The Doctor Dances

The world doesn’t end because the Doctor dances.

Rose Tyler

Synopsis

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?

Review

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.

Best Moment

I really enjoy the “Everybody Lives Moment” – a moment of pure joy for the battle-damaged Ninth Doctor.

Best Quote

Who has a sonic screwdriver?

I do!

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

The Empty Child

Are you my Mummy?

The Child

Synopsis

The Doctor and Rose encounter a mysterious object in the Time Vortex which they pursue to 1941 London in the midst of the Blitz. While Rose meets Captain Jack Harkness, The Doctor encounters a group of children who are being terrorised by a child wearing a gas mask.

Preamble

I’m going to go off on a slight tangent before starting my review. I’m writing this on the day that Big Finish announced that Christopher Eccleston would be reprising the role of the Ninth Doctor in four boxsets starting in May 2021! Eccleston returning to the role is something that I never thought would happen, and it’s safe to say that I’m very excited about this happening. As I am approaching the end of his first and only televised series, I was making plans for what I would be doing for this slot next year, which now will be pushed back a little bit, but that’s no problem when we’re getting more of Eccleston!

Review

The Empty Child kicks off a rather strong end to the first series of the revival with a story that doesn’t become less creepy the more it is watched. Those who have read reviews on here of Steven Moffat’s other work will know that I greatly enjoy his writing and his stint as show runner, but I did try and watch this as it would have been seen in 2005. This first part of the story presents us with a Doctor and companion at the peak of their powers, a character who would go on to be a fan-favourite and one of the best one-off villains of all time, coupled with one of the most haunting deliveries of a relatively simple line. Moffat delights in taking the mundane and everyday and making it frightening – here, it is the traditional image of the World War Two gas mask.

This story separates the Doctor and Rose early on and gives the Ninth Doctor some great characterisation. Throughout the first series, we have seen glimpses of just how battle scarred this incarnation is, but here we get clear confirmation of the impact of the Time War on him. We get the exchange between him and Doctor Constantine, a lovely appearance by Richard Wilson, where we appreciate the sheer scale of what the Doctor has lost, making Wilson’s brief cameo particularly effective and memorable. We also get a mention of the Doctor’s childhood on Gallifrey.

What’s this, then? It’s never easy being the only child left out in the cold, you know.

I suppose you’d know.

I do actually, yes.

The Ninth Doctor and Nancy

We also get to see the Doctor interacting with children, something I feel that we haven’t seen this incarnation do a lot of – going forward, the Eleventh Doctor in particular spends a lot of time interacting with children. We also get a good moment that feels as though any Doctor could say it – the scene with the cat, which feels as though any Doctor could have said it. In my case, I can especially picture that scene with Peter Davison!

Rose? (A cat meows, the Doctor picks it up) You know, one day, just one day, I’m going to meet someone who gets the whole don’t wander off thing. Nine hundred years of phone box travel, it’s the only thing left to surprise me.

The Ninth Doctor

Billie Piper is great here, too, and separating her from the Doctor gives her an opportunity to explore the setting of wartime London and stumble across a renegade Time Agent Jack Harkness, before being reunited with the Doctor shortly before the cliffhanger to tie the plot together. Having begged the Doctor for some more ‘Spock’ as she calls it, she falls quite literally into the hands of John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness, someone who is all about gadgets and showing off and she falls under his spell. She’s particularly good in her moments of outrage, like when Jack tells her to switch her mobile off, pointing out the absurdity of the situation. She also show initiative, trying to imitate a Time Agent whom Captain Jack is trying to con, and obviously does this effectively enough to get Jack and The Doctor to meet.

