The Empty Child / The Doctor DancesBookmark and Share

Monday, 30 May 2005 - Reviewed by Paul Hayes

There’s a select band of Doctor Who stories often mentioned by fans as being the ones they do or would use to convince sceptical friends and family of just how good this silly little series we know and love so well can really be. The likes of City of Death, The Caves of Androzani and so on and so forth. Now the new series has produced such a story, one that makes you really proud of the programme and must surely remind even the most jaded of fans of what they love about it. Yes, The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances looks set to become that most wonderful of things, a bona fide Doctor Who ‘classic’.

With so much so good about this story, the real question when writing a review is where to start? Well, the thinking has long been that a Doctor Who story can only ever be as good as its script, and there’s no doubting that Steven Moffat has produced what must be one of the most accomplished efforts of the new series to date, and the series as a whole of all time. Anybody familiar with his work on the sitcom Coupling – particularly episodes such as the season two finale The End of the Line – will know just how adept Moffat is at plotting, threading together all the strands of a complex story. The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances is not an overly complex affair, but it is superbly structured.

From the explanation of why the three disparate alien elements – the TARDIS crew, Jack and the Chular ambulance – have all descended upon Blitz-torn 1941 London, to the explanation of what has happened to the eponymous child and its fellow gas mask-laden victims, to the child’s connection with Nancy and the ultimate resolution of the plot, it all works perfectly. Nothing it made too obvious or too subtle, and nothing is left dangling – it’s all wonderfully controlled and laid out at a well-pitched pace, it’s almost like a model of how to construct good television drama and superb Doctor Who.

Plotting is not the only string to Moffat’s bow, however, not by a long shot. The Ninth Doctor has probably never been better than he is here uttering Moffat’s lines – of particular note is the beginning of the second episode, as the Doctor and Jack converse about guns and bananas. “A good source of potassium!” indeed! At times it feels like classic Tom Baker era-stuff, although Eccleston also does things it’s hard to imagine the Fourth Doctor doing, such as his sheer joy at the end when he realises the problem has been solved and “everybody lives!” This Doctor has been through so much that his delight at the way everything has come together is particularly infectious, and once again he’s the brave, happy, heroic adventurer we’d all love to travel with, which it has to be said he hasn’t always been at times this season. Moffat also gives a knowing wink to the suddenly all-purpose sonic screwdriver – “Setting 2428!” – and creates possibly the first instance in the entire history of the series of the time honoured “Doctor who?” gag being used and not being embarrassing or annoying.

Interestingly, this handling of the Doctor leaves Rose at times, particularly in the first episode, slipping back more into the traditional companion role than ever before, although this isn’t a complaint. It’s nice to see her taken down a peg or two, namely by being left dangling from a barrage balloon hanging over London! She does get more into her typical Rose style as the story progresses, however, and her teasing of the Doctor over his dancing abilities. Of course, she also manages to swoon into the arms of the story’s leading guest star, and new companion, Captain Jack Harkness, excellently played by John Barrowman. Having only ever experienced Barrowman before as a presenter of Live & Kicking on Saturday mornings a decade ago I wasn’t really sure quite what to expect from Captain Jack, but I absolutely loved him – charismatic and confident without ever seeming too irritatingly cocky or arrogant. He brings an interesting new dynamic to the TARDIS crew, and I’ll be extremely interested to see if he continues to be handled as well in the next three episodes of the series, with Russell T Davies this time feeding him his lines.

Barrowman may have made an impact as Jack, but if awards were to be handed out for this episode then he’d have a hard fight for ‘best supporting character’ from Nancy, as wonderfully played by Florence Hoath. She’s a real discovery, and I hope that on the strength of her performance here Hoath goes a long way in the future. Nancy is part lovable cockney sparrow braving the Blitz, but there’s a lot more beneath the surface, shades of darkness as well as a world-weary kind of knowledge she seems too young for, and of course the secret eventually revealed by the Doctor at the end of the story. In fact, all of the child actors in the story deserve credit – Doctor Who doesn’t have a fantastic record with the performances of youngsters, but all of Nancy’s urchins were superb, and they never felt false or awkward, as is often the danger with putting young children on screen.

Mention too should go to Richard Wilson as the only other really notable turn in the story – he has a surprisingly small role, but he plays it excellently and gets to deliver one of the laugh-out-loud comedy lines at the end of the second episode, having had one of the most horrific moments in the first.

That blend of humour and darkness is this story in microcosm, really. Moffat’s background in television comedy means that some humour was probably to have been expected, but none of it is overly obvious or ever seems out of place. Indeed, the humour works well to contrast with the darkness present in much of the story. So for every scene of the Doctor becoming an unwitting stand-up comic, Jack wielding a banana or Constantine asking a patient if she’s sure she counted her legs properly, we have the oddness of the TARDIS phone ringing, the blank-faced ranks of the gas-masked zombies, and of course the haunting cries of ‘are you my mummy?’ There’s also a definite Quatermass tinge to proceedings with the influence being caused by a crashed spaceship in the heart of London, although the influence of Nigel Kneale’s serials over British television science-fiction is so great that it’s perhaps hard to tell whether such referencing is conscious or whether its simply bred into the psyche of enthusiasts of the genre in this country.

Yes, this story has the spookiest imagery we’ve seen so far in this series, and just as a generation of 1970s children seems to remember The Green Death as “the one with the giant maggots”, so the children of 2005 will probably grow up to speak nostalgically of “the one with the gas masks”. As well as being scripted as such, a lot of the literal darkness of the episode has to do with the highly accomplished direction of James Hawes, who shoots the thing like a feature film and has some delightfully noir-ish touches. My particular favourite shot was the pull-back from Jack’s cockpit through the open doors of the TARDIS into the console room to reveal that the Doctor and Rose had arrived to save him – a bit of a cheat in having the TARDIS land without the usual sound effect, but I’m more than willing to excuse that for the sake of such a nice piece of camerawork. Certainly, it’s good to know that Hawes will be returning to the series to helm the forthcoming Christmas special, at least.

The only instance where I felt Hawes did mis-step slightly was with the cliffhanger ending to episode one. While it was certainly much tighter and more effective that the conclusion to Aliens of London, it did still linger a little too long on the approaching menace. Similarly, Murray Gold’s incidentals – which fitted the action very well on the whole throughout the story, with some nicely atmospheric, suitably creepy moments – went all Rose on us during the cliffhanger recap in the second episode, for no apparent reason and completely against the mood of the story.

Aside from these very negligible points, however, the entire production team seems to have really pulled together to turn this story into something special. Set design, costume, lighting, and of course the wonderful effects from both Mike Tucker’s model team and the CGI specialists at The Mill… This is a perfect example if ever there was one of a massive group of people pulling together and giving their all to create a really special piece of television, reminding you of just how good this medium can be when it’s at its best.

The whole story is just so brilliantly made, written and acted that it’s impossible for all but the most churlish to find much more to criticise, I would think. And all the more intriguing for being a rare example of a Doctor Who story where there isn’t really a villain to speak of. The ending is uplifting and it really is nice to see the Doctor actually get to save everybody for a change, even the nobly self-sacrificing Jack. It’s so Jolly, the TARDIS team even get time for a nice little happy dance at the end, which despite seeming almost tacked-on and not part of the main story, works perfectly, and I wouldn’t have lost it for the world.

