The Empty Child
The Empty Child was the ninth episode of first series of the revived series of Doctor Who.
It was the first part of a two-part story, and writer Steven Moffat’s first episode of Doctor Who. Furthermore, it introduced Captain Jack Harkness into the Doctor Who universe.
The Doctor’s TARDIS chases a metal cylinder displaying mauve alert, which prompts Rose to ask why they are chasing it. The Ninth Doctor explains that mauve is the universally recognized color for danger, and that “red’s camp” — only humans considered red a color for danger. The Doctor hacks into the flight program of the cylinder and keeps the TARDIS locked on it. However, the cylinder begins jumping time tracks. Coming out of the vortex, they find the cylinder is thirty seconds from the centre of London.
The TARDIS materializes in a narrow alley between some brick buildings at night. The Doctor and Rose step out in search of the object; the Doctor notes they have arrived a couple of weeks to a month after the cylinder’s impact — it was jumping time tracks, which made it hard to keep up. He hears music coming from behind a locked door and uses the sonic screwdriver to open it. He steps inside, but Rose hears a child calling for his mother. She looks up and sees a young boy wearing a gas mask on the roof.
The door the Doctor enters leads to a makeshift cabaret. After the singer ends her set, the Doctor steps up to the microphone and asks if any object had fallen from the sky in the last few days. Everyone laughs, and the Doctor finally spots posters showing that it’s 1941 — the middle of the Blitz.
In the meantime, Rose has reached the roof of the building where the young boy is standing on a cargo container. A rope dangles in front of her. She uses it to climb up, not realizing that it is attached to a barrage balloon above. It rises, taking Rose clean off the roof and hanging on for dear life. Rose sees bits of the city of London in flames, spotlights sweeping through the sky, the sound of anti-aircraft fire and bombers flying right at her.
The Doctor returns to the TARDIS and sees no sign of Rose. Petting a stray cat, the Doctor rather sarcastically remarks that one day, he’ll get a companion that actually does what he says. He pulls up short when the exterior telephone of the TARDIS rings; it’s not a real phone. He prepares to examine it with the sonic screwdriver when a young woman appears and tells him not to answer it. The Doctor asks her how the telephone can be ringing, but when he turns back she has disappeared. He picks up the earpiece, but all that comes through is a child’s voice asking, “Mummy? Are you my mummy?” several times before it falls dead again. Hearing clattering down the alley, the Doctor looks over a wall into a residential garden and sees a woman ushering family into an air-raid shelter. He also spots the young woman he saw moments before entering the house. Once inside, she begins to raid the cupboards for tinned food.
Rose is still hanging by a rope over a blazing London. From a balcony below, a man dressed in RAF uniform peers through binoculars up at her. A British Army officer addresses him as “Jack” and asks if he is going to the shelter, but Jack is distracted by the sight of Rose’s bottom in his sights. Jack mutters, “Excellent bottom”, and grins at the officer, before saying (with an American accent), that he has to meet a girl, “but you’ve got an excellent bottom too.”
Rose loses her grip on the rope and falls, screaming, until she finds her descent halted by a beam. Jack’s voice tells her to deactivate her mobile phone and to keep her limbs inside the light field as she slides rapidly down the beam into Jack’s ship and his arms. Rose stares at the handsome Jack and gets out a couple of “hellos” before she faints.
Back at the house, the young woman has been joined by other children. They start to eat the dinner left on the table. The Doctor appears suddenly and deduces that all of them are homeless, but notes that, as it is 1941, they should have been evacuated to the country long ago. The children say that they were, but they returned to London for various reasons. Nancy, the young woman who told him not to answer the phone earlier, finds them food this way, waiting for families to hide in shelters before stealing their food. The Doctor thinks it a great idea, but isn’t sure if it’s Marxism in action or a West End musical.
The Doctor asks the children if they have seen the cylinder, drawing them a picture, but before any can answer, there is knocking on the window, accompanied by a child’s voice asking for its mother. Outside is a child in a gas mask. He wanders over to the front door, repeating his query. Nancy hurriedly bolts the door before he can get in. Nancy tells the Doctor that he is “not exactly” a child, and then orders the other children to leave by the back way. The child sticks his arm through the mail slot; he has a strange scar on his hand.
Nancy tells the Doctor not to let the child touch him or he will become just like him — empty. The telephone on the mantelpiece rings. When the Doctor picks it up to hear the same plaintive request for its mother, Nancy grabs the receiver and hangs up. The child has the ability to make telephone calls.
