This Hugo award winner for Best Dramatic Presentation is one of my favorite two-part Doctor Who adventure, comprising “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances.” This marks the introduction of one of my favorite characters, as well as Steven Moffat’s first major contribution to the Doctor Who universe. The Doctor and Rose follow a distress call and a piece of space junk as it plummets to earth. They then land in London during the blitz. While the Doctor searches for answers, Rose spots a young boy standing a nearby roof, calling for his mummy. He is only wearing a gas mask, and as she tries to climb up a rope to reach him, she’s carried away. The rope is attached to a barrage balloon.
At the same time, the TARDIS phone rings (remember, it’s disguised as a blue phone booth—but the phone is not wired up to anything and should not work), and the voice of the boy continues to call for its mummy. Rose finally falls from the rope, and a light beam grabs her and brings her into a waiting ship—and the arms of Captain Jack Harkness, time-traveling con man (and future commander of Torchwood in Cardiff). Jack shamelessly flirts with Rose and they drink champagne on his cloaked ship tethered to Big Ben.
A teenage girl named Nancy helps young children, orphaned by the war, to find food abandoned during air raids. The Doctor follows her into a house, where the masked child begins to affect the electronics of the house, anything with a speaker. It persistently asks for its mummy. The Doctor is cautioned not to touch it, as it will make him empty and masked, just like it. He visits a hospital ward filled with people who have the same symptoms as the boy, down to the gas mask (made of flesh and bone) and scarring. He watches a doctor transform into one of them, his face changing into a mask and the he asks for his mummy. Jack and Rose arrive and the trio is surrounded by the altered patients in the ward.
In a last ditch effort, he tells the pleading people to go to their room, and they turn away to do so. The Doctor interrogates Jack as to the nature of his con. He was planning to sell the derelict medical ship to a time agent and then blow it up. When the ship landed, it killed the boy, and then tried to fix the damage it did with nanogenes (microscopic organisms which repair medical problems). Unfortunately, nanogenes incorrectly repaired the problem, mistaking the gas mask the boy wore for flesh and bone, fusing it to his face and resurrecting him. The bots, however, make it their business to make sure everyone in the area fits what their misguided idea of a human being looks like. When the Doctor convinces Nancy to go to the child, the nanogenes recognize that she is its mother, and they realize what a true human being is supposed to look like, and they repair the damage they did. All’s well, and Jack joins the Doctor and Rose aboard the TARDIS in time for them to have a long-awaited dance.
Steven Moffat’s writing shines in this episode. It’s scary and funny, and Jack brings an entirely new dynamic to the Rose-Doctor duo. It seems to make Rose and the Doctor re-examine their relationship; it’s never anything sexual, but it’s certainly more than platonic. This is the first in a long line of well-crafted episodes with tense atmosphere and depth of characterization—it’s little wonder I had no fear when Moffat became the showrunner after Russell T. Davies left at the end of series 4. This is solid science fiction, complex yet not confusing, with endearing characters
“Are you my mummy?”
Rose: “I think you should do a scan for alien tech. Give me some Spock for once, would it kill you?”
The Doctor: “Are you sure about that t-shirt?” [Rose is wearing a Union Jack shirt]
Rose: “Too early to say. I’m taking it out for a spin.”
Rose: “When he gets stressed he likes to insult other species. When he cuts himself shaving he does half an hour on life forms he’s cleverer than.”
Jack: “Who looks at a screwdriver and says, this could be a little more sonic?”
Rose: “Doesn’t the universe implode or something if you dance?”
The Doctor: “Well, I’ve got the moves but I wouldn’t want to boast.”
“Everybody lives! Just this once, everybody lives! I need more days like this.”