Dancing Doctors and Future Immortals: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series One, Part Four

We’re back, with our New Doctor Who rewatch! We’re nearing the end of Series One, with the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler; if you’d like to catch up, here are the entries for part one, part two, and part three. As a reminder, each series in the new show tends to have considerably more stories than the classic seasons; therefore we’re splitting each season into parts for the sake of length. Today we’re looking at episodes nine, ten, and eleven. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen these episodes!

We open with The Empty Child, the first part of a two-part story. It’s significant for being future showrunner Steven Moffatt’s first contribution to the revived series. It also introduces one of his best and most notorious creations: Captain Jack Harkness. This story occurs during Harkness’s first documented trip through the twentieth century; at this point, he is not associated with the Torchwood organization, and is not immortal, as will be widely referenced later. He originates from the 51st century, and was at one time a Time Agent; however, he considers himself betrayed by the Time Agency, who took away two years of his memories, and now freelances as a mercenary and con man. He has access to time travel via his wrist-worn vortex manipulator, though that is not clearly explained here as yet; and he also travels with a stolen spaceship.

He sure knows how to make an entrance.

He sure knows how to make an entrance.

The Doctor and Rose arrive in London, 1941, during the height of the London Blitz. They have come in pursuit of an alien ship, which crashed in the middle of London, and has been mistaken for one of many bombs by the locals. The Doctor is actually unaware of this at first, failing to realize they have arrived during the Blitz (and giving us some minor comedy); but they are interrupted by an air raid. Rose, having wandered off, finds herself dangling from a barrage balloon, and is saved by Jack using his ship’s tractor beam. He at once realizes she is not from this time period, and believes that she and the Doctor are Time Agents coming to interfere with him. He attempts to sell the crashed ship to her, and reveals he was the one who caused it to come down safely; but in two hours, it will be blown up by a bomb. She leads him to the Doctor.

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Meanwhile, the Doctor has found a mystery. A small child in a gas mask is following an older girl around, behaving dangerously and searching for its mother. The girl leads the Doctor to a hospital, where he speaks with the doctor on duty, and learns that many people have become like the child—and there is nothing inside them. It is like a disease, and it is spreading. The hospital doctor himself succumbs while the Doctor watches. Rose and Jack meet him there, and they are forced to try to escape. The episode ends with a cliffhanger here; if they are touched by the infected people, they too will succumb.

Not completely relevant, but too funny to pass up!

Not completely relevant, but too funny to pass up!

The Doctor Dances picks up immediately, and the Doctor and his companions elude the creatures and find themselves in a storeroom. Jack gets them out via the teleporter on his ship. They then make their way to the crash site, where they find the girl, Nancy, trapped—and the guards are transforming like the child, as the disease becomes airborne. However, the Doctor deduces that the ship is no battleship—it’s an ambulance, of sorts. It is filled with nanogenes, microscopic machines with the power to not only heal, but remake organic life. Escaping the crash, the nanogenes latched onto an injured child nearby and healed him; but with no preset pattern, they healed him incorrectly, creating the empty child. With the bomb about to fall on the site, the Doctor realizes that Nancy is the child’s mother, rather than his older sister as she had claimed. She accepts the child to her, and the nanogenes use her DNA to determine the correct pattern for his, healing him. The Doctor sends Jack to deal with the bomb, then updates the nanogenes to fix the other victims. He then sets the ship to blow up, eliminating the threat. Just this once, everyone lives…!

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…Except Jack. He uses his ship to catch the bomb, but can’t contain it from exploding, and can’t escape. He resigns himself to death—until the TARDIS appears and snatches him away. He is stranded now, but chooses to travel with them.

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This story is very significant in the history of the new series, setting up many elements that would recur. The Time Agency is not new—it was referenced as far back as The Talons of Weng-Chiang—but will get new life in the revived series, with some new backstory (most notably, that it was established in the absence of the Time Lords after the Time War, as noted in the comic Weapons of Past Destruction). Vortex manipulators appear here without much explanation, and Jack’s sonic “squareness gun” will reappear later with River Song (though not explained here, Moffatt’s intention is that it is stored in the TARDIS until River finds it). Jack will go on to be a part of Torchwood Three, and develop immortality.

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There are a lot of good lines here, more than I could capture. Dr. Constantine at the hospital remarks “Before this war I was a father and a grandfather. Now I am neither. But I am still a doctor,” to which the Doctor famously replies “Yeah, I know the feeling,” a reference at minimum to his lost granddaughter Susan. Jack refers to Pompeii on Volcano Day, a reference the Tenth Doctor will repeat to Donna Noble in The Fires of Pompeii. Jack also famously remarks, on seeing the sonic screwdriver, “Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks, ooh, this could be a little more sonic?!” Rose gets in a dig at the Doctor with “The first time I met him he blew up my job. It’s practically how he communicates.” The Doctor gets her, though, with “I’ve traveled with lots of people, but you’re setting new records for ‘jeopardy-friendly’.” And, of course, his most famous line occurs near the end: “Everybody lives, Rose. Just this once, everybody lives!” We also get the famous “Are you my mummy?” line, which the Tenth Doctor will jokingly reference in The Poison Sky. Rose, as well, makes the classic “Doctor Who?” joke.

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The title The Doctor Dances comes from the storeroom scene, where he dances with Rose out of jealousy over Jack. They dance again at the end, in the TARDIS. His dancing with a partner is a very uncommon thing; it only happens once in the classic series, with the one-off character Ray in Delta and the Bannermen. The Doctor also uses dancing as a euphemism for sex, in telling Rose about Jack’s home century. Jack, as the episode makes clear, is bisexual, and even not particularly concerned about the species of his partners; this will be played up in a number of later appearances, both seriously and as a bit of a joke. Further regarding the title: It represents a few rarities among episodes. It contains a verb, and it names the Doctor, both of which are very uncommon (though not unheard of!), both in the classic and new series. It is the first occurrence of each in the new series.

