The Doctor Dances
The Doctor Dances is the tenth episode of the first series of the revived series of Doctor Who. It was the second of a two-part story, which narratively marked the start of Jack Harkness’ travels in the TARDIS. Behind the scenes, The Doctor Dances— along with his script for the preceding episode — landed writer (and future showrunner) Steven Moffat a Hugo Award.
The gas-masked virus carriers each call out “Mummy?” while they back the Ninth Doctor, Rose and Jack into a corner; meanwhile, in a house in another part of London, the child is cornering Nancy. At the last moment, the Doctor forcefully steps forward and commands the zombies in a stern, parental voice to go to their room. The zombies pause, uncertain, and simultaneously, so does the child. The Doctor repeats his order, saying that he is very cross with them. Slowly, the zombies turn and return to their beds. At the same time, the child turns away from a confused Nancy, leaving the house and wandering off. The Doctor relaxes, glad that his ruse worked — it would have been a terrible set of last words.
Jack explains how his con was supposed to work: he would find some space junk, throw it through time, and convince a Time Agent that it was worth something. He would then get fifty percent of the payment up front before a German bomb (which Jack would know about in advance) would land on it and erase all evidence of the swindle before the buyer could claim it. He says the London Blitz is particularly good for this, as bombs fall all the time, and recommends Pompeii as another suitable location that can double as a “vacation”. The Doctor does not approve, and points to the dormant zombies around the room as the consequences of what Jack did. Jack protests that the crashed ship was an empty, burnt-out medical transport and so could not have anything to do with this. As the Doctor heads for the door and upstairs, they hear the all-clear siren sounding.
Nancy hears the all-clear as well. Before she can leave the house, she is caught by the family that lives there, who grab and force her back inside until the authorities can deal with her. However, when alone with Mr Lloyd, Nancy adroitly points out that there was much more food on the table than should have been in a time of rationing. She says that half the street believes that Mrs Lloyd is “messing about” with the butcher, but she knows that it is actually Mr Lloyd who is doing so, leaving the implied threat of blackmail hanging. She demands wire cutters, a torch, food, and a trip to the bathroom before she leaves.
Back at the hospital, the three time travelers reach Room 802, where the child, the first victim of the “bomb”, was taken. The Doctor gets Jack to use his sonic blaster, identifying the weapon as coming from the 51st century. The blaster digitizes the lock, leaving a clean square hole where it used to be, and they enter. The room is in disarray, the glass separating the observation booth from the rest of the room smashed. The Doctor prompts Jack, who notes that whatever did this was powerful and angry. On the floor are toys, and on the walls are child’s drawings in crayon. The Doctor turns on the tape recorder in the booth, and the voice of Dr Constantine issues from the speakers. Constantine had been questioning the child, but all the child kept asking was if he was his “mummy”.
As the tape continues to play, the Doctor walks around the room, thinking out loud. The homeless children he encountered earlier were living around the bomb site. He supposes one of them wandered near the crashed ship and was somehow altered. The child is incredibly powerful, and he will soon realize that. The tape has stopped playing, but the cries of “mummy” continue to play. Rose is confused by this, but the Doctor suddenly realizes his big mistake; he had sent the child to his room, and this is his room. The trio turn around and see the child standing there, asking his eternal question.
The Doctor uses Jack’s blaster to digitize a wall of the room and they run out into the corridor. Jack reverses the settings and reintegrates the wall, sealing the child in. However, their respite is short-lived as the child begins to batter his way through the wall and the zombies start approaching them from both sides. The child is not just controlling them — he is every living thing it has infected. Rose pulls Jack’s blaster down to disintegrate the floor just as the zombies close in and they fall down to the ward below. The zombies in that ward wake up as well, and the trio run for a door, sealing it shut behind them with the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. However, it is a storeroom, and a dead end. As the Doctor looks for a way out, Jack vanishes.
