CAPTAIN JAX &
'THE COMPLETE FIRST SERIES' COLLECTORS' EDITION DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD1770) RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2005.
The Child’s plague spreads throughout Wartime London with its zombie army on the march. The Doctor and Rose form an alliance with Captain Jack, but find themselves trapped in the abandoned hospital.
28TH MAY 2005
(45-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 2 OF 2)
Like most of the seven million watching last week, I was utterly blown away by
the first instalment of Steven Moffat’s World War II chiller, The Empty Child. And though the altogether less creepy and, to be frank, bizarre title The Doctor Dances did little to inspire confidence, these last seven days have felt like an eternity as I waited for Saturday Night.
“Go... to... your... ROOM!!!”
The Empty Child’s effective, and surprisingly traditional, cliffhanger saw our heroes being assailed by a horde of ‘gas mask zombies’. How on Earth were they going to get out of that one? I was pleased to see that the answer was also resplendently traditional, with the peril dispelled swiftly and economically, the Doctor simply instructing the zombies to go to their room. Absolutely fantastic, not to mention hilarious, although - as the Doctor pointed it - it is fortunate that the tactic worked, as “go to your room!” would have been “rubbish last words”, particularly when compared with “it’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for” and the like. They’d still have topped “carrot juice”, mind.
The first few scenes of the episode are positively bursting with energy, as the Doctor,
Rose and Jack are pursued through the hospital by the zombie horde. The delectable balance between comedy and terror set up in The Empty Child was carried forward,
the banter between the Doctor and his newfound rival even raising the bar on occasion.
“Bananas are good.”
Jack’s “Volcano Day” joke is wonderfully turned on its head by the Doctor, for instance,
and the whole banana skit is brilliantly executed; the Doctor switches a banana for Jack’s squareness gun, before implying that he blew up the weapons depot where Jack got it
from! I didn’t think that Moffat would be able to top the sheer frivolity of this but he managed
it - the sequence where the Doctor is too embarrassed to admit that his sonic device is just
a screwdriver is absolute gold, and when Jack - naturally - takes the mickey, the Doctor comes out with yet another classic retort: “...you’ve never been bored? Never had a long night? Never had a lot of cabinets to put up?” Absolutely brilliant script-writing from Moffat, and wonderfully realised by Christopher Eccleston and John Barrowman. It looks like this combination is really going to be a lot of fun to watch.
Inevitably though, The Doctor Dances softens many of Jack’s rough edges, though the reveal that the Time Agency (presumably the same 51st century Time Agency referred to
in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, back in the days of Tom Baker’s Doctor) wiped several years of his memory helps to maintain his edge. The good looks and charm that we saw
last week were okay for an episode or two, but if they’re making him a regular he needs
the kind of depth that something like this lends to his character. I only hope it gets a good payoff in due course.
“You just assume I don’t dance…”
Of course, one of the production team’s reasons for introducing the character at this stage was to shake up the relationship between the Doctor and Rose. It’s fascinating - although, admittedly, a little difficult to get used to - to see the Doctor sulking as Rose waxes lyrical about Jack’s good looks, how he saved her life, and - most cuttingly - how he is like the Doctor, but attractive. Or, as she puts it, “only with dating and dancing”. The Doctor makes an effort not to be insulted, but just like with Jo Grant and her bloke all those years ago in The Green Death (the only other such instance I can think of), he is visibly seething.
“Rose, I'm trying to resonate concrete.”
“You’ve got moves? Show me your moves! The world doesn’t end ’cos the Doctor dances,” Rose says, holding out her arm to the Doctor. Of course, he doesn’t dance with her; just examines her hands disapprovingly as he realises they have been healed by Jack’s nano-genes and the pieces of the puzzle start slotting together in his head. This scene really summed the episode up for me; at times it breaks new ground, and even skirts around issues that some fans of the series would rather it didn’t, but every time it threatens to go
too far, the ménage à trois is slapped down by a traditional Doctor Who moment. And it’s usually a classic Doctor Who moment, too.
“I’m here now. Can’t you see me?”
Indeed, The Doctor Dances is littered with moments of grotesque horror and even out-and-out science-fiction. In terms of horror, we have the scene in the Empty Child’s room where the tape runs out and the Doctor realises that they aren’t listening to the child’s harrowing voice on tape - it’s live! Another scene that sticks in my mind is one that I under-stand was hastily written to bring the episode up to length. Nancy goes back to the bomb site to tell the children that the Empty Child isn’t following them, it’s following her. As the scene begins, one of the children is trying to type a letter to his father
on an old typewriter. Half way through the scene, he stops, but the typing continues... It is directed so well that you get used to the noise of it in the background, and so when you
see the boy that was typing the letter is not typing anymore, it’s a big shocker. Very creepy indeed, and the way the child constantly ‘sings’ his dialogue makes these scenes even creepier still.
