Doctor Who, S1 Ep9 – The Empty Child

Empty Child Art

This was the creepiest episode in the history of creepy episodes. Okay, so I know that there is plenty of weirdness and potentially creepy episodes ahead of me in the Whoniverse, but this just managed to hit every trope that I find terrifying all in one episode, especially people with no faces and kids asking for ‘mummy.’

Rose's ShirtEssentially, this episode was two different story arcs that come together at the end and then will move on together, presumably, into the second part. The episode begins with a high energy sequence of The Doctor and Rose chasing down something in the TARDIS, and the episode doesn’t lose that intensity over its course. They land in London, share some nice banter about the color mauve, Rose’s Union Jack shirt, and The Doctor being the equivalent to Mr. Spock, and then almost immediately they split and so do the story lines.

Rose’s adventure begins as she tracks down a child who is on the roof and asking for his mummy. There are some nice shadowy, fleeing shots of the child, but the viewer can see he is wearing some type of gasmask. His voice is creepy and the atmosphere is dark. While the viewer’s instinct is for Rose to run the opposite direction, she follows the sound. In her attempt to climb to the roof after the child, she grabs onto a rope. The rope is attached to a barrage balloon, and soon Rose finds herself airborne in the middle of a German air raid. Precariously dangling over London, she is spotted by Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), a freelance time agent posing as a member of the Royal Air Force. He rescues her via tractor beam.

Much flirting between Rose and Jack ensues.

A little bit of flirtationJack takes Rose into his spaceship. He immediately pegs her as a time agent through her clothing, and she calls him out on his use of psychic paper. He tends to burns on her hands using a nano technology. They drink champagne on the roof in front of Big Ben and dance to Glen Miller in the middle of the air raid. Things get complicated when Jack proposes a bargain to Rose, thinking that she is also time agent. He knows the whereabouts of a Chula warship that landed nearby, and if the price is right, he will tell her where it is. The catch is that it is in a location that will be destroyed within two hours by a German bomb, giving Rose a limited time to take the offer.

Rose does an admirable job of bluffing and states that she has to discuss it with her companion before she can make any decision.

Meanwhile, The Doctor has discovered in his own way that he has landed in London in 1941. While Rose’s adventures have been light and fluffy with Jack, The Doctor’s is starkly different. This is where all the creepy comes in.

NancyThe TARDIS starts ringing, and The Doctor is taken completely by surprise. A girl appears behind him and tells him not to pick up because the call is not for him. He does anyway. On the other end of the line is a child’s voice asking for “mummy.” The air raid sirens are still going off, and The Doctor watches, amused, as a family leaves their home and goes into a bomb shelter. The girl that had spoken to him, whom we later find out is named Nancy, goes into the family’s home and begins to steal food. Soon she has alerted an entire network of children, and they all crowd into the family’s house to eat dinner.

The Doctor decides to join them. While he is asking questions about the object he had been following, the child’s voice is heard on the outside of the house asking for “mummy.” The children noticeably freak out, and all leave the house via the back door. The “empty” child stands at the front with his hand through the mail slot asking for “mummy.” The Doctor tries to speak to the child, but Nancy warns him away. She runs. The Doctor tells the child he is going to open the door. When he does, the child is gone.

The Doctor then proceeds to follow Nancy. When he finds her again, he draws more information out of her. He finds out that Nancy had lost her younger brother Jamie during an air raid, and that is why she takes care of the other children. She also leads The Doctor to where the cylinder fell. She tells The Doctor that he needs to speak with “the doctor” before going to look at the object that is surrounded by guards and fencing. The Doctor’s expression is wary and almost priceless at the mention of another doctor.

The Doctor goes into Albion Hospital and finds Doctor Constantine (Richard Wilson) there tending to rows and rows of patients. All the patients are wearing gasmasks upon first look, but when The Doctor examines them closer, he finds that the gasmasks have been fused to the patients’ faces. They all have the exact same wounds — a crushed skull, collapsed lungs, and scars on their hands. Doctor Constantine says it is a plague of physical injuries and warns against touching the patients’ flesh.

Gas Mask PeopleDuring this scene at one point, all the afflicted sit up in unison, startling The Doctor. (I jumped a mile). Doctor Constantine then tells The Doctor that the patients are not dead but not alive either. He tells The Doctor that Nancy knows more than she is letting on, and then he proceeds to turn into one of the gasmask wearing beings. The special effects during this scene are great and just gruesome enough to make you flinch but not enough to make you turn your head.

Soon after, Rose and Jack show up. Jack confesses that he is a con artist when he realizes that The Doctor and Rose are not time agents. The Chula ship is not a war ship but an ambulance.

They're Coming To Get YouThere is a quick cut to Nancy to show that has gone into another family’s home and she is cornered by the “empty child,” who is revealed to be her brother Jamie. At the same time, all the patients in Albion Hospital sit up and begin converging on Jack, Rose and The Doctor.

This episode was very atmospheric. The effects were great. The transformation of Doctor Constantine was excellent. The story telling was compelling, much more suspenseful than any other episode thus far. This managed to get my heart racing by the end, and I immediately wanted to watch the second part. There were also a lot of great lines by all characters involved, especially The Doctor and Jack Harkness.

The Good:

  • The atmosphere. The lighting. The creepy child voice. The suspenseful moments.
  • Richard Wilson
  • Captain Jack Harkness

The Bad:

  • The insistence on using the camera as the point of view of another character. We saw this in the previous episode where the red lens and the screechy music were the time monsters. We see it again in this episode with a distorted lens to show that the “empty child” is watching The Doctor and Rose.