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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

47 Comments

  1. Ewa Woowa
    May 27, 2013 @ 12:32 am

    So… nobodies going to mention the football???

    Reply

  2. John Callaghan
    May 27, 2013 @ 12:36 am

    Pedantry: Pobol Y Cwm is the BBC's longest-running soap, but Coronation Street is Britiain's longest-running (and the world's too, I believe).

    Another entertaining analysis – cheers.

    Reply

  3. David Anderson
    May 27, 2013 @ 1:10 am

    The other problem with the 'only a killer would know that' line is that, unless there's something Russell Davies isn't telling us, apparently Davies knows it as well.

    Reply

  4. Andrew Hickey
    May 27, 2013 @ 1:53 am

    A really pedantic point here, but Scottish Gaelic has formal recognition, but not "formal recognition as an official language". The only official language anywhere in the UK is Welsh.

    Reply

  5. Lewis Christian
    May 27, 2013 @ 3:35 am

    I await many "Boom Town is crap" comments.

    But before all that. Boom Town is great. The ending, granted, is naff, but it's not really about that. The scene in the cafe is a delight, a proper treat and something missing from current Who – getting to know the Doctor, a quiet moment or two, just telling all the explosion-wham-bam-shit to go away for a mo so we can have some character drama. [I much prefer the working title – Dining With Monsters.]

    I notice you've avoided the Slitheen again, Phil, but not to worry – the Slitheen member here is also great. A story about consequences and motivations (something seemingly lacking from a lot of villains since), and that scene with the Slitheen and the woman in the ladies' bathroom is truly amazing to watch. The Slitheen aren't just run of the mill bad – they have character, personality, feelings.

    True, it is a bit of an empty story and the ending serves only to help the finale ("shit, we have GodRose in two weeks and we haven't explained how she'll become that! Throw in a GodMachineThing into this one.") but it's a well paced, well thought out little story. It's on the same level as Closing Time, and The Lodger – a decent "little" story leading up to an epic finale.

    Reply

  6. Daniel Tessier
    May 27, 2013 @ 3:51 am

    Every post should begin with an Eddie Izzard quote.

    But seriously, a very interesting post on an episode that frequently gets overlooked when discussing the first series.

    Reply

  7. John Voorhees
    May 27, 2013 @ 5:03 am

    I must agree with Lewis Christian. Boom Town is one of my favorites … a story that absolutely would not, could not happen in the Classic series.

    Reply

  8. elvwood
    May 27, 2013 @ 5:23 am

    It's not a particular favourite, but there's certainly nothing badly wrong with it – there are at least four episodes this series that I like less, and this is a fine season. It plays to its strengths: the quiet moments are universally good (and yes, there are so many of these that it wouldn't have worked in the classic show). The only reasons it isn't higher in my estimation are that (a) I didn't like many of the action bits – particularly the comedy chase sequence – and (b) I'd already been put off the Slitheen. Heck, I don't even mind the ending!

    Reply

  9. Pen Name Pending
    May 27, 2013 @ 5:31 am

    I think "Boom Town" is light and fun. Not substantial enough to be a favorite, but a nice underrated episode.

    Reply

  10. dm
    May 27, 2013 @ 5:52 am

    Boom Town is probably my girlfriend's favourite nuwho, and it's one that I enjoy a lot- probably more than Dalek and The Empty Child. It's like the beginning of The Romans, being able to see the gang just hanging out is glorious. Captain Jack probably, as a character, hasn't earned the chemistry, being only one episode in, but it's definitely there. The flirting is great, and Barrowman is at his best when playing against a truly great actor in Eccleston (the cracks in Barrowman's limited ability really show a lot more in Torchwood and when he's feeding off Tennant).

    Reply

  11. jane
    May 27, 2013 @ 5:54 am

    The thing about the Revival of the show is that it's not just an anthology of short stories anymore. A season plays out like a novel. Well, like a season of television, really, insofar as we expect TV these days to have narrative threads running through entire seasons (if not longer.) In that context, I absolutely love Boom Town, it's like the calm before the storm, the "beat" before the climax.