In short, this is wonderful, wonderful stuff. Doctor Who at its very best. If every other episode of the new series had been a complete disaster – which they haven’t been not by a long shot – then it still would have been worth bringing the show back for these two episodes alone. I already can’t wait for Moffat’s episode in season two, but for now I shall just have to content myself by going to watch the story again…





The Empty Child / The Doctor DancesBookmark and Share

Monday, 30 May 2005 - Reviewed by Alan Morrison

Piper’s leaving Doctor Who! So what? Is the current wave of media panic finally evidence of the companion’s superior cult status to the Doctor’s? Well, this never should have been the case anyway. Develop the character of a companion, fine, but not to that degree. As someone said recently somewhere among the mass of media publications touching on the subject, ‘companions come and go’. Well, yes, since Colin Baker, so do Doctors, admittedly, and we have that with Number Nine now too don’t we? Not that I’m all that bothered on that score either, as although Eccleston is a great and intense actor, and has shone sporadically in some recent episodes, he is in my mind not suited to the part of the Doctor, at least, certainly not in the way he has been directed to portray it. So, I’m not bothered about the Tardis crew being replaced. In fact, I think it can only be a good thing, especially given the untoward attentions rather unsubtly lavished by this current Doctor on his superficially attractive companion – and one hopes such tedious developments will be swiftly abandoned when Tenant is poised at the console, although this is unlikely given RTD’s obsession with ‘sexing up’ Doctor Who (predictions of a new leggy companion in short skirts doesn’t bode too well; not to mention a leggy Doctor in a kilt to boot!).

Onto this last two-parter. Well, overall it was pretty good wasn’t it? Visually well-realised, sufficiently (though not exceptionally) creepy and suspenseful (the child’s voice down the Tardis telephone; Dr Constantine morphing into a gas masked zombie) with some very original imagery (the eerie gas-masked child) and concepts (the gas masks welded to the skin of the bodies as if part of their anatomies) and nicely (though not exceptionally) directed. Though the shot of the monkey toy with the child’s voice coming through it was quite disturbing, as was the child trying to get into the house, overall this story did not unsettle quite as much as I had hoped (though as it is on at 7pm that’s probably fair enough) and I think what it lacked very slightly was the sort of subtle and almost dreamlike eeriness of old chillers like Sapphire and Steel, a series which achieved a surprisingly tense and dread-filled atmosphere considering it was very cheap and all on video camera, and one which is still palpable on viewing 25 years later (it played on our latent fears such as people without faces, photographs etc. and so in this vein, Empty Child has at least touched, albeit slickly, on this genre of ‘not showing but suggesting’). To be more germane: take the Gothic era atmos-gems such as Brain of Morbius, Pyramids of Mars, and in particular Seeds of Doom, Planet of Evil and Terror of the Zygons – those later two are genuinely chilling in places, and that’s a lot to do with that bleak, darkly-lit seventies style of direction. Then there’s the slightly more unsung post-Gothic chillers, Kinda and Snakedance; even aspects of Ghost Light. And what about that incredibly disturbing salvaged scene from Fury from the Deep? What a loss that is. Still, I suppose Empty Child/Doctor Dances has at least come a little nearer to suggesting the nightmarish than the other episodes so far, save Unquiet Dead, which is also on a par in this regard with the screaming zombie woman walking towards the camera (a classic shot).

Anyway, this story was as I say sufficiently creepy. The best thing about it though is its fully comprehensive, multi-layered, even slightly polemical (re the young girl being a single mother; the Doctor commenting on her communal altruism with the children as ‘either Marxism in action or…’; the Doctor citing the Welfare State at the end of story) storyline which is given a full explanation at the end which is truly unusual and quite inspired (and one in which the Doctor takes his true central place as a deductive character surrounded by less incisive compatriots). In this sense especially this is a true pseudo-historical in the old Hinchcliffe/Holmes sense of the word: alien intervention in Earth history causes seemingly supernatural occurrences. Moffatt has surprised me with a sharp, well-scripted and inventive script: surprised me because although Coupling could be very witty in places, essentially it was slightly elevated doggerel with vacuous gender stereotypes and unconvincing situations; a sort of post-modern Carry On for the Blairite era.

Aspects of the story which I dislike and find unnecessary however are symptomatic of this writer’s former TV output: namely preoccupation with sex to an almost juvenile degree. Not that the sexual semiotics of this story were juvenile as in Moffatt’s sit-com output. But the mere fact that they were so palpably present and indeed integral to the script of this story warrants some comment. Far from having ever really explored even the ins and outs of heterosexual relationships, Doctor Who, under the rather visceral and scatological direction of RTD, and in this story, by the pen of a similarly driven writer, has jumped light years ahead in its sexual didactics and is now quite openly examining bisexuality as manifest in a new companion, Captain Jack. I know kids of today are far more sexually literate than back in 1989, but isn’t this perhaps the least appropriate fictional scenario in which to investigate the increasingly public (though this is fine in society itself) heterogeneity of sexual preference? Or am I just old-fashioned? I don’t think so. The point is: what does this sexual sophistication add to a programme like Doctor Who? As far as I can see, nothing at all. It simply raises the question once again: just who exactly is RTD’s target audience? Seemingly not the under-12s. In that case then, add more drama, add more horror, and show it later in the evening. The Doctor alludes to Jack being a 51st century man in terms of tastes or ‘how he dances’ as the metaphor goes, but again this begs my other chief (rhetorical) question: So what? I just don’t care to be honest whether Jack has a fetish for Movellans in rubber! What’s this got to do with anything? It seems this new companion’s character is being defined solely on the basis of his bisexuality! Isn’t that a little bit…well…puerile? Not to mention arguably unsuited to a fantasy adventure programme. It seems RTD/Moffatt want to go one step further than the suggested incest in the old Star Wars films here. Lucas missed an obvious innuendo with Obi Wan-Kenobi showing Luke Skywalker his light saber!

I’m not going to hark on about this endlessly like some sort of TV Puritan, but again I felt this thread to the story was unnecessary and detracted from the inherent drama of it. What was especially unnecessary was Harkness’s implication that he knew the officer at the bombsite intimately and most ridiculously of all, the implication that the man with all the food in his house was ‘messing around with the butcher’. What seems to be irrational about the new Who universe is that far from just touching on the social reality of sexual diversity, which in itself and in the right context is fair enough, it seems to be going to the other extreme with implications that anything other than heterosexuality is the universal norm!!! Again I urge the producer to get the balance right here and not indulge in a frankly irrelevant fantasy based on his own sexuality which is arguably beginning to hint at a Homoerotic Who. What I’m saying is, unless it comes pertinently into a storyline, just jettison the sexual politics altogether! What partly made the series so fascinating before was the intellectually lifting feel to it, the inspiring otherworldliness, and the enigmatic androgynousness/sexlessness of the central character. I know the first great error was with the repeated kissing scene in the McGann film, but that’s not an excuse to open up the floodgates to a continual stream of sexual innuendo and metaphor in virtually every single storyline.