The Doctor asks the child through the door why the other children are frightened of him, but he keeps asking to be let in, saying he is scared of the bombs. The Doctor agrees to open the door, but when he does, the street is empty.
Rose wakes up in Jack’s ship, which she says is very “Spock”, a reference he does not understand. He introduces himself as Captain Jack Harkness, an American volunteer with No. 133 Squadron RAF. He hands her an identification card which Rose identifies as psychic paper — it shows her whatever he wants her to see, which is apparently that he is single and works out. To Rose’s embarrassment, Jack reads the paper as showing that Rose has a boyfriend but considers herself “very” available. Jack uses his ship’s nanogenes to treat Rose’s hands for rope burns. He also tells her to stop acting, he can spot a “Time Agent” a mile away and had been expecting one to turn up. Jack invites her for a drink on the “balcony”; opening the hatch, they step out onto the invisible hull of the ship, floating next to Big Ben.
Nancy makes her way across an abandoned rail yard to a locomotive, where she unloads the tins she took from the house. The Doctor surprises her again, having followed her. He has made the connection between the fallen cylinder and the empty child. Nancy tells him about a bomb falling near the Limehouse Green station “that was not a bomb”. It is now guarded by soldiers and barbed wire. Nancy says if he wants to find out what is going on, he needs to talk to “the doctor”.
On top of his ship, Jack and Rose continue to flirt. He tells her that he has something the Time Agency might want to buy and asks her if she is empowered to negotiate. Rose plays along, saying that she should talk to her “companion” first. He tells her that what fell on London was a fully equipped Chula warship — the last of its kind — and offers to get it for her if the Agency names the right price. However, the deadline for a decision is in two hours — because that is when a German bomb will fall and destroy it. He proceeds to look for her “companion” by scanning for alien technology. Rose gives an approving smile — the Doctor had earlier refused to do just that.
The Doctor uses his own binoculars to monitor the crash site from afar with Nancy. She encourages him to go speak to the doctor at nearby Albion Hospital. The Doctor remarks that Nancy is looking after the children to make up for something and she admits that it is because her brother Jamie died during an air raid.
In the wards, the Doctor finds the beds apparently filled with corpses wearing gas masks. An elderly man in a doctor’s coat appears. He tells the Doctor that there are hundreds of them. Dr Constantine invites the Doctor to examine the masked people, warning him not to touch their flesh. The Doctor finds that, impossibly, all of them have identical injuries to the skull and chest cavity. The gas masks are also seemingly fused to their flesh, although there are no burns or scarring. They also have lightning-shaped scars on the backs of their hands. Constantine has the same scar, but the Doctor does not notice.
Constantine explains that when the “bomb” dropped, it claimed one victim. Those in contact with it soon suffered the exact same injuries, the symptoms spreading like a plague. The Doctor asks what killed them. Constantine says they are not dead. When he raps his cane against an empty pail the “corpses” come to life.
The Doctor takes a startled step back, but Constantine tells him they are harmless: they just sit there. They have no life signs, but they do not die. All Constantine can do is make them comfortable. He suspects the Army has a plan to blow up the hospital and blame it on a German bomb, as isolated cases are now breaking out all over London. He directs the Doctor to Room 802, where the first victim, Nancy’s brother, was housed.
Constantine says that Nancy knows more than she is saying but before he can say anything else, he grabs his neck and starts to choke out the words, “Are you my mummy?” Before the Doctor’s eyes, Constantine’s features shift and change into a gas mask, as he slumps in his chair.
Rose and Jack enter the hospital. Jack introduces himself to the Doctor, calling him “Mr. Spock”, to the Doctor’s puzzlement. Rose privately tells the Doctor that she had to tell Jack they were Time Agents and give him a false name. She tells the Doctor about the Chula warship. The Doctor demands to know from Jack what kind of warship it is, but Jack insists that it has nothing to do with the plague. Jack confesses that the cylinder was just an ambulance — an empty shell which he was trying to pass off as valuable. Jack realizes now that Rose and the Doctor are not really Time Agents. The Doctor explains that human DNA is being rewritten by an idiot — but for what purpose?
Back at the house, Nancy has returned to raid the kitchens, but the child gets inside. She does her best to hide, but the child eventually finds her in the dining room and asks her, “Are you my mummy?” Nancy backs away, calling the child “Jamie” and pleading, “But you’re dead!”
In the hospital the gas-mask virus carriers suddenly get up and start advancing on the trio of time travelers, all calling for “Mummy”…