Doctor Who 1.09 – The Empty Child

You get it. No, you! No one wants to pick up the phone when the Empty Child is calling!

Sparks fly from the TARDIS’s panels, and Rose and the Doctor are buffeted about as they respond to a mauve alert (much better than red, silly humans!). When a nearby ship began jumping time tracks, the Doctor locked onto it to stop it before it crashes into London.  By the time they land, however, it’s a month since the mystery ship arrived.  Rose hopes the Doctor’s got an opening gambit showing a little razzamatazz, like scanning for alien tech.  “It landed in London with a very loud bang,” he points out.  “I’m going to ask.”  

Maybe it seems like Rose is being petulant here, wanting whiz-bang effects when the Doctor’s going for the more reasonable human-interaction solution.  But oh my god, haven’t we all had this “gah, traveling with you is MAKING ME CRAZY!” reaction to our earnest companions on extended trips?  The Doctor’s all for getting-to-know-the-locals with intense immersion approach, which so has its merits!  But right now Rose has just had it with authentic experiences, and wants to sink into her hotel bed with take away from a kebab place that only caters to tourists.

Armed with his psychic paper-forged ID saying he’s from the Ministry of Asteroids, the Doctor prepares to make inquiries.  “Give me some Spock for once,” Rose complains to no avail.  “You sure about that t-shirt?” the Doctor asks her about her Union Jack sparkle top.  Well.  That is a bit loud, isn’t it?  “I’m taking it out for a spin,” she says defensively.  Hee, poor Rose.

While the Doctor enters an adjacent building, Rose hears a voice crying, “Mummy!”  On the roof there’s a child wearing a gas mask; as Rose calls to him, we see the blurred POV of his goggled vision.  I will tell you all right now: this FREAKED ME OUT like you’ve not heard from me before!  Just seeing the mask and then the POV, it’s like that horrid smell from a rubber face covering got right up my nose.  And those goggles and extended snout are already monstrous looking without the additional “mummy!” creepy-calling.  *flails around*

When the building the Doctor sneaks into turns out to be a jazzy club and the resident chanteuse finishes her number ,the Doctor hops on stage to take the microphone, asking for everyone’s attention.  “Might seem like a stupid question, but has anything fallen from the sky recently?”  First they stare.  Then their laughter builds.  A warning siren sounds and the Doctor spots a poster reading “Hitler Will Send No Warning!” Whoops!  It’s not too suave to ask if anyone’s seen anything falling fro the sky during the London Blitz bombings, now, is it?

Outside, Rose reaches the first level of the roof roof, but the child’s on an even higher landing.  She snags a rope and starts to climb.  But whoopsie numero dos for our dynamic duo: she’s just hitched a ride with a barrage balloon, and, dangling from the rope, flies straight into the bombing.  “Okay, maybe not this t-shirt,” she shouts, rightfully concerned about being a sparkly target as German plans fly right by her.

“One day,” the Doctor tells a stray cat when he finds Rose has scarpered off, “Just one day, maybe, I’m going to meet somebody who gets the whole ‘don’t wander off!’ thing.”  One day I’ll write about the Doctor and that little cat having all manner of marvelous adventures!  *claps*  But there’s no time for that now, because the TARDIS is ringing.  As the Doctor complains it has no business ringing, a girl calls: “Don’t answer it. It’s not for you.”  If she knows that, he challenges, why is it ringing when it’s not an actual phone?  When he looks again, she’s gone.

“Mummy?” a voice repeats when the Doctor answers.  “Are you my mummy?”  It’s the same child who lured Rose away.  The connection breaks with a buzz.  The Doctor hears a family yelling and scrambling for their air-raid shelter.  Hefting himself up to look into their walled garden, he watches, grinning when the plump father yells at the planes, “Don’t you eat?” In the background, Nancy, the girl the Doctor spoke to moments ago, sneaks inside.

