The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances
First broadcast 21-28/5/2005 starring Christopher Eccleston
For many people, Steven Moffat’s first* telly outing for Doctor Who was, and still is, his best so far (not for me, though, as you’ll find out in upcoming weeks). And it’s not hard to see why, it’s got the lot! History, sci-fi and scary-ass “monsters”!
But, of course, the “monsters” aren’t really monsters, just a little misunderstood [A bit like my first wife – Ed.]. The Gas Mask Zombie is undoubtedly one of the greatest additions to the Whoeuvre, it became an instant classic and utterly iconic. Add to that a catchphrase and you’ve got a national sensation.
Was there anyone not walking around asking, “Are You My Mummy?” every minute of the day in Summer 2005? Placing a gas mask on a child with one solitary question became THE scariest thing ever; chills and scares had properly returned to Doctor Who.
Moffat’s inversion, making the child an “unmonster” [What? – Ed.], was an expert move and the denouement paid off in the most satisfactory of ways – both for the audience and The Doctor. His delight that “everybody lives” is palpable. Eccleston’s joy is almost a release of tension as his performance throughout had been pensive (despite his stand-up comedy routine at the start). These two episodes show the northern actor off at his best, dealing with gags, the war, the “monsters” and, of course, having to deal with Captain Jack Harkness.
Like The Gask Mask Zombie, Jack became an instant favourite with fans, all down to the charisma of actor John Barrowman. The Time Agent is a fascinating character, with his pan-sexual nature and mysterious past – another corker of an entry into Whostory. His “friendship” with The Doctor makes for engaging watch as Jack becomes the object of distrust in the eyes of the Time Lord; which makes the ending all the more lovely when he’s saved.
I genuinely thought he was gonna bite the big one!
Elsewhere, the cast also shine. Richard Wilson as Dr Constantine was a superb choice, utterly sympathetic and instantly likeable. His gas mask transformation was as disturbing as it was heartbreaking – and one of the best scenes in the show’s history. Lovely Florence Hoath, young mum Nancy, was another stout choice and I can’t have been the only person sad to see her stay on Earth and not travel further with everyone’s favourite Gallifreyan.
Also worth a gold star is the fantastic CG work and design on the two-parter. The shots of Rose hanging above war torn London are sublime, and still take my breath away. They really add a cinematic eye and big screen feel to the proceedings. Like so many facets of the story, up there with the very best of the show.
The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances has got everything that makes Doctor Who what it is – there’s laughs (just check Eccleston sitting down with the kids for a meal), scares (plenty of), history and sci-fi, numerous charismatic and interesting characters, superb visual set piece after another, heart and a damn clever script from SteeMo. And all without the need to timey-wimey the audience.
* What about The Curse of Fatal Death?