Maybe it’s just me, but this is an unassuming little title. It feels like it should rouse interest, but it doesn’t. Anyway, on with the actual episode.
It is now six months later, Earth Time. Gentle Scientist McFussy is gently telling Alien Lady (“Margaret”) that there’s a problem. His “readings” indicate that “the project” is just so dangerous that it’s as if someone must be trying to annihilate “the city”. Margaret’s stomach gurgles as she gently tells McFussy that of course she’ll shut the project down, she’s not a maniac, and, er, she won’t have to kill anyone else to hush this up will she? She unzips, the inevitable is about to happen, and we go to title sequence.
This gives us time to wonder about that stomach gurgle, because doggone it, someone’s still got some ‘splaining to do about all the flatulence “humor” that drove the initial two-parter into the ground nose-first. Did they reshoot after negative feedback from the first two episodes? They couldn’t have just changed the sound effect, because Margaret blames the gurgle on being hungry. So either someone went to the expense of a dinky little reshoot, or someone realized ahead of time how stupid the toilet humor would be, and altered it for this episode but not the first two. What gives?
Okay, enough of this. Let’s try to approach this episode with a fresh palate. McFussy looked to a model depicting several nuclear reactors and a lot of buildings, so we see where the title is likely to come in. IT IS A PUN HA HA. I for one am disappointed we aren’t in the American Old West, but I guess it just highlights how Britain-centric this first season is.
We join Mickey as he homes in on a blue police box randomly sitting in a plaza somewhere in scenic downtown Wales. But the man who answers his knock is not the Doctor! How embarrassing! But don’t worry, it’s Captain Jack Harkness. The Doctor greets Mickey cordially. Mickey has come to give Rose her passport, and also to see if she’s gotten tired of having all of space and time at her beck and call yet. But now there’s this new handsome guy in the room, giving off decidedly non-asexual vibes, and Mickey wants to know what’s up with that too. Instead we find out why the TARDIS is in Cardiff: that rift that was sealed to stop the ghost invasion force back in the third episode left behind a spacetime scar, and spacetime scars leak energy pus, and energy pus is what the TARDIS needs to get refueled. And all three time travelers high-five while Mickey takes them for fools.
I don’t remember the TARDIS ever needing refueling as if it were an ordinary Earth vehicle. KJ doesn’t either. Being drained of its power by some force, sure, that happens, but this? I wouldn’t care so much, but an episode that goes back to the Slitheen is already on close watch.
Mickey introduces the question of why the TARDIS always looks like a police box. (Mickey didn’t realize that police boxes were ever a real thing, which is likely a wink to younger viewers in the same position.) The Doctor says he doesn’t fix the chameleon circuit because he likes the TARDIS as it is. (We’ll later see that he leaves the parking brake on because he likes the wheezing sound.) “I love it,” agrees Rose, hugging the TARDIS probably a little too warmly for Mickey’s comfort. The Doctor leads them off to explore Cardiff, the safest place in the universe.
Cut to Margaret saying that the nuclear plant will be built in the middle of Cardiff. I figured this would be revenge against London for previous events, but no, the project’s in Cardiff. Anyway, she’s Mayor and she’s going to knock down a castle and build perfectly safe nuclear reactors, and absolutely nothing bad will happen, honest. She doesn’t want to be photographed, she doesn’t want to be interviewed, and she doesn’t want Cathy Salt, intrepid reporter for the Gazette, to tell her of whispers that the project is cursed with more than an indecipherable Welsh name.
Cathy says it’s “a bit odd” that so many have died during the construction of the project, which in this day and age probably means three or four tops. And then she starts her list with “the entire team of the European Safety Inspectors”, and it’s like, whoa, how is this project still going forward? The odd local engineer is one thing, but wipe out an entire unit of people devoted to rooting out dangers that others might try to hide, presumably sent by the European Union, and there are going to be Inquiries.
How long has she been Mayor, anyway? Can you even advance a nuclear reactor project within six months to where an international safety team wants to look things over?
