Doctor Who - The New Series

1.09: "THE EMPTY CHILD" (1/2)

TX: 21 May 2005

Written by: Steven Moffat

Directed by: James Hawes

Running time: 41' 01"

Location: London, England

Date: 1941 AD

Monsters and villains: The Empty Child (A small child with psychic powers and a gas-mask instead of a face), the Empty Children (humans who have been transformed into copies of the Child).

Plot Synopsis: Another day, another distress signal - this time from a time craft wildly out of control. Unable to catch the object in the timestream, the Doctor follows it to World War II-era London, where homeless children scurry in the dark like rats, and something innocent and deadly stalks the streets.

Bad Wolf Reference: Nancy comments on the size of the Doctor's ears, which was taken by some to be a reference to the story of "Little Red Riding Hood".

Trivia: (1) This episode marks the first appearance of assistant 'Captain' Jack Harkness, played by John Barrowman.

(2) Writer Steven Moffat is better known for his comedy series Coupling (abysmally remade for the American market) and Press Gang. Although a fan of Doctor Who, the only time he wrote for the Doctor was in 1999's Comic Relief spoof Doctor Who: The Curse of the Fatal Death.

(3) Doctor Constantine is named after the comic book character John Constantine of the comic Hellblazer. Unlike the movie version of John Constantine played by Keanu Reeves, Doctor Constantine's name is pronounced correctly (Con-stan-tyne).

(4) The fictional Albion Hospital that houses the victims of the Empty Child is the same hospital from the autopsy scene in 1.04, Aliens of London.

(5) The Time Agents mentioned by Jack in this episode have appeared in Doctor Who lore before; in the fourth Doctor story The Talons of Weng-Chiang, the villain is terrified of the Time Agents. They appeared in the novels Emotional Chemistry, Eater of Wasps and Trading Futures.

(6) After complaints recieved at the end of 1.04, Aliens of London, the BBC put the "Next Time" trailer at the end of the credits. This episode ends with the gas-masked faces fading into the credit music.

(7) Dr Constantine's transformation sequence originally included the noise of his skull cracking (to mimic the injuries sustained by the first victim), but this was deemed too nasty for children and was removed from the soundtrack prior to broadcast.

(7) The Doctor gives "John Smith" as his alias. This is a long-running joke that began in the second Doctor serial The Wheel in Space and has been used by several Doctors since.

(8) The Chula are named after a restaurant of the same name in King Street, Hammersmith in London. It was frequently used by the series' writers.

Spoiler Synopsis: The Doctor and Rose attempt to catch a time vessel careening wildly out of control, its distress signal flaring. The TARDIS console sparks and the Doctor's hand is burnt. They fail to catch up with the ship, but touch down close to its last location - Blitz-era London. Sadly, the vagaries of time travel mean that they have landed one month after the the vessel did. The Doctor sets off to ask around for information, whilst Rose is distracted by a plaintive cry of "mummy" coming from a rooftop. She looks up to see a little boy in a gas mask. Putting her gymnastics training to good use, Rose climbs up a rope to reach the child. Unfortunately, the rope comes loose and she starts to drift into the air - it turns out that it was attached to a barrage balloon. The child watches her impassively as she floats away.

Back on terra firma, the Doctor enters a nightclub where he steps up to the microphone and asks the audience if they've seen anything falling from the sky recently. The audience, used to having German bombs falling on them every night, think that he is a comedian and meet his questions with uproarious laughter. In the distance an air raid siren counds and the Doctor realises what year it is.

He returns to the TARDIS, and is bemused when a police telephone hidden in its side begins to ring - this is unusual because the TARDIS isn't hooked up to any kind of telephone network. The Doctor's examination of the phone is interrupted by a young girl who warns him not to answer it. The Doctor ignores her command and picks it up, hearing the same young boy that Rose heard on top of the building. A noise draws his attention away to a nearby house, where he sees a family rushing from their uneaten dinner to their Anderson shelter. Peering over the garden wall, he sees the girl that spoke to him slipping into the now empty house. Rose is still dangling over the air raid, although she has rather luckily been spotted by an odd American man wearing an RAF uniform and carrying futuristic binoculars. She falls from the rope but is caught in a blue tractor beam and is carried up to the interior of what appears to be a spaceship piloted by the American. Overcome by the tractor beam, she faints.

