The Empty Child
The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances
The Doctor Dances

Story No. 170 Captain Jack, (former) Time Agent
Production Code Series One Episode Ten
Dates May 28, 2005

With Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper,
John Barrowman
Written by Steven Moffat Directed by James Hawes
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner, Mal Young.

Synopsis: The plague is spreading.


Hot Jack! by Joe Ford 8/6/05

Exceptional, these two episodes represent the greatest achievement of the new series yet and showcase Stephen Moffat's not inconsiderable talents. I knew he was a clever man when he subverted the sitcom genre with his delightfully rude and well constructed comedy Coupling but he manages to stretch himself even further with Doctor Who, thanks to its flexible format and the opportunities that affords.

He manages to script a story which touches upon many genres without siding with any of them and the result is a pleasing mix of comedy and drama which entertains to the hilt whilst telling a story that is worth following. I went and saw Star Wars this week and was blown away by its incredible production values and clever jig-sawing of all the elements that needed to be in place for Episode Four but The Doctor Dances impressed me more and not because of superior special FX (which it does boast for a TV series) but because of one scene. It comes at the climax of this episode where the Doctor and company are sheltering from the rampaging hordes of gas-masked zombies and he convinces Nancy to reveal her secret to the brother. All the elements of the story converge and finally it makes wonderful sense, not only this but it utilises the morals of the setting (time period) to make a point and provides a supremely touching revelation to boot. THIS is storytelling, not the predictable dovetailing of plot details of a prequel (which with Terminator 3, Revenge of the Sith and Enterprise seems to be all the rage these days) but good, wholesome plotting that satisfies and surprises. It shocked me to think there is very little of this on television at the moment and it pleased me to see Doctor Who getting a nod in the Daily Express this week as the one bright spot in the otherwise mundane TV schedules.

It is also a delightfully optimistic story which revels in its happy climax. It isn't the mucky, syrupy dreck that most American shows climax on with everybody grinning insanely, being pretty and pretentious but the sort of joyful, punch-the-air happiness that comes with a man who has confronted so much pain and misery being rewarded with a ending to a crisis that results in everyone surviving and prospering! The Doctor has never quite been this delighted by the outcome of one of his adventures and it is wonderful to experience, he positively glows with pride that the death count for this crisis is zero and considering the danger and the possible nightmarish outcome it is hard not to share his joi de vivre! Not only that but the story exploits the joy the Doctor and Rose can bring to people's lives with their travelling. Nancy, surrounded by zombies and bomb explosions curses the war and their eventual downfall. Rose unexpectedly gives her the gift of knowledge, revealing the German defeat and bringing a touch of hope to Nancy. I found that very touching.

I was very pleased to hear that James Dawkes was returning to direct Doctor Who next year as his work on this two parter is astonishingly good, almost to the level of a feature film. In fact scrap that, compare the look of this story to a recent British flick, Shaun of the Dead say, and this comes out smelling of roses. The idea of setting the story entirely at night was a smart move and gives the story some visual flair; adding much menace to the interior and exterior of the spooky hospital, providing some shocking action sequences punctuated by German bombs exploding and offering some memorable scares with the groaning gas-masked victims lurching from the mist-swathed darkness. I always think the best camera work is that which you don't even notice, as though you are watching a genuine event rather than a television programme but the flashiness of the camerawork here is too good to ignore. I particularly found the rush along the hospital corridor at a skewered angle and settling suddenly in front of the masked child inventive and scary but the story is packed full of odd, disturbing angles that enhanced the feeling of disturbed reality.

Delight can be the only word to express my feelings on Captain Jack joining the TARDIS crew... and anyone annoyed about that particular spoiler must have noticed that he is turning up in the second batch of Ninth Doctor Adventures from BBC Books. The banter that flew about between Jack, the Doctor and Rose was electric and delivered to comic perfection by the actors who clearly have a great rapport. The "whose sonic device is better" scene was extraordinarily witty with that glorious balance of scares (the approaching masked victims) and the laughs that leaves you on edge but enjoying yourself immensely. The Doctor's anger towards Jack was understandable and not at all the "he fancies my bird!" jealousy I was expecting. When we realise the extent of Jack's involvement and the horror of what he has caused to earn a quick buck, it is hard to sympathise with the guy. But then the rug is pulled out from under us twice when we realise why he trying so hard to earn the money and more importantly when he gets to be the hero of the piece by jumping on top of a German bomb that is about blow the Doctor and Rose (and many others!) to pieces. His attempted sacrifices is enough to prove to the Doctor that he is worth having about and I punched the air with delight when they turned up to rescue him. John Barrowman just doesn't annoy me in the way he clearly has others, I find his mix of charisma, wit and egotism extremely attractive and after twenty years of watching Doctor Who I think I have earned the right to fancy the pants off of a member of the TARDIS crew. And wasn't the way they dealt with sexuality just wonderful? No preaching or melodrama, just a subtle metaphor and we realise which way he dances (every way!) and Doctor Who quickly becomes far braver than most telefantasy shows by daring to include a bisexual male character rather than jumping on the far more relaxed lesbian bandwagon.