That all said, the strength of Empty Child’s storyline manages to still elevate it far above its writer’s/producer’s puzzling attempts to anchor it with sexual/romantic tension, and this is overall a satisfying and well-realised story with the best plot in the series yet. Stylistically and dramatically however I find Unquiet Dead and Dalek superior, and Father’s Day may still have a slight edge in terms of its refreshingly emotive take on the concept of time travel. I think the key point to end on here, and for all involved to remember, is that, ironically, the pivotal sublimity to Empty Child’s plot was indeed sexually pertinent and socially incisive in its subtext of the single unmarried mother pretending her son is her younger brother, for fear of social stigma. This then is a perfect example of how the nature of sexuality, if touched on in Who, should be done: as germane to the historical context and thus challenging, didactic and plot-enhancing. Moffatt made a profoundly good judgment here and this plot revelation at the end lifted the story’s conclusion to a higher, more thought-provoking level than the initial conclusion did in serving its own function as first twist; so we had this nice, socially polemical second twist. Very well done. Jack’s bisexuality can be partly vindicated in that it shows a massive contrast in the society of 51st century Earth to that of the mid-20th. But it could have just been very subtly hinted at, not so blatantly implied as it was. Suggestionism is the key. Let’s have more of that. Next week’s episode, judging by its absurdly unimaginative plot and return of farting aliens, obviously isn’t going to have any at all.

6/10.





The Empty Child / The Doctor DancesBookmark and Share

Monday, 30 May 2005 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

‘The Empty Child’/‘The Doctor Dances’ is, for me, the apex of the new series of Doctor Who thus far, a witty, creepy, and beautifully crafted tour de force in which everything comes together, from plot and script, to characterisation and acting. And best of all, we get a proactive, useful Doctor, and a use of subtext that is subtle rather than crass.

Making good use of the two episodes offered to him, writer Steven Moffat crafts a story with a gripping, intriguing plot, set against the well-realised backdrop of the Blitz. Although there is inevitably a science fiction explanation for the child that haunts Nancy in the first episode, ‘The Empty Child’ has lashings of ghostly horror, as a creepy, gas-mask wearing boy wanders the streets of war-torn London crying for its mummy in a hollow voice that reflects Nancy’s assertion that he is “empty”. There are some genuinely chilling moments in the first episode in particular, from the impossible phone call to the TARDIS, to the child’s forlorn cries as its attempts to enter the house whilst Nancy hurries her charges out the back door. Director James Hawes wrings every drop of tension out of the child’s scenes, with fast cuts to show the child appearing suddenly, and point of view shots from behind its gas mask, and the sound of its voice coming from the telephones, typewriters, wirelesses, and in one case a toy monkey are extremely eerie. The fact that it never says anything other than “Are you my mummy?” and variations on this line make it seem less than human, but as the Doctor realizes during ‘The Doctor Dances’ it may seem like a confused, lost child, but its also unstoppable, something illustrated by its remorseless pursuit of Nancy. Once the Doctor reaches Albion hospital and finds its other victims, the horror builds, as the army of zombies lying in the hospital reinforces the threat posed by the sinister boy. The cliffhanger ending to ‘The Empty Child’ is exceptionally effective, as the mindless patients come to life, advancing on the Doctor, Rose and Jack, all of them chanting the child’s habitual refrain. With two episodes to play with, Moffat is able to devote all of the first to such unsettling build up, and another scene especially worthy of note is the Doctor’s meeting with Doctor Constantine and his horrified realization that not only do all of the lifeless patients have the same wounds, but that their gas masks are fused to their heads. His grim assessment of “physical injuries as plague” is a disturbing moment, topped shortly afterwards as he tells the Doctor, “They’re not dead” and makes a noise, whereupon they all sit up suddenly. The emphasis of the story shifts during ‘The Doctor Dances’, as Moffat concentrates both on explanations and the interaction between the Doctor, Rose and Jack, but the episode is just as effective and still boasts a few creepy moments, such as the Doctor’s realization, “I sent it to its room. This is its room.”

The decision to set the story during the Blitz is inspired, with both Moffat and Hawes exploiting the potential of the setting, which is already pretty horrible. The location filming, sets, and costumes are all highly convincing, and although tape recorders may not, apparently, have replaced wire recorders until several years after the war, and although London looks surprisingly well lit during the blackout, these are minor details. Moffat is able to use the situation to complicate the Doctor’s task of finding his rogue space junk, realised in a brilliant scene as he leaps on stage in a club, and asks, “Might seem like a stupid question, but has anything fallen from the sky recently?” only to be met with howls of laughter. The look on his face when he hears the air raid siren and sees the Hitler poster is priceless. Moffat exploits the era in other ways too; as the story unfolds, the Doctor asks Nancy whom she lost, and she mentions her little brother Jamie. It soon becomes obvious that Jamie is the empty child of the title, and from there it doesn’t take long to realize that his relentless pursuit of her with the question, “Are you my mummy?” is hinting at a greater truth, especially when, during ‘The Doctor Dances’, Rose ponders, “Always, ‘Are you my mummy?’ like he doesn’t know. Why doesn’t he know?” It isn’t terribly surprising when the Doctor finally realises that Nancy is the boy’s mother, but the setting justifies her secrecy, as the Doctor understandingly refers to the terrible stigma of being a teenage single mum in Britain in the nineteen forties. Also worth mentioning is Nancy’s blackmail of Mr. Lloyd, whom she accuses of “messing about” with the butcher. There is already some debate as to whether this is an illicit gay affair, or whether Lloyd’s possession of wire cutters points to black market dealings in partnership with the butcher (either that, or extremely hardcore S and M sessions!), but either way, Lloyd has a secret that he can’t risk being revealed at that time and place, because he’ll either become a social pariah or find himself arrested, or both.

Of course, ‘The Empty Child’/‘The Doctor Dances’ is also notable for the introduction of new companion Captain Jack Harkness, who makes an immediate impression, not hindered by the fact that he’s dashing, charming, and gets some of the best lines. John Barrowman is superb in the role; it would have been easy to make Jack irritatingly smug and smarmy, but he’s very likeable and Moffat’s script reveals various facets of his character as the story progresses. Initially, he seems very heroic, a member of the air force and a mysterious time traveller who saves Rose from certain death as she drops from a barrage balloon from which she has been unwisely dangling in the middle of an air raid whilst wearing a Union Jack flag across her rather prominent knockers. Jack then demonstrates his romantic side as he offers her champagne on top of his spaceship whilst Glenn Miller plays in the background, as well as his reckless streak as he makes the ill-advised decision to illuminate Big Ben in the middle of an air raid. He then tells Rose, “I like to think of myself as a criminal”, and it doesn’t take long before he admits, “It’s a con. I was conning you, that’s what I do. I’m a con man”, and we learn that he spends his time selling various pieces of space junk to time agents, of which he used to be one. He also spends a great deal of time trying to evade responsibility, insisting, “I harmed no one! I don’t know what’s happening here, but I had nothing to do with it!” until the Doctor rather witheringly points out that Tula ambulances don’t contain bandages. As with Mickey and Adam, the Doctor is automatically distrustful of any other men in Rose’s life, and is very cynical about the likelihood of Jack returning to rescue them after he teleports to safety without them, but by the end of the episode Jack has proved himself, risking his life to dispose of the bomb, and he fairly quickly forms a rapport with the Doctor, who seems happy to have him aboard the TARDIS. This, along with the intriguing background detail of his two years of missing memories, bodes well for the remainder of the series.