Poor Rose shrieks, clinging to her rope as planes whiz by, bombs explode, and other barrage balloons loom around her.  Luckily someone’s spotted her — a rather rakish looking American volunteer to the RAF named Captain Jack Harkness who has an eye for excellent bottoms.  When his friend scolds him for focusing on Rose’s when he ought to make for their bomb shelter, Jack replies, “Sorry, old man. I’ve got to go meet a girl.  But you’ve got an excellent bottom too.”  He gives the surprised but pleased other man a playful slap on the bum and leaves.

Back at the home Nancy’s gate-crashed, she gathers cans from a well-stocked pantry before she sees a large table spread for a feast.  With a whistle, she signals other children who soon run to join her.  Though they’re ready to dig in to the spread (which they immediately suspect is “off the black market”) she scolds them to mind their manners even as she hides a fond smile.

“Okay, I’ve got you,” Rose hears; she’s suddenly in a tractor beam of light drawing her down to a spaceship (after, of course, she has to switch off her cell phone so it won’t interfere with the signal).   She falls inside right into Jack’s ready arms.  The beam “can scramble your head just a little,” he says; Rose greets him twice, obviously dazed by the rescue and how handsome he is.  “You look a little dizzy,” he observes.  “What about you,” she laughs, “you’re not even in focus!” before collapsing. Drunk-acting Rose is sassy belligerent fun, at least before she passes out!

As more children run to join Nancy’s feast, we see the bleary POV of the child in its gas mask watching.  Inside, everyone’s a little raucous but they behave when Nancy keeps them in line, allowing them one slice of meat each.  “Thanks, miss,” each child pipes up, until, “Thanks, miss,” the Doctor chimes in, asking “Who’s go the salt?”  The children stand, alarmed for a moment, but soon realize he also oughtn’t to be there, and settle to enjoy his comedic stylings.

Why are they all living rough, he asks, when they should have been evacuated from London?  One remarks he was, but “there was man,” he says simply.  Ugh, it’s horrible to think some of those evacuee children found themselves in far more danger at their supposedly safe relocation homes.  The Doctor admires Nancy’s strategy of trooping the “homeless kids of London town” in to invade homes and get a square meal while families hide in air raid shelters.  “Something wrong with that?’ she asks, defensive.  Not at all: “It’s brilliant!  I’m not sure if it’s Marxism in action or a West End musical.”  I can’t tell: are we doing an Oliver! reference here?

Soon the Doctor starts asking too many questions for Nancy’s taste.  First, about “a blonde in a Union Jack,” shirt –“I mean a specific one,” he explains to the kids.  “I didn’t just wake up with a craving.”  Next, it’s about that thing that fell from the sky, a tube-shaped vehicle he sketches for them.  Nancy takes his plate away, snapping when he objects that he took two slices.  But the children’s laughter at the Doctor’s antics gets interrupted by a voice calling, “Mummy?”  Who was the last in, Nancy asks urgently.  Telling the others to flee, she locks the door against the gas-mask wearing child.

“What’s this, then?” the Doctor asks.  “Never easy being the only child left out in the cold, you know” (the poor Doctor!).  “It’s not exactly a child,” she retorts.  “Please let me in, mummy!” the Empty Child pleads, thrusting his hand (which is scarred) through the mail slot.  After Nancy runs, the Doctor asks the boy why the other children are frightened of him.  But when he opens the door, he finds the boy is gone; there’s no one on the street.

Rose awakens from her tractor-beam stupor.  She and Jack flirt a bit as they try to suss out what the other is after.  He tries his own psychic-paper gambit; she scoffs and hands it back saying he shouldn’t have let his mind wander, because the paper said he’s single and works out.  He counters he can read from her handing the psychic paper back that she’s got a boyfriend, but considers herself available, with emphasis on “very”.  Twirl your hair a little more, Rose, hee!  Using nanogenes (sub-atomic robots, which according to Jack are all around in the air here), he repairs her rope-burned hands, and then suggests they get down to business.

Business turns out to be a drink on the balcony — or rather, Jack’s invisible space-ship.  “Very Spock,” Rose compliments him.  Great parking space, Jack: he’s tethered to Big Ben.

Jack presses his Chula Warship near Rose’s Excellent Bottom.

