THE EMPTY CHILD

Nicol didn’t watch this episode when it was originally broadcast 10 years ago, so she’s agreed to watch it with us tonight.

The Empty ChildMe: Why didn’t you watch Doctor Who when it came back in 2005, Nic?
Nicol: Two words: Billie Piper.
Sue: (Mortified) But Billie Piper’s really good!
Nicol: I know that now. But when I was 16, Billie Piper was someone you liked when you were 11. You weren’t allowed to like her when you were 16, because that would have been childish.
Me: That’s fascinating. So it wasn’t because I liked Doctor Who, then?
Nicol: That probably had something to do with it as well. Liking something your parents liked was even worse than liking Billie Piper. And that’s why people my age didn’t watch Doctor Who.
Me: But Rose Tyler could have been the perfect role model for you, Nic. She even wore Punkyfish hoodies, just like you did back then.
Nicol: If I’d known that at the time, I would have stopped wearing them.

The episode begins with the TARDIS chasing a mysterious capsule through space and time.

Sue: I can’t understand what Doctor and Rose are saying here. The music is much too loud.
Nicol: Billie Piper looks like a cut-price Geri Halliwell. And you wonder why I didn’t watch this, Neil.
Sue: I didn’t understand a single word of that. Is there something wrong with our telly?

Cue titles.

Sue: Oh no. Steven Moffat wrote this one.
Nicol: I thought you liked the Moff?
Sue: I do. But I told him that we wouldn’t blog his episodes. I sort of promised, actually.
Me: It’s a bit late for that, love. We watched The Name of the Doctor for our book, and we blogged The Day of the Doctor for The Guardian.
Sue: Oh yeah. Sorry about that. That probably explains why he isn’t returning my calls.

The Empty ChildThe TARDIS arrives in London, 1941. A child can be heard crying, “Mummy? Mummy?” in the distance.

Sue: The Moff loves his catchphrases. “Are you my mummy?”, “Don’t blink”, “Doctor Who?” and that other one I can’t remember right now.
Me: “Stop calling me at work, Susan”?

The Doctor enters a nightclub.

Sue: It’s a shame that River Song isn’t the singer in this scene; that would have been nice for the fans. Or Michael Bublé; that would have been nice for me.
Nicol: You can tell that this episode is 10 years old. It’s dated.
Me: Do you think?
Nicol: Yeah, this looks fake to me.

She’s pointing at Rose, who is currently scrambling across some rooftops in search of a motherless child.

Nicol: Her Union Jack t-shirt doesn’t help. Nobody liked The Spice Girls in 2005.

The Doctor realises that he’s arrived during the Blitz.

The Empty ChildNicol: He’s a bit stupid, isn’t he? I worked that out ages ago.
Sue: It is a bit daft. Doesn’t he have a watch that tells him what year it is?

Rose’s curiosity gets the better of her, and she ends up dangling from a barrage balloon in the middle of a German air raid.

Nicol: Okay, I’ve changed my mind – this is pretty good.
Sue: Pretty good? It’s amazing, Nic.

The Doctor is astonished when the telephone that’s attached to his TARDIS starts ringing.

Sue: Is this the first time his TARDIS has ever done this?
Me: I’m fairly sure it is.
Sue: It seems so obvious. I can’t believe nobody ever thought of doing that before. That’s what I like about the Moff – he takes a simple idea and he turns it into something original and clever. He would have been great on The Twilight Zone.

The phone shouldn’t be ringing because it isn’t connected to anything.

Sue: And he’s really good when it comes to creeping you out, too.

An air raid siren forces the local residents to take shelter.

The Empty ChildNicol: Oh look, it’s Hev from EastEnders.
Sue: She might be Hev’s nana for all we know, Nic. She’s the right age.

Rose’s antics have attracted the attention of some guy called Jack Harkness.

Me: Do you like Captain Jack, Sue?
Sue: I must have done at some point because I let you name a cat after him.

Captain Jack rescues Rose from certain death.

Sue: It’s very funny, this. I like him when he’s pretending to be Han Solo.

Meanwhile, a girl named Nancy has led a group of street urchins to Mrs. Trott’s abandoned home, so they can feast on the contents of her larder.

Sue: I keep expecting them to break into song.

One of the boys was evacuated to a farm, but “there was a man there” so he returned to London.

Nicol: Did I just imagine that, or was that really disturbing?

The Doctor believes that Nancy’s plan to feed London’s starving kids is either Marxism in action or a West End musical.

Sue: See!
Me: If this was a musical, it’d be a very bleak one. And now here’s a song about a scary paedophile who lives on a farm. That’s even more depressing than Les Mis.
Nicol: It sounds like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to me.

The Empty ChildBefore one of the street urchins can beg for more food, glorious food, the Empty Child comes a-knocking.