Jack also spends a lot of time bantering with the Doctor, and Moffat’s pedigree as a comedy writer comes to the fore during these scenes. With Rose clearly taken by Jack’s good looks and charm, there is an inevitable game of one-upmanship being played out between the Doctor and Jack, and it is nicely demonstrated before they even meet; having begged the Doctor, “I think you should scan for alien tech. Give me some Spock!”, Rose is visibly impressed when Jack does just that and she happily murmurs, “Finally, a professional!” The similarities between Jack and the Doctor, both single time travelling men, are played up further, as Jack also uses slightly psychic paper, in this case prompting the amusing line from Rose, “You just handed me a piece of paper telling me you’re single and you work out.” Then of course we have the Doctor and Jack comparing their tools, with Jack announcing that he has a sonic blaster and the Doctor grudgingly admitting that he has a sonic screwdriver, which results in more wit as Jack asks, “Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks, ‘this could be more sonic?’”

All of which brings me to one of the triumphs of the storyline, as Moffat addresses the obvious sexual tension that Russell T. Davies has been establishing between the Doctor and Rose. There are many fans that feel that sex has no place in Doctor Who and that the Doctor should remain asexual, and it’s a view with which I can sympathize. Nevertheless, Davies has introduced sexual tension between Doctor and companion and is the series has progressed its become increasingly difficult to ignore. What Moffat does is to not only explore this issue, but also to complicate it by adding Jack to the mix, but he examines it subtly through the use of metaphor. The significance of the episode title ‘The Doctor Dances’ takes on new meaning as dancing becomes a metaphor for sex; Rose dances with Jack on top of his spaceship, and when the Doctor asks why she trusts him, she replies, “I trust him ‘cause he’s like you, only with dating and dancing”, a line that is absolutely crammed with potential deeper meaning. Especially when the Doctor responds, “You just assume I don’t dance… I’ve got the moves, but I wouldn’t want to boast”, which can be interpreted as an admittance of sexual prowess. The subsequent exchange on board Jack’s ship as the Doctor says that he and Rose “were talking about dancing”, Jack amusedly notes, “It didn’t look like talking” and Rose, puzzled, adds, “It didn’t feel like dancing” creates the impression of inexperienced teenagers fumbling in the dark. If the episode is interpreted in this way, Rose’s line “the world doesn’t end because the Doctor dances” can of course be seen as a nod to those fans who want none of that sort of thing in the series thank you very much. Later of course, the metaphor is made even more obvious, as Jack cheerfully notes that he’s got a much better chance of distracting Algy than Rose has; the Doctor informs the dumbstruck Rose, “He’s a fifty-first century guy, he’s just a little more flexible when it comes to dancing” which of course opens the door to even more sexual tension on board the TARDIS. Indeed, at the end the Doctor remembers how to dance and sweeps Rose off her feet; she tells him, “Actually I thought Jack might like this dance” and the Doctor raises an eyebrow at his new companion and replies, “I’m sure he would. I’m absolutely certain. But who with?” All of which is great, and subtly done, although with this metaphor in mind, it’s rather worrying that when the Doctor claims he’s remembered how to dance, he does so like a teacher at a school disco. Make of that what you will.

One concern that I had after watching ‘The Empty Child’ was that in ‘The Doctor Dances’ Jack might prove to be a Mary-Sue character, who would be made to look good at the Doctor’s expense. Instead, in a series that has seen a curiously ineffectual Ninth Doctor, ‘The Empty Child’/‘The Doctor Dances’ redresses the balance, as the Doctor proactively sets out to solve the mystery of the child and resourcefully works out what is going on from various clues that Jack has completely missed. It is the Doctor who resolves the cliffhanger, realizing that on some level the child really is still a child and ordering it, “Go to your room”, and later he keeps his sonic screwdriver hidden so that Jack will use his blaster, allowing the Doctor to see some of his technology and work where he’s from, or at least where he’s been. He spots the similarities between the ability of the nanogenes in Jack’s ship to heal tissue and the ship’s ability to “on-com” with the powers exhibited by the child and realises that nanogenes released from the Tula ambulance are responsible for what has occurred. He works out that Nancy is Jamie’s mummy, and in doing so saves the day; the scene in which Jamie is restored and the Doctor jubilantly swings him up in the air is a joy to behold, as the Doctor’s plea, “Oh come on! Give me a day like this! Give me this one!” is answered. Best of all, he saves everybody, performing a “software patch” on the nanogenes, as a result of which, “Everybody lives Rose! Just this once, everyone lives!” And he saves Jack too, materializing the TARDIS on his ship in the nick of time. Perhaps not coincidentally, Christopher Eccleston gives his best performance in the role to date, and he gets some great lines and scenes, including his inspiring “a mouse in front of a lion” speech to Nancy. Later, Billie Piper gets a similarly touching scene, as Rose tells Nancy, “You win”.

The supporting characters are also well crafted, and superbly performed by the guest cast. Richard Wilson’s Doctor Constantine is a great character, a tired and dying man who tells the Doctor, “Before this war I was a father and a grandfather. Now I’m neither, but I’m still a doctor” and who has resolved to spend his remaining time caring for those whom he can’t help in any other way. Wilson brings great dignity and gruff compassion to the role, and after Constantine is restored at the end, he also gets a comic moment (something Wilson is well known for thanks to One Foot in the Grave), as the old lady indignantly tells him, “My leg’s grown back” and he deadpans, “Well, there is a war on. Perhaps you miscounted?” Nancy too is a great character, and Florence Hoath conveys her grief and fear convincingly throughout, but also her resolve and the strength of character to protect her charges and stand up to Mr. Lloyd.

Finally, although I’ve mentioned several examples above, it really is worth noting that Moffat’s experience at writing Coupling results in some genuinely funny lines that are a world away from Russell T. Davies’ increasingly sledgehammer wit and propensity for toilet humour. Examples not mentioned above that I can’t resist mentioning include the Doctor’s “Not sure if it’s Marxism in action or a west end musical” when he finds out what Nancy does, and Nancy’s response to his claim that his nose has special powers with, “Yeah? Is that why it’s, er… Do you ears have special powers too?” His switch of Jack’s gun for a banana is a very amusing moment, especially when he adds, “Don’t drop the banana!” and answers Jack’s urgent query “Why not?” with “Good source of potassium.” Later, after Jack has mocked his sonic screwdriver, he asks his companions to list their assets, prompting the caustic response, “Well I’ve got a banana and in a pinch you could put up some shelves.”

Overall, ‘The Empty Child’/‘The Doctor Dances’ is my favourite story of the season thus far, and quite possibly destined to be regarded in the future as a genuine classic. One question is left unanswered however; what exactly are subatomic robots made out of?!





The Empty Child / The Doctor DancesBookmark and Share

Monday, 30 May 2005 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

After a fun little roller-coaster ride comprised mainly of "one-off" stories, we are treated to our second two-parter of the season. Admittedly, I was approaching this story with a bit of hesitancy knowing it would not be resolved by the end of the episode. The new format of the series seemed to be working much better with just one-episode stories and although a cliffhanger ending seems to constitute a sense of "truer Who", our last two-parter seemed bit weak in comparison to the many "fantastic" (as the good Doctor seems so fond of saying these days) one-parters we've seen this season. I was starting to feel sure, already, that the day of the cliffhanger needed to be done with. That this latest story would, like the little Slitheen debacle, be half-decent, but would pale in comparison to such great one-part stories as "Dalek", "Father's Day" or "Unquiet Dead".