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There’s a Bad Wolf reference in the second episode, but it’s subtle and hard to spot. The German bomb, when caught by Jack’s tractor beam, is seen to have the phrase “Schlechter Wolf” (literally, “Worse Wolf”) printed on its side. Jack, of course, gets the bomb away and into space. He is very willing to die to save everyone, though not exactly happily. I found it supremely ironic, then, that he very soon will not be able to die. He’s a fascinating character in any regard.

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We finish today with Boom Town, which takes us back to Earth in 2006. The story is a sequel to World War Three, and brings back the character of Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen, aka Margaret Blaine, the one Slitheen to survive the attack on Downing Street. Now, six months later, she has gotten herself selected as Lord Mayor of Cardiff, and is overseeing the construction of a new power plant. Not bad for such a short time; it’s too bad she wants to blow it all up, for both revenge and escape.

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The TARDIS crew have come to Cardiff to refuel the TARDIS, using the rift that was last seen in The Unquiet Dead. The Rift will later be a central plot point in the Torchwood spin-off series. In fact, the Torchwood Three hub already exists at this point, complete with its own version of Jack Harkness; the novel The Twilight Streets will establish that Jack purposefully kept his team locked down for the day so as not to meet himself on the streets. In fact, a third Jack is also nearby, though in cryogenic storage, as seen in the Torchwood episode Exit Wounds. The TARDIS previously did not require such refueling, being powered by the central Eye of Harmony; but with the destruction of Gallifrey, that Eye was lost, and now it is rifts like this that allow the TARDIS to recharge periodically (although this is not made explicit at this time). While waiting, Rose meets up with Mickey; it ends badly, signaling the end of their relationship, though he stays around to help deal with Blon.

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The Doctor captures Blon (after a great scene with a teleporter that wouldn’t be out of place on Scooby-Doo). He intends to take her home to Raxicoricofallapatorius; she insists she will be put to death if she goes there. He then determines her plan: Using an alien device called a Tribophysical Waveform Macrokinetic Extrapolator (or extrapolator, for short), she intends to use the power plant to destroy the Earth. She will then ride the shockwave to freedom in the galaxy, using the extrapolator. The Doctor stops that plan, only to find out that she lied; her real plan was to use the rift to destroy the world; and by parking the TARDIS on it, the Doctor has given her the key.

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Desperate to stop her, the Doctor takes a drastic step: He opens the heart of the TARDIS, under the console, which is being supercharged by the rift. Looking into it—for it is far more than just a power source—Blon is transformed, regressed into an egg. The Doctor then closes the rift and averts the crisis. Departing—and leaving Mickey behind, alone—the travelers plan to drop the egg on Raxicoricofallapatorius, giving Blon a chance at a new life.

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I’m fond of this episode, even though it isn’t ranked particularly highly among new series episodes. I like the Slitheen as villains, once we look past the flatulence jokes (which recur here, but in a more understated manner). Blon in particular is a villain with some complexity; there’s a notable scene where she intends to kill a journalist, but refrains upon finding out that the woman is pregnant. Her grief over the loss of her own family is still acute. She’s also good for some comic relief; there’s the previously mentioned teleporter scene, and her “dinner date” with the Doctor, in which she tries several times to kill him. She gets in a good line when she says to the Doctor, “What did I ever do to you?”; he replies with “You tried to kill me and destroy this entire planet.” “Apart from that!” she retorts with a tsk.

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Jack’s role is toned down a bit here, though he will be instrumental again in the upcoming series finale. He’s still entertaining; and of course this episode plants the earliest seeds of the upcoming Torchwood television series, which will reuse some of the locations from this story. Mickey is at what may be his lowest point here; he attempts to reconnect with Rose, but then admits that he is seeing someone else. When challenged on it by Rose—who, not incorrectly, believes it is about her rather than the other woman—he admits that he did it because at least he knows where the other woman is. With Rose, he never knows. He comes off as petulant and downright mean to Rose, but his points are still valid—she will never choose him.

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There’s a Bad Wolf reference in the name of the power plant. In Welsh, it is called “Blaidd Drwgg”, which translates to “Bad Wolf”; unlike the last foreign-language reference, the Doctor catches this one and interrogates Blon as to why she chose that name. He and Rose comment that the words seem to be following them around; but in the end he dismisses it as coincidence. Of course it isn’t, as we will see soon.

Doctor Who TV series starring Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, Billie Piper, Karen Gillan, Freema Agyeman, Catherine Tate, Alex Kingston, Jenna Coleman, Paul Kasey, Nicholas Briggs, Arthur Darvill, Noel Clarke, John Barrowman - dvdbash.com

Blon’s regression to egg form has precedent: In The Leisure Hive, the villain Pangol was regressed to infancy. Also, in The Visitation, the Terileptils—like Blon—declined to be repatriated to their homeworld due to fear of execution. In that case, the Doctor allowed them to settle on another world; here he denies Blon that opportunity, stating that she will just resume her criminal activities.

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Overall, these are good episodes, and I think it’s safe to say that Series One is finally finding its feet. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances are often cited as the best episodes of the series; and Boom Town, while not so highly regarded, is still well executed. It’s a good way to wrap up the week-by-week portion of the series, as the next episodes are devoted to the overall arc.

Next time: We finish Series One, and say goodbye to the Ninth Doctor—and hello to some old enemies! See you there.

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

The Empty Child

The Doctor Dances

Boom Town

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