Nancy reaches her makeshift living space at the abandoned rail yard, and finds the other children there. She chides them, saying that they should have looked for somewhere else to stay, but they say they are safe with her. Nancy disclaims this, saying that it is not that the child keeps coming after them; the child keeps coming after her. As if to prove her point, a typewriter in the hovel starts typing on its own, tapping out the child’s question. Nancy leaves, heading for the bomb site.
In the storeroom, Jack’s voice comes over a disconnected radio. He had used his ship’s teleporter, but could not take the others along because it was keyed to his molecular structure. He is trying to override the navigational computer’s security, but it will take some time. Jack is able to communicate over the disconnected radio because of his ship’s Om-Com technology — an ability the child also has. The child’s voice comes over the radio, tauntingly saying that he is going to find them, and Jack jams the signal by playing Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade”, the same music he and Rose danced to on top of his spaceship.
As the Doctor works on breaking through the concrete by setting up a resonance pattern with the sonic screwdriver, he asks Rose why she seems to trust Jack. Rose says Jack reminds her of the Doctor, except with “dating and dancing.” The Doctor is mildly offended that Rose assumes he cannot dance, and Rose, amused, asks him to prove it. As they start to dance, however, they are teleported up to Jack’s ship. There, the nanogenes heal the Doctor’s hand that he had burnt on the TARDIS console when it sparked during the pursuit of the cylinder. The Doctor identifies Jack’s “borrowed” ship as being of Chula design like the crashed ship. Jack works on getting the nav-com back online, and in answer to Rose’s questions, he explains that his confidence trickster activities are not wholly mercenary. He left the Time Agents when he discovered that they had stolen two years of his memory. Jack observes that the Doctor does not trust him, and he may be right not to.
Meanwhile, Nancy has reached the crash site, and uses the wire cutters to get past the barbed wire. However, as she reaches the tarpaulin-covered ship, she is discovered by the soldiers guarding the site and placed under arrest. She is brought to a hut where Jenkins, a sick soldier bearing the lightning scar mark of the child’s plague, is resting. Despite her pleading with the commanding officer Algy not to leave her there, he handcuffs her to the table. Once left alone, Nancy can do nothing but watch helplessly as Jenkins painfully transforms into another zombie in a gas mask.
The Doctor, Jack and Rose reach the crash site as well. Rose offers to distract the guards’ commander, but Jack points out that he knows Algy – and Rose is not his type. Jack goes ahead instead, leaving Rose slightly shocked. The Doctor points out that in the 51st century, people are a lot more flexible in who they “dance” with — “so many species, so little time”. However, when Jack tries to talk to Algy, the British officer transforms into a zombie and collapses. The Doctor hears singing from a nearby hut and finds Nancy, who is keeping the zombie Jenkins asleep with a lullaby. The Doctor frees her from her bonds and they all head to the Chula transport.
As Jack tries to open the coded lock on the transport, he sets off an alarm which awakens the zombies in Albion Hospital, who then start to move toward the site. The Doctor orders Jack to secure the gates and tells Rose and Nancy to reconnect the barbed wire with the sonic screwdriver. Nancy asks Rose who they are, and Rose tells her that they are from the future. When Nancy is skeptical that there will even bea future, given all the carnage of war around them, Rose tells her that she is from London in the future. Nancy is a little hesitant to believe that since Rose isn’t German. Rose confidentially tells her that the British will win the war.
Jack manages to open the transport and reveals that it is empty. However, the Doctor asks Rose what they should expect in a Chula medical transport, and Rose hits on the right answer: nanogenes. The ship was full of them, and when it crashed, billions and billions of nanogenes escaped, programmed to heal everything they came across. However, the first thing the nanogenes found was a dead child wearing a gas mask; never having seen a “normal” living human before, they used that as their only pattern. They then started to transform everything they encountered to fit that baseline. The nanogenes have given unimaginable power to a little boy searching for his mother. He tells them there isn’t a child alive that wouldn’t tear the world apart to find their mother and this one who is both willing and able to do it.
