The Empty Child by Steven Moffat
Steven Moffat. Love him or hate him as showrunner he writes some of the best stories in modern who: Blink, The Girl in the Fireplace, The Eleventh Hour, The Pandorica Opens, The Day of the Doctor, Listen – i could go on for ages but this is where it all started – The Empty Child. Russell T. Davies once said Moffat’s scripts were the only ones he didn’t edit, and you can see why, he barely puts a foot wrong here. Eccleston also gets some decent material to work with for the first time since Dalek and he firmly grasps the oppurtunity, while Piper is still great to watch even if there aren’t any character defining moments for her this time.
The episode is set in London, 1941 at the height of the German blitz. The Doctor pursues an out of control spaceship which crash lands in London, but is assumed to be an unexploded German bomb by the army. He gets separated from Rose who ends up dangling from a barrage balloon in the middle of a german air raid – only to be rescued by a handsome and flirtatious stranger named Captain Jack, who has a spaceship of his own and assumes the Doctor and Rose are fellow time-agents. Jack (John Barrowman) is a brilliant creation and one of my favourite characters in Who. The scenes where him and Rose flirt (using the psychic paper to do so!) are hilarious and you can’t help but instantly like him.
However the main thrust of the episode is centred around the Doctor’s investigation of a strange child in a gas mask, who is stalking a young woman named Nancy (Florence Hoath) and the group of orphans and street urchins she looks after. The child is constantly asking for his ‘mummy’ and doesn’t respond to anything else but has some very creepy abilities – including the power to make any phone ring (including fake Tardis phone!) so he can ask his question ‘are you my mummy?’. The Doctor then discovers at the local hospital, run by Doctor Constantine (Richard Wilson in a brilliant cameo appearance), a group of patients who have exactly the same injuries (a gas mask seared onto their face, one collapsed lung, a scar on the back of the hand etc.) as the child, which they were infected with after coming into contact with him. As Constantine says ‘physical injury…as plague!’. It’s a scary idea and one of Moffat’s most original and effective ones.
I remember the reaction to this episode at school, so many people in my year (we were 11 at the time) were pretending to be gas mask zombies during lunch break (one guy was so creeped out by the episode he didn’t watch the second part for another 5 years!). This episode had more impact than any other except possibly Dalek. The scariest part of the episode is when Constantine succumbs to the infection and a gas mask GROWS out of his face. Rose and Jack then turn up, where Jack reveals the spaceship was crashed by him, as he planned to sell it to the Doctor and Rose then destroy it with a German bomb before they could find out it was worthless in a con. The episode then ends on a cliffhanger as the child corners Nancy and the gas mask zombies wake up from their hospital beds and surround the Doctor, Rose and Jack…
Overall a great scripting debut from Moffat, a great character in Captain Jack and an episode that is not easily forgotten.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Next Time: The infection spreads across London as the child hunts The Doctor and his companions…