Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Doctor Who: The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances

The Empty Child

“Not sure if it’s Marxism in action or a West End musical…”

A very brief pre-titles sequence this time; it’s a mauve alert situation, and the Doctor and Rose are following an alien artifact that’s heading for central London. Red alerts, apparently, are camp.

It’s a month later when the TARDIS arrives. It’s London, it’s night, and the dialogue sparkles. My Marathon has reached Steven Moffat’s first script, and the combination of this and The End of Time means I’m getting rather excited about the upcoming new era. But back to The Empty Child.

What’s wonderful about Steven Moffat scripts is that not only do his plots fit together like clockwork but even witty dialogue is paid off with related further witty dialogue later. Here it’s Rose lamenting that the Doctor hasn’t got enough “Spock”, what with being unable to scan for alien tech and everything. And of course it’s revealed that this is the middle of the Blitz right after the Doctor has asked a roomful of people if anything has fallen from the sky recently.

Rose, for reasons of her own, ends up hanging to a barrage balloon in mid-air in the middle of an air raid while wearing a Union Flag t-shirt. As you do. I’m surprised to see that the backdrop is a little too obviously a matte painting in some shots, and this isn’t the first time that an effect from this season has convinced a little less than I remember it doing at the time, and especially in comparison to more recent episodes. Still, that’s no real criticism; this season pretty much saw the BBC learning how to do sci-fi all over again.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is puzzled to find the TARDIS phone ringing, which is particularly odd as it’s not even a real phone. He also finds strange goings-on in a nearby family home of which the man, Mr Lloyd, is played by that bloke from the video for Basement Jaxx’s Where’s Your Head At?. A bunch of street urchins enter the house and start eating the abandoned meal, all under the supervision of the mysterious Nancy. Even more strange, just as Rose slips from the rope she is coincidentally caught in a tractor beam- definitely not 1940s technology. Naturally, she’s told to switch off her mobile phone as it interferes with the equipment.

The ship belongs to the mysterious Captain Jack Harkness, and it’s fascinating to see the character as he appears here given all the baggage he’s acquired since, much as I shouldn’t be thinking of any of that while wearing my Marathon hat. And the psychic paper flirting is great. Jack has a Chula warship, and he’s offering to sell it to Rose, who he believes to be a “Time Agent”. Naturally he tells Rose this as they sip champagne atop an invisible spaceship during an air raid just by Big Ben, to the sounds of Glenn Miller. On hearing that the Doctor’s around somewhere, he… does a scan for alien tech. Finally, a professional!” purrs Rose. This is great.

Rather cleverly, the little boy with a gas mask who’s been popping up throughout the episode, seemingly harmlessly, is revealed as the big threat in a scene which is actually quite scary. Everyone’s scared of it, it can control phones, radios and the like, and the Doctor’s alone in the house while it asks to be let in and to see its Mummy…

The Doctor finds Nancy again, and after a rather splendid little speech about Britain and Hitler, he’s told to go and see “The Doctor”- Dr Constantine, played by Richard Wilson- a surprisingly small part for possibly the most famous guest star to appear so far this series. Constantine’s patients all have exactly the same wounds- “Physical injuries as plague,”- and they’re the same wounds as the little boy. They’re all alive, extremely creepy, and wanting their Mummy. And worse, Constantine becomes one of them in a horrifying scene. Rose and Jack arrive just in time for the cliffhanger. Jack admits that the artefact they were chasing was put there by him as bait as part of an attempted con; it’s a Chula ambulance. But all that can wait; the patients are all advancing…

The Doctor Dances

“When he’s stressed he likes to insult species.”

It’s a simple and elegant resolution to the cliffhanger, and also the perfect set-up to the Doctor’s admission that “Those would have been terrible last words!” Then we can just sit back and enjoy an episode crammed with quickfire witticisms fired between the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack. Who, incidentally, is an ex-Time Agent from the 51st Century. I wonder how he got to 1941- Zygma technology, perhaps?

It seems that all this is Jack’s fault; he brought the Chula ambulance here, and everything that’s happened seems to stem from its arrival. Still, he has a squareness gun, which is pretty cool, although the Doctor disagrees. They’re still in danger, though; there’s a fantastic moment where everyone realises the tape has run out and it is in fact the gas mask boy talking. The only worrying thing it that this seems to be a recurring trick of Moffat’s; he did it in the excellent Jekyll as well. I hope we won’t be seeing it again any time soon.

It’s rather amusing now to recall that up until 2005 I (and a lot of people, I suspect) sort of casually assumed the Doctor must be pretty much asexual as far as I thought of such things at all. So it’s fascinating to see the conversation between the Doctor and Rose about, ahem, “dancing”. “You just assume I don’t dance,” complains the Doctor, both to Rose and to the viewer. “Well, I’ve got the moves but I wouldn’t want to boast.” Well, well, well…

They’re teleported to Jack’s ship, where he explains more of his background; he was indeed once a Time Agent, but left once he realise his employers had wiped two years’ worth of memories, something which has remained unresolved ever since, oddly. Oh, and he’s very much the 51st century guy, very flexible with “dancing”. Perhaps he once “danced” with Mr Sin, you never know.

There’s a wonderful scene between Rose and Nancy as they repair the barbed wire; Nancy has no problem accepting that the Doctor and Rose have a time machine, but she can’t accept the possibility that perhaps the war may not be so hopeless after all and she may actually have a future.

The ending is very neat indeed; the nanogenes from the Chula ambulance found the child, Nancy’s son, and has been using him as ac template for what it believes humans should look like. Nancy’s genes are able to teach them otherwise, though, and it’s quite moving to see the Doctor’s joy that “Everybody lives!” Not only that, but restored to perfect health, even if that means an entire leg growing back, which leads to the best line of the story, and perhaps the series, courtesy of Dr Constantine: “Well, there is a war on. Is it possible you miscounted?”

The Doctor and Rose leave, with the Doctor is a great mood, encouraging everyone to keep fighting, beat Hitler, and “Don’t forget the Welfare State.” Jack, on the other hand, is facing certain death, having deliberately sacrificed himself to stop the Chula bomb and make amends. He faces his certain death with dignity and champagne, but the Doctor and Rose ensure he isn’t going to die quite yet. It seems he might be living just a little bit longer…

As per usual for this season, that was fab. 5/5. Again.

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