Cries of “mummy” fill the air as the zombie army, led by the child, approach the site. When Jack triggered the alarm, the ship thought it was under attack and so summoned the zombies as troops to protect it. The transport was a battlefield medical unit, built to heal Chula warriors and send them back to the front lines; that was why the child was so strong and could transmit his voice using the same technology as Jack’s ship. Nancy begins to cry, saying that it is all her fault. The Doctor starts to comfort her, but then realizes that the child — Jamie — is not her brother, but her son, whose maternity she kept a secret even from him.
Jack notes the bomb is seconds away from dropping, but the nav-com is back on-line and the teleporter is only working for him again. The Doctor tells him to do what he has to, and Jack teleports away, making Rose think he has abandoned them. The Doctor asks Nancy to tell Jamie the answer to the question he has been asking all along. Jamie steps up to Nancy, asking once again whether she is his mummy. Nancy answers yes, she is, and she will always be. They embrace, and the nanogenes swell up around them in a cloud of glowing particles. To the Doctor’s delight, the nanogenes scan Nancy and Jamie, matching their DNA. Because she is Jamie’s mother, Nancy’s genetic code provides them the information they lacked with Jamie. The nanogenes recognize Nancy’s living form as the correct pattern and, using this as their new baseline, restore Jamie back to full health. With a laugh of joy, the Doctor unmasks the restored Jamie and lifts him in his arms.
Rose suddenly remembers the bomb, but the Doctor says it has been taken care of. As it streaks down towards them, so does Jack’s ship, capturing the bomb in its tractor beam. The Doctor has judged Jack’s psychology rightly, and the former Time Agent has returned for the rescue. Jack is riding the bomb itself in the beam, and tells the Doctor that the bomb has commenced detonation. Jack is keeping it in stasis, but it will not last. The Doctor asks him to get rid of it as safely as he can. Jack tells Rose good-bye, and teleports with the bomb back to his ship, which flies away. The Doctor waves his fingers, summoning the nanogenes around them and applying a patch to their programming. He hurls the nanogenes towards the zombies, crying out triumphantly, “Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once — everybody lives!”
The former zombies rise, all of them restored to their normal selves and with their ailments cured by the nanogenes, even to the extent of Mrs Harcourt regrowing her missing leg. The Doctor leaves Dr Constantine to tend to his patients and take credit for all the cures, bidding them farewell with an exhortation to beat the Germans, save the world, and not forget the Welfare State. He sets the Chula transport to self-destruct once they leave, to fulfill history’s requirement of an explosion. As Rose and the Doctor enter the TARDIS, the Doctor is pleased with himself — the reprogrammed nanogenes will fix all the earlier damage they did before they deactivate and Nancy and Jamie will get the help they need from Dr Constantine. Rose then asks about Jack and the unexploded bomb, and his smile fades.
In space, Jack discovers that there is no way to eject the bomb or even himself, and his situation seems hopeless. With an air of resignation, he orders “emergency protocol 417”, a large martini (with too much vermouth) and begins to drink as the strains of Glenn Miller start to play… from the open doors of the TARDIS appearing at the back of his ship. He enters the console room and the Doctor, pointing out that “your ship’s about to explode, there’s going to be a draft”, tells him to shut the doors, welcoming him to his ship. Rose is trying to teach the Time Lord how to dance, but he’s having trouble remembering how. “Much bigger on the inside,” Jack exclaims in amazement, to which the Doctor tells him, “You’d better be,” as he sets the TARDIS off on its next course. Rose then interprets what the Doctor is saying to Jack as, “You may cut in.” The Doctor then tells Rose he “remembers”. Rose wonders what he has remembered as the Doctor changes the music to “In the Mood”, saying, “I can dance”. Rose points out that Jack may want this dance. The Doctor agrees, but mischievously asks, “But who with?” As Jack watches, smiling, the Doctor and Rose dance around the console. At the end of the music, the Doctor dips Rose, much to her excitement.