I was already starting to feel right in my convictions as the story began. The whole pre-title-sequence-intro was nice and very "Whoesque" (I always like it when there's a little bit of dialogue in the TARDIS interior before our heroes go and face their new adventure) although a tad difficult to understand over all the noise and mood music. But then, we arrive in war-torn London. And, for a while, my doubts about two-parters tend to deepen....

The story seems off to a bit of a shaky start. I almost wondered, as we are treated to a series of nearly proposterous sequences involving ringing TARDIS phones, overly-redundant gas-mask-wearing boys and companions hanging on to blimps if maybe the whole story wasn't actually taking place on Earth. If, perhaps this some kind of surreal "dreamscape"-type story like "Mind Robber" or "Celestial Toymaker". It would certainly tie in nicely with all the other neat twists and turns the series has been taking in its first new season. But no, we are expected to believe that a woman can hang somewhat indefinitely from a blimp while being bombed by German fighters and that Rose is just dumb enough to grab onto a rope without checking out, first, how its tied (shades of the Doctor at the end of Episode one of "Dragonfire"). As I watch these developments, I'm almost starting to wonder if this will be the one story of the season that "got it wrong" and will be the equivalent of a "Time Flight" or a "Creature From the Pit". But I hang in there and try to keep my mind open.

But then, along comes Captain Jack Harkness and the story starts taking some better turns. It helps, I think, to know that he will be a recurring character and so I'm paying better attention to him than perhaps one needs to this early on in the story. But even if I hadn't read the spoilers about him becoming a regular on the show, I found myself warming up to the Captain quite quickly. Although I can agree with some of the points made in negative reviews I've read regarding this character, I still find myself really liking him. In fact, as the series progresses, I almost feel like he could merit his own spin-off show since he is so multi-layered. But, at this point, we are just getting introduced to Jack and the introduction is going along very well. He's a bit roguish, bringing back to me hints of some of the old Robert Holmesian scoundrels like Garron or Sabalom Glitz. And I've always enjoyed the intergalactic conman character - he's a fun little icon to play with in a sci-fi series.

As we return to the Doctor's storyline, some of the surreal elements seem to be getting better treatment now. The Doctor appearing mysteriously at the dinner table is definitely a bit of a "magical" moment and the ensuing arrival of our mysterious boy becomes a bit more scientifically plausible. Although, the constant asking for his "Mummy" is beginning to grate a bit. Still, some of the spookiness is really starting to set in nicely. And this is easilly the "darkest" of the Who stories to come out in the season. I'm also starting to warm up to the overall "feel" of the story at this point. And some of the commentary going on about the Second World War is very moving too. Particularly the whole "mouse standing up to a lion" speech given near the end of the episode.

Then we go to the hospital and get yet more explanation of what's going on. Mister Moffat, I will agree, is masterful at building up a sense of intrigue - he seems to know exactly when a viewer is about to get tired of not getting any of his questions answered and gives us just enough hints to keep us interested. We can see that something is obviously messing around with human DNA but we still can't figure out who or what is at the bottom of this. And that is enough to keep us wanting to tune in next week as the somewhat subtle cliffhanger comes in to play.

Whatever doubts I had about the quality of this particular story get very quickly dismissed as episode two starts up. There is a great little chase sequence going on in the hospital and the banter with the Doctor and Jack is very amusing. Jack is blending in with the TARDIS crew really well and we can see some character development going on already as our conman begins to develop a bit of a conscience over what he's done. And the eeriness of the story is now going through the roof. With some genuinely bone-chilling moments that the classic series could never achieve. Oddly enough, the empty child chiming out "and I can hear everything you're saying" over the radio was the moment that spooked me out the most. Even though there were several other occassions that would seem to be more effective in their "scariness"! Just goes to show how quirky I can be, I suppose.

With the chase sequence settled down and the Doctor and Rose trapped in a store room of some sort, a whole new type of atmosphere settles in to the story. One that can only be termed as "classy". With the 1940's music piping through, we discover why the story is given the title is has. And again, Rose and the Doctor have a little bit of that "eighth Doctor/Grace Holloway" formulae developping between them (albeit, somewhat more subtley since there has still been no onscreen snogging going on yet). This particular sequence is what truly and finally "sells" me on this story. The two leading actors execute it so well and with such finesse that I truly find myself regretting that Eccleston is not sticking around longer with the series. He does some things with the Doctor that no other actor in the role could manage. And though that can be said for all the actors who have taken on the part, somehow Eccleston does it in much greater abundance than other Doctors. He has truly made the role his - and that shines through wonderfully in such moments as the "near-dance" he and Rose have in the hospital store-room. As much as us fans hate to see the Doctor "getting some action", we're almost rooting for him and Rose a bit in that moment. Especially now that the competition for Rose is getting even thicker with Captain Jack in the picture.

With the "classy" bit now over, we go back into a bit of runaround. With things getting more and more interesting as more and more of the plot comes together. The mysterious gas-mask-wearing boy and his army of zombies finally makes sense. And again, we see Moffat's gift as a writer as he makes us wait just long enough before dishing out the necessary explanations. There's also some great suspense going on here. With the bomb now only minutes away from dropping and we have no clear idea how the Doctor will save the day.

And then, once more, the story takes on a very different atmosphere. Not just in the context of this particular episode - but in the entire history of the series as a whole. I was shocked and amazed to find myself "misting up" a bit during "Father's Day" as Rose's poor Dad most go off and do what we all know he needs to do in order to resolve the conflict. I didn't think Who could be that genuinely touching. But I didn't think the series would achieve such a moment again so quickly with the resolution of "The Doctor Dances". As the nano-genes swarm around mother and child, I found myself getting glassy-eyed as the Doctor removes the gas-mask and a real boy is once again underneath it. It was both triumphant and very moving. I had no idea this new series would be so deft at playing with my hearstrings - and that's one of the things that is truly amazing me about it. That Doctor Who can very legitimately bring me to tears. In the old days, of course, some of the special effects could make me cry - but those were an entirely different kind of tears!

The denouement of the whole tale takes a bit longer than most of the stories have but we are treated to yet more of that sense of "classiness" that I so enjoyed earlier in the story so it doesn't really bother me. Poor old Captain Jack is in his space ship about to die. At last, he's definitely become a good guy and we don't want to see him go. His "emergency protocol" of having the computer make him one last drink was a real hoot! And that slow pan back from his cockpit to the interlinking TARDIS console room might even qualify as a "classic moment" in the series. It's all very stylish without trying to be overly intentional about its stylishness. Something that can happen in less-carefully-crafted sci-fi stories. But everything about the new Who series seems to be handled so well by its creative team that it can get away with all kinds of neat and novel concepts. Such as actually showing the Doctor dancing in his console room with his companion and even going to such lengths as actually using the sequence as a name for the whole story! Once again, an old hardcore fan like me can enjoy just how well this series is blending "the old with the new" and feels confident that no matter what Russell T. throws at us. He'll do it well. The show moves from strength to strength with him at the helm as producer. Poor old JNT must be a bit jealous of just how well some of the revisionist work Davis is doing is being so well-accepted! After all, he changed the show just as radically back in the 80s. Perhaps we just needed to be "starved" of on-screen Who for a bit before realising that re-inventing itself regularly is one of the finest features of this programme.

