Doctor Who Season 14: ‘Boom’ review — Ncuti Gatwa finally becomes the Doctor

Jessica Cullen
Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday in Doctor Who: Boom

After a bumpy start with uncanny-valley babies and Poundland versions of The Beatles, Doctor Who Season 14 finally finds some footing with the white-knuckle ride that is its third episode, ‘Boom’.

The change from ‘The Devil’s Chord’ to ‘Boom’ isn’t so much a shift rather than an earthquake. Previous showrunner Steven Moffat returned to the Whoniverse to pen this week’s episode, and it’s a creative perspective that pays off greatly, at long last bringing a genuinely unnerving tale to Doctor Who Season 14.

‘Boom’ follows the Doctor and Ruby Sunday as they land on the war-torn planet known as Kastarion 3. When the Doctor accidentally steps on a hair-trigger landmine, he’s rooted to the spot, unable to move for the majority of the episode.

This, paired with some overly-pragmatic ambulance units and a ghostly hologram makes for great television, and even better Who.

Moffat realigns Doctor Who Season 14

It cannot be denied that Moffat is responsible for some of the best Doctor Who episodes in the early 2000s era, including ‘The Empty Child’ two-parter, ‘Blink’, and ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ — three episodes with intensely memorable villains and hearty supporting characters.

‘Boom’ runs in the same vein, though Moffat skips the heightened monster element and focuses on the often-used trope of ‘the imprisoned Doctor’.

Having the Doctor trapped in place, unable to run around in his classically-manic way gives this season a chance to breathe. It also, ironically, gives both him and Ruby more to do this time around.

As they make a brave effort to hand the Doctor a heavy object in order to counter his free leg’s weight, the tension of the moment and the joy of seeing them both actually have to work something out is electrifying.

Historically, episodes where the Doctor is greatly hindered have a 50/50 chance of actually engaging the audience. Here, it finally gives Ncuti Gatwa a chance to stretch his Time Lord muscles, which, we can now definitively say, are perfectly capable.

The Doctor has arrived

In ‘Boom’, we finally get a sense of who Fifteen is and, more importantly, who he could be. His playful side is still there (it would be impossible for Gatwa to hide that charm and energy), but a sense of maturity is allowed to grow.

The Doctor carries weight, and Gatwa can, too. In one scene, the Doctor guesses the exact weight of the object Ruby is holding down to the decimals, and quickly follows up with a stern and all-knowing quip.

It’s a super satisfying moment, and has a clearness and confidence that will carry Gatwa through however long his Time Lord tenure is destined to last. When he and Ruby are both about to attempt this ill-advised stunt, he looks genuinely fearful, eyes brimming with tears.

He also gets a moment to be bold, to be dangerous, when he warns that he’ll blow up half the planet if he is detonated. The Doctor is always a threat as well as a friend, and Gatwa has finally been granted the chance to show that he can do both. So there it is — charm, spunk, wisdom, fear, and menace, all accomplished in one swift episode.

An episode of firsts

This episode is the first in Season 14 that allows for moments of human vulnerability and emotion, all of which land perfectly well. Millie Gibson also gets a piece of the humanity pie, with a desperate plea that actually manages to humanize her.

Ncuti Gatwa as the Doctor in 'Boom', standing on a landmine

For the first time in Season 14, it’s also believable that the Doctor and Ruby care about each other. They’re a team now, not just TARDIS roommates.

The dialogue is exceptionally better than the previous two episodes, too. There are moments of understanding and calculation, which never seemed to come in ‘Space Babies’ or ‘The Devil’s Chord’. The Doctor works best when there is genuine danger rather than lore, and ‘Boom’ is a great example of this.

Despite the bigger budget (courtesy of the House of Mouse), ‘Boom’ is still ugly as sin. Shrouded by clouds and painted over with a murky filter, it’s not the most impressive spectacle in the galaxy. But I’d rather have an ugly-looking display of stakes and power than an empty, expensive adventure. This is prime Who, baby!

‘Boom’ review score: 3/5

There’s no Steven Moffat agenda being pushed here, but it’s clear that his ability to do more with far less is so incredibly beneficial to Doctor Who. It is, admittedly, a shame that there’s no more of him to come this season.

In one episode, Ncuti Gatwa has proven his ability to cover all bases, Millie Gibson has become more valuable, and it’s been proven that despite the shiny new life given to the Time Lord, it can still have grit and intensity.

For more Who, check out our ‘Space Babies’ review and ‘The Devil’s Chord’ review. You can also keep an eye on the Doctor Who Season 14 release schedule, and find out how to watch Doctor Who Season 14.