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Home arrow Reviews arrow TV Review arrow Doctor Who - “The Empty Child” Saturday, 28 May 2005
Doctor Who - “The Empty Child”   Print  E-mail 
Contributed by Arnold T. Blumberg  
Wednesday, 25 May 2005

The Doctor and Rose follow a mysterious alien canister as it hurtles toward London, landing in 1941 during the Blitz. Amid a German attack, searchlights and barrage balloons, Rose finds herself swept off her feet – literally – by a dashing young Time Agent named Captain Jack Harkness, who has an invisible spaceship tethered to Big Ben. Meanwhile, the Doctor is perplexed by the fact that the phone in the TARDIS’ police box exterior is ringing. Hmm, that’s never happened before! And let’s see, there’s a young woman feeding the homeless urchins of London with stolen meat from abandoned meals in other people’s homes, there’s a kid with a gas mask wandering around calling out for his “mummy,” and there’s a hospital filled with gas mask-wearing living dead who have been changed by some form of alien DNA-altering virus. Then there’s… no wait, I think I might have covered everything.

As you might gather, “The Empty Child” throws a hell of a lot at you in the space of 40-some minutes, and as such it most closely resembles the start of an old Doctor Who serial that had the benefit of at least four 25-minute installments to develop a story. This particular adventure will span two episodes, so there’s some elbowroom at least, but nevertheless there’s still a sense of barely controlled chaos here, as if all the disparate story elements are bursting at the seams. The atmosphere is also classic Who with its creepy zombies and gothic touches, but the look of the show is pure 2005. The German aerial attack sequence alone, with Rose hanging off a balloon rope over the war-torn Thames, is almost breathtaking in its epic quality; even though you know Billie Piper is dangling in front of a green screen, you have to admire the work that went into recreating this dark chapter in modern British history.

Christopher Eccleston dials back the goofiness that has often characterized his Doctor and delivers a performance that seems much more finely tuned, with some delightful one-liners and a few nicely nuanced expressions. He seems at once more comfortable in this incarnation now and more prepared to swing into action and get things done, over-reliance on the infinitely versatile new sonic screwdriver aside (one wonders what that thing can’t do now). Strangely though, after building such a warm relationship between the Doctor and Rose over the last eight episodes, the two travelers we see here seem a bit at odds with each other, and Rose shifts her interest to Captain Jack a bit too quickly for comfort. Of course, she is just a 19-year-old girl after all. But what’s with everyone constantly referring to technology as “tech?” And while one Mr. Spock joke is cute, three or four references gets a bit tiresome.

Now about Captain Jack: There’s been a great deal of fan anticipation for this character, allegedly a new regular addition to the TARDIS crew for the rest of this season at least, and there has been some controversy attached to his rumored sexual preferences. In his first outing, John Barrowman doesn’t exactly win me over, playing a pretty standard riff on Han Solo, Sky Captain, and about a million other clichéd American pulp sci-fi heroes. He probably has an agenda beyond the initial con we find out about here, and his Time Agent origins suggest at least a subtly intended link to a classic Who story, “The Talons of Weng-Chiang.” He gets a bit more interesting in the final moments of this episode when the stakes are raised and his own life is in danger, so time will tell what his character will really add to the mix.

But never mind. This is solid Doctor Who - an exciting blend of the old series and the new with at least one gruesome transformation sequence guaranteed to give young viewers nightmares. And that’s as it should be. B

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