Anyway, the reporter lists all the people who have died, and Margaret brushes them off one by one, going from probably illegal safety issues to “ice is slippery okay geeze”. You’d think someone must have noticed a pattern and called for a formal investigation, but apparently this is just one of those things that can only be pieced together by an attractive reporter chick, who then brings it to the attention of the attractive male lead, and then they try to tell the authorities but get the brush-off and have to have adventures to uncover the truth. Cathy says she’s found that the man killed in the teaser was concerned that the plant was deliberately designed to lead to a gigantic meltdown.
Margaret hustles Cathy off to kill her out of the public eye. Cathy goes along because, hey, all those other suspicious deaths happened to other people, and it’s not as if her little bitty newspaper could ever happen across anything, you know, actually serious. If Cathy came across Tony Blair sneaking out of the Treasury at midnight, guilty expression on his face, strange bulges in his British garments, all she would say would be, “Hello Mister Blair! Put on some weight, have you? Oh, while I’m here, do you have anything to say about reports that someone is embezzling large sums of money from the Government?”
Anyway, just as Alien Lady is about to kill Cathy to stop the information being released, Cathy mentions her fiance thinks she’s nuts. Alien Lady considers this angle, relaxes, probes this new line of thinking. The fact that Cathy is pregnant hits home with Alien Lady, and she softens. It’s rather a strange scene, deliberately so, with Alien Lady sitting in a public restroom stall, fully unmasked, chatting in a very human way about family with this oblivious girl. Alien Lady reminisces about her deceased family as much as she can do in public, concluding that maybe she is cursed. Cathy disagrees, adding that Alien Lady is “quite nice.” Alien Lady thanks her and sends her on her way, saying that she needs to be alone and perhaps I’ll kill you some other time?
Now we find the TARDIS Gang relaxing in a seaside restaurant, listening to a delightful anecdote Jack is telling. It’s a great little bit, and oh wow already? Here we are, immediately plunging into the exact plot device Alien Lady (and everyone else) saw coming: the Doctor recognizing her in a photograph in a newspaper . . . right under a big headline reading New Mayor, new Cardiff. Looks like she’s been mayor considerably less than six months, then.
Alien Lady isn’t cursed, the whole Slitheen storyline is.
The Gang heads straight for City Hall. Jack coolly outlines a basic, sensible plan to confront and bottle up Alien Lady. How can these episodes be so sane and yet so stupid? The Doctor corrects him as to who’s in charge, then after a moment’s thought accepts his scheme. Everyone flips out their cell phones, and in they charge.
The Doctor tells the Receptionist to tell the Mayor that the Doctor told the Receptionist that “the Doctor” would like to see her. “Doctor who?” asks the receptionist. (Ding!) There is a prompt clink as Margaret’s teacup hits the floor. The receptionist comes back out and tries to stammer apologies, to which the Doctor smiles knowingly and says, “She’s climbing out of the window, isn’t she?” The Doctor begins coordinating with the rest of his strike team, with Mickey continuing to look a little out of his depth (especially as he collides with a janitor and runs off with his foot in a bucket of toilet paper). At this point, the receptionist decides to defend the Lord Mayor from the Doctor. Fortunately, Rose and Jack drive Margaret back past the Doctor. She gets past Mickey’s exit before he can cut her off and she teleports away, but the Doctor teleports her back, now pointed in their direction, and smiles genially at her. Every time she teleports away, the Doctor simply returns her closer to them.
Back in her chambers, Margaret tries to pass off the nuclear plant as philanthropy, but the Doctor says that it’s designed to explode the moment it achieves full capacity. Jack adds that, being on top of that scar (he calls it a “rift”, but he himself helped establish it was sealed, so good job again episode), it would blow up the entire planet. Rose asks whether anyone noticed — noticed the design flaw, I mean, not the impossibility of the Doctor discovering such a design flaw from examining a public relations model the size of a coffee table.
It’s like the Slitheen sweat plot holes, or something.
Margaret bitterly says that London doesn’t care what happens in Wales, then declares in shock that she’s gone native — sounding like a Welshman, ugh. Okay, that’s funny, but it doesn’t count as patching that particular plot hole. You can do better than that, Russell T. Davies.
