Make Mine, Moffat? ‘Who’ strips down to battlefield basics…

The new season has been controversial, but a weighty and tension-filled 'BOOM' barely puts a foot wrong...

The Doctor and Ruby may have intended to head to a beach, but, instead, they end up in the middle of an unexpected war zone. Driven to answer a call for help, the Doctor finds himself atop a deadly landmine, its genetic precision so deadly that the slightest shift could not only end the Doctor’s life but also take half the planet of Kastarion 3 with him. As the Doctor is forced to stay still, he must use his mind to unravel not just the history of the technology that is holding him prisoner, but the implications for those around him. Will Ruby follow his precise instructions? Can the few remaining combatants help or hinder? While the Doctor’s arrival might have been too late to save a solitary soldier, maybe that dead soldier can still save him?



War? What is it good for… absolutely nothing but profit… and perhaps the core of a story suggesting as much.

Moving to the Disney+ platform (at least internationally) may have led some to believe there would be a softening of the series and a safer, one-size-fits-all-ages approach, albeit it with a bigger budget. To be fair, both Space Babies and The Devil’s Chord might have done nothing to dissuade those looking for reasons to note and maybe bemoan the more intentional OTT elements. However, BOOM would suggest that’s not the case and of the batch of episodes that so far represent this new era, this third entry feels more a reassuring statement that the series’ classic qualities are still there and that the show can ultimately be any number of things to any number of people on a week-to-week basis.

Some of this will obviously be down to the return of Steven Moffat to the show, no longer as showrunner but in his original form as impassioned writer-for-hire. Moffat is absolutely one of the UK’s best writers, though may still be a marmite factor to some of the fandom (the suggestion is that he’s better at stunning singular conceptual stories than, say, holding together longer, and more meandering long-game arcs) but there’s few who would deny that – when at his best – he’s written some of the classic episodes of the modern run leaning into taking high-concepts and grounding them in something emotional and even profound. He flexes his keyboard and quill with an unapologetic attack on the concept of war as an industry and it’s not being subtle: it’s a full-frontal and sometimes emotionally-brutal, scripted assault that pulls together the notions of blind faith and carnage capitalism. Here, Moffat and the Doctor involve themselves in a war-zone constructed to feed those who make and profit from the weapons of war, but – even worse – one that is being continually perpetuated for the self-same reasons: ensuring that the rules of engagement keep a need for the supply.

A stone-cold classic? It’s hard to say. However, BOOM is an enormously confident and well-presented, compelling to watch as an individual entry and likely to prove important in hindsight. It’s really hard to ask for anything more…

There’s some sprinkles of quirks and humour in the mix and flourishes for which Moffat is known – but this is streamlined and Moffat clearly isn’t taking any prisoners.  The Anglican Marines previously guarded River Song, the ‘ambulances’ may remind some of the guardians of the Library (in Silence of the Library/Forest of the Dead) and Moffat references ‘fish fingers and custard‘ from Matt Smith’s debut, The Eleventh Hour. Even the military manufacturer, Villengard, has been mentioned before. But familiarity doesn’t breed contempt.

There’s often no greater test for a performer than a minimal environment and a series of close-ups. If the previous episodes concentrated on the more flourished and flippant, then Ncuti Gatwa grabs the opportunity to show why Davies felt he was right for the role. Like Midnight (in which 10/David Tennant’s trademark Time Lord arrogance and assuredness ironically became the story’s pivot and threat) BOOM also strips away the hop, skip and jump of the latest incarnation thus far and literally holds him in place, atop a landmine. Moffat’s words might fit any number of the Doctor’s incarnations, but here  – under the smart direction of Julie Anne Robinson – Gatwa has to act with his eyes and voice. They cycle through surprise, fear, regret and barely contained anger and it works spectacularly well.

Millie Gibson gets to show her acting chops as well. The moment where she refuses to throw the Doctor the ‘smelt’ weight because there’s too many variables is a key one. Ruby has the all the power in the scene, ignoring the Doctor because – whatever the increase in risk to her own safety – she feels it’s more important to risk herself than take the Doctor’s demands. It’s a scene that secures the still relatively-new relationship between Time Lord and companion as one you’re rooting for. There’s also yet more snow visuals threading in to Ruby’s mysterious backstory and that can’t really be judged until it’s all played out…  Special mention should also go to Caoilinn Springall as the young ‘Splice’ who gives us a quiet but knowing child that avoids the minefield of being either too sweet or cynical.

There’s two other aspects of the story that are deceptively important and for which little was revealed in advance. The first is in another inclusion for the actress ‘Susan Twist’, here as the voice and face of the ambivalent ambulances. It seems impossible to fathom why the face keeps repeating through the episodes, but it is now obvious that it’s not merely a whim, but will be a key factor going forward. The other factor also involves a face. Though Varada Sethu debuts playing one of the Anglican army’s soldiers Mundy Flynn, those keeping up with news about the show might also remember that Sethu has now being confirmed as the Doctor’s next companion. She’ll be joining Millie Gibson (rather than replacing her as rumours first suggested), but this is an unannounced appearance that doesn’t spin or end in a way that immediately suggests any sort of continuation. Does that mean that Sethu will be another character or that we’ll return to the battlescape again before we’re done? As with Doctor Who, the only way to be sure is to keep watching…

The episode is book-ended by the tune of the Skye Boat Song, the song that tells of a battlefield and the last days of Bonnie Prince Charlie, one which the Doctor refers to as ‘sweet and sad’ and therefore it’s one that fits the story itself. It’s actually been used before in the show, but never quite as centre-stage.

A stone-cold classic? It’s hard to say. However, BOOM is enormously confident and well-presented, compelling to watch as an individual entry and likely to prove important in hindsight. It’s certainly a demonstration of what Doctor Who does best and it’s really hard to ask for anything more…

Doctor Who debuts new episodes each week, 7:00pm ET Fridays on Disney+ and each Saturday night on the BBC

'Doctor Who - BOOM'  (BBC/Disney+ review)
'Doctor Who - BOOM' (BBC/Disney+ review)
  • Story
  • Direction
  • Acting
  • Production Design/VFX