Anyway, in the final analysis, "Empty Child" holds up much better if you watch it back-to-back with its second episode rather than having to wait the week you had to wait when it was transmitted. All the wierdness and mystery is much more justifiable now that you know where it's all going to go. And when you think about some other "bigger picture" aspects of this tale, you can really feel some enormous hope and enthusiasm for the series. Once again we have a truly great story being told. Making it now four stories in a row (from "Dalek" onward) that just seem to have little or no real flaws to them. And when you take into consideration that Steven Moffat can not only write great comedy T.V. like "Coupling", but can also write some great hardcore sci-fi drama, one becomes even more impressed with what Doctor Who is offering the public. In a nutshell, it's some of the best television of 2005! Whether you're a Who-fan, a sci-fi geek or just a casual viewer - this is, undeniably, some great storytelling.





The Empty Child / The Doctor DancesBookmark and Share

Monday, 30 May 2005 - Reviewed by Eddy Wolverson

Steven Moffat’s two-parter, like “The Unquiet Dead,” it had a very “Talons of Weng-Chiang” feel to it, not only in it’s dark tone but also in it’s more light-hearted moments. All in all, the story is another classic – and I mean classic – right up there with “Caves of Androzani,” “City of Death,” et al.

The opening scene of "The Empty Child" throws us right into the action with the Doctor and Rose chasing the Tula ambulance. I had to laugh at the Doctor’s little digs at humanity; “red is just humans,” and how “you can’t go anywhere in the universe without bumping into Earth.” I thought the latter comment especially funny, as by the looks of things we don’t get a single episode in this series set away from our Solar System, except “Parting of the Ways” perhaps? Wishful thinking! Even this budget will only stretch so far.

When the TARDIS lands, a month too late as per usual, I loved the quick succession of brilliant scenes we had to enjoy. We had the Doctor wander into the nightclub with his immortal line asking “if anything had fell from the sky”, followed by Rose first hearing the Empty Child’s voice, following him up onto a rooftop then being swept away by a barrage balloon! When the Doctor comes out of the club to find Rose gone, he strokes a cat (how 6th Doctor!) telling it how he wishes he could find someone who got the “don’t wander off thing.” Brilliant! The ringing phone was also a nice touch, and the introduction of Nancy was also wonderfully done. What is she hiding?

As for the scenes of Rose, Union Jack T-shirt and all, hanging from a barrage balloon from the sky in the middle of the Blitz… well. What can you say? On a TV budget the special effects were superb. More importantly, it introduced us to John Barrowman’s fantastic character, Captain Jack Harness. If you can forgive him for saying “excellent bottom” instead of “nice ass” or something american (which after all, he is a time agent posing as an american… I think) his introductory scene is brilliant. I loved how the “cellphone” creeped into the story again, and I couldn’t contain my laughter when he told her to turn it off because it was interfering with his tractor beam!

The Doctor stumbling onto Nancy’s air raid feeding frenzy was my favourite scene in the episode for a number of reasons. First off, both the Doctor and Nancy are brilliant in the scene. The Doctor’s dialogue is superbly written in fluent ‘northern,’ right from “good here innit” (a catchphrase of my brother’s) to his line about looking for a blonde in a union jack – well, a “specific blonde.” I loved his line about him not being sure whether it was “Marxism in action or a West End Musical” – mirroring the audience’s thoughts exactly! Trust him to take two slices as well! When the child arrives, causing everyone to scarper, it is a truly chilling scene. There is something about a gas mask that is really, really frightening. Put a child in one and as far as horror and creepiness goes, you’re onto a winner. I was impressed with how the Doctor was the only one who opened the door to the child; still after all he’s been through the optimist. But, aha, the child has gone.

The Doctor follows Rose to the site where the Tula ambulance crashed and another wonderful tete a tete ensues. Again the dialogue is dazzlingly written, “my nose has special powers,” says the Doctor when Nancy asks how he was able to follow her. “Do you ears have special powers to?” is Nancy’s savage reply, which isn’t just funny because the Doctor’s ears are quite big, but because of all Rose’s jibes that he should be more ‘Spock!’

Incidentally, I thought the Spock jibes were a great idea and worked brilliantly in the context of the story. Doctor Who has always been about good stories and characters, not too heavily reliant “alien tech.” No disrespect to the Star Trek franchise which I’m also a huge fan of, but they’ve always had far more money to spend on such things and it’s great how Rose – a typical child of the late 20th century – sees the Doctor as quite lo-tech and so when the flash Captain Jack comes along… crush!

“You want to know about the bomb? You need to talk to the Doctor,” says Nancy. Spoiler free-people must have thought “what?” and for a moment thought they were going to bring in Tom Baker, Davison, Colin Baker, McCoy or even McGann but no….

Meanwhile Captain Jack is entertaining Rose on the roof of his Tula warship, dancing with her, flirting and setting her up to be conned. It’s blatantly obvious how much Rose has fallen for the dashing Captain, especially with all his flash alien tech and champagne, not to mention his dancing. “Finally a professional.”

The Doctor and Nancy have another wonderful scene together. Somehow he knows she lost somebody, reasoning that is why she looks after all the kids, in a way making a comparison with himself. Then we have an epic and Doctor-like speech about the German war machine, “one damp little country says no…” Fantastic stuff. “I don’t know what you do to Hitler, but you lot frighten me.” Who’s he mis-quoting?

Finally we meet the mysterious ‘Doctor’, Doctor Constantine, played by the superb Richard Wilson. In his brief appearance he conveys a sense of disparity in keeping with the episode, and his line about before the war being “a grandfather and a father” and now being neither, “but still a Doctor” reminds us very much of a nameless Doctor we know – and I don’t mean the starship Voyager’s E.M.H. The premise of “physical injuries as plague” which becomes apparent as the Doctor examines all the victims is a very original idea for the show, and the big reveal – “what was the cause of death…. They’re not dead” – when all the zombies sit up is a classic Who moment.

Doctor Constantine’s horrific transformation reminded me of the nightmarish imagery in Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” movie. As I said earlier, gas masks are somehow inherently disturbing and see one grow out of someone’s throat… bone chilling stuff. I bet that scene put many a child behind the sofa. And to think this episode was shown EARLIER than usual!

When Jack and Rose find their way into the hospital the confused Jack is pleased to meet “Doctor Spock,” before realising that they aren’t “time agents” after all and so he can’t con them. Instead, he insults them by calling them “Flag girl” and “U-boat captain” (how many times can the Doctor’s appearance be attacked in one episode?)
Before he bleats out apologetically, almost pleadingly, “I’m a conman. That’s what I do.” The Doctor, of course, takes an instant dislike to the flash Captain.

Then we get the second cliff-hanger of the season, much more understated than the first, and all the better for it. The zombies advance on the Doctor, Rose and Jack, while the Empty Child closes in on Nancy… “are you my Mummy? Are you my Mummy…” So, how are they going to get out of this one? The Doctor is going to give the zombies a telling off. “Go to your room!” Fantastic, though as the Doctor pointed out, it’s a good job it worked because they would be crappy last words, especially compared to “it’s the end… but the moment has been prepared for,” “…it’s time to say goodbye… might regenerate…” and the like.

