TV Club: The Empty Child & The Doctor Dances

TV Club welcomes our first Steven Moffat script with the modern series second two-parter: The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances. Possibly the first story of the modern series to give us memorable images and a catchphrase in ‘Are you my Mummy?’ as well as a evocative World War Two setting - what are your thoughts on this often voted top ten story?

Both episodes are available for free on BBC iplayer:

And on DVD and BluRay:

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4 Likes

This two-parter is such a modern masterpiece and an instant classic that showed us all what Steven Moffat can bring to the table, gave us Captain Jack, the first big meme (“Are you my mummy?”) and a seamless mix of history, sci-fi, atmosphere and charm.

The Empty Child: 9/10

I love the high-speed chase that pulls us into the episode; it yet again shows what kind of action this new series is capable of.

This immediately begins building on the atmosphere with the eerie gas mask kid and the slow reveal that we are in London during the Blitz. The palpable wartime story mixes perfectly with the creepy alien mystery, which is why this two-parter is an instant classic.

It’s amusing how the Doctor becomes perplexed about the TARDIS telephone ringing when it’s not a real phone. Moffat will use this gimmick a couple of times during his tenure as showrunner.

The visuals range in quality: the costumes and sets look great, but some of the bigger VFX shots are wonky (i.e., Rose clinging to a blimp during an air raid; it’s an awesome scene, but not fully believable).

John Barrowman introduces Captain Jack by having him save Rose, instantly establishing him as a sexy, dashing, and fun character, as well as a man ahead of his time.

I like the “Lost Boys” seen here, led by the determined Nancy. Chris Eccleston has great chemistry with the children and fits very naturally into this dark point of British history.

You are aware that the gas mask child is frightening, even if you are unaware of the reason (a specialty of Moffat’s!). That constant, “Are you my mommy? Mommy?!?" is freaking scary.

I love how casually Nancy gets to insult the Doctor’s nose and ears.

This episode strikes a balance between the Doctor’s involvement in the creepy alien mystery and Rose’s introduction to Jack, whose connection to the threat remains unclear despite his charming nature.

The fact that Captain Jack is a flashy, irresistible individual means that Rose is immediately infatuated with him, which rubs the Doctor the wrong way, and this adds a fun element to the story to ease the tension over the heavier stuff.

This one is surprisingly tense and engaging, despite being one long set-up for the second half.

The scene featuring the legendary Richard Wilson portraying Doctor Constantine is a timeless masterpiece. It feels wrong from the start and culminates in one of the scariest transformations in all of Doctor Who, as Constantine becomes a gas mask child.

“Don’t you ever get tired of Doctor? Doctor who?” Well played there, Moffat!

The tail end of the episode breaks our hearts by revealing that Captain Jack is a con-man, and the crashed alien ship is an ambulance that has been rewriting human DNA. We then end the episode with an instant classic cliffhanger, as several empty children close in on the Doctor, Rose, and Jack.

The Doctor Dances: 10/10

Moffat has always been great with euphemisms, and the title of this episode is the first of many more to come.

The resolution to the cliffhanger is amazing and only works with Eccleston’s take on the Doctor.

The Doctor is furious with Jack using the Blitz to further his own schemes, and this is right in line with this incarnation’s general discontent with the stupidity of humans, though Captain Jack is more capable than most.

This episode builds more on the Nine/Jack relationship and their constant banter back and forth as they compare toys and knowledge.

This is where we get the famous “bananas are good!” and “Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks, ‘Ooh, this could be a little more sonic?’” lines.

Both Chris Eccleston and John Barrowman are absolutely fantastic in this one.

This is one intense episode from beginning to end. There’s the occasional sharp joke and dramatically charged moment, but it’s an exciting fight for survival from beginning to end.

The scene with Rose asking the Doctor to dance while he is trying to resonate concrete is a lovely little moment between the two main characters.

This script is so quotable that it’s become a good meme source over the years. This is why the second episode is the better-remembered of the two.

As the contagion becomes airborne and begins to affect soldiers, time is slowly running out. This nicely raises the stakes for the climax.

I love the little moment between Rose and Nancy, as Rose reveals that the Germans will lose the war, thus giving Nancy hope.

We learn that the culprits are nanogenes trying to help wounded humans, but they think they should all be scared and wear gas masks due to a simple mistake. I appreciate the transformation of something primarily benevolent into something frightening.

The climactic moments are incredibly tense and dramatic, leading to a gut-wrenching twist as the question “Are you my mommy?” is finally answered, followed by my favourite Ninth Doctor moment in one of his few moments of utter happiness (“Just this once, everybody lives!”). Every time I watch this, it brings me to tears.