Sue: This is a bit scary for the kids, even though there are lots of kids in it. Maybe that’s what makes it so scary.

The children scatter, but the Doctor is intrigued by the visitor who’s searching for his mummy.

Sue: You’d have to let him in, wouldn’t you?
Nicol: Only if you were mental.
Sue: Well, I would.

Nicol bites her tongue, and then Jack mistakes Rose for a Time Agent.

Me: They mention Time Agents in a Tom Baker story, not that you’ll remember, Sue.
Sue: Genesis of the Daleks.
Me: You always say Genesis of the Daleks when you don’t know the answer.
Sue: The Doctor was sent on a mission through time, which means he must have been a Time Agent, which means I’m right. So there.

We end up debating this for quite some time.

Nicol: Will you two stop arguing, please. I’m trying to watch this.

Captain Jack has parked his invisible spaceship next to Big Ben.

The Empty ChildSue: How cool is that? Why wasn’t Captain Jack always this cool? He’s a right dick later on, isn’t he?
Me: It’s probably the same reason we stopped calling our cat ‘Captain’ halfway through the first series of Torchwood.

Jack turns Big Ben on, hoping this will turn Rose on at the same time. And what do you know? It works.

Sue: Now I remember why we named a tom cat after him.
Nicol: Don’t you think he should turn that massive light off before thousands of innocent people are bombed to death?

Jack tells Rose that a Chula warship has crash landed in London.

Me: Chula was the name of the Indian restaurant where the Moff, Rob Shearman, Paul Cornell and Mark Gatiss celebrated the news that they’d been commissioned to write for the new series.
Nicol: It’s a good job they didn’t go to Nando’s.
Sue: (Pointing at Nancy) And another thing: why isn’t she more famous? She’s brilliant.
Nicol: If they made this episode today, she’d be played by Lacey Tuner.

The Doctor’s investigations have led him to Albion hospital.

The Empty ChildMe: That’s the same hospital where they performed an autopsy on a pig a few weeks ago. Or where they’ll eventually perform an autopsy on a pig. Oh, you know what I mean.
Nicol: I really don’t!
Sue: I thought I recognised it. Does it become important later on?
Me: No.
Sue: Oh.
Nicol: So why bring it up, then?
Me: Padding, mainly. Because the pair of you aren’t saying anything remotely interesting about this episode.
Sue: That’s because there’s nothing more I can say about it, except that it’s brilliant, of course. I knew blogging the new series was a stupid idea, Neil.
Me: Hang on a minute. You told me – several times, I might add – that you wanted to watch the new series with me again.
Sue: Watch it, yes. I never said anything about blogging it, you idiot. Anyway, this is brilliant. So there.

The Doctor meets Dr Constantine, who is played by the one and only Richard Wilson.

Me: Isn’t anyone going to do the “I don’t believe it!” joke? Anyone? No?

Sue and Nicol ignore me, and for the next five minutes all I get out of them is this:

The Empty ChildSue: The direction is ****ing brilliant.
Nicol: Yeah. Definitely.
Sue: I think I should mark some of the earlier episodes down a bit. This is definitely the best new episode I’ve seen so far, and now I’m worried that I used my 10 out of 10s too soon.

Rose teases the Doctor about his name. “Don’t you ever get tired of Doctor? Doctor Who?”

Sue: One thing’s for certain – the Moff will never get tired of that gag. He must have been terrible when it came to telling ‘Knock-Knock’ jokes at school. I bet he was relentless.

But the biggest laugh of the evening is reserved for this humdinger delivered by an incredulous Captain Jack: “Flag Girl was bad enough, but U-Boat Captain?!”

Sue: (Laughing) I bloody love the Moff.

As the episode hurtles towards its spooky conclusion, I notice that Sue and Nicol are both biting their nails. And Nicol doesn’t even bite her nails.

Me: It’s reminds me of the dreaded lurgy at school. All they have to do is touch you and you’ll turn into them. You can imagine kids imitating these creatures up and down the country after they saw this.
Sue: Yeah, the Moff’s really clever like that.

The Empty ChildThe episode ends with our heroes surrounded by advancing Empty People, each one chanting a single word: “Mummy”.

Sue: Not to mention sick in the head.

 

The Score

Sue refuses to score this episode because the story isn’t over yet. She hates scoring these episodes at the best of times, so she’ll embrace any excuse not to bother. But I think it’s definitely higher than a six. Yeah, it’s definitely higher than a six.

Sue: What did you think, Nic?
Nicol: It was all right, I suppose.
Me: Hey, if you two want to take over the blog, that’s fine by me.
Sue: Will you watch the next one with us, Nic?
Nicol: Yeah, go on then.

Yeah, it’s definitely higher than a six.

