“Boom” and the New Doctor Who Series (so far)

If you don’t know what Doctor Who is about, you probably should have never clicked on this article. But anyway…here goes:

The new series of Doctor Who stars Ncuti Gatwa as the “Fifteenth Doctor”, embarking on new and exciting adventures in time and space with companion Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson, introduced in last year’s Christmas Special “The Church on Ruby Road”).

We’re four episodes in so far, and the series, benefitting from a more plentiful budget per episode thanks to the Disney distribution deal, is playing like a solid greatest hits album for the modern era of this British perennial. We’ve had the blockbuster-type Christmas special that kicks off the tone and mystery for the series to come, the juvenile but still charming “Space Babies”, and the absurd yet delightfully camp and daring “The Devil’s Chord”. These episodes echo the beginnings of every Russell T Davies series during his first showrunner tenure from 2005 to 2010, starting things light and fun and silly, setting up interesting mysteries, and getting this new Doctor to play in wildly different sandboxes each week.

And here comes the “Boom”.

The new episode, written by Steven Moffat, has the Doctor step out of his TARDIS and right onto a landmine in the middle of an alien battlefield, forced to have companion Ruby Sunday save him whilst time ticks away and lethal enemy ambulance robots search for any survivors to destroy.

Moffat’s greatest strengths as a Who writer came from his time writing for Russell T Davies’ first showrunner era, boiling brilliant concepts for feature film plots down to their most pure form in 45 minutes or less. His episodes “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, “The Girl in the Fireplace”, “Blink” and “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead” consistently rank as some of the finest the show ever delivered. When Moffat moved up to showrunner from 2010 to 2017, his knack for labyrinthine storytelling made up of endless paradoxes and unanswered questions led to an uneven era dominated by great episodes but equally confusing season-long mysteries. Returning to a single episode means that Moffat can focus more on making one story work entirely on its own, and “Boom” delivers that promise thrillingly.

Die-hard fans out there, like me, pick up on the copious references like the weapon factories of Villengaard, the Moffat-favourite line “long way round”, how the Doctor loves “fish fingers and custard”, and a record of a dead person being used as an important plot device (literally). But beyond these “point at the TV” references, Moffat layers weighty themes relating to our modern concerns over artificial intelligence controlling our lives, the mutation of faith into a weapon, and the military industrial complex, all into that perfect 45-minute runtime, sparing no expense.

The plot can become rather twisted with overlapping motivations and revelation after revelation, and the story can feel rather heavy considering how related to death and destruction it all is. What works the best is Ncuti Gatwa’s performance, fully coming into his own as this new Doctor, showing off a vast emotional landscape and a total command over who this new version of the immortal Time Lord is. He’s more calm and at peace with himself after 2000 years and countless faces, but he is still never okay with putting innocents in danger and is never willing to let the end be the end. It is a testament to Gatwa’s brilliance as a performer that he can deliver the best joke of the episode whilst his face streams with tears.

Millie Gibson is also terrific and holds her own against Gatwa’s boundless charisma, her Ruby Sunday proving to be defiant against the Doctor’s worst tendencies, even if it puts her directly in harm’s way. Varada Sethu makes a surprise debut in this episode after being confirmed to play a new companion in the next season starting in 2025, but it certainly proves why the producers wanted her to keep on going. The performances here are more straightforward than the fourth-wall-breaking insanity and camp overload of last week’s “The Devil’s Chord”, but such is the beautiful dichotomy of Doctor Who.

Some naysayers may claim this to be the “return of Doctor Who” after the middling years of showrunner Chris Chibnall, controversial changes made in the 2023 60th anniversary specials, and the silly episodes that have started Series 14. While I cannot deny the disappointment felt by the Chibnall years, I can say that rejecting everything before “Boom” is ignorant of the truth of this show. It will challenge your expectations, strive to push forward with modern notions of gender, race, and sexuality, deliver wide-eyed wonder in a kid-friendly adventure one moment and then heartbreaking realities about humanity the next. Doctor Who isn’t “back” with “Boom”, because it never left. “Boom” is a top-notch episode inside a new era for the show that is only getting better and better with each week. Who can say that’s a bad thing?

Doctor Who – Series 14, Episode 3: “Boom” is now streaming on Disney+

Director: Julie Anne Robinson

Writer: Steven Moffat

Starring: Ncuti Gatwa, Millie Gibson, Varada Sethu, Caoilinn Springall

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If you don’t know what Doctor Who is about, you probably should have never clicked on this article. But anyway…here goes: The new series of Doctor Who stars Ncuti Gatwa as the “Fifteenth Doctor”, embarking on new and exciting adventures in time and space with...“Boom” and the New Doctor Who Series (so far)