The Empty Child
|164a – "The Empty Child"|
|Doctor Who episode|
Doctor Constantine succumbs to the same symptoms his patients exhibit.
|Directed by||James Hawes|
|Written by||Steven Moffat|
|Script editor||Elwen Rowlands|
|Produced by||Phil Collinson|
|Executive producer(s)||Russell T Davies|
|Incidental music composer||Murray Gold|
|Length||1st of 2-part story, 45 minutes|
|First broadcast||21 May 2005|
"The Empty Child" is the ninth episode of the first series of the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who, which was first broadcast on BBC One on 21 May 2005. It was the first episode written by Steven Moffat, who later became the showrunner and main writer of the series in 2010 following Russell T Davies' departure, and was directed by James Hawes. "The Empty Child" is the first of a two-part story, which concluded with "The Doctor Dances", on 28 May.
In the episode, the alien time traveller the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and his travelling companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) arrive in 1941 during the London Blitz, where they find that the city has been terrorised by a strange child in a gas mask repeatedly asking for his mother.
The episode marks the first appearance of John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness, who would become a recurring character in Doctor Who and the lead character of the spin-off series Torchwood. "The Empty Child" was watched by 7.11 million viewers in the UK. The two-part story has been cited by critics amongst the best of the show, and it won the 2006 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.
The Ninth Doctor and Rose follow a time-travelling metal cylinder to London during the Blitz of World War II. Landing about a month after the cylinder, the Doctor tries to track it, while Rose discovers a young boy wearing a gas mask on a nearby roof. Rose climbs on a nearby rope, but she realises too late that the rope is the tethering cable of a barrage balloon, and is carried off the ground. Captain Jack Harkness, a former time agent from the future posing as a Royal Air Force officer, rescues Rose with his camouflaged spaceship before Rose falls from the balloon. Jack mistakes Rose for a potential customer of an object that he is willing to sell. Rose plays along, but insists she needs to discuss the matter with her partner before buying.
Meanwhile, the Doctor returns to the TARDIS to find its phone ringing; despite caution from Nancy, a young woman nearby, not to answer it, he does, only to hear the voice of a child asking "Are you my mummy?" He follows Nancy to a house left empty from the recent air raid sirens, where Nancy and some orphaned children eat a meal abandoned by the homeowners. The Doctor tries to learn more from Nancy, but the boy in the gas mask knocks at the door. Nancy orders the children to leave by the back entrance, and warns the Doctor not to touch the boy. The Doctor opens the door anyway, but the child is gone. The Doctor catches up to Nancy and convinces her to give him more information. Nancy reveals that she knew the cylinder fell near a nearby hospital, and its appearance is tied to the boy.
The Doctor arrives at the hospital and discovers several patients wearing gas masks fused to their bodies. Dr Constantine explains that Jamie, Nancy's brother, was the first patient with this symptom. Suddenly, Constantine changes into another gas mask-wearing person, and the other patients all rise to start chasing the Doctor. Rose and Jack arrive and quickly escape with the Doctor. The Doctor forces Jack to admit that the crashed cylinder is just a Chula medical ship. The three are trapped in a room as the converted patients converge on them, all asking "Are you my mummy?" Nancy, who had returned to the home to get more food, is also cornered by Jamie, the boy, as he reaches out to her.
This episode had the working title "World War II". Early versions of this script quoted this episode's title as being "An Empty Child". This is a reference to "An Unearthly Child", the very first episode of Doctor Who. The episode's television listings information and the DVD cover also mention that "London is being terrorised by an unearthly child".
Location filming took place at the Barry Tourist Railway. Barry Island and its now-demolished Butlins holiday camp had previously been the filming location of the Seventh Doctor serial, Delta and the Bannermen. The sound of Dr Constantine's skull cracking as his face changes into a gas mask was considered too horrific in its full form by the production team and was cut before broadcast. However, writer Steven Moffat claims on the DVD commentary to this episode that the sound was discussed but never put on. According to the Doctor Who Confidential episode "Fear Factor", the effect was added in the version of the episode presented on The Complete First Series box set.
Unlike previous episodes, the "next episode" trailers were shown after the end credits instead of immediately preceding them, possibly in reaction to comments after "Aliens of London" about having the cliffhanger for that episode spoiled. This trend has continued for most two-part stories in the new series. Captain Jack's line explaining the nanogenes was not audible in either the original or repeat broadcasts on CBC Television in Canada. It was also removed from the UKTV Gold and US Sci Fi Channel broadcasts, although the lines were still present in the subtitles. This adds some confusion to Rose's next line, "Well, tell them thanks!" The reason for this change is unknown.
Frequently in this episode, Rose makes references to the Star Trek character Mr. Spock. This is the first televised Doctor Who story to make a direct reference to Star Trek, although there had been previous references in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip and original novels. Writer Steven Moffat says in the DVD commentary for this episode that the Doctor's reply to Rose asking him what she should call him ("Doctor who?") was originally going to be, "I'd rather have Doctor Who than Star Trek," a metafictional dig at the latter programme. The Chula ships are named after Chula, an Indian/Bangladeshi fusion restaurant in Hammersmith, London where the writers celebrated and discussed their briefs on the scripts they were to write for the season after being commissioned by Russell T Davies. This meeting was videotaped, and is available on the DVD release of Doctor Who — The Complete First Series.
Broadcast and reception
SFX stated that the two-part story had "everything", particularly praising Moffat's script. In 2012, Dave Golder of the magazine labelled "The Empty Child" as a good example of the science fiction "Creepy Kid Episode". Dek Hogan of Digital Spy disliked Barrowman as Captain Jack, but called it a "particularly creepy episode of the series" despite Jack and "the brevity of Richard Wilson's neat and spooky little cameo". He later called "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances" the best episodes of the series. Now Playing magazine reviewer Arnold T. Blumburg gave the episode a grade of a B, describing it as "solid" with elements of the original series, though he noted a lot was thrown at the audience and he was not impressed with Barrowman's Jack yet.
In a poll conducted by Doctor Who Magazine in 2009, the two-part story was ranked the fifth best episode of Doctor Who. In a similar poll conducted in 2014, readers ranked the two-part story the seventh best Doctor Who story of all time. The Daily Telegraph named the story the fourth best of the show in 2008. In 2011 before the second half of the sixth series, The Huffington Post labelled "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances" as one of five essential episodes for new viewers to watch.
"The Empty Child", along with its conclusion "The Doctor Dances", won the 2006 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form).
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