Recap / Doctor Who S27 E9 "The Empty Child"
aka: Doctor Who NSS 1 E 9 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.

Sixth Doctor Colin Baker has said that in his opinion, this episode (and its second part, The Doctor Dances) is the best Who story ever filmed. This becomes even more notable when you realize that elements of this story (notably the creepy child in pursuit of his lost parent) share similarities with the Big Finish audio novel, "The Holy Terror"—a story that writer Steven Moffat called his favorite Sixth Doctor story, ever.
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 taken 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, Rose and Jack arrive, in time for the patients to all rise up from their beds and close in on our heroes....


  • 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 is never explained, but they were meant to snag low flying airplanes with their cables.
  • Are You Sure You Want to Do That?: Nancy asks the Doctor if he is sure he wants to know what is going on at the Black Site.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: When speaking of her younger brother, Nancy says he was alone out in an air raid. When the Doctor asks what happened, her response is simple.
    Nancy: In an air raid? What'cha think happened?
  • Before My Time: 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.
  • Black Comedy: 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.
  • Black Site: Limehouse Green Station, the place where the "bomb" fell, is sealed off by the army.
  • Blitz Evacuees: The kids Nancy takes care of, who are mostly runaways from evacuation. The Doctor even invokes the trope.
  • Changed My Jumper: Rose is wearing jeans and a Union Jack T-shirt and the Doctor is in his usual leather jacket one worn by German U-Boat captains. Lampshaded by Jack:
    ""Oh, should've known, the way you guys are blending in with the local colour. I mean, Flag Girl was bad enough, but U-Boat Captain?"
  • The Chanteuse: Seen before the Doctor's inadvertent Black Comedy.
  • Con Man: Jack reveals himself to be a time-traveling scam artist.
  • 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 by 51st century war criminal Magnus Greel 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.
  • Damsel in Distress: Rose hanging from the balloon.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Dr. Constantine:
    The Doctor: You're very sick.
    Dr. Constantine: Dying, I should think, I just haven't been able to find the time.
  • 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.
  • Facial Horror: A Painful Transformation into a mindless zombie with a gas mask, with the air-filter forcing its way up through your throat and out your mouth, and your eyes turning into goggles. Ouch. The effect was originally going to be accompanied by a graphic bone-cracking sound, but the staff decided that was a bit too much. They were probably right.
  • Fainting: Lampshaded by Rose before collapsing after her rescue from the balloon.
  • Falling into His Arms: Doubling as a Meet Cute moment when Rose falls into Jack's arms after he saved her with his Tractor Beam.
  • Feedback Rule: At the night club, when the doctor goes on stage to ask about the fallen object, there is a slight feedback coming from the mic, underpinning the awkwardness of the situation.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Hologram Projection Imperfection: Towards the end, Jack presents a holographic image of the object they are chasing. The projection goes through some flickering.
  • 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. He even admits that they "frighten the hell out of" him, which is saying a lot coming from someone who's faced down Daleks, Slitheen, Reapers, and a countless number of other horrifying threats.
  • Impending Doom P.O.V.: There are several wobbly shots from Jamie's POV under the gas mask.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Doctor Constantine has it.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: In the opening scene, the doctor tells Rose that the tracking of the object is perfectly safe. Cue TARDIS' control panels exploding.
  • 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).
  • Invisibility Cloak: Captain Jack's spaceship has an invisibility cloak, allowing him to park it next to Big Ben.
  • Ironic Echo: "You forgot to set your alarm clock. It's Volcano Day."
  • Love at First Sight: Seems to be happening to Rose upon meeting Jack.
  • Madness Mantra: "Are you my Mummy?"
  • Mood Dissonance: Rose and Jack sharing a romantic moment during the German air raid. Lampshaded by Rose:
    "Okay, we're standing in midair ... on a spaceship, during a German air raid. Do you really think now's a good time to be coming on to me?"
  • Mr. Exposition: Nancy, Doctor Constantine and the Doctor himself are doing lots of exposition talk for the audience.
  • 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.
  • Obliviously Evil: The nanogenes are wreaking havoc by innocently trying to "cure" members of species they are unfamiliar or incompatible with.
  • Oh Crap!: Rose's reaction to being several feet in midair, dangling from a barrage balloon with a Union flag plastered across her chest and Luftwaffe bombers incoming.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The Undead created by the nanogenes.
  • Promotion to Parent: Nancy acts as one to her kids. There is a twist to it in the next epsiode though.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Occasionally the Child and a few others.
    Doctor Constantine: Are. You. My. Mummy?
  • 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...."
  • 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.
  • Skewed Priorities: Perhaps due to British Stuffiness, Nancy demands her kids to chew properly while being stuck in an air raid.
  • So Much for Stealth: When Nancy is hiding from the Creepy Child, one of her apples rolls onto the floor, alerting the boy of her presence.
  • 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.
    • The Creepy Child is gone when the doctor opens the door to him.
  • 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.
  • Thief Bag: Nancy has a looting sack.
  • 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.
  • Tractor Beam: Jack uses one to save our Damsel in Distress.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Downplayed. After the fiasco of "Aliens of London" including a spoiler-filled "Next Time" trailer just two seconds after the cliffhanger, this story began the show's standard practice of having the "Next Time" trailers moved back until after the credits on the first half of a two-parter. The trailer itself is still as spoileriffic as anything, but this time you have no excuse for watching it.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: The doctor and Rose split off early on and the plot follows both characters simultaniously during their encounters with Nancy and Jack respectively.
  • Viral Transformation: Anyone who comes into contact with the Empty Child turns into one of the same, This is the same for those come into physical contact with the victim, and so on.
  • The Virus: That which the child spreads and from his victims onward. Though it may take time to manifest, the result is 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; the heart stops, and they gain a scar on the back of the right hand. And then they just lie there, apparently dead. Only they aren't- their minds are vacant, and eventually one and only one thought will consume them, and drive them to wander around in a hollow, lucid state: to go after every human they run into- relentlessly asking for their Mummy.
  • Wearing a Flag on Your Head: Rose, wearing a Union Jack T-shirt. She later notes (while hanging from a barrage balloon in front of a wave of incoming Luftwaffe bombers) it's not the best idea during the Blitz.
  • Westminster Chimes: We hear the Big Ben when Rose and Jack are having a rendezvous.
  • Wham Line: Dr. Constantine's line "They are not dead."

Alternative Title(s): Doctor Who NSS 1 E 9 The Empty Child