One of Doctor Who’s strengths has always been its need to reinvent itself every 4 weeks.
One story might be tripe, but the following one will have a new writer, director, cast, even someone different composing the incidental music.
Fortunately, after the dreadful episode Father’s Day, I'm happy to observe that the new series has retained this trait.
The Empty Child was frightening, exciting, mysterious, imaginative and funny. Like Mark Gatiss had with The Unquiet Dead, author Steven Moffat was clearly flexing his knowledge of what common ingredients the best Doctor Who stories share, and had designed a tale that was deliberately aiming to become a classic.
It’s night – scary.
It’s the blitz – scarier.
There’s a deserted hospital with a hideous contagious disease on the loose – very very scary.
There’s a 5 year old child in a gas-mask stalking Rose demanding to know if she’s his mummy. Okay, what’s that word that means beyond petrifying?
Then crowds of diseased patients, all wearing gasmasks, in the hospital, in the dead of night, are all surrounding our heroes and demanding to know where their mummy is. “mummy? Are you my mummy?”
And in the middle of this episode, guess what, sitcom guest-star Richard Wilson shows up.
Now I know actors have very diverse talents, and seem paradoxically offended when they get typecast, but it was a moment of such joy to see him again, that I found it extremely difficult to take anything he said seriously. In the midst of such ridiculous circumstances, I really was gagging for him to exclaim how difficult it all was to… erm… accept as true.
Part 2 was less successful, but final episodes usually are.
The worst thing about it would have to be the title. Rather than call it The Empty Child Part 2, they actually preferred The Doctor Dances.
Oh, they’ve proably come up with some choking statistic that proves less people watch something called “part 2”, so they’ve blindly enforced a “no episode numbers” rule, regardless of considering each case individually. In my opinion, The Empty Child is perhaps the best Doctor Who story title ever, with The Doctor Dances certainly the worst.
Sadly, the second script suffers the brunt of being pulled around and rewritten. There’s a new American character, Captain Jack Harkness, who features prominently in these episodes, but serves no purpose in the story. Strangely, there is an epilogue tacked on in which he nearly dies. Then, even more oddly, he joins the regular cast. What on Earth is that all about? This story functions fine without him, and has presumably therefore been written without him. The only explanation I can come up with is that he’s the new token yank for the US market, added-in to replace all the other guest yanks they’ve had this season.
There are some minor plot flaws, (the zombies’ brief then forgotten group-conscioussness, the childish understanding of DNA) but nothing beyond the original show’s level. The Doctor’s solution would have come in handy a lot earlier on though, and no-one remembers that the Doctor isn’t human, including the Doctor himself.
Indeed, poor character-motivation seems to be this modern series’ trademark. This story featured the diseased gasmasked patients smashing their way towards our heroes, which Rose dealt with by… asking the Doctor to dance with her. No way was this glued-in idea from the original story.
Steven Moffat is a great author. I still remember, in 1989, discovering his work for the first time in Press Gang, and being blown away by just how awake his writing was. Doctor Who: The Empty Child was absolutely wonderful in places, but I couldn’t help feeling that we were only getting 75% of his masterpiece.