Richard Wilson was not in the story as much as I would have hoped (two scenes!) but he makes the most of his screen time and manages to avoid saying "I don't believe it!" once and for that I am grateful. The story belongs to Florence Hoath as Nancy who performs wonders but with material this strong it is hardly a surprise. Nancy is a beautifully fleshed out character who, as I discovered more about her, I liked her all the more. Her quiet warning to the children she feeds that she is putting them in danger showed a keen intelligence and willingness to put others before herself and her bravery at facing the responsibilities of admitting her indiscretion at the climax and claiming her son reveals how truly strong she is. She gets some very funny scenes too, notably her sudden power snatch from Mr Lloyd.

There isn't much more to say about this glorious episode except that it works on practically every level and Stephen Moffat should be forced to write more episodes in the future. This writer/director team is opening season two and for that we should be very grateful, the show's future is clearly in some extremely talented hands.

And the Doctor dances! How cool is that?

A Review by Michael Hickerson 30/8/05

A couple of months ago, a friend buzzed me online, asking me if I wanted to see the plot breakdown for one of the two-parters of the new Doctor Who. Being weak and also overcome with curiosity about the new show, I quickly succumbed to temptation and got the plot breakdown for The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances.

I read it immediately, nodding my head at each plot twist and revelation and having a feeling the production staff was going to do it - they were going to get it "right" when it came to returning Doctor Who to the television screens.

But words on paper don't always translate into a good television story. There is so much more to it than that. And I have to admit that after being stunned by how great Dalek was, I was becoming more and more wary of the upcoming two-parter. I knew how good it could be - but would it live up to my expectations?

Last week, The Empty Child hit all the right notes and left me feeling very, very good about the new series. Then, this week The Doctor Dances not only delivered on the promise of last week, but it exceeded it. It did what the second half of a story should do - expanded on what we saw in part one and resolved the main conflict - in this case, undoing the damage done by Captain Jack when he opened the alien ambulance and released the nano-probes upon an unsuspecting London.

Indeed, it's interesting to sit back and compare The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances with the earlier two-part story of Aliens of London and World War III. Whereas I liked what they tried to do characterwise with Rose's mother and Mickey's reactions to Rose's traveling in time and space with the Doctor, those character moments felt like they brought the action plotlines to a screeching halt. Add in that a lot of the story felt like it was full of padding with Slitheen changing in and out of human skin at will, and it felt like some of the old six-part stories of the original series - a good plot but not enough to fill it all out in a satisfying way.

Then, we get The Doctor Dances and The Empty Child where the opposite feeling occurs. The story is narrative driven as the Doctor must try to find a way to stop the zombies in gas masks but it does have some slower moments of character and character reflection. But at no point does it feel as if the momentum of the story is coming to a screeching halt in order to have some character development stuff. Instead, the growth and character moments come out of the situation. For example, we spend a good amount of time in The Doctor Dances with the Doctor and Rose locked in a room, trying to escape. The two trade banter back and forth, about not only the situation but how each of them is reacting to it. Rose's assertion that the Doctor needs to learn to dance more was nicely done.

One interesting element of the story was the contrast between Jack and the Doctor. Jack is the suave, man about time and space, who thinks only in the moment. He sees things for how they can help or affect Jack and not the long-term consequences. Contrast that against the Doctor who is called in to clean up the mess and has a dark streak to him. He wants to enjoy life, but only after the work has been done. Indeed, we see this with Jack dancing with Rose during the crisis in part one but the Doctor not cutting loose and dancing until the crisis is resolved in part two. Also, it's interesting to see the Doctor be jealous that someone else is stealing Rose's attention. It only reinforces my assertion that he chose her to travel with him for some reason. (Lines about being Father Christmas to her aside).

