Monday, 26 September 2016

Story 164 - The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances

In which the Doctor pursues an alien object that appears to be on a collision course with Earth. The object suddenly jumps a time track, and the Doctor must land as close to where and when it landed as he can. The TARDIS materialises in an alleyway at night. The Doctor decides to break into a building to ask if anyone has seen the object fall. He is shocked to learn that this is London, in the middle of the Blitz. Metal objects have been falling from the skies every night. Rose spots a small boy on a nearby rooftop. Going to his aid, she climbs up towards him. Seizing hold of a convenient rope, she discovers too late that it is attached to a barrage balloon which has come untethered. It drifts away with her dangling below - wearing a Union Jack T-shirt in the midst of a German air raid. She is spotted by an RAF captain, an American volunteer named Jack Harkness. He rescues her using a forcefield, as he has an invisible spaceship parked next to Big Ben. The Doctor meanwhile meets a girl named Nancy. He is shocked to hear the telephone in the TARDIS door ring, as it isn't connected to anything. He hears a child's voice asking for its mummy. Nancy warns him not to go near the child, then vanishes.

The Doctor manages to follow her, and sees her enter a house after its occupants have gone down into their air-raid shelter. She opens the door to a group of children, who will feast on the family's abandoned dinner. The Doctor sneaks in and joins them. They are all orphans, who Nancy looks after and feeds every night during the raids. A small boy wearing a gas mask comes to the door, and everyone is terrified of him. The children flee out the back door. Nancy tells the Doctor that if he wants to know about the boy, he should speak to Dr Constantine at the Albion Hospital. The Doctor goes there and meets the doctor. He looks after dozens of comatose patients, all wearing gas masks, and who have identical injuries. He explains that a small boy was brought in with the same injuries, and these spread to everyone else like a contagion. The gas masks are actually fused to the face. Constantine is also afflicted, and the Doctor witnesses him transform. Meanwhile, Jack has told Rose that he is really from the 51st Century, and is responsible for the alien object which they had detected. It is a Chula warship and he wants to sell it. They trace the Doctor and go to the hospital, where all the gas masked zombies awake and lumber towards them. At the same time, Nancy has been trapped in the house with the little boy.

As the people are all repeating what the little boy had said about seeking his mummy, the Doctor orders them to their room, as though they were naughty children. The gamble works. They go to the room where the boy had first been brought to try and learn more about him. The child turns up - as this is exactly where the Doctor had told him to go. They come under attack by the rest of the zombies. Jack manages to teleport to his ship, and brings the Doctor and Rose on board soon after. The Doctor notices that the ship is full of nonogenes, which can repair injuries. Jack's ship is also Chula technology. He is convinced that Jack is responsible for what if happening, but he insists that the object was simply a Chula ambulance. They go to where it crashed - railway sidings close to the hospital. Nancy joins them. She reveals that the boy is her little brother, Jamie, and he was the victim of a bomb blast one night when he went out looking for her. The Doctor deduces that there is more to it than this. Jack's ambulance was full of nanogenes. They found the boy and brought him back to life, as they are programmed to fix soldiers and return them to the front line. Not knowing anything about human physiology, they made a mistake. They are now fixing all the humans they encounter, using the boy as their template. Nancy isn't Jamie's sister but his mother. The Doctor hopes that the nonogenes will recognise this. They restore everyone, including Jamie. Jack had been operating a con - knowing that once he had sold the ambulance it would be destroyed by a German bomb that is due to fall in a few minutes. He uses his spaceship to capture the bomb and flies into space with it. He cannot defuse it or offload it, and so prepares to face death. However, the TARDIS materialises on board and he is able to get off his ship before it is destroyed.

This two part adventure was written by Steven Moffat, and was first broadcast on 21st and 28th of May, 2005. It sees the first appearance of Captain Jack Harkness, played by John Barrowman. Moffat will, of course, go on to write one story per season for the duration of Russell T Davies' tenure as show-runner, before taking on that role himself. He is due to handover to Chris Chibnall after Series 10.
Unlike many others of the first series writers, Moffat had not been a New Adventures writer, though he had contributed short stories to anthology collections. Davies knew him from a number of successful TV shows he had written (e.g. Press Gang and Coupling), and he was known to be a massive fan of the series.
The original series had tended to shy away from World War II. It only becomes a setting in the final season. Earlier writers had tried to pitch stories set at this time, with no success - Brian Hayles, creator of the Ice Warriors, had a story proposal called "Dr Who and the Nazis" back in the 1960's, and Douglas Camfield had also tried to get a WW2 script commissioned by Philip Hinchcliffe.
With a creepy child in a gas mask, Moffat could do nothing but place his story during the London Blitz, which lasted from September 1940 through to May 1941.

Moffat was given the task of introducing a new regular character - Captain Jack. He is an ex-Time Agent, from the 51st Century, now working as a con-man. Davies knew that the season was going to end with a major battle, and so needed a soldier - to do what the Doctor could never do.
He has an American accent, and cracks bad jokes. He is also omnisexual, and talks a lot about sex. When Davies had first been announced as show-runner, certain sections of the press worried that the show might have a "gay agenda", but it is Moffat who gives us the campest character of the new series. When we first meet him, he is flirting with a British officer, and he uses this relationship to infiltrate the railway yard where the ambulance has crashed. He also makes it clear that he bedded both his male and female captors in an unseen adventure. Moffat goes further, with the revelation that it is Mr Lloyd, rather than his missus, who has been providing sexual favours to the local butcher to get their enhanced rations.
The title of the second episode puzzled everyone at the time it was announced, but we now know that "dancing" is a euphemism for sex - especially in Moffat scripts.