 

Next Time

Glen is trapped in the Crossroads Motel right now, but he’ll be back next week. Probably.

 

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Comments

  1. David Cole  May 21, 2015

    One of my favourite stories. The blog’s as entertaining as ever; loved the bit about punky fish hoodies. 😀

    It seems Florence Hoath doesn’t act anymore, sadly.

  2. Dave Sanders  May 21, 2015

    To be fair, it would be easy for the Doctor not to be aware of the Blitz since ALL THE BLOODY LIGHTS ARE ON.

  3. Antti Björklund  May 21, 2015

    “Sue: (Pointing at Nancy) And another thing: why isn’t she more famous? She’s brilliant.”

    According to DWM, she’s stopped acting and moved on.

    • Harriet  May 21, 2015

      I hope she’s become a Marxist in action.

    • Matt Blanchette  May 23, 2015

      What an absolute pity. When I watched this the first time, I kept wondering why she hadn’t blown up like Carey Mulligan had after this. 🙁

  4. Harriet  May 21, 2015

    My memory says the scene with the rooftops looked fake in 2005.

  5. Roy Watson-Davis  May 21, 2015

    Although the ambitious computer generated Blitz stuff doesn’t quite work-it looks a bit too cartoony-everything else in this story is just, well, fantastic. And a toned down and less jazz hands style Captain Jack is a welcome sight.

  6. Anniew  May 21, 2015

    That cheered up my evening. Liked this episode a lot. Very creepy and sad too. About the only episode in which I could stand Captain Jack!

  7. jon  May 21, 2015

    this was one of the first episodes of new-who i ever saw, and frankly, it was terrifying! really looking forward to the conclusion 🙂

    and you finally got this miserable old git to order a copy of er…the miserable old git. (and presumably all the volumes that follow).

  8. Derek Handley  May 21, 2015

    So good. This is such a memorable stand-out episode – and it holds up to repeated viewings and close scrutiny too. Captain Jack and Nancy were great characters for Rose and the Doctor to play off. And the empty child… so wonderfully creepy.

    Great stuff.

    And lovely to wind down the day with you, Sue and Nicol!

    Why did you stop calling Captain Jack Captain? Because Torchwood was so awful? ;o)

  9. jsd  May 21, 2015

    Yeah this one’s just plain brilliant isn’t it? Easy 10 out of 10. I remember watching all the S1 episodes with my not-particular-fannish friends and this was one where at the end they were just “Wow, that was really fantastic. Such good writing. Really clever.”

  10. Harriet  May 21, 2015

    I’ve just reread my review of 22 May 2005, and am still rather pleased with this bit:

    ‘Various people have commented on the fact that Captain Jack is deliberately set up as “what Rose thinks she’d like the Doctor to be”. But I’m now thinking the episode offers various alternative versions of who he is – lost child, renegade time agent, wise old bereaved doctor. He specifically acknowledges his likeness to two of these, when he tells Nancy that he knows what it’s like to be the child left out in the cold, and when he tells Constantine he knows what it’s like to lose children and grandchildren.’

    Though I see that the following week I decided he was closest to Nancy, trying to save everyone else to make up for what he’s lost himself.

    • Rob Shearman  May 21, 2015

      I think that’s brilliant – I’ve never thought of that before!

      • Harriet  May 22, 2015

        Why, thank you!

    • frankymole  May 21, 2015

      Was it ever revealed what happened in those two years that the Time Agency erased from Captain Jack’s memories? And why they did it? Seemingly, soon afterwards, he left them.

      • Harriet  May 22, 2015

        I was always waiting for an explanation, and don’t remember one being given. A quick look at the tardis wikia doesn’t suggest that there’s one in the novels, either – possibly it was being kept back for a big reveal in a Torchwood series that didn’t happen?

        • Richard Lyth  May 22, 2015

          I think Steven Moffat said that he meant to bring back Captain Jack at some point and clear up the mystery but never managed to get round to it. And John Barrowman’s a regular on Arrow now, so he’s probably too busy to come back anyway. Pity really, the character was so much more fun in this story than when he became an angst-ridden immortal later on, and Moffat’s writing played a big part in that.

          • Harriet  May 22, 2015

            It would be very nice if he could do a guest appearance to clear it up – and surely Barrlowman would relish playing opposite a fellow-Scot!

    • Nick Kirby  May 29, 2015

      That is, indeed, a brilliant piece of insight!

  11. Andy Luke  May 21, 2015

    Uh, not much to add. My memories of it were great and re-watching it even better.

    He must have been terrible when it came to telling ‘Knock-Knock’ jokes at school. I bet he was relentless.

    Arf. There’s the point, too, when the Doctor opens the door to gasmask kid and the tyke has scarpered. For a ring-and-runner, that’s right bold.

