Doctor Who - The New Series

1.09: "THE EMPTY CHILD" (1/2)

TX: 21 May 2005

Written by: Steven Moffat

Directed by: James Hawes

Running time: 41' 01"

Location: London, England

Date: 1941 AD

Monsters and villains: The Empty Child (A small child with psychic powers and a gas-mask instead of a face), the Empty Children (humans who have been transformed into copies of the Child).

Plot Synopsis: Another day, another distress signal - this time from a time craft wildly out of control. Unable to catch the object in the timestream, the Doctor follows it to World War II-era London, where homeless children scurry in the dark like rats, and something innocent and deadly stalks the streets.

Bad Wolf Reference: Nancy comments on the size of the Doctor's ears, which was taken by some to be a reference to the story of "Little Red Riding Hood".

Trivia: (1) This episode marks the first appearance of assistant 'Captain' Jack Harkness, played by John Barrowman.

(2) Writer Steven Moffat is better known for his comedy series Coupling (abysmally remade for the American market) and Press Gang. Although a fan of Doctor Who, the only time he wrote for the Doctor was in 1999's Comic Relief spoof Doctor Who: The Curse of the Fatal Death.

(3) Doctor Constantine is named after the comic book character John Constantine of the comic Hellblazer. Unlike the movie version of John Constantine played by Keanu Reeves, Doctor Constantine's name is pronounced correctly (Con-stan-tyne).

(4) The fictional Albion Hospital that houses the victims of the Empty Child is the same hospital from the autopsy scene in 1.04, Aliens of London.

(5) The Time Agents mentioned by Jack in this episode have appeared in Doctor Who lore before; in the fourth Doctor story The Talons of Weng-Chiang, the villain is terrified of the Time Agents. They appeared in the novels Emotional Chemistry, Eater of Wasps and Trading Futures.

(6) After complaints recieved at the end of 1.04, Aliens of London, the BBC put the "Next Time" trailer at the end of the credits. This episode ends with the gas-masked faces fading into the credit music.

(7) Dr Constantine's transformation sequence originally included the noise of his skull cracking (to mimic the injuries sustained by the first victim), but this was deemed too nasty for children and was removed from the soundtrack prior to broadcast.

(7) The Doctor gives "John Smith" as his alias. This is a long-running joke that began in the second Doctor serial The Wheel in Space and has been used by several Doctors since.

(8) The Chula are named after a restaurant of the same name in King Street, Hammersmith in London. It was frequently used by the series' writers.

Spoiler Synopsis: The Doctor and Rose attempt to catch a time vessel careening wildly out of control, its distress signal flaring. The TARDIS console sparks and the Doctor's hand is burnt. They fail to catch up with the ship, but touch down close to its last location - Blitz-era London. Sadly, the vagaries of time travel mean that they have landed one month after the the vessel did. The Doctor sets off to ask around for information, whilst Rose is distracted by a plaintive cry of "mummy" coming from a rooftop. She looks up to see a little boy in a gas mask. Putting her gymnastics training to good use, Rose climbs up a rope to reach the child. Unfortunately, the rope comes loose and she starts to drift into the air - it turns out that it was attached to a barrage balloon. The child watches her impassively as she floats away.

Back on terra firma, the Doctor enters a nightclub where he steps up to the microphone and asks the audience if they've seen anything falling from the sky recently. The audience, used to having German bombs falling on them every night, think that he is a comedian and meet his questions with uproarious laughter. In the distance an air raid siren counds and the Doctor realises what year it is.

He returns to the TARDIS, and is bemused when a police telephone hidden in its side begins to ring - this is unusual because the TARDIS isn't hooked up to any kind of telephone network. The Doctor's examination of the phone is interrupted by a young girl who warns him not to answer it. The Doctor ignores her command and picks it up, hearing the same young boy that Rose heard on top of the building. A noise draws his attention away to a nearby house, where he sees a family rushing from their uneaten dinner to their Anderson shelter. Peering over the garden wall, he sees the girl that spoke to him slipping into the now empty house. Rose is still dangling over the air raid, although she has rather luckily been spotted by an odd American man wearing an RAF uniform and carrying futuristic binoculars. She falls from the rope but is caught in a blue tractor beam and is carried up to the interior of what appears to be a spaceship piloted by the American. Overcome by the tractor beam, she faints.

