In Joint First: The Empty Child/The Doctor DancesNote: After much debate, we couldn’t separate the three Steven Moffat-penned stories, and have only mildly copped out by crowning all three of them out champions. The man is, bluntly, a genius.
This was, if we’re being honest, the episode where we really began to appreciate that the new Doctor Who meant business.
Firstly, it was fecking scary. Little kid. Gasmask. “Are you my mommy?”. That’s worth umpteen Slitheen, and half of the other mutants that we’ve met over the last three years. Rose’s family included.
Secondly, it was fecking scary. This is a point worth making twice. It really was creepy stuff, and as usual, it was the small, minimalist approach to the scares that paid major, major dividends.
On top of that, there’s a lot to commend this two-parter for. It ably utilised its wartime setting to its narrative advantage, it gave Richard Wilson a plum role, and it was also the story that introduced Captain Jack for the first time. That may or may not be a good thing, depending on your point of view.
But this, for me, was the episode where Christopher Eccleston shone, demonstrating why he fitted the role of the Doctor like a glove, and why he’s still missed (and that’s not an anti-Tennant swipe either). The best example? The gleeful, goosebump ending.
Think back across the many fine actors who have inhabited the title role. Heck, throw Colin Baker in too if you want. And ask yourself: how many could have got away with that “Everybody lives!” celebration? Eccleston did, and even had a little dance in there too. And it was damn-near perfect.
There’s a compelling argument that this two-parter may be the best Who story since its revival, but in truth, the Moffat trilogy work for different reasons, and so it’s hard to tell. With this one, he doesn’t mess about with time too much, and tells a thumping good story in a very, very compelling way.
Do I mention it’s fecking scary?