Jack quickly sets about making Rose drunk for real, pouring champagne while holding her hand steady.  Anyway, he’s got a deal for her; is she authorized to negotiate?  When she mentions a “companion” to whom she might occasionally “delegate” (Rose, you have some awesome moxie there) he asks archly, “When you say your companion, how disappointed should I be?”  “Do you really think now is a good time to be coming on to me?” she asks, but when he says “Perhaps not,” she’s put out he gave up so easily.

With a check of the time (by zapping Big Ben, which Rose deems “on the flash side!”) and a quick dance around the top of the spaceship to Glenn Miller, Jack leans in close to ask Rose that important question every woman longs to hear: does she want to buy a Chula Warship?  She’s got two hours to buy it from him; at that time, a German bomb will explode it.  Hey, were you talking just now? Rose asks, having gotten a bit lost in his dreamy eyes.  Giving herself a shake, she sums up: he used to be a Time Agent, now he’s a free-lancer.  That’s harsh, he objects: “I like to think of myself as a criminal.”  “I bet you do!” she exclaims.  Man, he’s great at pushing her buttons!  It’s like he has the Romancing Rose Tyler manual.  But she really should find her companion.  Easy, says Jack.  “I’ll just do a scan for alien tech.”  “Finally, a professional,” Rose says approvingly.

Nancy darts through an abandoned rail yard, entering a junked locomotive, where she unloads her stolen provisions.  When she realizes the Doctor’s followed her, she’s stymied; usually she’s good at not being found.  But he’s “good at following, me; I’ve got the nose for it.”  “Is that why it’s so,” she begins delicately and then leaves off before she can’t resist teasing, “Do your ears have special powers too?”  Why, Nancy, you’re flirting yourself here a bit!  When the Doctor presses the connection between the crashed ship he’s seeking and the Empty Child she and the others flee, she agrees to lead him to the site where soldiers guard “the bomb.”  Beforehand, though, she advises him “there’s someone you need to talk to first — the Doctor.”  Say whaaaaat?

The Doctor and Nancy approach the “bomb” site, and she insists he must talk to the Doctor first, “because maybe then you won’t want to get inside” what crashed there.  As for her, she’s got more mouths to feed.  “Who did you lose?” the Doctor asks; what happened to make her try so hard to make up for it?  It was her little brother, Jamie, in the middle of an air raid.  The Doctor muses how German forces are rolling through many nations, but England will stand up and refuse, “a mouse in front of a lion.” “You’re amazing, the lot of you,” he says before briskly adding, “Off you go, then, do what you’ve got to do, save the world.”

After reaching Albion Hospital (where the poor piggy-naut was kept in “Aliens of London”), the Doctor enters and walks by bed after bed of gas-mask covered patients.  The “Doctor” Nancy spoke of isn’t, of course, a Time Lord, but Dr. Constantine, the one tending all the patients who contracted these “physical injuries as plague.”  But he is sick himself, the Doctor points out.  “Dying, I should think,” Constantine says mildly (I just adore Richard Wilson in this role!).  “I just haven’t been able to find the time.”  After the first patient with the symptoms was treated, all of his caretakers came down with the exact same injuries, then all the patients: every one of them even has the scar on the back of their hand we saw on the Empty Child.  There are no signs of life, yet they’re not dead either.  Doctor Constantine demonstrates, waking them with a loud noise.  They sit up, but do nothing further.

The Doctor angrily asks why he doesn’t do more for them.  “Before this war began, I was a father and a grandfather.  Now I’m neither, but I’m still a doctor,” Dr. Constantine says.  “I know the feeling,” the Doctor says stiffly.  It’s terrible and moving, that he’s both like the Empty Child (left out in the cold, alone, seeking comfort) and the bereaved parent (he’s lost his people and his family to the Time Wars).  But now, Constantine tells him, he’ll have to talk to Nancy again, for her brother Jamie was the first victim, inflicting his symptoms on all who touched his flesh when he stayed in Room 802.  “She knows more than she’s saying,” Constantine mentions before he coughs heavily, gagging.  “Mummy?” he finally stammers out.  “Are you my mummy?”  From his mouth, the round extended snout of a gas mask emerges; soon a full mask covers his face and fuses to his skin, just as it did to the others who touched the Empty Child.

