Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: The Doctor Dances

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Just this once Rose, everybody lives!

Another week, another episode. We’re back again in 1941 Britain, height of the Blitz, middle of the war, with all hell about to break loose. Time travel really opens up a lot of possibilities, it’s fantastic. So many different stories and settings and opportunities. I wonder, perhaps, if the show had just been about space travellers (Relative Dimensions in Space) back in 1963, would it have made it 50 years? (Maybe. Star Trek and all.)

Digressing somewhat though.

Right from the bat, this episode hits the ground running (unlike this review. Oh, it’s almost like I planned it). The resolution to the cliffhanger is really very clever – “Go to your room!” – and segues right into a brilliant joke. There’s a precedent set for the rest of the episode – smart moments, and fantastic jokes. As it goes, that’s a pretty good standard for a Doctor Who episode – smart and funny is a great baseline.

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One thing that stands out is just how smart it is. It’s really intricately plotted, and it fits together brilliantly. Every part of the episode which is important later on is foreshadowed and set up ahead of time – nothing feels like it’s come out of nowhere, as it were. It means that the episode plays out really well, and just… works. Perhaps not the most articulate praise I’ve ever given an episode, but it’s definitely the most meant. If that even makes any sense at all. What stands out to me is the Chula ambulance reveal – it’s the nanogenes. We’ve known about the nanogenes ever since the start of the story, but we haven’t noticed them. This isn’t an “I’ll explain later moment”, it’s a “Look, in the corner of your eye…” moment, and the story benefits for it.

Something which benefits from all of this forethought are the character arcs; Jack and Nancy in particular get some pretty great material. With Nancy, you can see her progression from harbouring the guilt and denial about what happened to Jamie, to eventually becoming a lot more hopeful about the future – something which comes, I think, from Rose’s conversation with her about the end of the war. That was a really nice moment – amidst all the destruction, in the middle of that bleak airfield, Rose gives Nancy hope for the future. I loved that.

What was great about Jack, and this carries on over the next few weeks, is that he does start out as being a lot more selfish, and a lot more self serving, before changing – he starts out making jokes about Volcano day, and finishes willing to sacrifice himself to stop ‘Volcano day’. It’s a fantastic character arc, and it’s really well acted by John Barrowman. It shows, again, the ways in which the Doctor can influence and inspire people.

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Finally then. It’s Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor, not Nine Years of Captain Jack and Nancy. Once again, Christopher Eccleston gives a fantastic performance – some of the best moments are where he gets angry at Jack for his reckless behaviour. Maybe he sees shades of the old disaster tourist he used to be in Jack…?

Of course it’s not just the angry moments he pulls off well – all the interplay about the bananas and the squareness gun are brilliant. For an episode which is renowned for being scary, it’s one of the funniest scripts that we’ve had across nine years. There’s a joke every few minutes – my own favourite is the “Dr Constantine, when I came to you, I only had one leg!”//“Well, there is a war on, is it possible you may have miscounted?” joke.

So… another really great episode. I’m going to give it another 9/10 – it’s a really, really great episode. Taking the two parts of the story together I think I would have given it 10/10 as a 90-minute movie episode.


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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: The Empty Child

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You’re amazing. The lot of you. Don’t know what you do to Hitler, but you frighten the hell out of me. Off you go, then. Do what you got to do. Save the world.

You know, this episode has something of a reputation, doesn’t it?

Widely held up as one of Steven Moffat’s best episodes, considered by many to be one of the best episodes of Series One, and it was voted as the 5th Best Doctor Who Episode Ever in DWM’s Mighty 200 poll in 2009. And, it’s won a Hugo Award.

So it’s a little bit of a big deal actually, isn’t it?

The real question though… well, the real question is whether or not it stands up to my requirements…

One of the things which stands out, almost immediately, is that this is actually really, really, funny. There’s a couple of jokes that are quoted a lot, like “I don’t know if it’s Marxism in action or a West End musical”, or “I’m looking for a blonde in a Union Jack T Shirt. A specific one, I didn’t just wake up with a craving” but my own favourite is nearer to the beginning, when the Doctor’s in the nightclub. The whole exchange where he asks about something falling from the sky and making a large bang, then realising he’s in the middle of the Blitz… priceless. It’s a joke that only really works once though probably – I already know it’s set in 1941, so the effect is lessened… but it’s still hilarious. So’s Christopher Eccleston’s expression, it’s fantastic.

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Another thing I liked about this episode was that, in being a two-parter, it was allowed to take the pace a lot more slowly. It got to a point, about 35 minutes in, when I realised that all of the preceding scenes would have had to be condensed down to 10 minutes if this were a normal episode. It was nice, actually, being able to take things more slowly, and show the quieter character moments. I must admit, it’s something I sometimes miss in the show now (which is not to say they don’t exist, obviously, just that there’s fewer of them).

The fact that we had the time spent with the kids, or with Dr Constantine, meant that the threatening moments had a far greater impact than if we hadn’t already had those crucial scenes with them. Dr Constantine’s transformation is one of the best moments of the episode; it’s wonderfully structured, foreshadowed and hinted at well, and when it actually happens, it’s actually rather frightening. And in establishing what happens to him, it makes the cliffhanger even more potent later on.

The Empty Child himself, or itself, is actually really creepy, isn’t it? It’s got a very, very eerie voice. A sort of… quality to it. I suppose that’s why, bar “Exterminate!” and maybe “Delete”, the most quoted monster phrase from recent years is “Are you my mummy?”. That’s always a spooky, spooky thing.

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Something I like about the cliffhanger, though it’s probably just coincidental, is that the scene with Nancy underneath the table echoes the scene in Matilda, where Matilda is under the table in Trunchball’s house. It’s a really tense scene in that movie, and some of it translates into this scene as well. I imagine the point was to have connotations with hide and seek, that sort of thing. Juxtaposition of the mundane and the threatening. Very good, very Doctor Who.

On the topic of children, it was pretty interesting to see the Ninth Doctor’s only lengthy interaction with children. It was particularly interesting to think about it in terms of the 50th Anniversary, and the 2 billion children on Gallifrey. There’s a few Time War references in there anyway, like “Before this war, I was both a father and a grandfather. Now I am neither, but I am still a Doctor”, and “You lose someone. That’s why you’re doing this, helping people”. The way he reacted to someone calling through the TARDIS phone was interesting as well.

The Doctor was pretty at ease with the kids at any rate, which was nice to see. Happier than he seems around adults at times even.

So… a very, very good episode. I’m unwilling to give it a ten out of ten though, because it doesn’t quite feel like an episode, more like… the first half of a ninety-minute film. Which it is, really. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. So… hmm. I did give Aliens of London its own grade, didn’t I?

Alright. I’ll give it a provisional and ever so slightly arbitrary 9/10


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