The Doctor, Rose and intergalactic con-man Jack Harkness are trapped in an abandoned hospital by an army of those infected by the Child’s plague. Will they get to the site of Jack’s supposed space junk and discover ground zero for the plague?
The Doctor Dances ultimately sticks the landing and maintains the feeling of fear, whilst successfully bringing Moffat’s debut story for televised Doctor Who to a great conclusion. This, along with Dalek and the finale, really stand out as examples of the best stories of the first series of the revival and obviously were important in securing a future for the show.
Go to your room! Go to your room! I mean it, I’m very very angry with you. I’m very very cross. Go to your room!
I’m really glad that worked. Those would have been terrible last words.The Ninth Doctor
From a writing standpoint, the story really works well even if it does have a ‘love saves the day’ conclusion, which I feel works here. Even the resolution to the cliffhanger works, which nine times out of ten it probably wouldn’t. The script is full of good and quotable lines, some of which are quite funny, without detracting from the feeling of threat and menace that the Child has built up over the the preceding episode. There are moments in this episode where the writing and direction combine to create unsettling and nerving moments, such as the scene in the Child’s room, where the reveal that the tape that the Doctor, Jack and Rose have been listening to has run out and the Child is actually in the room works really well. This is a great example of the Doctor’s pride coming back to hurt him – he is proud that his ‘go to your room’ gambit worked, without realising the consequences of this until it is too late. Equally, moments like the transformation of the Zombies remains unsettling, especially in the scene where Nancy is handcuffed at the crash site to a soldier who has been infected. There are other moments where the Child isn’t on screen but still feels present, like when the Doctor and Rose are trapped in the Albion Hospital with his voice carrying over the speaker, or the typewriter scene. The direction is pretty solid, and I particularly enjoyed the pullback into the TARDIS from Jack’s ship at the end of the story.
The London Blitz is great for self-cleaners. Pompeii’s nice if you want to make a vacation of it though. But you gotta set your alarm for Volcano Day.Captain Jack Harkness
Equally, the resolution surrounding the origins of the Child and the Nanogenes feels organic. The Nanogenes seem to be introduced innocuously enough in the first part, but when it is revealed that they have caused the mutation of Jamie into the Child it seems logical. It is set up quite well and makes sense within the confines of the story as to why they are converting the other humans. Jack’s con seems almost too good to be true until it is revealed that the Chula vessel is a hospital ship containing the healing sub-atomic robots, whilst the Doctor realising how he can use them to fix the problem that they have created is quite a nice way of tying the story up.
This story can be seen to be the start of a change in the Doctor-companion relationship. In the original run, while companions like Susan and Leela left the TARDIS to get married, there was little to no hint of sexual tension between the Doctor and his companions, whilst in the TV Movie, the Eighth Doctor kissed Grace Holloway, a controversial moment at the time. Here, with the metaphor of dancing, the Doctor is made to feel romantically accessible for the first time. Whilst I am not a fan of the execution of this going forward, especially when it comes to the Tenth Doctor and Rose, I can see why the production team wanted to do something like this, to reflect changes in television in the intervening sixteen years. Ultimately, the resolution of this story addresses taboos about sex, single parenthood and teenage pregnancy in the 1940s, and the story also does talk about how sexuality has changed over time, with Jack being an example of how it has evolved between the 21st and 51st Centuries, whilst Nancy uses prejudices at that time to blackmail Mr Lloyd.
The cast do a great job here. Eccleston plays the Ninth Doctor perfectly, and even though he looks awkward when he has to dance, it feels in character for the Doctor. Whereas David Tennant feels as though he is comfortable in romantic situations, Eccleston is much more like Matt Smith, feeling as though he is uncomfortable with them. Equally, the Doctor’s relationship with Jack is good, and unlike Adam, once Jack realises that he is culpable for the problem he takes steps to resolve it. Billie Piper is good as Rose here, and keeps a cool head to get her, the Doctor and Jack out of some tight corners in the Albion Hospital. Nancy continues to demonstrate that, if circumstances were different, she would be a perfect companion, with her resourcefulness evident when she gets the tools necessary to break into the crash site.
Verdict: The Doctor Dances wraps up a great story, full of horror elements combined with some great moments of humour. 10/10
Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Albert Valentine (The Child), Florence Hoath (Nancy), John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Luke Perry (Timothy Lloyd), Damian Samuels (Mr Lloyd), Cheryl Fergison (Mrs Lloyd), Joseph Tremain (Jim), Jordan Murphy (Ernie), Robert Hands (Algy), Martin Hodgson (Jenkins), Richard Wilson (Dr. Constantine), Vilma Hollingberry (Mrs Harcourt), Noah Johnson (Voice of the Empty Child) & Dian Perry (Computer Voice).
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: James Hawes
Behind the Scenes
- The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances won Steven Moffat his first Hugo Award working on the show. By the end of his run, he would have won four Hugo Awards and been nominated a further nine times.
- The first single-story episode since Doctor Who and the Silurians where the titular character’s name appears in the title. This happened infrequently for episode names in the Hartnell era (eg: The Death of Doctor Who (The Chase) and A Holiday for the Doctor (The Gunfighters). Since this episode, it has featured frequently with the next occasion being The Doctor’s Daughter.
- Dancing is used as an innuendo for sex here, a motif that Moffat would reuse in The Girl in the Fireplace.
- This story was originally going to be followed by an episode written by Paul Abbott in which Jack would learn that the Doctor has been manipulating Rose’s life to create the perfect companion. This would have shown the circumstances behind Rose receiving the red bicycle for Christmas, however, Abbott proved to be unavailable to write this story.
- The second cliffhanger to be resolved in the pre-credits sequence. The first was in World War Three. This practice largely fell out of favour, with the pre-credits sequence generally being a recap of the first part.
- Early drafts featured Jamie’s father, who would appear to silently and anonymously assist Nancy and the orphans. His identity would have been revealed in the climatic moments of the story, revealing that he was German, giving an alternative reason for Nancy to be ashamed.
I really enjoy the “Everybody Lives Moment” – a moment of pure joy for the battle-damaged Ninth Doctor.
Who has a sonic screwdriver?
Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks “Ooh, this could be a bit more sonic”?
What, you’ve never been bored? Never had a long night? Never had a lot of cabinets to put up?Jack Harkness and the Ninth Doctor
Previous Ninth Doctor review: The Empty Child