For a two-parter, there is actually just a relatively small cast. Main guest artist is Richard Wilson playing Constantine. He's best know for playing the curmudgeonly Victor Meldrew in One Foot In The Grave. Nancy is played by Florence Hoath - a superb performance. She often played younger than her real age.
Story Arc:

  • Albion Hospital features. This was the hospital seen in Aliens of London.
  • The bomb which Captain Jack diverts has "Bad Wolf" written on its side in (very bad) German.
The cliffhanger is the Doctor, Rose and Jack surrounded by gas mask zombies, whilst Nancy is trapped in the Lloyd's house with the Empty Child. The resolution is the Doctor ordering the zombies - and hence Jamie - to their room. The Doctor is relieved that his gamble worked, as "Go to your room!" would have been terrible last words.

Overall, a splendid two episodes. Great CGI, great performances and a lovely comedic streak running through what could have been an extremely dark story. Voted 7th of 241 in the DWM 50th Anniversary poll, and deservedly so.
Things you might like to know:

  • The sequence with Nancy and the children with the typewriter was a late addition as the second episode was under-running. Of course it makes no sense that Jamie should be able to type remotely, as it was clearly stated he could only hack anything with a speaker. Moffat wrote the scene whilst on holiday with his wife. She had no love for the show at the time, and so he had to pretend that he was working on something else.
  • The station next to Albion Hospital is named Limehouse Green. There is no such station - it being a composite name derived from Limehouse and Stepney Green in East London.
  • "Everybody Lives!" exclaims the Doctor. Yes, it's one of those rare stories in which no-one dies. There are a handful in the original series (e.g. Fury From The Deep).
  • Prior to production on the series commencing, a number of the writers got together in West London for an Indian meal, to celebrate their commissioning. Present were Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Rob Shearman and Paul Cornell. The restaurant was called the Chula.
  • Star Trek gets referenced - Rose looking for a bit of "Spock" in terms of fancy technology - implying that it is a fictional series in the Doctor Who universe. A couple of years ago there was that comic book crossover with Star Trek, in which the Cybermen teamed up with the Borg, and the Eleventh Doctor joined forces with the crew of the Enterprise-C. The story Closing Time also indicates that Trek is a known fictional TV sci-fi show, Russell T Davies longed to have a crossover with ST: TNG, if only to see the Doctor puncture Starfleet pomposity.
  • "Are you my mummy?" - this story's catchphrase - will be repeated by two later Doctors. After donning a gas mask, the Tenth Doctor says it to UNIT's Colonel Mace in The Poison Sky, and the Twelfth will ask it of the Mummy on the Orient Express.
  • The exact date of this story is never specified, but we will later learn in Torchwood that Captain Jack disappeared in January 1941.
  • Time Agents operating in (or from) the year 5000 AD were first mentioned by Magnus Greel in The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
  • Bananas. Moffat has a thing about bananas. Bananas and "squareness" guns. See The Girl in the Fireplace and the Silence in the Library two-parter. The Doctor "dances" in the former as well.
  • A quick look at Google Translate has "Bad" come out as Schlecht in German. On the bomb is "Schlechter Wolf". Is it supposed to mean it's a Badder, or More Bad Wolf?
  • Jack talks about "Volcano Day" - referring to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, This would have had more significance had RTD's original outline for the series been followed, as the next story would have seen the TARDIS crew arrive in Pompeii on the eve of its destruction.
  • The episode title The Doctor Dances is unusual for a couple of reasons. Historically, story titles tended to be of the Noun of the Noun variety, though verbs do feature in individual episode titles in the Hartnell era. Those early episodes also mention the Doctor in their titles - usually absent from overall story titles, but this will become common as the new series progresses - to the point that we get a run of Something of the Doctor stories.
  • The bomb-site at the railway yard was filmed at Barry Island, just a few hundred yards from where the Holiday Camp in Delta and the Bannermen had been filmed.
  • The show plays fast and loose with the concept of the Blackout. Jack is framed wonderfully in an open window, of a brightly lit room, when we first see him - despite that fact that an air-raid is in full swing. Limehouse Green is also lit up like a Christmas tree. No wonder the Badder Wolf bomb finds it. The production team had set up a huge floodlight to shine on the area. This kept all the locals awake with its brilliance, and producer Phil Collinson claimed that he could see it from several miles away as he drove towards the location. The floodlight was scrapped, and a number of ground level lights put in its place.
  • Apparently Jack, as an American, would never have been able to be a captain in the RAF in the early part of 1941. The first squadron of US volunteers wasn't created until August of that year. Any Americans who had managed to enlist before - some coming via the Royal Canadian Air Force - would not have attained a captain rank.


  1. The one thing that usually gets overlooked is the wonderful Big Finish audio The Holy Terror that came out a few years before this. In it the Doctor and companion(as well as listeners) get a creepy child asking everyone 'Are you my father?' which actually gets the chills that Moffat tried to get from this television two-parter. As soon as I heard the 'Are you my mummy?' line it was a case of 'Oh! ANOTHER classic piece of 'Wilderness Years' Who looted for this new television series!'

  2. Thanks for this. I have mentioned on a number of occasions that I am not a BF subscriber, though I do listen to those stories broadcast on BBC 4 Extra (yes, I'm a cheapskate...), so do please let me know of any other references that pop up that I won't be aware of.

  3. Thanks for this. I have mentioned on a number of occasions that I am not a BF subscriber, though I do listen to those stories broadcast on BBC 4 Extra (yes, I'm a cheapskate...), so do please let me know of any other references that pop up that I won't be aware of.

  4. No one, not only Jack, could have reached the rank of captain in the RAF because there is no such rank! Jack is wearing the uniform of a group captain - equivalent to a colonel in the army or a captain in the Royal Navy. So he really should be Group Captain Jack.