4 out of 5 stars

Steven Moffat’s episodes were always the highlights of the early years of Russell T. Davies’s reign as showrunner. This made him the natural choice to take over Doctor Who in 2010. He then ran the show for such a long time—perhaps too long—that people started to find fault with his writing style or the various crutches he relied on. But I’ve always preferred Moffat’s approach to Doctor Who over RTD’s, mainly because he’s more adept at science fiction and comedy, even though the latter has his own strengths when it comes to creating believable characters and capturing the emotional core of the show.

“Boom” marks the welcome return of Moffat to the show. He’s back in his old role of dropping in for a single episode that everyone’s poised to hail as the season’s best. It remains to be seen if “Boom” is the new “Blink,” but it’s certainly the best of the first three episodes. Considering the show’s increased budget thanks to its Disney partnership, it was amusing to find that Moffat decided to tell a story with only one major location and a handful of characters.

The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) arrives on the war-ravaged wasteland of Kastarian 3. Militarized Anglican clerics Carson (Majid Mahdizadeh-Valoujerdy) and John Francis Vater (Joe Anderson) were killed moments before: the former by a deadly land mine that vaporized him, the latter by an A.I “ambulance” (Susan Twist) who opted to terminate Vater because he was temporarily blind. Unfortunately, seconds after rushing out of his TARDIS with Ruby (Millie Gibson) following close behind, The Doctor himself steps on another Villengard mine and is now stuck, unable to move an inch for fear of it triggering and killing everyone around him.

This episode excels at the challenging task of telling an engaging story within its self-imposed limitations. It also provides a welcome change of pace for the Fifteenth Doctor. After three lighthearted stories showcasing his enthusiasm and charisma, this episode demands a more serious and less comical performance from Gatwa. It’s refreshing to see this new Doctor handle a life-and-death situation. Moffat demonstrates his mastery of writing for the character, balancing serious themes with moments of wit and levity.

The surrounding creativity and world-building in “Boom” were excellent considering the time limitations. This is shown by the horrifying idea of the tank-like ambulances deciding to kill people because it’s more cost-effective, and by the vaporised people being “smelted” into fleshy canisters that contain an A.I hologram representation of them in perpetuity. Moffat also takes swipes at the madness of modern warfare as a business. The Villengard use an algorithm to limit the number of bodies in the battle zone, dragging out the war indefinitely to boost profits. An interesting idea is also presented: a future where seemingly religious people are soldiers, blindly fighting a war against an enemy they’ve never seen for themselves. This raises the question of whether faith can become an excuse to stop thinking for oneself and let this ridiculous situation last longer.

Millie Gibson also benefited from a story with more weight to it. This was the first time Ruby had to contend with a situation that felt more grounded and genuinely threatening. As a result, she came across as a more convincing companion, offering great ideas and exhibiting clear bravery when it mattered. I enjoyed her dynamic with the Doctor more than ever in “Boom,” even if it’s partly because it reminded me of Amy Pond and Matt Smith’s Doctor in some ways.

There was also a big surprise for Whovians. Low-ranking soldier Mundy Flynn (Varada Sethu) is being played by an actress we know will become another companion for The Doctor in the next season. It remains to be seen if she’ll play the same person, and if there will be a reason why The Doctor recruits Mundy for further adventures. Did they simply make this episode and then get so impressed with Sethu’s performance that she got the job as a full-time companion when casting happened? My guess is the latter, mainly because Mundy herself didn’t strike me as the type of character you’d want in the TARDIS. Or maybe there’s a deeper reason for it all, a bit like when Jenna Coleman was introduced earlier than expected in “Asylum of the Daleks”, but not as the character of Clara.

Actress Susan Twist’s recurring appearances throughout every episode this season is another curious detail I neglected to mention last week. Having portrayed the ambulance avatar, a tea lady in “The Devil’s Chord,” and a crew member in “Space Babies,” her presence seems to be a recurring motif. This, coupled with the consistent use of snow whenever Ruby experiences intense stress or ponders her enigmatic past, suggests a deliberate pattern building towards the season finale. And I didn’t expect that in an episode not written by RTD, frankly.

Unfortunately, “Boom” isn’t entirely successful. The romantic angle between Mundy and fellow soldier Canto (Bhav Joshi) feels perfunctory and doesn’t click despite the actors’ efforts. The ending is also a little too neat for my taste; a bittersweet resolution would have felt more fitting. However, for the most part, it’s an effective sci-fi tale, brilliantly directed by Julie Anne Robinson. The episode builds a lot of tension and stress but also provides moments of pressure-releasing humour. It also included intriguing references that will spark debate among fans, such as The Doctor mentioning he has a father at one point. This is likely a reference to ‘The Doctor’s Daughter,’ right? However, it’s not quite the same thing, as Jenny was just a genetic clone the Doctor didn’t spend much time with.

UK | 45 MINUTES | 2024 | 16:9 HD | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

writer: Steven Moffat.
director: Julie Anne Robinson.
starring: Ncuti Gatwa, Millie Gibson, Varada Sethu, Majid Mehdizadeh-Valoujerdy, Joe Anderson, Caoilinn Springall, Bhav Joshi & Susan Twist.