Also with the Doctor and Jack, we saw a contrast in attitude. Jack is a bit more selfish - beaming himself away from the bomb when things look bad. The Doctor, on the other hand, stays to see things to through to the end - even if it means his own demise. And it's because of that the Doctor is so able to celebrate in the end. The sheer delight he feels in that no one has to die today was a nice touch. The intensity in his voice as he urges the nanoprobes to figure out where they went wrong and put it right was a delight, as was the delight at figuring out that he'd won with no deaths involved.

Emotionally, we see the Doctor dancing, as he will later do literally with Rose in the TARDIS.

All of that was delightful and infused the episode with a good sense of fun and movement.

That's not to say it was all fun and games. There was still the pervading sense of atmosphere from last week. The sense of doom was throughout the episode - Nancy begging the soldier to set her free so she wouldn't become a gas mask zombie was good.

I liked Nancy and finding out that she was the child's mother gave us a good explanation of her motives in taking care of everyone. In a lot of ways, she reminded me a bit of Kathleen Dudman from The Curse of Fenric.

I also like that the series is poking fun at itself. The Doctor points out how Rose has managed to pick up yet another suitor in her travels. I liked the give and take between the Doctor and Rose. It was similar to the give and take of some of the best Doctor and companion teams in the course of the original series.

So, all in all, The Doctor Dances was a fine conclusion and one of the better episodes of the new series to date. The series is starting to pick up some good momentum - it really has been hitting on all cylinders since Dalek (well, that is if you exclude The Long Game) and I can't wait to see how the final three episodes of the season unfold. If it's as good as this two-part story was, we're in for a treat...

A Review by Ron Mallett 22/9/05

The Doctor Dances was screened on ABC television in Australia this Saturday and it must rate as one of the most eagerly anticipated episodes this season. It is in fact only the second two-part story featured so far and has demonstrated how some more traditional pacing can be a boost to the current format.

This story by Steven Moffat must rate as unique as there are no fatalities! Normally in an understated sort of way, Doctor Who stories end with a pile of bodies at the end that makes a Shakespearian tragedy look like a comedy! Thanks to a clever little plot twist this was facilitated and all the loose ends were tied up, albeit in a very convoluted way. The episode was not however without its problems. Once again we witnessed the hoary head of the "relationship" angle of the new series raise its ugly head. What is achieved by this? Well, nothing, as it adds zip to the story except to provide the more common networks to work the story in marketing to a more superficial audience. The love triangle angle was played up to death on ABC in their commercials despite all the other numerous parts of the story that were crammed into it. They know who they are and they know what they are doing.

The story did in fact deal with some mature issues: child abuse, homosexuality, the need for welfare, the idiocy and amorality of war and so on. It was in fact a bit of a tear jerker at the end but the audience were manipulated in a fair and open manner so that is a great testament to Moffatt's skills as a writer. Once could almost feel Davies tugging at the edges, it will be denied of course for at least the first ten years but the "dancing aspect" seemed so grafted on and artificial that it detracted from the rest of the story. Perhaps it wouldn't have been so bad if he had just been dancing because all of the lives that had been saved but it wasn't, it was for second rate "chick-flick" reasons that it was there. If you want to see romance go and watch Bridget Jones for God's sake!

Despite the reasons for his presence, Captain Jack has promise as a companion. I can see it now that he won't be the best-handled companion of all time as he is there just to cause sparks between the Doctor and his companion who belongs to an entirely different - and let's face it genetically and culturally inferior - species. Although it made for great visual television I have to ask, why was Jack on top of the bomb at the end of the story? Couldn't he have just called the Doctor and Rose using his om-com technology? That seemed a bit cartoonish and detracted from the true emotional reality of the story at its climax. The air of mystery around him and his competence as a time agent will give him a valuable edge as a companion.

Despite the problems with editorial influence, the production values were again superb and both episodes of the story had a very cinematic quality. James Hawes' direction was so faultless it was impossible to concentrate on it without being drawn into the story. As for the supporting cast, Richard Wilson once again made good use of such little screen time and Florence Hoath gave another superb performance as Nancy. Once again a very excellent story undermined by "romantic" indulgences that make no real sense. The second world war makes excellent material for Who and it's a wonder more stories than just The Curse of Fenric weren't set during this era.