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Recap: Doctor Who S27 E9 "The Empty Child"

Doctor Constantine: Before this war began, I was a father and a grandfather. Now I'm neither, but I'm still a doctor.
The Doctor: Yeah. I know the feeling.

This two-part episode is the first story Steven Moffat wrote for the revived Doctor Who. In what would become a continuing theme for Steven Moffat, it's very scary, contains tons of UST, and instantly won a Hugo award.

It introduces Captain Jack Harkness, who becomes a tremendously important character throughout the next few seasons and gets his own spinoff, Torchwood.

Colin Baker's favourite episode of all time.
The Doctor and Rose follow an alien spacecraft's emergency signal through time and space, to London during the Blitz. Since they can't very well leave alien stuff lying around in the past, they decide to retrieve it.

Things quickly get weird, though: the phone on the outside of the TARDIS rings, despite not being a real phone and not being hooked up to anything; a mysterious young woman appears and warns the Doctor not to answer it; when he does, it's a plaintive child's voice asking "Are you my mummy?"

Rose, in the fine old tradition of the Doctor's companions, has wandered off and got herself into trouble. In this case by grabbing a hold of a barrage balloon and accidentally taking to the skies above London while it's being bombed, wearing a T-shirt with a giant British flag on it. She's rescued in the nick of time by a suave spaceship pilot with an American accent, an RAF uniform and a penchant for flirting with his fellow soldiers, who introduces himself as Captain Jack Harkness. Captain Jack deduces that she's also a time traveller and, assuming that she's a Time Agent, tells her of a recently crashed alien ship, whose location he'll reveal for a few quid. Oh, and he (quite successfully) tries to seduce her — by taking her for a slow dance on the roof of his invisible ship, which is anchored to the top of Big Ben.

Elsewhere in London. Nancy, the young woman who warned the Doctor not to answer the phone, sneaks into a house whose inhabitants are in their bomb shelter. They've left the house mid-meal, so Nancy gives a signal and adorable little waifs come rushing in. They're mostly homeless kids and/or escapees from the Blitz Evacuation. Oh, and one extra person — adorable, all right, but unusually tall and deep-voiced, for a kid... it's the Doctor! He fishes for information but doesn't get very far. Then Nancy and the kids hear the approach of a certain kid in a certain gas mask, repeating a certain catch phrase, and flee in terror. Nancy identifies the boy as her brother, Jamie, and claims that he's "empty". The Doctor is left behind to see the kid up close — including a cut on the kid's hand — and is asked over and over, "Are you my mummy?"

Nancy, once tracked down, points the Doctor to "the Doctor". She means Dr. Constantine over at Albion Hospital, who treated Jamie when he first got hit by a mysterious falling object that wasn't a bomb.

Dr. Constantine is there, all right, along with a lot of apparently dead people wearing gas masks and bearing cuts on their hands, and they all got that way by touching Jamie or touching someone who'd touched him. And... they're still alive. Also, the gas masks are made of flesh and bone. As Dr. Constantine finishes mutating into a gas-mask-person, they all rise up from their beds and close in on our heroes....


Tropes:

  • Abandoned Hospital: Albion has all the trademarks of one, even though it wasn't really abandoned.
  • Action Prologue: The Doctor and Rose chasing an alien spacecraft in the TARDIS.
  • Anti-Air: The purpose of the Barrage Balloons are never explained, but they were meant to snag low flying airplanes with their cables.
  • Black Comedy: The Doctor inadvertently invokes this by asking if anything had fallen from the sky recently... during the London Blitz. The patrons of the bar find it funny after a moment.
  • Blitz Evacuees: The kids Nancy takes care of, who are mostly runaways from evacuation. The Doctor even invokes the trope.
  • Body Horror: The transformation of Dr. Constantine, where you see the mask come out of his throat and hear his skull cracking.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Albion Hospital, the same hospital used in "Aliens of London". It has, however, actually moved during the last 60-odd years between the two adventures. According to the commentary, it migrated.
    • Time Agents from the 51st century were first mentioned in "The Talons of Weng-Chiang".
  • Cool Starship: Jack has two Chula Warships, one for his personal use and one which he tries to sell to Rose. He was planning to con her and actually sell a worthless ambulance, which would then be destroyed before she could get her hands on it.
  • Creepy Child: Jamie is even credited as "The Child".
  • Cymbal-Banging Monkey: One is briefly seen as everything in the house becomes possessed by Jamie.
  • Distress Call: The Doctor and Rose pick this up and chase after it.
  • Eagleland: Riffs on this with the rivalry between the glamorous American womaniser with his expensive gadgets (oversexed, overpaid and over here) vs. the Doctor's amateur "British" approach.
  • Eagle Squadron: Captain Jack claims to be a member of 133 Squadron, Royal Air Force, which in Real Life happened to be one of the Trope Namers.
  • Evil Phone: The Child can even animate the phone in the TARDIS's police box disguise, which isn't connected to anything.
  • Exact Words: When Rose confronts Jack about the starship he found was not a warship as he had claimed, he defends himself claiming that there are ambulances in wars, and that a war ambulance is still a warship.
  • Foil: Captain Jack to the Doctor, in a Noble Male, Roguish Male pairing (Jack is the Roguish one.)
  • Friendless Background: The Doctor knows what it's like, being the only kid left outside.
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: Seen before the Doctor's inadvertent Black Comedy.
  • Hive Mind: The final moments of the episode show some form of a link between the Child and other victims when he found Nancy and the ones in the hospital got up and moved toward Jack, Rose, and the Doctor.
  • Hold the Line: The Doctor notes that this is Britain's moment. The nations of Europe fell one-by-one to the German War Machine until this tiny island nation said "No." And would not yield.
  • The Home Front: Food rationing and bombs feature prominently.
  • Humans Are Special: The Doctor notes that, at the least, Britons were special because they refused to fall to the German War Machine.
  • Internal Homage: "Are you my mummy?" echoes the "are you my father?" Madness Mantra from Steven Moffat's favourite Sixth Doctor story, "The Holy Terror" (by Big Finish).
  • Noodle Incident: When the Doctor asks why the kids haven't left London yet, one of them mentions that "There was a man" where he was staying and gives no further explanation. The implication seemed pretty obvious.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: The child honestly just wants to find his mother, The Virus is completely tangential.
  • Not So Different: Constantine was a father and grandfather before the War; now he's neither, but he's still a doctor. The Doctor quietly replies that he knows the feeling.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: Rose gives the Doctor's name to Jack as Mr. Spock. Jack, being from far in the future and unfamiliar with Star Trek, takes it at face value.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Occasionally the Child and a few others.
    Doctor Constantine: Are. You. My. Mummy?
  • Reality Ensues: When speaking of her younger brother, Nancy says he was alone out in an air raid. When the Doctor asks what happened, she implies he died by a bomb falling on him.
  • Red Alert: Played with — according to the Doctor, mauve is the universally-recognised colour for danger, and most aliens consider red to be camp. "Oh, the misunderstandings, all those red alerts, all that dancing...."
  • Red Herring: Nancy tells the Doctor to go talk to the Doctor. Dramatic music and a confused countenance from the Doctor tell us something should happen... actually, no. It's just a regular doctor.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The Doctor walks up to the mic at a bar and asks if anything's fallen from the sky recently, not knowing that it's during the Blitz. The audience seems to take the question as this trope and laughs.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Rose just won't give up on things being "very Spock". Guess what name she gives Jack for the Doctor?
    • Rose's costume is similar to Jenny Spark's iconic one from The Authority.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye:
    • Nancy when she first meets the Doctor.
    • The Doctor ups this by walking past Nancy and the kids and somehow sitting at the head of the table, with no-one noticing his presence until he asks for a bit of salt.
  • Street Urchin: Nancy and the other kids.
  • Supernatural Phone: The child manages to activate the phone on the outside of the police box, much to the Doctor's amazement.
  • Title Drop: From Rose, to the show name:
    Rose: Don't you ever get tired of "Doctor?" Doctor WHO?
    The Doctor: Nine centuries in, I'm coping.
  • The Virus: That which the child spreads and from his victims onward. Though it may take time to manifest, the result is all the same. A gas mask physically forms over the victim's face with the nozzle shoving its way out of the mouth, a lung collapses, heart stops. Gain a scar on the back of the right hand. And then they just lay there, apparently dead.
  • Wearing a Flag on Your Head: Rose, wearing a Union Jack T-shirt. She later notes (while hanging from a balloon) it's not the best idea during the Blitz.
    • Actually, it may have been. The German bombers were focused on dropping bombs on London, and the fighters were focused on protecting them, while both were being shot at from the ground and nontrivial numbers shot down. Neither would have had much time or energy to spare with one person dangling from a balloon. It is also (as the USAF found when they tried to shoot the mechanics of the Japanese balloon bombs a few years later) very hard to hit something the size of a person from a rapidly moving plane. However, this is not the case for the antiaircraft guns on the ground, and some or most of the crews would have been operating on the logic that anything not clearly British - such as a person hanging from a barrage balloon - must be German and should therefore be shot at. The flag would therefore have substantially reduced the chance of friendly fire.
  • World War II: The setting of the episode.


Doctor Who S27 E8 'Fathers Day"Recap/Doctor WhoDoctor Who S27 E10 'The Doctor Dances"
Doctor WhoHugo AwardDoctor Who S27 E6 'Dalek"

alternative title(s): Doctor Who NSS 1 E 9 The Empty Child
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