Doctor Who season 1 episode 3 review: "Steven Moffat’s return with 'Boom' is an instant classic"

doctor who boom
(Image: © BBC)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

A simple premise beautifully executed, no one can write Doctor Who quite like Moffat – and Ncuti Gatwa has never been better

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Steven Moffat’s return to Doctor Who has been eagerly awaited by many, being the man responsible for some of the show’s best episodes including ‘Blink’ (which introduced the Weeping Angels) as well as double bill ‘The Empty Child’ and ‘The Doctor Dances’ (that line “are you my mummy” still haunts me today). However, with it being seven years since Moffat last worked on the beloved sci-fi show, has the former showrunner still got it?

The answer is a resounding yes as his latest episode ‘Boom’ proves once again that no one can write Doctor Who quite like Moffat. This time writer Moffat has teamed up with director Julie Anne Robinson for an episode which strips everything back, showing that less is more to remarkable effect. In short, it’s an instant classic.

On this adventure, the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby (Millie Gibson) land on a war-torn planet which is ablaze with the fires of conflict, searching amongst the rubble to help whoever – or whatever – is screaming. However, as the Doctor goes rushing in without pausing for thought, he accidentally steps on a landmine leaving him stranded, having to solve the clash without making a single movement. As he tells Ruby, “One wrong move and boom”. 

It’s a simple idea brilliantly brought to life, showing a mastery in economical storytelling, playing out in real-time with the pressure ratcheting up minute by minute. Of course, we are more than familiar with stakes and tension in the world of Doctor Who, but we rarely see suspense quite like this.

A relationship forever changed

doctor who boom

(Image credit: BBC)

The Doctor has never been more limited in his powers either, as not only is he unable to move, but his pulse also can’t rise by even a beat. He can’t run, he can’t reach for that trusty sonic screwdriver, and that clever mind can’t work overtime otherwise a surge of adrenaline would trigger the landmine. The question of how – or even if – our heroes will survive this encounter for once feels legitimate, with Moffat also unafraid to deliver some shocking twists that will leave you on the very edge of your seat.

With no tricks up his sleeve and everything out of his control, The Doctor is desperate and powerless, quietly singing to himself in order to remain calm, continuing this season’s musical edge. Gatwa is able to explore a different side to the Time Lord, flexing some new muscles, even though ironically he doesn’t physically move for the vast majority of the episode. He’s completely mesmerizing as the actor instead has to rely on his eyes to tell the Doctor’s story - in fact, the actor has never been better than he is here.

The same can be said for Gibson’s Ruby, who really goes through the wringer here, especially since the Doctor is relying on her to save both him and the planet. Their dynamic is switched up as with the Doctor helpless, the companion has to step up to the plate, even though she’s still new to these adventures in space and time. Gone is the giddiness we saw between them in the previous episodes where they ran around the TARDIS giggling like schoolgirls and in its place is a more mature relationship. The Doctor needs Ruby but she isn’t just going to simply follow his orders, she challenges him, showing a defiant edge. It’s clear that this encounter will see their relationship forever changed, and it will be exciting to see where that evolves next as the series continues. 

Moments of wonder

doctor who boom

(Image credit: BBC)

However, although ‘Boom’ is certainly a more serious installment that will leave you sitting on a knife’s edge of tension, at the end of the day this is Doctor Who and we still have moments of joy too. For example, amidst the danger Ruby pauses to stare at the sky, gazing at the planets in starstruck awe, overwhelmed by the magic of it all. It’s a moment filled with fantastical wonder that will likely bring a tear to your eye, reminding us that even though the world is on fire, it remains beautiful. ‘Boom’ also celebrates the one thing that has always been at the heart of the sci-fi show: love. After all, it is the most powerful force of them all.

Despite its simplistic premise, ‘Boom’ does dive into more complex themes which leaves us with much food for thought. The tight story confronts the audience with fascinating and timely questions regarding faith, war, as well as AI. In another writer’s hands this could have easily been explored rather clumsily or left too much as subtext, but Moffat expertly balances it all perfectly. 

Ultimately this is Doctor Who at its very best and it sets a new bar for the rest of the season – my thoughts and prayers go out to the team who had to follow Moffat’s masterpiece here. But with ‘Boom’ delivering some tantalizing teases (don’t worry, we aren’t going to spoil anything here) as to where we are going next, I simply cannot wait. 

Doctor Who episode 3 'Boom' will be released on May 17 at 7pm ET on Disney Plus and at midnight May 18 on BBC iPlayer, before airing later that day live on BBC One.

For more great new TV, check out our guide to the best new shows coming your way in 2024.

Emily Murray
Entertainment Editor

As Entertainment Editor at GamesRadar, I oversee all the online content for Total Film and SFX magazine. Previously I've worked for the BBC, Zavvi, UNILAD, Yahoo, Digital Spy and more.