The Empty Child
The Doctor: Wrong with it?! It’s brilliant! I’m not sure if it’s Marxism in action or a West End musical!
Production Code: 1.9.
Doctor Who Season: S27 (Ep9).
Story Number: 164a.
A story that meant Moffat dazzled us all from the start…
Looking at the pre-credits sequence now in 2011, some thoughts. The TARDIS spiraling on its way is similar to how The Eleventh Hour begins and an equally kinetic start to the story. “What’s the emergency?” “It’s mauve!” “Mauve?” Very Moffat. The snappy dialogue he’s now famed for using in his DW stories begins in this scene – and it continues throughout the story, particularly with the scenes with Nancy learning to trust the Doctor and the flirting between Rose and Jack.
There’s a misdirection with the Hartnell-era quote of “jumping the time tracks”, it’s a way of setting up the upcoming reveal, while also explaining they’re a month behind the trail. The way story is unfolds, making use of the unknown factor of when the story is set is a clever idea – the actual reveal is genius, it’s just could-be-anytime London streets but at the moment the Doctor realises why people think he’s making a joke there’s Rose floating over London grabbing onto the zeppelin, the German planes emphasing that yes it’s the Blitz. It’s an amazing scene with amazing effects. After using the time-travel moment as part of the mystery and drama Moffat’s deconstructing of Doctor Who (as is his wont) continues, the Doctor bemoaning the fact that his companions always seem to wander off.
It’s entirely appropriate that Jack is introduced to Doctor Who with his very first line of dialogue “Nice bottom!”, gazing at Rose through his binoculars as she dangles over London. So, the companion has “wandered off”, and her and the Doctor each have their plotline that converge at the end.
She literally has her head in the clouds (and as she’s spellbound by Jack’s dreaminess, metaphorically), but the Doctor is down at a more gritty street level – with Nancy and her group of street kids. The small speech he gives her about one “damp little island” standing up to Hitler is followed by another line of pleasing ambiguity as she says she has to go back to the kids – “Go on, do what you’ve got to do, save the world” – he could equally be talking about the Brits and what they’ll have to do over the next few years.
The actual “empty child” is wonderfully spooky, and the tension is ratcheted up expertly by Moffat whenever it appears. Nancy explains to one kid that’s “it’s like a game” to get her to move, but, on one level it is like a game – you can’t let it touch you, it’s a game of tag with deadly consequences, as Doctor Constantine explains near the end of the ep. Constantine’s transformation is a grotesque spectacle leading to a magnificent cliffhanger.