. I’d laugh every day."

Vater: "Hello, Daughter Splice. Can I help you with any persistent regrets?"

Ambulance: "Patient death imminent. Thoughts and prayers."

The Doctor: "Faith. The magic word that keeps you never having to think for yourself."

The Doctor: "Lots of the universe left to see, and quite frankly your life span sucks."

This episode was a lot of fun and made a pleasant change in tone from the first two entries in the season. I'll admit, one of my big concerns going into this season was just how much of it Russell was writing himself. The change in authorial voice in this one was nice.

Twelve out of fifteen Doctors.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.


  1. I loved this one. Definitely the best episode so far. I noticed Susan Twist this time! (I wonder how long it'll be before the Doctor and Ruby notice.) It was so tense and Ncuti is just so so good. The view we got of the sky was gorgeous.

    I do have some quibbles. Splice annoyed the heck out of me. I don't know how old she was meant to be, but she seemed to be way too childish. She literally lives in an active war zone, how could she not realize that she was talking to a hologram? Also, Canto's death just felt mean and unnecessary. What was the point? It didn't get Mundy to surrender, which is where I thought the script was going. Daddy Ex Machina saved the day instead. They could have just knocked Canto out and it would have fulfilled the same function.

    Also disliked the jabs about faith. Good on Mundy for calling out the Doctor on kind of playing both sides of it.

    Do I have to mention that Vater literally means Father in German? As you mentioned, not a very subtle script in places.

    Lotta music this season. Think there's been singing in every episode so far, which is an interesting thing to note.

    My wild prediction given the laser focus on not only family, but the Doctor's role as a father/family man, plus the fact the Ambulance got stuck on Ruby's next of kin: Ruby is Susan's daughter.

  2. I see the picture in the article's header and it reminds me of Genesis of Daleks when the 4th Doctor stepped on a mine and needed Harry's help to avoid setting it off. It was just a mundane mine though, not as powerful as this one could be.

  3. I found this to be a refreshing change of pace after the last few episodes and a solid Moffat script is a pleasant surprise after the Capaldi era. Although I'm not quite solid on this TARDIS team yet and this story feels like it could have been inserted into almost any previous era.

  4. I'm surprised by how much I like Ncuti Gatwa as the Doctor, particularly his interpretation of the Doctor's personality. I liked this episode quite a bit. The ambulances and the bounce tube compressed bodies completely creeped me out.

    As a more casual DW viewer, I would have never picked up on the Susan stuff. Love you, Mikey.


We love comments! We moderate because of spam and trolls, but don't let that stop you! It’s never too late to comment on an old show, but please don’t spoil future episodes for newbies.