Meanwhile, the young girl who spoke to the Doctor - Nancy - is inside the family's house, dishing out delicious black market chicken and vegetables to starving homeless children. The Doctor makes a surprise appearance but Nancy, not wanting to frighten the children, allows him to stay. He tries to question the kids about the lost time vessel but their conversation is cut short by the sound of the young gas masked boy from outside. Nancy, recognising the boy's voice, ushers the children out of the back door of the house whilst the Doctor goes to meet him at the front door. Nancy bolts the door, blocking the child's entry, and tells the Doctor that he shouldn't touch the boy - if he does, he will become like him: empty.

Suddenly, the house's telephone rings. The Doctor picks it up and hears the Child's voice down the line asking for his mummy. The Doctor hangs up but it's no use; the radio switches itself on and tunes into the boy's sad cries. Nancy flees as the Doctor goes to speak to the boy through the letter box, asking him what the matter is. The boy seems unable to understand what the Doctor is saying, instead repeating that he wants hs mummy, and that he is frightened of the bombs. The Doctor agrees to let him in, but once he opens the door the child has vanished.

Back inside the ship, the handsome pilot introduces himself as Captain Jack Harkness, a Time Agent-turned-mercenary from the 51st century. He shows Rose identification, but she recognises it as psychic paper like the Doctor's. She notes that it will only tell her what she wants to read - and that right now it's saying that Jack is single. They flirt a little until Jack asks Rose to hold her hands out. He notes that she has suffered friction burns whilst hanging from the rope. He clicks his fingers and hundreds of tiny yellow lights appear in the air - these are nanogenes, tiny machines capable of repairing human skin. Rose watches in delight as they fix her palms. Jack invites Rose onto the roof of his ship, which is invisible and parked right next to one of the faces of St Stephen's Tower. They flirt some more, and Jack asks Rose if she wants to dance.

Back on solid ground the Doctor has tracked Nancy to a parked train. He asks her again about the time vessel (although he doesn't explain what it is), saying that it is somehow linked to the Empty Child. Nancy tells him about a mysterious bomb which fell near Limehouse but which didn't explode. It's now surrounded by soldiers. She adds that he should go to Albion Hospital and speak to "the doctor".

Back on top of Jack's timeship, he and Rose are happily dancing to the music of Glenn Miller. As they talk it emerges that he thinks she is a Time Agent. He asks her if she has the authority to buy technology - a Chula warship has crash-landed in London and only Jack knows where. If the Time Agency pay up, he's willing to disclose the location. They have two hours to give him the money before a German bomb lands directly on it and blows it to smithereens. Rose tells Jack that she'll have to consult her companion first and Jack decides to track him down.

Nancy shows the Doctor the location of Albion Hospital and the nearby crash site. Before he leaves, she admits that she feels responsibility for the children she looks after because her little brother, Jamie, was killed by a bomb. Inside the hospital the Doctor finds hundreds of people lying comatose in beds, all wearing gas masks. A man appears, introducing himself as Doctor Constantine, and tells the Doctor to examine the bodies. He does, and notes that all of them have identical injuries - broken skulls, crushed chests and wounds on the back of the left hand. He also says that the "masks" are somehow organically fused to the victims' heads. Constantine explains that they brought in one body, crushed by the "bomb" outside, but that anyone coming into contact with it somehow contracted the same injuries. Constantine says that they are neither living nor dead, and that the Army, fearful for a full-scale breakout, plan to blow up the entire hospital. He adds that the first victim was kept in room 802, and that Nancy knows more than she is letting on. Suddenly, he begins to mumble about his mother. His eyes widen and turn glassy, a nozzle juts from his mouth and his skin turns into green rubber. Within seconds his face has transformed into a gas mask and he has become one of the Empty Children.

Outside the ward the Doctor runs into Jack, who used his ship to locate him. Jack explains his proposition and the Doctor realises that the Chula warship that Jack wants to sell is the same one that landed outside Albion Hospital. Jack says that it can't be behind the crisis, and admits that it's not really a warship at all - just a Chula ambulance.

Back at the house where the Doctor met the children, Nancy is gathering more food when the radio turns back on and the Empty Child's voice is heard once more. Nancy hides under the table but is quickly found by the boy. She runs for the door, but the Child uses his psychic powers to shut and lock it. As he advances on Nancy, the Empty Children in the hospital sit bolt upright and begin advancing towards Jack, Rose and the Doctor... TO BE CONTINUED.

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Sources: - The Internet Movie Database - Outpost Gallifrey - A Brief History of (Time) Travel

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances is a two part story of Doctor Who, and was the 9th and 10th episode of the first series of the Doctor Who revival. The Doctor in the series is The 9th Doctor, portrayed by Christopher Eccleston. Since I take the division of the story into episodes to be an artifact of the medium, this write-up will cover both of the episodes.

