Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances - "You lot! Lots to do. Save the world. Beat the Germans. And don't forget the welfare state!"

The Empty Child - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Season 1, Story 9 (Overall Series Story #164a)

Dr. Sandifer has posted about this two-parter recently, so this is bound to end up being sort of reaction to not only the episode but to his take on it as well. Which may mean I'll just be sort of sitting here nodding my head in agreement, wondering what I might possibly add. Not to steal his thunder, but basically what I'm going to be trying to work through and around is how this episode, Moffat's first writing for the series, deals with the theme of sexual freedom. So, I suppose as a good a place as any to start to is with the question, "Is that really a good idea for a show that's ostensibly for children?"

Is this the guy you want teaching your kids about sexual freedom?
Yes, actually.

If the story of this episode and it's conclusion is really about sexual freedom, being open and honest about your emotions and desires might be another way to phrase that, then part one is basically the flirting. Here the atmosphere is set, the champagne poured, so to speak, but we don't have all the information yet, maybe a hunch about the stuff that matters, and Capt. Jack Harkness does at least disclose that he's, in fact, a con man before the real peril ratchets up.

But back to the question I started with. Yes, it is a good idea, because while the subtext of sexual desire and freedom is there -- and not very subtext-y when Rose is aboard Capt. Jack's ship -- it's not steamy or anything, it's the kind of awkward boy/girl stuff that the kids like the ones sitting around the table at Nancy's air-raid dinner party will already have started coping with. For kids at the upper end of the tween years (call it 12-14 or so), in other words kids who we can reasonably expect will want to watch this, it's wholly reasonable for them to be exposed to entertainment that isn't sexually graphic, but openly acknowledges that there are those feelings and there are different ways to handle them. Some healthy, some unhealthy, but the first step in deciding which is which is to acknowledge and accept them. Then, it's a matter of being smart about them.

Not to turn this into Don't Be a Teen Mom Theater, because it's really not. This story isn't an after-school special movie of the week. What's happening here is far more subtle. The plot here deals with a group of homeless kids trying to survive the Blitz, while an alien tech-infected young boy serves as a sort of zombie stand-in to provide the source of the creepy that powers all the darkened homes, alleyways, and hospital wards. In other words, it's another Base-Under-Siege story, where London is under siege by the Nazis, and this group of homeless kids is under siege by a spooky gas mask-faced zombie kid, who could actually be the larger threat. Let's just have it in the back of our minds that Nancy's relation to the Empty Child may not be what it's billed, and the introduction of Capt. Jack tell us the human side of this story suggest there's another level to think about beyond the mechanics of breaking the siege.

There's also the meta level of this whole having-dance-be-a-metaphor-for-sex thing, because this is the series telling us that the Doctor we're seeing is the PG-rated Doctor, but what we're being told about a Doctor who "dances," well, that's not exactly our classic series Doctor, that's the Doctor in the R-rated movie who gets the girl. Torchwood will eventually be the adult version of Doctor Who, so they're not going that far here, but RTD & co. are flirting with mature themes in a way that the classic series never touched as far as I recall.

Before turning to part two, and apropos of nothing, let's observe Eccleston for a moment.

Marxism in action or a West End musical? *ponders*
So, one of the things I do while I'm watching these is try to pause and capture a still at a moment that strikes me as significant in some way. In doing this, I noticed that it's often quite difficult to capture an image of Eccleston, even in a scene where he's smiling, where he doesn't look a bit dark and sinister. Like in the one above I've captured just before he makes kind of a funny face to hit the comedic beat. But the funny face he pulls, when I try to get it, it doesn't look so funny. Absent of context, I'm not sure what emotion we'd label this face with but 'I just made and airy wisecrack to lighten the mood' is probably not the first that comes to mind.

Eccleston just cracked a joke, makes a 'funny' face.
Next episode, when he gets to celebrate the "Everybody lives!" moment (so, yeah, spoilers) that face looks like a villain's "Everybody dies!" face. In a way, it's kind of cool, that effect. The Doctor is alien and Eccleston, in thin slices, I think gives loads of subconscious not-the-emotion-you-were-expecting data for our minds to process. My hunch, it's the reason fandom didn't connect with him the same way they would with Tennant down the line. Just an observation after clicking rewind and pause a bunch of times in player.

The Doctor Dances - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Season 1, Story 10 (Overall Series Story #164b)

"Are you my mummy?"

Nancy needs to tell the Empty Child, that yes, she is is his mummy. Otherwise those nanogenes the Empty Child is commanding are going to re-write humanity in his distorted image.

She does. She tells him and her honesty, her willingness to be be a young, single mother in 1940s London, is what saves the world.

A surprising number of the individual images in this one are  dead sinister.
Image via

I'd forgotten how explicit Moffat had been in making it clear that "dancing" means "sex". You really can't call it subtext at all. Humanity is going to go out into the universe and dance with lots of other species, the Doctor tells Rose. Capt. Jack is, after all, a 51st century guy. Why should our hangups be his?

The Doctor and Rose do ending up dancing in this one, even though there first go at it is interrupted by Capt. Jack. I mean they dance dance, of course, not dance-is-code-for-"dance"-dancing, just regular dancing to the Glenn Miller Orchestra. But it seem clear what RTD, Moffat & Co. have done here is prepare us for the fact this is 21st century Doctor Who we're watching and this Doctor can dance if he wants to.

The structure of the two-parter, sort of by necessity, means the first episode is rising action with no resolution, and the second half gets to tie up the loose ends but is falling action, which leaves it feeling a little less visceral than the first. The other tricky navigation here is the Doctor-Rose-Jack dynamic, where it's a little unsettling to see the Doctor seeming to take a backseat to the more square-jawed, generically handsome Jack Harkness, and get called out for being a bit jealous. Jealousy is an emotion that's attractive on exactly nobody; the Doctor may have tweakable ears and a big nose but he's the star of the show and -- while we want to like Jack -- as fans of Doctor Who, we expect the Doctor to be the leading man in the TARDIS.

We've see the Doctor hailed a few times in the new series, think the cheering throngs in "The Next Doctor", and that's something I think we feel can be cathartic. There's only so much of that we can abide though before it's schmaltzy. The Doctor's joy at having a day where everybody lives though, in the privacy of his TARDIS with Rose, that feels right.

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