  12. Simon Harries  May 21, 2015

    I love this episode – and I love this blog. I can’t think of anything else worth mentioning so I’ll piss off.

  13. Rob Shearman  May 21, 2015

    I felt so jealous of this episode when I first saw it. It was on the night that ‘Dalek’ aired – we were having a party to celebrate as we watched the broadcast. (The writers on the series tried to do that – we liked parties!) Steven had brought round a DVD of The Empty Child, but was reluctant to put it on – what if we didn’t like it, what if it wasn’t any good? We had to hide the remote control from him in the end because every few minutes he’d want to turn it off. I was mesmerised by how good it was – I’d loved the script, but hadn’t been prepared for just how elegantly it lifted off the page. (And I mean ‘elegant’ – there’s such sophistication to the comedy.) At the end of the evening, when all the guests went home, my wife said to me, “Doctor Who was good tonight.” I thanked her. “No yours,” she said, with a not unkindly smile. “That one with the gasmasked child was amazing.”

    • Rob Shearman  May 21, 2015

      I haven’t spoken to either Steven Moffat or my wife since.

      • Matt Blanchette  May 23, 2015

        Hope that’s not why you haven’t been asked back since. 😛 Blimey. (Just kidding, just kidding!)

    • John Miller  May 23, 2015

      Sorry to derail this blog, but didn’t The Empty Child feel a bit familiar to you, Rob? “Are you my mummy”? ‘No, I am your FATHER, and this is all a constructed prison that can’t harm Frobisher or me!’

  14. Paul Cornell  May 22, 2015

    You definitely *didn’t* start using 10/10s too early, Sue. Definitely.

  15. Chris-Too-Old-To-Watch  May 22, 2015

    No comment as yet. I’ll hold my breath until next week.

  16. KatieC  May 22, 2015

    Love it, nothing much else to say, except I haven’t been able to think of a decent knock knock, Moffat joke…

    • Anonymous  May 22, 2015

      -Knock knock
      -Who’s there?
      -Spoilers. Open the door.

      • Matt Blanchette  May 23, 2015

        -Knock knock.
        -Who’s there?
        -Teselecta. I’ve got your mail!

        (Yes, I know, deep cut…)

      • John Miller  May 23, 2015

        When did the Doctor’s name become a mystery though? Didn’t Moffat ever look at the end credits of the series, and see who Hartnell, Troughton etc. were playing? Didn’t he ever read a Target novel? Look at the Radio times listings? Watch the news? Reads/watch/hear an interview with everyone from Verity Lambert to Sylvester McCoy? Even Peter Capaldi knows the name of the character he’s playing. Odd.

        • frankymole  May 23, 2015

          There’s a famous photo of a young Moffat reading the book formerly known as “Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks” around 1973. In which the family has he surname “English”, as in Susan English, not Foreman…

          • John Miller  May 24, 2015

            But “Foreman” and “English” are both names that Susan took to make her blend in at Coal Hill School.

            More here: http://www.aetw.org/omega/WHO.html

  17. Jollygooner  May 22, 2015

    As good as Doctor Who (nu or classic) gets.

  18. Jason M.  May 22, 2015

    “You always say Genesis of the Daleks when you don’t know the answer.” –> Next WiS T-shirt.

  19. CH  May 22, 2015

    “You can imagine kids imitating these creatures up and down the country after they saw this.”
    Been there, done that.

  20. Tom Keller  May 27, 2015

    The only Eccleston story that deserves a 10, in my opinion. A decent companion, finally, and a proper mystery on top of it. Though Captain Jack must have recently taken a head wound to think that the crushingly dim Rose would be a time agent!

  21. Sean Alexander  May 28, 2015

    I met Florence Hoath at the Dimensions convention in 2005 or 2006 – she was lovely and charming and very, very shiny.

    Isn’t it ironic how, up to this point, conventional fan wisdom said that the phone behind the information panel was a ‘dummy’ in the case of the TARDIS, despite the fact that the 2005 series and its internal Police Box doors showed it and its antiquated receiver on the inside? And now the bloody phone is being answered in anything from The Day of the Doctor to last year’s Dark Water.

    As good as The Empty Child is I still think that Moffat would reach his own personal peak on the show over the next two series – whatever did happen to that clever, imaginative writer who – with the notable exception of Listen – now spends more time thinking up convoluted ways of unravelling all the hard work of his predecessor as showrunner.

    And what a shame that the ‘malfunctioning tech’ plot device first seen here has become such a tired and repetitive meme.

  22. Nick Mays  June 2, 2015

    If ‘Dalek’ fixed the new series in viewer’s eyes, then The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances cements it. Brilliantly staged, well written, spooky and out and out scary. I remember one of my friends phoning up about a minute after the credits rolled on this one and saying “Wow! That was pretty bloody spooky, wasn’t it?”