While the Doctor stands shocked, Rose and Jack bound in.  “He knows, I had to tell him — about us being Time Agents,” Rose says pointedly, cautioning the Doctor to play along.  So awesome, because usually he’s the one playing along with others and getting her on board.  “Pleasure to meet you, Mister Spock!” Jack exclaims.  Of course the Doctor objects to this alias.  “Don’t you ever get tired of Doctor?” Rose asks.  “Doctor who?” “Nine centuries in, I’m coping,” he snaps at her.  “Where’ve you been? We’re in the middle of a London Blitz. It’s not a good time for a stroll.”  Oh, she didn’t stroll, she went by barrage balloon:  “Only way to see an air raid,” she says casually.  “What?” he asks, shocked.  “Listen, what’s a Chula warship?” Rose tosses over her shoulder before following Jack.  “Chula?” the Doctor asks, dumbfounded.  Well, she just went right ahead and had her own adventures, didn’t she, Doctor?  I do like Rose’s spike of confidence here, and how she really does take a range of pretty freakish things in stride.

When Nancy returns to the well-stocked home, “please mummy! Please let me in!” plays on the radio.  She hides under the table as the Empty Child walks in.

When the Doctor quizzes Jack about the warship, insisting it absolutely has something to do with all these victims even when Jack denies it, Captain Jack Harkness folds like a house of cards.  “I was conning you,” he bursts out.  “I’m a con man!”  He’s the one who “threw you the bait”, pretty much lobbing the de-commissioned Chula ambulance at them.  He planned to sell it to them, then destroy it before they figured out it was junk.  When he gets at last that they’re no Time Agents, but as Rose says, “Just a couple of free-lancers,” he rails that he should have known.  “Flag girl was bad enough, but U-Boat captain?”  The Doctor examines his outfit with some concern (I really don’t think he was striving for that particular look).

Rose, as she is wont to do, cuts to the heart of the matter: “What’s happening here, Doctor?”  He’s got it in a nutshell for her:  “Human DNA being rewritten by an idiot.  There’s a virus converting humans into these things.”  But none of them can understand the point of this mutation.

As Nancy tries to stay hidden at the house, an apple rolls off the table.  When the Child bends down to pick it up, Nancy sees her chance to bolt for the door.  But just as the Empty Child is able to control telephones and radios, he only has to point to the door to close it.  “Are you my mummy?” he demands.

Have you ever had nightmares about a toddler? YOU WILL NOW!

At the same moment, back at the hospital, all the patients sit up and begin echoing the Empty Child’s cry.  “Mummy?”  “Don’t let them touch you!” the Doctor warns Rose, explaining what happens if someone does:  “You’re looking at it.”

“It’s me, Nancy, your sister,” Nancy pleads with this monstrous version of her brother Jamie.  “You’re dead,” she exclaims, but he only keeps edging toward her, calling, “Mummy, mummy!”  At the hospital, the patients repeat the same call, and we view the goggles of one, the mask of another, switching rapidly between all of them as they lurch forward toward the Doctor, Rose, and Jack, chanting, “Mummy, mummy, mummy!” and holy hell, this IS LIKE THE CRAZIEST CLIFFHANGER!!!  *tries not to pass out*

Okay, absolutely amazing episode!  But I’ve got a cliffhanger of myself for you, too, because the sequel “The Doctor Dances” will start of my recaps next week, on Tuesday.  Please do join me then, and please let me know what you think of the eps in comments!  Until then, wooo-wee-wooo-wooo!

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  • got to be my absolute fave of S1! Love Jack, love the spooky silly plot, and the Doctor is in top form as a comedian.
    As a new Whovian, I am really enjoying this recap, even when I cant rewatch all the time.

    • It’s so, so good, isn’t it?? I actually find the spooky bits quite sad and horrifying all at once (that little boy — his tiny feet and hands get me every time! but that horrible mask! aww having to run from an abandoned child! but oh man, HE’S GONNA GET YOU *flails madly*!).