I enjoyed Nancy’s thread of the story; her scenes range from amusing to terrifying and back again, and Florence Hoath really milks them for all that they are worth. I love the scene where she returns to the house that she had taken the children to eat at only to be caught by the obese householder. Nancy’s gall is impressive as she blackmails him not only into letting
her go, but also into procuring her some wire cutters, giving her some more grub, and even letting her have a quick Johnny Cash in his toilet before she leaves!
The scenes following her capture are equally memorable. Nancy is handcuffed and left
under the supervision of a soldier clearly showing early symptoms of this so-called ‘Empty Child Syndrome’. Hoath is superb as she pleads with the solider to let her go, trying to reason with him whilst he remains human, and when he is completely overcome by the Syndrome, she cleverly byes some time by singing a lullaby to him…
The subsequent shot of the Doctor, Rose, and Captain Jack swaggering onto the bomb site is absolutely majestic. The lighting is superb, and Murray Gold’s score is every bit as epic as it was in Dalek; it’s just a shame that the scene couldn’t have lasted a second or two longer.
When the Doctor realises the plague has now become airborne, it becomes obvious that
we are building up to the story’s climax, though as in World War Three, it does feel a little premature. Fortunately though here, the climax is stretched out right until the episode’s end.
As the zombies march relentlessly towards the bomb site we are treated to a delightful scene between Rose and Nancy, very similar to that Unquiet Dead scene that she shared with Gwyneth. This one is probably even more profound though; after all, how can Rose convince a girl who looks up into the sky and sees a devastating war raging that the world
is not about to end? The look on Nancy’s face when Rose tells her who wins the war is priceless. It’s a truly beautiful scene, and for me shows just how impressive and versatile
an actress Billie Piper has proved herself to be.
The ending of the story came as a complete surprise to me, but a welcome one. Up until the end this two-parter is dark in almost every sense - the lighting, the setting, the plot; even the horrific imagery used. As it races towards its conclusion, everything is looking bleak, the Doctor is giving a speech about how unstoppable the nanogenes are and how they will turn the whole human race into zombies, and even Captain Jack begins to realise the extent of the horrors that his con has led to.
“There isn’t a little boy born who wouldn’t tear the world apart to save his mummy. And this little boy can.”
But just as a fate worse than death is about to take all out heroes, the Doctor finally works it out: Nancy is the Empty Child’s Mother. The Doctor persuades a reluctant Nancy to admit the truth to the Empty Child, Jamie, her son who she had always claimed was her brother to protect herself from society’s scorn. As she does so, the nanogenes scan her parent DNA and voila... they have what they need to repair Jamie’s injuries properly this time, restoring his humanity.
The Doctor is rubbing his hands together, looking up at the sky. “Come on! Gimme a day like this! Gimme this one! Clever little nanogenes!” and then we are treated to a rarity in this series – even the Doctor cannot believe it – an old fashioned, Hollywood happy ending!
“Software patch. Gonna e-mail the upgrade. You want moves, Rose. I'll show you moves!
Everybody lives, Rose. Just this once! Everybody lives!!”
Normally I can’t abide such things, but even I have to admit that it works beautifully here. For once, the Doctor saves everyone, using the reprogrammed nanogenes to restore all of the zombies’ humanity. Even Constantine and his patients are saved, the nanogenes amusingly healing all their pre-existing injuries to boot - one woman’s leg even grows back! “Perhaps you miscounted?” suggests Constantine, Richard Wilson’s comic timing still perfect.
So the Doctor is running into the TARDIS, waving his arms all over the place, laughing and grinning like a Cheshire cat. He even has an eighth Doctor-like ‘I know everything’ moment when he tells Rose what she got for Christmas when she was twelve. “I’m on fire!” he beams, before Rose brings him crashing back down to Earth. “What about Jack?”
After a goodbye torn straight out of the Peter Sellars’ classic Dr Strangelove, Jack has taken the German “Splichter Wolf” (‘Bad Wolf’ again!) bomb into space and is now facing certain death. He’s very cool about it though, sipping at his drink and reminiscing about his
sexual misadventures with erstwhile executioners… when the TARDIS arrives to save him just in the nick of time, keeping the story’s body count at zero and rounding up the TARDIS crew to three in one fell swoop.
And so the story that began in the darkness and despair of 1941 London in The Empty Child ends as the Doctor Dances to Glenn Miller’s In The Mood. I can’t think of any other Doctor Who story, or indeed any other story of any description, that manages to end in such light and uplifting fashion after being so grim throughout but, to the credit of all involved, it works splendidly. I get the feeling that in years to come, this two-parter will be treated with the same kind of reverence that fan favourites like The Talons of Weng-Chiang and even Genesis of the Daleks are today, but for now, I’ll just have to sign off with a quote from the Doctor which sums up my thoughts in full: “All in all, all things considered - fantastic!”
Can it get any better...?
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
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