As "The Doctor Dances" begins proper, Jack reveals his con and the plot starts to come together. The interaction between Jack, the Doctor and Rose is superbly written and performed here. Jack’s “Volcano Day” joke is wonderfully turned on it’s head by the Doctor (does anyone else think that would have been a better title than “The Doctor Dances”?) and the whole banana joke was brilliantly executed, especially the Doctor implying he blew up the weapons depot where Jack got his gun, then switching a banana for Jack’s weapon! “Bananas are good.” Immortal words. The banter goes on as the Doctor is too embarrassed to say that his sonic device is a ‘screwdriver,’ and it’s Jack’s weapon, ironically, that saves them from the marauding hordes of zombies on their tail. When Jack takes the mickey out of the Doctor for having a sonic screwdriver the Doctor comes out with another classic “you ever been bored? Ever had a long night? Ever had a lot of shelves to put up?” Absolutely brilliant script-writing. It looks like this menage a trois is going to be a lot of fun to watch.

I also enjoyed the scene where Nancy returns to the house she’d taken the children to eat at only to be caught by the obese householder. Nancy’s gall is impressive as she blackmails him not only into letting her go, but into getting her some wire cutters, some more grub and letting her have a Johnny Cash before she leaves!

The scene with the Doctor, Rose and Jack in the Empty Child’s room where the tape runs out is the first of two brilliantly terrifying scenes. The young child’s voice is awfully harrowing “I’m here can’t you see me?” The way he ‘sings’ everything makes him even creepier.

Shortly after, Jack does his most Spock-like trick of all and is ‘beamed up’ to his ship. At this point we are still wondering about this intergalactic conman… has he taken off and left the Doctor and Rose to their fate, or will he really help them?

The second creepy scene of the episode sees Nancy go back to tell the children she is going to the bomb site because the Empty Child isn’t following them, it’s following HER. Just as Constantine implied in the previous episode, only Nancy knows why the Empty Child is stalking her, and at this point most of us are still guessing. The typewriter being controlled by the child is executed beautifully. It’s directed so well you get used to the noise of it in the background, then when you see the little boy who was writing the letter isn’t operating it anymore it’s a big shocker. Very creepy indeed.

The Doctor gets sulky as Rose goes on and on about Jack’s good looks, how he saved her life and how he’s like the Doctor, but with dating and dancing etc. The Doctor makes an effort not to be insulted, but just like with Jo Grant and her bloke all those years ago in “The Green Death” he’s seething. “…you just assume I don’t darnce…”

“You got the moves? Show me your moves. The world doesn’t end because the Doctor dances,” Rose says, holding out her arm to the Doctor. Of course, he doesn’t dance with her, just examines her hands disapprovingly as he realises they’ve been healed and the pieces of the puzzle start fitting together in his head. His line about Rose “setting new records for jeopardy friendly” was another nice line; as I keep saying the dialogue by Moffat is brilliant.

As Jack comes to the rescue, ‘beaming up’ the Doctor and Rose, we realise it’s possible he’s not all bad, just like when Han Solo returns to help Luke blow up the Death Star in “Star Wars.” Still, he’s no angel as he’d be the first to admit, and he does, boasting about how he stole his Tula warship from a gorgeous lady. We also get the first big reveal about his character here – he was a ‘Time Agent,’ whatever one of those may be, and the ‘Agency’ wiped several years of his memory. He wants them back. This memory block gives his character a real edge. The good looks and charm we saw in “Empty Child” were okay for an episode or two, but if they’re making him a regular he needs the kind of depth something like this gives to his character. I hope it gets a good payoff and he wasn’t just a “nice guy” during those missing years. It is also in this scene the Doctor first sees the nanogenes and pieces it all together. Watching “The Empty Child” I thought the premise of “physical injuries as plague” was a unique idea, and it is nice to see it being backed up with a scientific explanation that seems half-plausible!

Meanwhile Nancy is captured trying to re-enter the bombsite. She is chained up and left under the supervision of an soldier showing the first symptoms of “Empty Child Syndrome.” His commanding officer, who I think was called Algie (presumably the same officer Jack spoke to in “The Empty Child”) leaves Nancy in his custody despite the solider calling him “Mummy!” Florence Hoath as Nancy once again puts in a wonderful performance, pleading with the solider to let her go, trying to reason with him. When he is completely overcome by the Syndrome, she cleverly byes some time by singing a lullaby to him…

I love the shot of the Doctor, Jack and Rose walking through the bomb site. The lighting is superb, Murray Gold’s score is as epic as in “Dalek”, it’s a shame the scene couldn’t have lasted a second or two longer.

I only have one real complaint with this two-parter, and it’s all the bi-sexual innuendo which is a bit over the top. Fair enough if you want to imply that “51st century guy” Jack is bi-sexual, but why make the Army officer, Algie, gay too? Even the man who’s house Nancy stole food from was “messing about with the butcher.” I think for something watched by kids and families it’s a little bit too much.

When the Doctor realises the plague has now become airborne as we see Algie transform horrifically, it becomes obvious we are building up to the story’s climax, though like in “World War Three,” it does feel a little early. Luckily, the climax here it stretched out right until the episode’s end.

As the zombies march relentlessly towards the bombsite we are treated to a delightful scene between Rose and Nancy, very similar to “The Unquiet Dead” scene with Rose and Gwyneth. This one is probably even more profound; how can Rose convince a girl who looks up into the sky and sees a devastating war raging, that the world isn’t about to end? The look on Nancy’s face when she realises who wins is priceless. It’s a really beautiful scene.

I love the ending of the story. So far it has been a dark story in almost every sense, from the lighting to the setting to the plot to the horrific imagery shown. At this point everything is bleak, the Doctor is giving a trademark speech about how unstoppable the nanogenes are and how they will turn the whole human race into zombies, and even Jack realises what his con has led to. He even appears to feel guilty.

“There’s never been a little boy born who wouldn’t tear down the world to save his Mummy… and this one can…”

But just as a fate worse than death is about to take all out heroes, the Doctor finally works it out. Nancy is the Empty Child’s Mother. “Are you my Mummy? Where is my Mummy?” The Doctor persuades a reluctant Nancy to admit the truth to the Empty Child, Jamie, her son who she’d always claimed was her brother to protect herself from society’s scorn. “Yes, I am. I am your Mummy.”

The Doctor is rubbing his hands together, looking up at the sky. “Gimme a day like this please… clever little nanogenes!!!” then we are treated to a rarity in this series – even the Doctor cannot believe it – an old fashioned Hollywood happy ending!

“AHA!!! EVERYBODY LIVES ROSE! THIS TIME EVERYBODY LIVES!”

Normally I hate such things but it just works so well. Even Doctor Constantine and his patients are saved when the Doctor takes the nanogene “software patch” and, let’s say ‘manually’ “e-mails the upgrade,” with particularly humorous consequences as the nanogenes not only restore all the zombies’ humanity but heal all their injuries… one woman’s leg even grows back. “Perhaps you miscounted?” suggests Constantine, Richard Wilson’s comic timing still perfect.

So the Doctor is running into the TARDIS, waving his arms all over the place, laughing and grinning like a Cheshire cat. He even has an 8th Doctor-like “I know everything” moment when he tells Rose what she got for Christmas when she was twelve. “I’m on fire!” he exclaims. “But what about Jack?” asks Rose.

