The Doctor Dances

Written by Stephen Moffat.

Review and Commetary by Andrew Panero

“The world doesn’t end because the Doctor dances.”

There are a lot of similarities between the cliffhanger in this story and the one in the previous two-parter beginning with the ‘Aliens of London’. Both involve groups of alien creatures bearing down on separate groups of protagonists; both involve the Doctor saving the day at the last minute. In this case he orders the approaching horde of creatures to go to their room. He does this in a particularly stern voice, knowing somehow that he is dealing with a collective entity with the mind of a child. Because of the link between the creatures in the hospital and Nancy’s brother both sets of protagonists are saved at the same time, again a similarity with the ‘Aliens of London’ situation. The difference here is that this cliffhanger’s resolution seems to work better in the context of the story.

It is impossible to pour enough superlatives on this story, as it is such a well-written and well-produced example of TV drama. The balance between horror and comedy is achieved very well and there are some great one-liners in the dialogue. The tensions between the Doctor and Jack, his latest companion or latest love rival were brilliantly drawn out. “Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks, ‘this could be more sonic’?” Jack asks at one point. The Doctor has taken the view that whatever is happening to the people of London is down to the Chula ambulance Jack has brought to this time period. “I’m sensing some disapproval here,” Jack observes as he explains his sting to Rose and the Doctor.

I like this story also because it is plainly the Doctor who sorts things out in the end. There had been so many episodes in the series where somebody else pulls their fat out of the fire that to see the Doctor do it for a change was quite a relief. The story’s denouement also neatly ties together many disparate elements in the plot, a very satisfying piece of writing from Mr Moffat.

‘Captain’ Jack Harkness is a lovable rogue in the tradition of ‘The Stainless Steel Rat’. When Rose tells the Doctor that he is like him only ‘with dating and dancing’ the Doctor is insulted that she assumes he doesn’t dance. Rose asks for a demonstration but the Doctor distracts her by asking how she was rescued from a barrage balloon when her hands show no signs of rope burns.

The answer comes when they are teleported to Jack’s ship and the Doctor is able to see the nanogenes for himself. He learns from Jack that his ship is in fact a stolen Chula vessel and decides that they need to go back to the crash site to investigate the tubular vessel. Jack insists that it is empty and completely harmless.

Meanwhile Nancy has returned to the crash site after concluding that her ‘brother’ is never going to stop trying to track her down. She is caught by troops led by Algy (Robert Hands) and tied up near a soldier who is very evidently in the early stages of the strange plague. Begging to be locked up somewhere else, her pleas fall on deaf ears; Algy has other matters to attend to.

The Doctor, Rose and Jack arrive and here we learn something else interesting about Jack. Rose offers to distract the guards but Jack recognises Algy, whom he says he has got to know very well during his time there. As he stomps off to say hello the Doctor reassures Rose that ‘he’s a 51st Century he’s just a little more flexible when it comes to dancing’. His sexual flexibility is presumably then part of the social make-up of his times, as the Doctor explains that by that time the human race had spread out to the stars and ‘danced’ with other life-forms. (One remembers the Lady Cassandra darkly muttering about human beings ‘mingling’ during ‘The End of the World’).

As Jack rushes off to be reunited with his erstwhile lover he comes in for a shock, Algy undergoes a transformation in front of him- evidence that the contagion is air borne. They discover Nancy singing a lullaby to the soldier guarding her- evidence of the psychic link between all these creatures.

The answer lies with the cylinder in the ground, opening it up though the Doctor and the others find it is empty. However the Doctor believes that it contained nanogenes such as those on Jack’s stolen Chula warship and so the pieces of the puzzle gradually come together.

The nanogenes were programmed to put injured people back together, so when they were released into the atmosphere they encountered Jamie (Nancy’s brother) and tried to bring him back to life. However they had never encountered a human being before (unlike the nanogenes on Jack’s ship) and ‘had very little to work on.’ They were unable to distinguish living matter from gas mask and hence the result- the ‘empty child’. Now they were spreading out, trying to reshape the human species in the image of this one dead four year old who has lost his mummy.

Who his mummy turns out to be is a surprisingly effective twist, and for those who don’t like their plots spoiled, please turn away now! Nancy is it appears, a bit older than she looks, and has had to carry the burden of being a young single mum in an unsympathetic war-torn environment. The Doctor convinces her to go to her ‘brother’, as only she can reverse the course of what is happening.

As the bombs from another German raid start to fall and the army of plague victims gather around the Chula ship, it is crunch time for everyone. Nancy finally tells Jamie that she is her mummy and holds him to her as the nanogenes try and work it out. The Doctor practically prays for them to see the genetic similarity between Nancy and Jamie and to fix the problem they inadvertently created. The suspense is held to the final moment when the Doctor unmasks Jamie to reveal a small blond child and not an empty monster.

No wonder the Doctor dances, as an encore he performs a ‘software patch’ on the nanogenes, programming them to cure the other victims of the plague. After this Merlin-like piece of wizardry Jack reappears on a German bomb, held in stasis by his ship’s tractor beam. The Doctor tells Jack they won’t need it now and so he rushes off to dispose of the bomb.

However he soon finds that he is unable to get rid of the bomb and he resigns himself to being blown up with his ship. Of course Jack is far to good a character to just kill off on his first appearance, so it is up to the Doctor to rescue in the TARDIS. As Jack comes in the Doctor tells him to shut the door “your space-ship is about to explode, it’ll make an awful draft.”

As I indicated above its hard to do justice to this two-parter, many fans have it seems already decided that it is a future classic. Here everything works so perfectly, there are so many nuances and great humour, intriguing characters, horrifying sequences and warm human scenes, that to put it into words seems futile. This new series goes from strength to strength, the last three episodes being particularly good. I was in such a good frame of mind by the end of the episode that I was even willing to be generous about the fact that the Slitheen are back next week.