Or maybe you can’t. Because I just, what is this. It’s Mickey’s turn to get a line, so he asks why she would blow herself up (uh, remember she’s got a teleporter?) and gets alien-racist, and in response the Doctor pulls the central portion out of the model and flips it over, revealing what looks kinda like a color-coded circuit board. Looks like she put her evil plans into a model where anyone could find them. I bet she puts her secret lair’s self-destruct code under the doormat when she goes out for the evening, too. Jack is practically drooling over whatever this impressive hardware is supposed to do, but he also points out that it should be beyond her capabilities. I suspect a “Bad Wolf” moment is coming by way of explanation.
Essentially, the technobabble doohickey would surround her in a protective bubble, then use the energy from the planetary explosion to surf her back to a properly civilized planet. And the circuit board is the doohickey itself, not a representation of what’s to be buried under the plant. I actually respect that more. She’s keeping her doohickey close to her, in a natural place for her to be at the crucial moment, in an elegantly relevant place that, honestly, nobody’s likely to look. It’s much more sane than “I will tell the model builder to include all that weird underground stuff I should be keeping secret.” I will award this style points.
Margaret is tight-lipped about how she came by the doohickey, then tells the Doctor that she chose “Blaidd Drwg” for the project name for no particular reason. The music gets eerie-sad ooo-oo-y as the Doctor announces that it’s Welsh for “Bad Wolf”. Okay, well, half-credit for me, I guess. Rose and the Doctor are both weirded out, having caught on that the phrase is “following” them around, but the Doctor snaps out of it and announces plans to take Margaret home. Margaret stonily informs them that the planetary government would execute her if she returned. The Doctor simply replies, “Not my problem.” That’s cold, and comes out of nowhere. He seriously won’t drop her off on another planet that she could have travelled to anyway after he took her home?
Maybe the whole Roxycolecofallopian thing breaks writers’ minds. The word overflows a neuron somewhere in their brains, and they just can’t take the episode they’re writing seriously. Maybe if the Slitheens’ planet were called “Sturm” or “Dirk” these would be among the best early episodes of the series.
Anyway, Margaret gushes over the TARDIS, calling it technology of the gods. The Doctor responds that he’d make a bad god. The fact that he wouldn’t allow his followers days of rest could hint at his suppressed ego (my preference), or just that he doesn’t believe in taking a break from doing whatever it is he would have his followers do. Jack is trying to siphon some energy from the doohickey into the TARDIS. Margaret tries to make them feel guilt over taking her back to die. Mickey tries not to have any of it, but nobody can meet her gaze.
Eventually, Mickey steps outside to get away from the tension in the TARDIS. Rose follows to make eyes at him, and Mickey takes the chance to get her to himself for the night.
In the TARDIS, Margaret goes to work on the Doctor. It just slides off of him. So Margaret asks for a last meal, at a nearby restaurant she claims to have come to appreciate. Jack warns that she will try to escape, to which Margaret lashes out bitterly that she can’t escape the Doctor. She challenges the Doctor to eat with someone he’s about to kill. The Doctor says he could totally do it but brushes her request aside, to which Jack now volunteers his futuristic handcuffs that should keep her from escaping. The Doctor grins and accepts her challenge. He’s mood-swingier this episode than everyone was in Cry Wilderness put together.
Eating with other people tends to be a community thing for humans, a thing done among friends and those who are about to become more friendly toward each other as a result of eating together. It’s probably something in our brain chemistry. That there would be similar connotations among aliens is a leap in logic, but a plausible one.
In the restaurant, Margaret works on the Doctor, trying to force him to see her as a person rather than a problem to be disposed of. She also dumps iocaine powder in his wine while his back is turned, but he turns back and trades their glasses with a smile. Then she manifests a goofy-sounding poison dart from her finger, but he catches it. Then she breathes poison at him, but he blocks it with breath freshener spray.