I appreciate that they took the time to save Jack at the end so that he could continue traveling with the Doctor and Rose for the rest of the season.

Seeing Nine so happy makes me feel the same way, and the dancing in the TARDIS at the end is a perfect way to show this happiness (and tie everything back to the title of the episode).

9 Likes

I want to be contrary and say ‘well this episode is overrated’, but unlike a lot of other episodes that I consider to be overrated, this one actually is awesome. As a seven year old, this episode was terrifying in just the right way, and was definitely one of the episodes that helped get me hooked. It’s the sheer joy of the ending, that tiny bright spark of hope among all the darkness and pain… yeah. That’s what DW is all about

9 Likes

I’ll admit to this episode not bowling me over originally but it really helped watching it as part of my marathon as I was steeped in World War Two stories and the setting and atmosphere of this one are so evocative. I found I liked a whole lot more:

9 Likes

This is just the best story of the first series.

I love Captain Jack, and John Barrowman and Christopher Eccleston together are just fantastic!
And I’ll come out and say it, Jack and the Doctor should have ditched Rose and went gallivanting off together :grin:

I don’t really have a lot of clever things to say about this one, but two things:

  • I don’t think they are talking about dancing when they are talking about dancing :thinking::wink:
  • The irony of yelling “Everybody Lives” in the middle of the London Blitz :thinking:

:emptychild:

8 Likes

It’s been a bit since I last watched this and I really don’t have much to say that hasn’t been said a million times by other people but I’ll hit the highlights:

-Delightfully creepy “monster” and setting
-The “everybody lives” moment is not only absolutely joyous, but also such a huge moment for 9’s arc as the post-war Doctor, as is the “I can dance” part later
-Ninejackrose are the throuple of all time

8 Likes

This ‘serial’ is in my ‘top 10’ from all of Doctor Who. While I have minor issues with the beginning, and end, the ‘meat’ of the serial more than makes up for it. Everyone involved is on top form, with a special shout out to Florence Hoath as Nancy.

I think pretty much all the rest of my praise is stuff that has already been mentioned.

5 Likes

It’s a shame she retired from acting as she’s one of the show’s best guest stars.

5 Likes

THE EMPTY CHILD/THE DOCTOR DANCES

I remember this one from childhood…

Nightmares for weeks.

Might fill this in with more later but it doesn’t need much overstating. Moffat leaves the gate with a bang.

4 Likes

These two are just so so good

6 Likes

Honestly, is there anything i can add to this? It’s such a perfect story, when I revisited series 1 last year in order, I was fairly bumped out by the first couple of episodes but episodes like this make this series easily one of the best of the revival (and I say that who tends to prefer classic in many ways). This two parter is wonderful, as many pointed out Florence Hoath who played Nancy was such a good guest star in this “serial”. The Doctor and Rose might have some of their biggest dynamic in here and the addition of jack is lovely (I haven’t seen much of torchwood yet, but this might just be my favorite use of jack so far).

The Ending with 9 embracing the fact that everybody lives in such a time is just stunning, easily my favorite moment of his Doctor. For me nothing cant beat “Dalek”, it’s just sooo good, but this is a very close call. Yet another showcase why eccelston, even through he may seem like a major departure from the previous actors who played the part, still is and always will be an excellent choice. There is a lot I just love about it, really I have a hard time of thinking any negative I have with that Story, just so good!

8 Likes

This duo of episodes is definitely one of my favorites. I remember that these episodes were the ones that when I watched Doctor Who for the very first time sold the deal to me. The child seriously creeped me out the first time I was watching and I to this day enjoy how positively creepy that whole situation was. I always enjoy the dynamic between Jack, Rose and the Ninth Doctor and the ending of the story to this day is on the list of my favorite episode endings.

10 Likes

Oh this two-parter is when I really fell in love with Doctor Who, especially The Doctor Dances

7 Likes

These are some amazing episodes and I feel like I’ll just repeat what everyone else has said but anyway: it’s properly creepy, a compelling story, and honestly what I find most important is that it’s still driven by the characters. It introduces jack harkness and honestly the chemistry between him, rose and the doctor is just amazing and really what makes this story work. It’s emotional, sad and happy and frightening.

8 Likes

I absolutely loved this story when it first came out - it was so creepy & scary & yet it also introduced Captain Jack as an additional companion with a combination of good looks & humour that left me totally smitten! (I was always attracted to the bad boys LOL!)

Obviously rewatching it now could not replicate the suspense of viewing it for the first time, since this time around I already knew what was going to happen, but I still rate it as my all-time favourite story in the whole of Nu-Who.

It was also very interesting rewatching it now after recently watching Boom! and putting all the references from the latter into context.

9 Likes