    And even though it's the cheap episode, there's still some interesting imagery. The TARDIS juxtaposed with the Water/Mirror Tower, the axis mundi of the show's world. Rose and Mickey standing out in front of that tower — Rose can look into the "mirror" but Mickey can't, he turns away. And, of course, that "beautiful" light from the heart of the TARDIS, the promise of rebirth.

    The other thing that's just so lovely about this episode is that it doesn't skimp on the metaphor. Blon's juxtaposed with the Doctor, but a reverse image — the Doctor agonizes over the few deaths he metes out to save millions; Blon congratulates herself on the few lives she saves over the deaths of millions. Blon's family is dead, she's all alone — but unlike the Doctor, she doesn't connect with anyone, and still has a world to return to. They both have fancy technological travel devices — and a "surf board" outside a tower with water running down the sides is perfect.

    This "mirroring" plays out throughout their interactions — reversing her "teleport running," breath freshener to her bad breath, switching the wine glasses, even the Rebirth in the face of execution. It also plays out with Mickey and Rose, where Mickey passive-aggressively mirrors Rose's choices — going out with someone new but inappropriate, and always running when that Call to Adventure comes. Mickey, though, realizes he doesn't have to keep running anymore.

    (Yeah, this leaves Jack without a mirror — or maybe he's the crack in it?)

    Anyways, the pairings of Doctor/Blon and Rose/Mickey are also revealing — on the one side, we've got aliens always planning ahead, on the other we have impulsive humans living in the moment. They make an interesting contrast.

    Reply

  12. jane
    May 27, 2013 @ 5:57 am

    An Egg is conflated with a Reset Button.

    Hmmm.

    Reply

  13. Ewa Woowa
    May 27, 2013 @ 6:39 am

    Well, to be precise: BoomTown is almost as crap as Father's Day… (which makes TimeFlight look well thought out.)

    And no, I'm not just trolling.

    I am not a robot.

    Reply

  14. Ewa Woowa
    May 27, 2013 @ 6:42 am

    But what about the Germans?

    I am not a robot.

    Reply

  15. David Anderson
    May 27, 2013 @ 7:15 am

    I don't want to say Boom Town is crap, but I feel the concept is much more interesting than the execution. Centering an episode on a conversation between the Doctor and a villain has potential to be very good. But the conversation that we get is raised above banality only by the writer putting his finger on the scales. Also, if we take the criticisms 'Margaret' makes of the Doctor seriously we're threatened with a narrative collapse that Davies does nothing to avoid other than by making us not take them seriously. That said, it's Bad Wolf / Parting of the Ways that really raise the problem and then do nothing about it.
    The Rose / Mickey conversations are good.

    Reply

  16. Froborr
    May 27, 2013 @ 7:57 am

    Coronation Street is the world's longest-running soap in current production (53 years), but the American soap Guiding Light ran for 72 years before its cancellation in 2009.

    Reply

  17. Adam Riggio
    May 27, 2013 @ 8:56 am

    The Eccleston era offers so much to think about, in so many different aspects. There was just so much going on in those 13 episodes that I don't think we got a similarly dense season again until seasons 6 & 7, when all the stories were ludicrously oversignified that each one was at least three stories at once.

    The Eccleston year seems to suggest, from the perspective I want to focus on here, the potential for reams of Missing Adventures. I like to imagine expanding the Eccleston era to two seasons, but having the same endpoint. Everything is as it was in real life until Dalek, then I imagine the rest of the season as adventures with the TARDIS team of Christopher, Rose, and Adam. Over the course of those next five episodes, Adam would slowly show himself to be less and less trustworthy. At first, he impresses the Doctor with his scientific curiosity, but Rose suspects him more as the crush wears off. The returns to East Powell Street would play with an entirely different kind of tension between Mickey and Adam. Then in the finale, Adam would betray them all, including Mickey and Jackie to some villain, and the group's rejection of him would forge some closer bonds between Chris' Doctor, Mickey, and Jackie. Imagined Eccleston season two would start with The Empty Child two-parter and introduce Captain Jack, then spend the rest of the season travelling with a Chris, Rose, Jack team, and end at Parting of the Ways. Jack is resurrected and left behind, Chris regenerates into David, just as in real life.