Jack has taken the “Splichter Wolf” (‘Bad Wolf’… sigh) bomb into space and is now facing certain death. He’s very cool about it though, supping his drink and reminiscing on his sexual misadventures with his executioners… but of course, it really is a happy ending and the TARDIS arrives to save him just in the nick of time.

The story that began in the darkness and despair of 1941 London in “The Empty Child” ends as “The Doctor Dances,” albeit with a bit too much bi-sexual innuendo (still!), but at least it’s the Doctor and Rose who have the last dance.

“All things considered, fantastic!”





The Empty Child / The Doctor DancesBookmark and Share

Monday, 30 May 2005 - Reviewed by Steve Manfred

The new series seems to be starting out much like the first year or two of Big Finish did where we have a very high number of stories either on or near Earth. On the one hand, I can't complain with the resulting good stories they're getting, but on the other, I think it's getting to be about time we went across the universe and did as the aliens did. So, my heart sunk just a bit when we saw Earth as the destination at the beginning.

It didn't stay there long though as we plunged headlong into London during the Blitz and what's definitely the creepiest set-up we've had yet, and one the older episodes rarely if ever matched. One might think that during a war that the scariest thing that's going on is the war itself and the doomed future one's nation might have should it lose (I've been thinking that almost every day since 9/11/01). This story managed to find two stories of fear that are even better than that. One is very personal (to do with Jamie and Nancy) and one is a threat even greater than what the Axis powers were up to (zombie-fying virus going airborne and ready to turn the whole world into gasmask people). So, well done to Steven Moffat for being so creative and punching WWII both above and below the belt.

Speaking of below the belt, how about that Captain Jack, eh? He's ready, willing, and able to "dance" with anything that moves so long as it looks excellent to him. (And is it really coincidence they went for an actor who looks so much like Tom Cruise? ) Fortunately, his relaxed and futuristic sexuality is kept in proportion with the rest of his character, which is an oh-so-smooth con man with a terrific wit and a mystery or two, yet who seems friendly enough. I'm really warming to him, and I'm glad he joined the TARDIS crew at the end. If the one-liners he spouted in this story keep coming, I'll be very pleased. Top of them all has to be "Who looks at a screwdriver and says, 'ooh. This could be a little more sonic.'?"

The other main character who was introduced but regrettably didn't get to stay on was Nancy. Streetwise is too weak a word to describe her... more like streetgenius, the way she organizes the starving kids into stealing food from the house of someone she can blackmail, and in a big way. Streetstrong might be another one, since the war has hit her really, really hard, and yet she hasn't let how despondent she is about it all cripple her. She just gets on with things. I like that the Doctor and Rose twice try to cheer her up out of this... the Doctor with his patriotic speech and Rose by telling her that they're not going to lose the war. The first doesn't really work on her as far as we can see... the second sort of does since by then she's believing in anything. Getting her son back alive at the end of the story and seeing the whole plague end as well must have really turned her back around. The Doctor boasts later of having a really great day (where for once, no one died), but I think Nancy's got him beat here. Jamie, Dr. Constantine, and the others didn't do too badly either.

On now to plot matters, and Moffat's ingenuity shines again (except for one niggle I have for the end). If you make a list of the sci-fi elements in this story, they're actually not that great on paper. There's con man Jack setting up a little temporal con that's not all that original... and there's the nanogenes inside the Chula war ambulance that are lifted from either "Star Trek the Next Generation" or the SciFi Channel seasons of "Mystery Science Theater 3000"... and then there's Jack's own warship with the invisibility and the teleporter that only works for one person (except when it doesn't)... none of it's really that new. What made it all work so well was the way they're all presented and revealed, where in the first episode we both have and haven't got all the clues we need to figure out just why people are turning into gas mask zombies or why Jack's there and son on. Few of us successfully guess at the motives of this story because there are in fact no logical motives behind what's going on, but rather, three mistakes. "Make mistakes and confuse the enemy" as the Doctor once said, and it works on audiences too. The mistakes I speak of were a) Jack's mistake in thinking the ambulance was empty and bringing it there, b) what Nancy considers to be her own mistake in getting Jamie killed, and c) the nanogenes mistake in how they try to fix people up wrongly, with their gruesome consequences. The Doctor asks at the end of part one "What's the point?" and the reason he and we can't work it out is that there isn't one. It was just a series of unfortunate events. And that's why the story was so entertaining.

As for our regular characters, the Doctor and Rose, this is a story that achieved perfect balance between them. Rose gets to have her thrilling adventure, travelling over London by barrage balloon (even if it's a stretch that she didn't look up to see what the rope was attached to) and meet Captain Jack and swoon over him and banter with psychic paper and so on. Meanwhile, the Doctor gets to do some real investigating and uncovering of secrets like he always used to but doesn't seem to get as much time for in the new series, mostly because "part one" is missing from most of the stories. That wasn't a problem here, and Chris Eccleston really gets to shine as a result. The relationship between the two characters gets a chance to grow too, particularly in "The Doctor Dances," and some of that chemistry we were told these two were having before the series began really began to cook here in a way it perhaps hadn't before now... at least not as much as that between the Eighth Doctor and Charley. Again, I suspect this is a function of the time it takes to tell these moments in a story and how there just isn't enough in the one-parters. Anyway, I really enjoyed how Jack's presence gets the Doctor to have to come out of his own shell and be more approachable with Rose and actually try to dance with her, which he finally does at the end. His response line to Rose's invitation earlier is another classic. "Show me your moves," she says, and the Doctor answers, "Rose, I'm trying to resonate concrete."

It's almost like Steven Moffat has experience writing stuff like this. Hmm.

On to more superficial matters...

I _love_ James Hawes' direction, and think it's the best we've seen in the series so far. I'm very glad to hear he's coming back for more with at least the Christmas special to come. The ultra cold weather on the shoot actually helped as it made Nancy look even sadder than she would've normally done since you can see it in her face so well.

The music was much stronger than in earlier episodes, and in particular the scenes at the end where Nancy tells Jamie she is his mummy. At last Murray Gold is starting to prove the faith the producers had in him to give him the entire series to do. Maybe this is just a function of his having a little more time to work on it?

The CGI was _exceptional_. I can't recall ever seeing the Blitz shown on TV or film in such an awesome way anywhere else... I'm sure someone will correct me here and point out a film where it was done better, but nevertheless it was wondrous to behold. Kudos to the Mill!

I've only got two problems with the story... both in "The Doctor Dances," and they're both minor enough for me not to dock much from the point total below. Just a tenth I think. Anyway, the first one is the historical glitch where they had a magnetic tape player and recording of Jamie's therapy sessions in the hospital, several years before the first one was available in Britain. Maybe this is the Bad Wolf's doing in the same way that the errors in things like "Invaders from Mars" were the NeverPeople's doing, but somehow I doubt it. The other story issue I had is with Captain Jack at the end and the German bomb. Why didn't he fly his ship to an uninhabited area of Earth rather than into outer space? Had he done so, he could've just got out of the ship or teleported out of it and let the ship blow up with the bomb without having to worry about the fact he had no escape pod on his ship. This point needed some more work.

All in all then, 9.9 out of 10. Probably a classic in fact.