Cornered by gas-masked mutants all asking “Have you seen my mummy?”, the Doctor manages to bluff his way out of danger and, with the help of Rose and the still somewhat suspect Captain Jack, begins to learn the nature of the spreading plague. Jack’s stolen Chula ship carried a cargo of highly adaptable sentient nano-genes, capable of performing instant surgery on an injured person to heal their wounds at the genetic level. But the nano-genes’ first contact with a human – the dying little boy, mortally wounded in a bomb blast – left them with confused information as to what humans look like and how their bodies work. So now the genetic changes are remaking everyone in the dead boy’s image, from the gas masks to his frantic search for his mother…and the changes will spread across the entire Earth as an unstoppable plague, unless the Doctor can somehow provide the nano-genes with more accurate information.
written by Steven Moffat
directed by James Hawes
music by Murray Gold
Guest Cast: Albert Valentine (The Child), Florence Hoath (Nancy), John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Luke Perry (Timothy Lloyd), Damian Samuels (Mr. Lloyd), Cheryl Fergison (Mrs. Lloyd), Joseph Tremain (Jim), Robert Hands (Algy), Jordan Murphy (Ernie), Brandon Miller (Alf), Richard Wilson (Dr. Constantine), Zoe Thorne (voice of the Empty Child), Dian Perry (Computer voice)
Note: Along with The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances won the Best Dramatic Presentation (Shortform) Hugo Award in 2006.
Reviews by Philip R. Frey & Earl Green
LogBook entry by Earl Green
Philip’s Review: The Doctor Dances (officially the worst title in the history of Doctor Who) fails to live up to even the modest potential that The Empty Child established.
Really, it’s hard to understand why it took two episodes to tell this story. Eliminate the dancing (real and euphemistic), eliminate Jack, eliminate the repetitiveness (If the tape’s run out, who’s talking? If he’s sitting there, who’s typing?) and cut this thing down to one episode and it might just hold up.
But it’s obvious that Russell T. Davies is far too enamored of the drama of the setting and far too enamored of his creation Captain Jack to give either less screen time. (Otherwise he would have done the decent thing and killed Jack off at the end.) While the magnitude of the time period makes becoming overly enamored of it somewhat understandable, it’s harder to grasp the same with Jack. The problem is, Jack’s not that interesting. He’s obviously meant to be a counterpoint to the Doctor, and with his bisexuality and devil-may-care attitude, I think he’s more like Davies’ ideal Doctor than the Doctor. (I can only hope that Davies artistically “runs off” with Jack to Torchwood and leaves the Doctor behind. Soon.) But apart from being the cause of the trouble, he serves no real purpose. There’s nothing he does that the Doctor couldn’t have done in a more tightly plotted story.
The cast basically continues in the vein of last episode, with Nancy and the child both coming off a bit worse. Nancy proves to ultimately be a less than sympathetic character. (I actually found myself rooting against her at one point. I can’t stand righteous indignation from a thief.) To her acceptance of theft (seen last episode) we can now add blackmail and poor parenting skills. Except for the fact that she’s still a stereotypical precious street urchin, there’s little reason to hope things work out for her.
The child, unfortunately, deteriorates into comedy. The haunting imagery of The Empty Child is squandered by expecting it to have the same effect the thousandth time we’ve seen it as it did the first. It may be no more than an issue of overuse, but by the time the child psychically typed out “Are you my Mummy?”, I was getting giggly every time I heard it. It’s another indication that this story should have been seriously cut down. With less time to fill, the child may have retained his spooky nature.
And then there are the worst characters from this two-parter. Not the other precious street urchins, nor the army of gas mask people, nor the soldiers. It’s the “nanobots”. I hate nanotechnology. I accepted it on Red Dwarf and Mystery Science Theater 3000 because they used the concept for comedic effect. But introducing something like nanotechnology to the world of Doctor Who is a very dangerous thing. By establishing its existence, the production team has opened the door to its use in further adventures. And one thing is true in any science fiction universe that has used them: nanotechnology will be used to do anything. It’s a cheap writers ploy that is one step removed from using magic. It’s a catchall problem and solution all in one and I loathe it.
“Oh, but they won’t fall into that trap, these guys are clever”, I hear you say. “They wouldn’t stoop to the easy way out just because they can.” Remind yourself of that the next time the Sonic Screwdriver proves to be just the thing at just the right moment. Or don’t; just catch Jack’s timely rescue at the end of The Doctor Dances. I no more thought Jack had the slightest chance of dying than I did that main story wouldn’t work out in the end. In both instances, they set the bar so high, made the stakes so ridiculously huge (all of mankind’s destruction in the one, Jack’s utter and hopeless destruction in the other) that there was no way it was going to happen. In order for a threat to seem real, there has to be some sense of truth in it. In both of these cases, The Doctor Dances fails to deliver.
I’ll admit that after the lackluster The Empty Child, I had little hope that The Doctor Dances could rescue it from mediocrity. But with its poor pacing, unfortunate special effects (Captain Jack sitting on a bomb. Calling Dr. Strangelove…), over-the-top histrionics, two (count ’em – two) happy-go-lucky-everything’s-just-hunky-dory endings and an actual dance number, this episode sank lower than I thought it possibly could.
At least no one burst into song.
Earl’s Review: The brilliant conclusion to the best-written adventure of the first season, The Doctor Dances is a refreshing story where there’s no villain, and even the growing threat is the manifestation of a horrible misunderstanding. With no moustache-twirling baddie (though admittedly, the little boy continues to be incredibly creepy, making me think of the twins from The Shining), the story spends its time on action-filled escapes, humor, and character development, often all at the same time. The sequence where the Doctor and Jack are competitively reeling off the specs of their respective sonic devices is rather funny, the scene with the tape recording of the child is very unnerving (especially when it’s pointed out that the tape has run out and yet we’re still hearing the child’s voice), and Jack’s weary acceptance of his fate at the end of the episode says so a lot about his character (though it was just a bit obvious that the TARDIS would arrive to rescue him moments later).
After spending so much of the season berating humanity as “stupid apes,” the ninth Doctor redeems himself here with his frantic attempt to bring about a happy ending, almost by sheer force of will. Christopher Eccleston plays this scene – with the line “please give me a day like this!” – beautifully, and it’s funny, when I think about a scene that sums up the ninth Doctor at his most Doctor-ish, this is the scene I keep coming back to.