    This is my long-winded way of saying that Jack could have used a more prominent role in Doctor Who. Yes, it was great that John Barrowman got his own show, and the best of Torchwood is really very good. But the best Captain Jack is the Doctor Who character. I don't know that Russell T Davies really knew how much the character of Captain Jack would catch on. From what I know, he was only ever intended as a five-episode character who dies in the finale. Then he proved so charismatic that he was brought back.

    Boom Town precisely indicates the incidental nature of the original conception of Jack. He's just kind of there, not really doing anything except being a foil to Mickey. Granted, I think he's great in this role, because Captain Jack and John Barrowman are both very good at comedy. In fact, I think some of Jack's best moments on Torchwood are when he's allowed to be funny.

    Boom Town is an excellent example of how good Doctor Who's cheap episodes can be. It kind of reminds me of one of your original contrasts in the blog, Phil: Dixon of Dock Green. Boom Town works as a kind of morality play encounter between the Doctor and a villain. It lets us question the Doctor, and explore a moral facet to his lifestyle and the show. His dinner with Margaret works brilliantly because it's a calm conversation: drama of ideas, filmed in a realist manner. Mickey and Rose's plot fits into this episode because they're having a realist discussion as well. They let us question the Doctor's lifestyle, this time not in contrast to a villain, but in contrast to an ordinary socially real life. In Boom Town, that's the most powerful moral conversation, and I'm a little saddened to see that contrast disappear from the show over time.

    Reply

  18. Daibhid C
    May 27, 2013 @ 9:19 am

    What's interesting about "They have to do stories set in Cardiff for internal political reasons" is the way the city is treated. In The Unquiet Dead, Rose is delighted to be somewhere Victorian and replies "Don't care" to all his clarifications … until the news she's in Cardiff stops her dead in her tracks. In this story Mickey demands to know why anyone would go to Cardiff, and Martha has prety much the same reaction, but more muted, in Utopia.

    But the clever bit is I would imagine the Welsh audience loving this (I'm Scottish myself, but I think the psychology is much the same) in a weird combination of self-deprecation (of course Cardiff being the site of something as an interdimensional rift is funny!) and chippiness (that's exactly the sort of thing a Londoner would think!)

    And for my money, the best line for this is Margaret's "South Wales could fall into the sea and London wouldn't care", closely followed by "God help me, I've gone native!" The Welsh viewers get to laugh at themselves, and the rest of the country, er, gets to laugh at them as well…

    Reply

  19. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 27, 2013 @ 9:26 am

    What interests me is the way in which the tone has changed dramatically from The Green Death, where the depictions of the Welsh felt terribly patronizing. Though you can see the contrast just as clearly between The Green Death and Terror of the Zygons, the latter featuring a non-trivial number of Scotsmen working on the story and thus engaging in cheery self-mockery.

    The existence of Torchwood pushes further in this direction, and in many ways it all pays off gorgeously in that scene in the second episode of Miracle Day where, taunted with a very stereotypical "American reacting to British person" sort of line, Gwen snarls that she's Welsh and proceeds to beat the shit out of the Americans.

    I mean, this tends to be the exact sort of humor oppressed and disadvantaged populations form a self-identity out of.

    Apropos of nothing, Cardiff is my standard "well if you want something that will be a fun day trip outside of London" suggestion for family and friends going to the UK. Lovely city; Cardiff Castle is absolutely wonderful.

    Reply

  20. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 27, 2013 @ 9:28 am

    Yeah, I misread the sentence when I was researching the essay. Fixed now.

    Reply

  21. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 27, 2013 @ 9:31 am

    Also fixed.