      I’m thrilled you’re enjoying the recaps! Thank you so much for commenting — it’s super encouraging to hear from someone who’s finding these fun. :D It’s pretty fun being a new Whovian! *comes up with a secret handshake with you*

  • Ellie

    Yay, you inspired me to rewatch these and I am now caught up!

    Have to say, this story is my favourite of series 1, by quite a long way. I always try and decide whether it’s do to with plot, acting or the introduction of Jack. Tend to think it’s the latter! He’s such a great character and introduces a new personality into the episodes. Plus, he’s hilarious.

    • I’m so thrilled the recaps inspired you to re-watch! And now that you’re all caught up with me, I can bend your ear about all of my Ninth Doctor feelings. :D

      I agree! It’s so well paced and structured. And Captain Jack definitely spices up the storyline and character dynamics. I just love all the competition between him and the Doctor, and the flirty camaraderie they develop.

      Thanks bunches for commenting!

  • Rebecca Saxon

    I really love this and the following episode. There’s such a great mix of cool history, creepiness (omg how did they make “are you my mommy” so menacing?!), and the fun of Captain Jack. It’s nice to remeet him since I’ve watched him through all the Torchwoods. This is reminding me what was great about him before he got pulled into crazily depressing storylines.

    Whoops! It’s not too suave to ask if anyone’s seen anything falling fro the sky during the London Blitz bombings, now, is it?
    hee! I really enjoyed that scene. I love when the Doctor isn’t all-knowing and a bit of a boob sometimes.

    One day I’ll write about the Doctor and that little cat having all manner of marvelous adventures! *claps*
    hee! That would be awesome, although I’m sure that since it’s a cat, it would wander off way more than Rose!

    a rather rakish looking American volunteer to the RAF named Captain Jack Harkness who has an eye for excellent bottoms.
    You know, that really *is* a good summation of Captain Jack!

    He counters he can read from her handing the psychic paper back that she’s got a boyfriend, but considers herself available, with emphasis on “very”.
    hee! Gotta love the psychic paper! And probably a very goo description of Rose.

    The Doctor muses how German forces are rolling through many nations, but England will stand up and refuse, “a mouse in front of a lion.” “You’re amazing, the lot of you,” he says before briskly adding, “Off you go, then, do what you’ve got to do, save the world.”
    I love this moment! I think it’s my British roots taking pride in that part of British history!

    Albion Hospital (where the poor piggy-naut was kept in “Aliens of London”),
    Ahh, good catch! I like when they connect things like that.

    It’s terrible and moving, that he’s both like the Empty Child (left out in the cold, alone, seeking comfort) and the bereaved parent (he’s lost his people and his family to the Time Wars).
    Oooh, great analysis. Good point. And sad, of course.

    “Flag girl was bad enough, but U-Boat captain?” The Doctor examines his outfit with some concern (I really don’t think he was striving for that particular look).
    teehee! I don’t think so either!

    “Human DNA being rewritten by an idiot.
    One of my favourite lines from the episode!

    • (omg how did they make “are you my mommy” so menacing?!)
      I KNOW! Just thinking of it makes my teeth go on edge right now. And it’s so interesting to hear from you, and encounter elsewhere, what an adjustment it is getting used to/between Doctor Who Jack and Torchwood Jack. I’ve not watched nearly as much of Torchwood (though I’ll probably recap it next if all works out), but I think it’s going to be a challenging change, that shift in his demeanor and outlook.

      Hahaha, this is true! Herding cats, probably almost as more difficult than herding Roses. :D

      Ah, this ep and the next are perfect for people with British pride! And there’s a great balance between some of the pettiness or dangers that came from some people at this time (the greedy well-fed family, the disconcerting “there was a man” mention from the little boy) and the seriously amazing stalwart attitudes and heroics of others. I do love Nancy — she’s like the best of the best of the times, and it’s so appropriate that the words of hope are delivered to her.

      Such a great episode for Jack pointing out the Doctor’s U-Boat uniform, the awesome snappy comebacks from the Doctor and Jack and Rose, and those fleeting but amazing insights we get into the Doctor’s emotional vulnerability! I do love this two-stories arc to bits and bits!