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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “The Empty Child”

(tons of spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! and no comments from party poopers — this is a love fest only / previous: Episode 8: “Father’s Day”)

I’m rewatching the first series of the new Doctor Who with an eye toward looking where the show has gone since.

Ah, Steven Moffat, our new Doctor Who overlord: this is the first episode by him. And this is the first appearance of Captain Jack Harkness. I don’t mind telling you, when I first heard that the Doctor was getting a new companion, long before I ever saw this episode, and I went in search of pictures online of the actor who would be playing him, I gasped when I saw John Barrowman. It wasn’t this image:

but the effect was similar: he literally took my breath away, he was so beautiful, but in such a masculine way. I probably looked a bit like Rose, when she first lays eyes on him:

It’s such a perfect introduction we get to Jack, so beautifully setting the stage for who he would be, as a character, but also who he would be as a sort of cultural icon. We’ve never seen a character like Jack before in pop culture: he’s so manly while so unapologetically gay (or perhaps omnisexual but mostly leaning toward gay — we’d see later that he’s fallen in love with at least one woman, but it’s clear here that he’d have no trouble at all seducing Rose… and enjoying it). It’s impossible to imagine any homophobic moron impugning Jack’s masculinity: he’s “all man” in a way that we haven’t seen onscreen before, certainly not in anything so popular and with such an impact as this new Doctor Who turned out to have. I have no doubt there are real men like Jack — we’ve just never seen them in popular entertainment like this before, certainly not in any kind of heroic capacity.

And Jack seems to spread his easy manner to those around him. This guy’s reaction when Jack tells him he has an “excellent bottom,” and gives him a playful smack:

It’s so sweet, how he’s shy but delighted. Hard to imagine that being so open a reaction of a soldier in World War II, no matter how comfortable with himself he was.

Now: Rose. I’m starting to wonder whether the Doctor is starting to wonder if he really did make a mistake in picking this stupid ape of a girl. In what universe is the Doctor “not very Spock”? “I think you should do a scan for alien tech,” she gripes to him. “Gimme some Spock, for once, would it kill ya?” The TARDIS isn’t Spock enough? A trip to the year 5 billion to watch the destruction of Earth isn’t Spock enough? Rose does not appreciate what she has here, and she should stand aside and make room for someone who does.

And what’s this? The Doctor forgets completely about finding the missing Rose when he’s confronted with the mystery of the ringing phone that isn’t a phone. Maybe she’s just not, I dunno, Nurse Chapel enough for him…

God, Steven Moffat is a genius, though, isn’t he: “Are you my mommy? Mommmmmm-eeeee!” Who’da thunk a little boy calling for his mummy could be so damn creepy?

Random thoughts on “The Empty Child”:

• Sounds like Eccleston’s still not over his cold from “Father’s Day”…

• Dr. John Smith, Ministry of Asteroids? *snort*

• I don’t normally notice the direction on Doctor Who, but this episode is so beautifully shadowy and atmospheric:

Director James Hawes makes it look like a lost Hitchcock movie in places (see that image at the very top of the page, too).

• Is this possibly the least useful drawing ever made?

It looks like a pickle to me. A giant pickle falling from the sky? That’s very classic-Doctor Who, actually…

I guess the Doctor can’t be good at everything.

• I don’t spot any Bad Wolf references in this episode. Did I miss something?

• Still life: Time Lord with Cat (1941):

Aww, the Doctor likes cats…

• I just realized that telephones have been a recurring motif in the new Doctor Who:

It’s sorta funny, considering that the iconic image of the show is a phone box, that that was never the case before. Of course, now we all carry around our phones with us, so they are much more a part of our everyday lives than they ever were before.

• On the other hand, Jack tells Rose to “switch off your cell phone” — that is, he uses an Americanism; he doesn’t say “switch off your mobile.” So should we presume he has already visited Earth in the very end of the 20th century or into the 21st? He’ll certainly do that later, when he lives his unkillable life from the late 19th century through to the early 21st, but he hasn’t done that yet. Though Jack doesn’t know who Spock is, so he’s not conversant with pop culture of the period, either. But he must have picked up that American accent somewhere/somewhere. Ah, the mysteries of Jack Harkness…

• If Jack has psychic paper, how come he never uses it again (that we’ve seen)? That could be very handy in a tight spot.

• Even Nancy can’t help flirting with the Doctor (all that teasing him about the size of his ears and his nose):

He knows it, too, and that’s probably when he realizes that she’s not as young as he probably first thought she was…

• Talk about creepy: “There was a man there.” That’s all that one little kid needs to say to explain why he ran away from the farm he was evacuated to, and everyone knows what he means. Ugh.

• Great quotes:

“Know how long you can knock around space without happening to bump into Earth?” –the Doctor
“Five days? Or is that just when we’re out of milk?” –Rose

“I’m not sure if it’s Marxism in action or a West End musical.” –the Doctor, on Nancy’s method for feeding all the street kids (I think it’s a West End musical)

“Never easy bein’ the only child left out in the cold, you know.” –the Doctor
“I suppose you’d know.” –Nancy
“I do, actually, yes.” –the Doctor

(Awww…. c’mere, honey, and let me give you a hug…)

“Dunno what you do to Hitler, but you frighten the hell outta me.” –the Doctor on the English people

(next: Episode 10: “The Doctor Dances”)


watch at home

  • JSW

    “Bad Wolf” shows up in the second part of this episode, written in German on the bomb that Jack puts into stasis.

  • Les Carr

    I love that the Wikipedia entry on this episode describes Jack Harkness as “explicitly not a strict heterosexual”.

  • Drave

    I don’t think Jack could be called anything short of an omnisexual. Basically, I think he’ll boink anything as long as it’s pretty or charming. One of my favorite things about him is that he not only flirts with male and female humans, but male and female aliens as well. He flirts the same way with the Doctor, Rose, his fellow soldiers, and even Chantho.

  • stephanie b

    MaryAnn… Obviously that’s a drawing of a Twinkie. He even drew the creamy delicious filling. See? It’s right there. Pickle. Pffft! You’re silly.

  • Keith Z-G

    Not to fall afoul of the “love fest only” rule, as I don’t mean this as saying that this was a bad episode, but . . . well, I’ll put it this way. I saw this episode for the first time soon after it won the 2006 Hugo for “Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form”, and as much as I otherwise enjoyed it I just couldn’t (and, as you can tell, still can’t) get over the fact that it won over the BSG episode “Pegasus”.

    All that being said, I hadn’t known this was Moffat’s first episode; that definitely bodes well for the future Post-Davies Doctor Who.

  • allochthon

    Nancy, as well as Sally Sparrow, could have been great companions. I wish the Doctor could have brought them with.

  • Mya

    I KNOW RIGHT!! Oh my gosh. And apparently Martha was supposed to be picked up in the 1930s. I really wish that actually happened, it wouldve given her so much more dimension as a character. I feel like she relied to heavily on some parts of her intelect, like if she didnt know what to do she would bassicaly just squeal for the doctor which was SO UPSETTING after someone as kick ass as Rose. And, well, the fact that it happened all the time. I think that she had about two brilliant moments and that was about it. I like the year she uh, gets to wear black twenty four seven and its a year thats lost and blah to avoid spoilers, but thats pretty much the only time i like her.

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