    Reply

  22. Daibhid C
    May 27, 2013 @ 11:02 am

    Yeah, I can't imagine any Welsh viewers smiling in rueful recognition at The Green Death. But to a Scot, Terror is brilliantly done, especially Courtney as The Englishman Who Has A Scottish Granny And Is Therefore Wearing A Kilt.

    Reply

  23. Froborr
    May 27, 2013 @ 11:54 am

    Of course Davies knows! He did kill off the Time Lords, Daleks, and countless others, after all.

    Reply

  24. Nick Smale
    May 27, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

    I'd love to see this story re-told from Torchwood's point-of-view. Presumably in every scene, just out-of-shot, there must be a second Jack, desperately trying to prevent Owen, Tosh and Ianto from discovering that the mayor of Cardiff is an Alien…

    Reply

  25. Lewis Christian
    May 27, 2013 @ 1:39 pm

    "Um, Jack, the Rift machine's overloading and going a bit mental!"

    "Yeah, don't worry. I promise it'll all be fine."

    "FINE?!"

    "I'll explain later."

    Reply

  26. Ross
    May 27, 2013 @ 4:24 pm

    Among currently-airing shows, yes. But it'll be another decade or so before Coronation Street passes As the World Turns and The Guiding Light, which both moved to TV in the 50s and were canned a couple of years ago. (Guiding Light, of course, is not merely the longest-running TV show, but the longest-running work of fiction in the english language, having originally premiered, IIRC, in cave paintings among the Delaware Indians ca 1000 BCE)

    Reply

  27. Bennett
    May 27, 2013 @ 5:24 pm

    I'm compelled by the argument that as Torchwood is created in Tooth and Claw by the actions of The Tenth Doctor (or the words of Davies, depending on your perspective) it exists only in potentia at this time, yet to become a fixed point of narrative. This can also explain why, once both these men have left Doctor Who, stories of the scope of Miracle Day can be told without so much as grazing Doctor Who itself.

    Of course, imagining Torchwood in the shadows of every major alien invasion of Britain is a lot more fun…

    Reply

  28. Bennett
    May 27, 2013 @ 5:37 pm

    You may not be trolling, but I think you may be conflating "not well thought out" with "operates along a narrative axis that I don't agree with".

    It would take some argument to convince me that Time-Flight succeeds along its own lines more than Father's Day does (assuming its own lines aren't "to buffer the blow of Arc of Infinity").

    But, this being Doctor Who, I can't claim anything to be outside the realm of possibility and look forward to your response.

    Reply

  29. George Potter
    May 27, 2013 @ 6:53 pm

    "(Guiding Light, of course, is not merely the longest-running TV show, but the longest-running work of fiction in the english language, having originally premiered, IIRC, in cave paintings among the Delaware Indians ca 1000 BCE)"

    It's very painful, snorting coffee out of your nose, dammit.

    Reply

  30. David Anderson
    May 27, 2013 @ 9:34 pm

    If the classic series had continued and Ben Aaronovitch had become the next Robert Holmes, I think we might well have seen a whole episode of the Doctor sitting in a cafe talking about sugar or some such. And it would have been brilliant.

    Reply

  31. elvwood
    May 27, 2013 @ 10:09 pm

    Heh. I'd buy the Big Finish adaptation.

    Actually, this is the episode that most resembles a seventh Doctor story – I could definitely imagine McCoy at that dinner table. Next best would be The Long Game, then some variation on Father's Day (though the reapers would hsve looked rubbish).

    (My captcha was "xamish's chancel", which sounds like a chapter title in a Who book.)

    Reply

  32. Alan
    May 27, 2013 @ 10:15 pm

    There is no universe in which Time-Flight was well thought out.

    Reply

  33. Nick Smale
    May 27, 2013 @ 10:16 pm

    This can also explain why, once both these men have left Doctor Who, stories of the scope of Miracle Day

    I've been imagining that Torchwood still exists in the Tenth Doctor's universe (the one where everyone on Earth knows about aliens because the Daleks moved the planet) whereas in Doctor Who we're in a new version of history where those events have been re-written (by the crack in time, and the Doctor re-booting the universe), and those things (including the events of Miracle Day, presumably) no longer occurred.

