Published on May 24th, 2005 | by Christian Cawley
New Series Review #9: The Empty Child
“Are you my mummy?”
Into the past with a BANG â€“ Doctor Who this weeks carried on with the strong drama instigated in Fatherâ€™s Day with a superb Steven Moffat script. For a writer most commonly associated with comedy (“Joking Apart”, “Coupling”), it could have been considered by some on first glance to be a bit of a diversion from the high standards already set by Mark Gatiss, and Paul Cornell.
Yet just minutes into the episode the cries of a young boy wearing a gasmask crying for his mummy have set the story in stone and sent a chill through the watching children and adults alike.
Classic Who elements abound in The Empty Child – the companion and the Doctor getting separated; the creeping sinister atmosphere; the Doctor himself arriving for one reason only to discover something disturbing is taking place; the anachronistic presence of alien technology in Earthâ€™s past; and the introduction of a character who is not what he seemsâ€¦
Captain Jack Harkness â€“ galactic conman, time traveller with dashing looks and a playful eye for, it seems, anyone. John Barrowmanâ€™s confident interpretation of the character coupled with his “Hollywood Idol” looks lend Captain Jack the air of a space bound Errol Flynn (or perhaps Blackadderâ€™s Lord Flashheart â€“ time will tellâ€¦).
The Doctor this week wasnâ€™t the only character with a professional title â€“ there was also “the doctor”â€¦ Richard Wilson with absolutely no effort at all shed his celebrated Victor Meldrew persona in order to lend further horror to the story. Dr Constantine is of course the character at the centre of much media attention this week as it emerged that a “bone-splintering” sound effect would be exorcised from the shot of the gasmask morphing out of his headâ€¦
The horror aspect of The Empty Child is one which creeps around, stalking in the shadows and words of the afflicted. There is no gore, no shocks, more of an unsettling air which is excellently counterpointed by the more human but equally terrifying threat form the Nazi war machine in the skies above the London setting. On screen evidence for the time and place of the setting is superb, utilising posters, costumes and the atmosphere of desolation during the blackout to the full. Add to this fantastic direction and camerawork (a crane shot of the Doctor entering “Albion Hospital”, the approach of the eponymous childâ€™s silhouette against the front door of the house and of course the ringing phoneâ€¦) and Moffatâ€™s script succeeds in sending a chill right down the back.
Typically for some used to writing comedy (and providing some of the tightest plotting since “Fawlty Towers”), Moffat does employ humour throughout the episode. Mostly this is in the scenes with Rose and Captain Jack, and the scenes between the Doctor and the orphan girl Nancy. There is however also an excellent scene early in the episode as the Doctor mounts the stage in a smoky club – a scene-type used by Moffat before in his superb copmedy “Joking Apart” in the early 1990s.
Christopher Eccleston is again at his confident best, taking command of the dining table scene with the children superbly. Meanwhile, Ms Piper is at her very loveliest, swooning and flirting with Roseâ€™s new hero, Captain Jack. The scenes focusing on their meeting are superbly conceived, succeeding in being both romantic and dangerous â€“ but the killer is watching Rose hang from a barrage balloon during a full-scale Nazi bombing raid.
The End of the World takes credit as being the most effects-laden television programme ever, and swallowed a fifth of the visual FX of this series of Doctor Who. But while CGI can succeed in creating a fantastic space station and wafer-thin enemy, its use can only be truly confirmed when it succeeds in reproducing what we know and recognise, and fooling us completely. As such legions of German bombers flying past the dangling Rose Tyler, flak guns detonating their charge in the night skies and fires raging across the London skyline were executed immaculately, and give further credit to the special effects powerhouse that is The Mill.
Next week we will find out the story behind Nancy, what happened to the poor child to make him empty and the true power contained within the “Tula ambulance”. And I confess, I switched off before the preview so I have NO IDEA!
To call this a classic story would be one week premature; but it is undoubtedly a gripping episode which hopefully is the first instalment of what will turn out to be the best Doctor Who story EVERâ€¦