The story really doesn’t let up, starting with a bombastic and frenetically paced cold open which establishes the basis for the story effectively and economically as the audience is in no doubt as to what is happening and what the problem is. After the opening credits, Steven Moffat uses some horror tropes to create an atmosphere of fear and dread, such as the Child, the sudden appearance and equally sudden disappearance of Nancy and the phone call to a disconnected phone. The script really crackles with some great dialogue, some humour and is recognisable as a Moffat story. In more recent times, I have developed problems with the idea of romanticising World War II, and for the most part this story depicts something close to the grim reality of the Blitz. The Doctor does have a speech that, in the wrong hands could have rubbed me up the wrong way, but it’s a testament to the writing, directing and performance by Eccleston that it doesn’t rankle.

Amazing.

What is?

1941. Right now, not very far from here, the German war machine is rolling up the map of Europe. Country after country, falling like dominoes. Nothing can stop it. Nothing. Until one, tiny, damp little island says no. No. Not here. A mouse in front of a lion. You’re amazing, the lot of you. Don’t know what you do to Hitler, but you frighten the hell out of me.

The Ninth Doctor and Nancy

James Hawes’ direction also adds to this story and the feeling of unease and fear, with scenes like the ones in the hospital towards the end of this episode really well done. The scene with the reveal of Doctor Constantine’s scar on his hand, his subsequent transformation into one of the gas mask creatures is nicely done and all of the other affected patients sitting up in their bed are all creepy.

The Child is one of the creepiest antagonists to the Doctor and this is in no small part down to the performances of Albert Valentine and Noah Johnson who make this character so eerie and iconic. The voice sends shivers down my spine, and the direction and appearance of the Child make simple gestures like pointing effective. Nancy, his sister, is also good and she proves herself to be capable of providing for the gang of children without the Doctor’s help. Unlike Rose, she is utterly blunt with him, rather than hanging off every word. Otherwise, John Barrowman is good as Jack Harkness, coming across as a lovable rogue, even if he is ultimately responsible for the problem that the Doctor and Rose find themselves trying to solve.

Verdict: The Empty Child is one of the best examples of what Doctor Who can do. A creepy child and a sense of dread and fear make this one into an absolute classic. 10/10

Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Kate Harvey (Nightclub Singer), Albert Valentine (The Child), Florence Hoath (Nancy), Cheryl Fergison (Mrs Lloyd), Damian Samuels (Mr Lloyd), John Barrowman (Jack Harkness), Robert Hands (Algy), Joseph Tremain (Jim), Jordan Murphy (Ernie), Brandon Miller (Alf), Richard Wilson (Dr. Constantine), Noah Johnson (Voice of the Empty Child) & Dian Perry (Computer Voice)

Writer: Steven Moffat

Director: James Hawes

Behind the Scenes

  • Working titles included World War II and An Empty Child, a reference to An Unearthly Child.
  • The first contribution to the show by future showrunner Steven Moffat.
  • This story introduces the character of Captain Jack Harkness, who would go on to have his own spin-off in the shape of Torchwood and would return on numerous occasions, most recently in Fugitive of the Judoon. Although Barrowman would stay with the show until the end of the first series, his name would not appear in the opening credits until he came back in Utopia in series 3. It was intended in Russell T Davies’ original pitch that the character’s real name would be Captain Jax.
  • The first revived story to feature a child as being responsible for the bizarre goings on in the story.
  • The name Chula for the warship is a reference to a restaurant in London, where Moffat, Robert Shearman, Mark Gatiss and Paul Cornell went to celebrate being commissioned to write for the first episode since the revival.
  • This two-parter won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form in 2006.

Best Moment

There are too many to mention, but I think my favorite might be the conversation between the child and the Doctor in the hallway of the Lloyd’s house.

Mummy? Please let me in, mummy. Please let me in.

Your mummy isn’t here.

Are you my mummy?

No mummies here. Nobody here but us chickens. Well, this chicken anyway.

The Child and the Ninth Doctor

Best Quote

Before this war began, I was a father and a grandfather. Now I’m neither, but I’m still a doctor.

Yeah. I know the feeling.

Doctor Constantine and the Ninth Doctor

Previous Ninth Doctor Review: Father’s Day