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The Empty Child

First UK Transmission Date (BBC1)Scheduled TXViewers
21st May 200518:307.11m

Cast: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Richard Wilson (Dr. Constantine), Florence Hoath (Nancy), Vilma Hollingberry (Mrs. Harcourt), Albert Valentine (Empty Child), Cheryl Fergison, Damian Samuels, Robert Hands, Martin Hodgson, Joseph Tremain, Jordan Murphy, Brandon Miller

Writer: Steven Moffat, Director: James Hawes

Synopsis: - London, 1941, at the height of the Blitz. A mysterious cylinder is being guarded by the army, while homeless children, living on the bombsites, are being terrorised by an unearthly child.

'The Empty Child' Background and Summary: - Having conceeded defeat in the ratings war against Doctor Who, ITV tried to fight back with science fiction of its own by showing Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Unfortunately for both broadcasters, not all went according to plan. The live FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Manchester United went to extra time and then penalties. ITV had intended The Phantom Menace to catch viewers channel-hopping after the end of the cup final which should have been 5.15pm, however the over-running football coverage didn't conclude until 6.15pm. Junior Mastermind was cancelled, the news ran an hour late and Doctor Who started on time. Sadly the start-time of Doctor Who had been shifted forward half an hour to accommodate the Eurovision Song Contest but the BBC's publicising of this fact had been lamentable. The result was the lowest overnight viewing figures for the series so far and worse still, it happened for an epsiode which was merely the first half of a story which would conclude the following week. Overall, a disaster. Naturally it still beat Star Wars.

With these negative points in mind, the low viewing figures are an even greater injustice due to the fact that The Empty Child was hailed by many as the best Doctor Who episode so far. Considering that this has been said of The Unquiet Dead, and Dalek before-hand, it seems a strong indication that the guest-writers are each time rising to the challenge of creating an episode which is both inventive and familiar. It's worth noting at this point that whilst Russell T Davies' own stories are not without merit, they have generally been less well received. This observation can be overlooked due the general level of fun which each of RTD's stories carried and his lively and intelligent new interpretation of the series is what has made Doctor Who the success it has been.

What Stephen Moffat produced was a story that was extremely well structured. The build up of the mystery behind the child was superb, the pace was brilliant and the tone was at times terrifying. The Empty Child was certainly the most frightening Doctor Who story so far and hopefully the popular reaction to this story and reaction to other darker stories will influence the direction of season two. It was an adventure which would have fitted perfectly in to the dark Hilchcliffe hayday of the series and has all the elements expected by lovers of the old series.

The interplay between Rose and Captain Jack is delightful, the comedy in the episode is appropriate, the supporting cast are excellent and the threads of the story are laid out in an exciting and intriguing way. There is little if anything negative to say about this episode although the character of Captain Jack seemed to create a division amongst viewers. Some felt the inclusion of a cheesy American was wrong for Doctor Who, whereas others took a great deal of enjoyment from this antithesis to a weaponless Doctor. Quite how his character would develop and how the story would be judged rested with its concluding episode.

Reaction to The Empty Child was very positive amongst both fans and the general public alike. In a fan poll, 94.6% rated it positively but this didn't qualify it as the most popular episode so far because only 61% described it as "excellent" (compared to the 76% of Dalek). On the other hand it could be measured as more successful from the other end of the scale because only 1.5% said they failed to enjoy it, compared to 2.3% who disliked Dalek.

Classic Series Influences and References:

  • The TARDIS persues another time-craft and jumps Time-Tracks, just as the TARDIS jumped a Time-Track in The Space Museum before being persued by the Daleks' time-craft.
  • Captain Jack is a 'Time Agent' - such individuals were previously mentioned in The Talons of Weng Chiang
  • The Doctor's psychic paper refers to his name as Dr John Smith, first used in The Wheel in Space
  • Captain Jack's spaceship uses the Tom Baker era TARDIS console room hum
  • Curiously, the Doctor mentions that he is not a grandfather but still a Doctor - A kind of non-reference to grand-daughter Susan
  • The Doctor misquotes the song lyric "Nobody here but us chickens" as he has previously done in Stones of Blood
  • Rose uses the
  • Shada also features an invisible spaceship
  • Jack deduces Rose is from the future in part because of her clothes' fabric, very similar to The Time Warrior in which Lynx makes the same deduction about Sarah Jane from her clothes.

Buy the Complete First Series

This is an absolutely must for anyone who remotely enjoyed the new series of Doctor Who. Unlikely the previous individual releases of episodes, the box set has extras coming out of its ears. And whereas some box sets just have extras on the final disc, this brilliant package has a selection of extras on each disk, plus the entire set of Doctor Who confidential (cut down) on another disk.

Nothing much needs saying about the episodes themselves but commentaries on certain episodes are almost worth the price alone. The commentaries of Rose, The Unquiet Dead and Dalek are of particular note and the video diaries of certain members of the team are very interesting and fun. The TARDIS container is a nice package and overall, believe me this set of DVDs is well worth the asking price, or probably more!


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