Meanwhile, the young girl who spoke to the Doctor - Nancy - is inside the family's house, dishing out delicious black market chicken and vegetables to starving homeless children. The Doctor makes a surprise appearance but Nancy, not wanting to frighten the children, allows him to stay. He tries to question the kids about the lost time vessel but their conversation is cut short by the sound of the young gas masked boy from outside. Nancy, recognising the boy's voice, ushers the children out of the back door of the house whilst the Doctor goes to meet him at the front door. Nancy bolts the door, blocking the child's entry, and tells the Doctor that he shouldn't touch the boy - if he does, he will become like him: empty.

Suddenly, the house's telephone rings. The Doctor picks it up and hears the Child's voice down the line asking for his mummy. The Doctor hangs up but it's no use; the radio switches itself on and tunes into the boy's sad cries. Nancy flees as the Doctor goes to speak to the boy through the letter box, asking him what the matter is. The boy seems unable to understand what the Doctor is saying, instead repeating that he wants hs mummy, and that he is frightened of the bombs. The Doctor agrees to let him in, but once he opens the door the child has vanished.

Back inside the ship, the handsome pilot introduces himself as Captain Jack Harkness, a Time Agent-turned-mercenary from the 51st century. He shows Rose identification, but she recognises it as psychic paper like the Doctor's. She notes that it will only tell her what she wants to read - and that right now it's saying that Jack is single. They flirt a little until Jack asks Rose to hold her hands out. He notes that she has suffered friction burns whilst hanging from the rope. He clicks his fingers and hundreds of tiny yellow lights appear in the air - these are nanogenes, tiny machines capable of repairing human skin. Rose watches in delight as they fix her palms. Jack invites Rose onto the roof of his ship, which is invisible and parked right next to one of the faces of St Stephen's Tower. They flirt some more, and Jack asks Rose if she wants to dance.

Back on solid ground the Doctor has tracked Nancy to a parked train. He asks her again about the time vessel (although he doesn't explain what it is), saying that it is somehow linked to the Empty Child. Nancy tells him about a mysterious bomb which fell near Limehouse but which didn't explode. It's now surrounded by soldiers. She adds that he should go to Albion Hospital and speak to "the doctor".

Back on top of Jack's timeship, he and Rose are happily dancing to the music of Glenn Miller. As they talk it emerges that he thinks she is a Time Agent. He asks her if she has the authority to buy technology - a Chula warship has crash-landed in London and only Jack knows where. If the Time Agency pay up, he's willing to disclose the location. They have two hours to give him the money before a German bomb lands directly on it and blows it to smithereens. Rose tells Jack that she'll have to consult her companion first and Jack decides to track him down.

Nancy shows the Doctor the location of Albion Hospital and the nearby crash site. Before he leaves, she admits that she feels responsibility for the children she looks after because her little brother, Jamie, was killed by a bomb. Inside the hospital the Doctor finds hundreds of people lying comatose in beds, all wearing gas masks. A man appears, introducing himself as Doctor Constantine, and tells the Doctor to examine the bodies. He does, and notes that all of them have identical injuries - broken skulls, crushed chests and wounds on the back of the left hand. He also says that the "masks" are somehow organically fused to the victims' heads. Constantine explains that they brought in one body, crushed by the "bomb" outside, but that anyone coming into contact with it somehow contracted the same injuries. Constantine says that they are neither living nor dead, and that the Army, fearful for a full-scale breakout, plan to blow up the entire hospital. He adds that the first victim was kept in room 802, and that Nancy knows more than she is letting on. Suddenly, he begins to mumble about his mother. His eyes widen and turn glassy, a nozzle juts from his mouth and his skin turns into green rubber. Within seconds his face has transformed into a gas mask and he has become one of the Empty Children.

Outside the ward the Doctor runs into Jack, who used his ship to locate him. Jack explains his proposition and the Doctor realises that the Chula warship that Jack wants to sell is the same one that landed outside Albion Hospital. Jack says that it can't be behind the crisis, and admits that it's not really a warship at all - just a Chula ambulance.

Back at the house where the Doctor met the children, Nancy is gathering more food when the radio turns back on and the Empty Child's voice is heard once more. Nancy hides under the table but is quickly found by the boy. She runs for the door, but the Child uses his psychic powers to shut and lock it. As he advances on Nancy, the Empty Children in the hospital sit bolt upright and begin advancing towards Jack, Rose and the Doctor... TO BE CONTINUED.

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Sources: - The Internet Movie Database - Outpost Gallifrey - A Brief History of (Time) Travel