    Reply

  34. David Anderson
    May 28, 2013 @ 2:43 am

    Now that you say it, the classic Doctor story that comes closest to light-hearted episode in which the Doctor spends most of the time engaging in conversation with the villain is City of Death.
    (Not that I think the comparison does Boom Town many favours.)

    Reply

  35. Assad K
    May 28, 2013 @ 5:05 am

    Not having been particularly fond of this episode, that was however hailed as another triumph in the format of NuWho, I should really have rewatched this (I will watch Love & Monsters again before commenting, honest!), I will nevertheless comment..

    Much as with Journeys End, the music and photography did kinda leave me with the impression that we were meant to think that there might be some validity to Margarets comments about the Doctor. Except, of course, that it's a crap argument that required far stronger rebuttals than what we got, where Team TARDIS has trouble looking her in the eye. But, as Dr Sandifer pointed out, at least this time the Doctor was able to tell her that she was full of it. It's not even as if there is any nuance to Margaret being Evil. The teaser has her murdering someone in cold blood!

    I also had some trouble getting past the issues in the story that derived from .. well, from having Annette Badland return. Because this would imply a universe without UNIT or Torchwood.. or, indeed, even MI-5. Not to mention that, after for all intents and purposes kidnapping the Mayor of Cardiff, the Doctor then takes her to dinner at a high end restaurant, where she would presumably be recognized. Obviously I am focusing on the wrong elements of the narrative. And yes, I know that 'City of Death' showed is that the patrons of Paris cafes are quite nonchalant about men walking in waving guns, but that seemed pretty bizarre to me as well.

    Wasn't too fond of the resolution either. I couldn't really buy that Margarets deepest desire was.. to have another chance. Hm. But TARDIS as resolution will recur far too soon.

    Reply

  36. Froborr
    May 28, 2013 @ 8:33 am

    How did the Delaware Indians learn English 2600 years before it was invented? Did those cave paintings by any chance prominently feature a little blue box?

    Reply

  37. Froborr
    May 28, 2013 @ 8:37 am

    Actually, this is the episode that most resembles a seventh Doctor story – I could definitely imagine McCoy at that dinner table. Next best would be The Long Game, then some variation on Father's Day (though the reapers would hsve looked rubbish).

    I dunno, I just rewatched "Bad Wolf" over the weekend and noticed a lot of similarities with "The Happiness Patrol."

    But in general, I think the Seven-and-Ace seasons more closely resemble the new series than they do the bulk of the classic series.

    Reply

  38. Adam Riggio
    May 28, 2013 @ 10:52 am

    Overall, I've warmed to Boom Town over time, a contrast to my first viewing when it premiered in 2005 in Canada, two Tuesdays after the UK broadcast. At the time, I didn't really know the material conditions in which the show was being made. So when I saw Margaret Blon Slitheen return, I thought this was Davies' attempt to stamp a new recurring villain onto the show: adding his own contribution to the pantheon of Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, the Master, Ice Warriors, etc. When I first watched this season, I saw the Slitheen as absolutely rubbish villains. It was only years later, when I could conceptualize them as an early version of what would eventually be Max Capricorn in Voyage of the Damned, did I understand what was really intriguing about their concept. Originally, I saw it as a profoundly arrogant move of Davies to take probably the dumbest villain that season (without even the charisma of a PR man like Simon Pegg) and try to make them a recurring monster race. I only perceived Davies' ego, thinking (like a fool) that creating a new canonical recurring monster race was a more important contribution to Doctor Who than bringing it back from the dead in the first place.