The episode is considered by many to be one of the more significant and better episodes of the Revival of Doctor Who, an opinion that I share, although it was only after I viewed it that I started realizing how much skill had been placed into the characterization and plot of the story. A brief synopsis of the plot will be described, before I explain why this particular story was so important in setting the tone for the Doctor Who revival.

The Doctor and his companion, Rose Tyler, find a lost vessel in the time vortex, and trace it back to 1941 London. The Doctor and Rose get separated, and Rose meets Captain Jack Harkness, who will later become a very important figure in Doctor Who, and its spin-off, Torchwood. Meanwhile, The Doctor has stumbled upon a mystery, in the form of the titular Empty Child, a boy in a gas mask who stumbles around, asking the same question: "Are You My Mummy?" A teenage girl, who seems to know a little of what is going on, warns The Doctor away, although that of course does not dissuade him. The Doctor later rejoins Rose and Captain Jack Harkness, and finds out that Captain Jack is an time traveling con-man, who crashed a piece of what he thought was space junk into the earth, then sells its location to "Time Agents", but that he had made a mistake: what he thought was an empty ambulance actually was full of "nanogenes", nanotechnology meant to heal injuries. The nanotechnology had found a boy killed during the blitz, and not knowing what humans were meant to be, had taken him as a template, and then moved on to infect other people, thinking it was "curing them" by rewriting them into the form of the injured boy with a gas mask. The Doctor realizes that the teenage girl who he had first met, who warned him about the boy, and claimed it was her little brother, was not telling the truth: actually, she had been a teen mother, and the boy was her son. When she embraces the boy, the nanotechnology recognizes her as a parent, and gets a proper fix on what a human form should be. The infection of all the other people were reversed, and the Doctor joyfully yells "Everyone Lives!", and the two of them rescue Captain Jack, and then travel on further in time.

I realize that synopsis is both too short and too long, although those familiar with Doctor Who and its plotlines will recognize a vintage quality Who mystery, and those not familiar with Doctor Who...will not be reading this.

But even all that plot is just the dressing on what this episode is really about, which is sex. The second episodes title, "The Doctor Dances", seems to be somewhat of a non-sequitur, until the equation between dancing, sex, and the themes and events of the episode are made.

Doctor Who is, in many ways, an escapist show, and The Doctor is an escapist character. He is aloof, superior, always has the answer, and has powers that are, despite the science-fiction trimmings, more or less magic. He also is rarely rattled by what goes on around him. And while the Revival has in many ways continued with the show being an escapist fantasy, it also has allowed some character development. The Doctor is often above humanity, but he also is lonely and needs companionship. He shows his affection by protecting and helping people, but he is unable to gain personal satisfaction from it, especially in light of the guilt he has from having to watch people die, and sometimes being responsible for it. At the climax of the story, he tells Rose to watch his "dance moves" and blows the nanogenes towards the crowd of zombified people, restoring them to health. In other words, he blows out genetic material to give life --- certainly a sexual metaphor. The girl who is the hidden mother of the injured boy is also in denial of her sexuality, dressing and acting like a girl on the edge of puberty, and denying the consequences of her sexual activity. Her admitting that the child is hers is the key to unlocking the entire mystery. And then, of course, we have Captain Jack. Captain Jack has the opposite problem as The Doctor: while The Doctor is all caring, and no sensuality, Captain Jack is all sensuality, with very little responsibility. In another fairly obvious innuendo, the episodes problems start because Captain Jack is irresponsible with a large cylinder full of genetic material. At the end of the episode, in another very, very obvious innuendo, he appears with a large bomb between his legs, which was originally part of his con. However, he takes responsibility for the bomb, meaning he has learned to temper his sensual nature with maturity.

So this episode, in a very encapsulated and subtle form, introduces many of the basic character conflicts that would become important as the Doctor Who revival progresses. The author of this story, Stephen Moffat, would later become the chief writer and show-runner. The story first sets up the conflict between The Doctor as aloof, all-powerful and celibate hero, and the Doctor as guilty, lonely man who needs companionship but has a difficult time obtaining it. It also, with Captain Jack, introduced the idea of a character that is a foil to The Doctor, whose impulsiveness, selfishness and sensuality can form a good pair with the Doctor's introverted and cerebral nature. A similar character would later be introduced by Moffat, the Doctor's (possible?) wife, River Song.

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