I want to take this man vs. woman struggle seriously, I genuinely do, but you cannot just dump this goofy stuff RIGHT IN THE THICK OF IT and expect not to break the mood. Rrrgh. Let’s see what Rose and Mickey are up to.
Rose is telling Mickey about visiting a planet that was much colder than the brisk Welsh summer night they’re experiencing. The planet is called Woman Wept, when they could have just called it Maine. She’s gushing about her amazing experiences with the Doctor when it should just be her-and-Mickey time. It’s understandable but rude, and it shows in Mickey’s face. He finally says that he’s seeing someone else. Mickey confronts her with what he’s gone through. “You left me! You make me feel like nothing!” he shouts. “Am I just supposed to sit here for the rest of my life waiting for you, because I will.”
Margaret describes the slow torture that she’ll be put through upon return home, which finally gets the Doctor to break his oblivious facade and get down to brass tacks. He won’t take her to another planet because she’ll just start killing people again. (And she couldn’t have left Rampartcalaminefurious after you dropped her off because . . . ?) He points out, “You’re pleading for mercy out of a dead woman’s lips.” As evidence that she can lead a quiet life, Margaret tells the Doctor about not killing Cathy. The Doctor dismisses it as a whim. Margaret turns on him again, accusing him of playing God with other people’s lives and leaving the wreckage behind forever. (This, obviously, is more of that darker look at the Doctor’s career we’ve been getting this season.) And the Doctor falters just a bit.
Margaret is trying the “bad home life” defense on for size when the rumbling starts. The Doctor deactivates the handcuffs for convenience, or something, and Margaret assures him that she has no desire to wander off. Meanwhile, Mickey is asking Rose to give him some sort of commitment. But electrical things explode, people scream, and Rose takes off without an answer. Mickey gets mad and shouts after her that she’ll always choose the Doctor over him.
The Doctor finds the TARDIS is the focal point of a discharge of basic VFX: the rift is opening again, and it’ll tear apart the planet! It looks like Jack got the doohickey plugged in a little too well. Rose rushes in, demands an update, and gets collared by a gloating Margaret. Margaret explains that this was all according to backup plan: anyone capable of stopping her would have technology that her doohickey could feed off of.
Margaret is ready to surf her way to freedom, but then a bright light comes from beneath the TARDIS console. The Doctor informs her that it’s the Heart of the TARDIS, pouring out from the ship’s soul. She gazes at the light and begins to smile at how shiny it is. She finally tells the Doctor “Thank you” and is gone.
After the TARDIS blows a few more circuits and everything gets settled down, they investigate and find a tentacled egg inside the Margaret skin. The Doctor tries to rationalize how the TARDIS could make her physically regress to her childhood, but I don’t think even the writer bought what he’s trying to sell us. Rose remembers she has a boyfriend and rushes off to see if he’s safe. Mickey sees her return, clearly looking for him . . . and walks off into the night.
Rose returns Mickey-less. When the Doctor inquires, she simply says he’s fine and he’s gone. The Doctor says Alien Lady can look forward to her second chance at life, to which Rose says, “That’d be nice.” On that note of wistful regret, we’re finally done.
This was less painful than either of the first two Slitheen episodes, but no way it gets the same score as the news spacestation one.
Rating: 1.5 nuclear plants astride a rift
Favorite dialogue: The Doctor: You let one of them go. But that’s nothing new. Every now and then a little victim’s spared. Because she smiled. Because he’s got freckles. Because he begged. And that’s how you live with yourself. That’s how you slaughter millions. Because once in a while, on a whim, if the wind’s in the right direction . . . you happen to be kind.
Margaret: Only a killer would know that. Is that right? From what I’ve seen, your funny little happy-go-lucky life leaves devastation in its wake. Always moving on because you dare not go back. Playing with so many people’s lives, you might as well be a god. And you’re right, Doctor. You’re absolutely right. Sometimes . . . you let one go.
Credit where credit is due: The rift that brought the TARDIS there to “refuel” was the same plot point that attracted Alien Lady to the location. Efficiency in plotting. Even if it’s stupid plotting.