    I only learned about the clusterfuck that was season one's production over the following years, and so now can understand Boom Town's role as the cheap story produced at the last minute when Paul Abbott's script proved unworkable with Davies' vision of the show. They reused the Slitheen only because the costume was still in storage at BBC Wales and Annette Badland was available. Plus, even in my initial chilly reception, I enjoyed the story, a meditation on the different fuzzy areas of the morality of the Doctor and Doctor Who. Magaret Blon's story is a meditation on the justness of capital punishment, and the Rose/Mickey story is a meditation on how association with the Doctor can change your outlook on life, and maybe disconnect you from parts of your life that used to be very important. The latter, especially, is a very meaningful topic to me, as someone who has many friends, and has myself, moved from one city to another and found myself more disconnected from relationships that used to be immensely important to my life. Oddly enough, Boom Town was probably the most sane articulation of this problem with the Doctor's lifestyle, as many of the later discussions grew increasingly heavy-handed in my view.

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  39. Ross
    May 28, 2013 @ 5:33 pm

    I'm more interested in where they found a cave on the Atlantic coastal plain.

    Reply

  40. Richard Amphlett
    May 28, 2013 @ 7:33 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    Reply

  41. Corpus Christi Music Scene
    May 29, 2013 @ 6:34 pm

    http://youtu.be/giaMRyn47Xg The Ballad Of Russel & Julie

    Reply

  42. landru
    May 30, 2013 @ 11:27 am

    Yeah, "way to plant, egg!" Sorry, wrong show.

    So, Sandifer, I bought the Hartnell book … are you saying you left "The Massacre" out?

    Reply

  43. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 30, 2013 @ 11:29 am

    Yeah, in the print edition; it's in the ebook. I updated the web version to the revised version, and the Troughton book has it as an appendix. As, obviously, will the revised edition.

    Reply

  44. landru
    May 30, 2013 @ 11:53 am

    It's funny, but this season AT THE TIME really bothered me … the emotional stuff in "Father's Day" actually really pissed me off, especially. But, this episode seemed to make it all fit together. I mean, I never accepted the "love story" thing and still don't like it at all, but now I can watch it with women … Sexist? Then why is it true?

    Sandifer's blog, especially starting with his "Rose" TV Roundup approach, has really given me perspective I never had on what hurdles this relaunch had to overcome. I was going to comment on that, but shared it with friends instead.

    (Mr. Sandifer, I've been here all along, not commenting. When you want advice on why I think you should address "Culloden" in context with "The Highlanders" again … I'll let you know. … The Time Lords left Jamie to be slaughtered.)

    However, "Boom Town" was just sort of fun, even at the time. Jack is a little bit jarring, but there are too many characters here and he does have a few nice moments.

    The main standout that I should mention … and it was mentioned to Noel Clark at Gallifrey (??) 2006 … was that it gave Mickey real pathos. Suddenly, he was a fleshed out character that you felt bad for and even could suddenly relate to. The jilted boyfriend. That part of the "soap" storyline is, in a way, the end of that storyline as an exclusive entity, I would argue. There is no just "soap" story without it merging into Doctor Who.

    I'm definitely looking forward to future instalments. Getting good.

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  45. landru
    May 30, 2013 @ 11:55 am

    hmm, so buy the Troughton book … hmm. lol.

    Reply

  46. BerserkRL
    June 2, 2013 @ 5:17 am

    What I loved about "Boomtown" is that it took a heretofore rubbish villain and made them interesting and complicated.

    Reply

  47. Mike Card
    September 22, 2015 @ 10:56 am

    Actually, all of the comments about Soap Operas (other than Guiding Light) are, in fact wrong. All of you have missed an important qualification, which is that these things are only true for TV. The longest running BBC Soap Opera is in fact Radio 4’s The Archers which has been going since 23 years, 9 months and 15 days before Pobol y Cwm debuted and 9 years,11 months and 8 days prior to the start of Coronation Street, making it the longest running Soap Opera still in production, the longest running Soap Opera to have been made entirely for radio, the second longest running programme on the BBC after Desert Island Discs and the second longest running fictional programme ever after Guiding Light, which it will overtake in about 7 years time.

    Reply

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