“The Empty Child,” Doctor Who, Season 1, Episode 9 (1 of 2)

The Empty Child

This show’s entry follows the style of Dan Harmon’s story circle.

Dan Harmon's story circle

“Gimmie some Spock! Would it kill you?”

I think it’s impossible to tell the story of “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances” without splitting up the standard steps. Since this episode ends in a massive cliffhanger, it’s important to see that you can’t possibly close the circuit and have anybody return to their familiar situation without the second part and conclusion to this story. So that’s what I’m going to do. In this entry, I’m going to go through steps one through four, as if this were all one big story and then I’m going to pick it up in the next entry with the second half and wrap it up.

1) In a zone of comfort

In this story, I think that the zone of comfort is the Doctor doing what the Doctor does. Rose is desperate. Maybe desperate is not exactly the right word, but she wants his attention. He impresses her; she thinks she’s hot, and she doesn’t understand why he won’t make a move on her. He’s going around, saving the world or saving the universe or saving whatever it is he’s saving at the moment and Rose doesn’t understand. She’s right there. The big lug doesn’t seem to catch a hint. She even begs him on the way out of the TARDIS when they’re looking for the cause of of their search, the space ambulance, she says “Gimmie some Spock! Would it kill you?” She’s pushing his buttons, seeing if she can crack his shell and see if sex (dancing!) is a possibility with him.

2) They desire something

So Rose lays it out for him. She wants some flash. She wants him to show off gizmos. She wants him to sweep her off her feet, and not just be the hero she’s looking for a little more. She wants him to impress her, to pursue and win her. Frankly, I think she just wants to get into his pants. It’s a pretty straightforward desire in an interesting backdrop to the rest of the story. I think the story addresses directly a common gripe about Doctor Who stories. There is this ambiguous line usually drawn, where the idea of what kind of sexual or romantic drives the Doctor may have rarely appeared on screen. We have only had speculation about which companions may or may not have carried on romantic relationships with the Doctor. Is it all of them? Are his companions all just best friends who have been traveling with him? Or is it (mostly) a long list of ex-girlfriends? Throughout the years, some companions had a stronger bond with the Doctor, possibly even romantically, but the show never explicitly showcased it. It’s part of why all the kissing involved in the Paul McGann television special caused such a ruckus. Everyone knew or at least expected that the Doctor had relationships like that with many companions who traveled with him, but he didn’t openly involve himself romantically with them.

I think part of the controversy arises from the show being perceived as a children’s show.

Now it’s time for the show to grow up, and Rose will take us there.

It’s a new show, in a new time, for a fresh audience who were probably all children when the original show was on, at least many of us. Since the show targets those people, it only makes sense that we tackle these kinds of topics. The Doctor is reluctant to open up, and he plays this part well as if he’s speaking for all those previous Doctors where we didn’t know what his feelings were about. As the Doctor slowly opens up to Rose, he also opens up to us, and she’s the one who brings it out of him.

3) Enter an unfamiliar situation

The unfamiliar situation is the London Blitz. We arrive in a period of history where the characters can get lost. During the London Blitz, we are describing the period in World War II when Hitler was bombing Britain regularly. As the Doctor and Rose spread out, they encounter strange things going on. The Doctor faces the telephone in his front door ringing when it isn’t connected to anything, and the little boy with the gas mask chases away Rose. The Doctor meets Nancy, who warns him about the phone. Besides the show growing up and addressing the romantic feelings of the Doctor and how much he represses them, Nancy is an incredibly interesting character because she does two things that also cross the line and help the show grow up. Her story is about hiding a teen pregnancy. She also confronts a man about having a homosexual love affair, which was unheard of in the show.

4) Adapt to the situation

As they adapt, the Doctor and Rose are both telling different stories. Rose meets Jack, who has a flashy spaceship tied to Big Ben. He is all the open flash that the Doctor isn’t. At the time she doesn’t know that he’s a bisexual human from the future, another line this series crosses that would never have shown up in the original show. It’s almost like Russell T Davies gathered up all the sexual insecurities people had about the show and jammed them all into these two episodes.

While Rose’s off doing that, the Doctor is taking an interest in Nancy’s story. He can tell that she is helping children during the bombing and he wants to know more about her. In the end, she tells him he needs to go to the hospital and talk to the Doctor to find out more about The Empty Child. Just for a second, you could tell he wonders if when he goes up to the hospital he’ll encounter himself. I think that’s what everybody wants to happen, even though it doesn’t, and it’s fine. He thinks he might meet himself, a thought that only occurs in a brilliant facial move by Christopher Eccleston. I think what it means is that during this episode what’s happening is the Doctor is learning something about himself.

Next time, does the Doctor “Dance?”

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