Friday, August 22, 2014

Doctor Who--"The Empty Child"

The British have fantastic knack for making disturbing science fiction. “The Empty Child” was a perfect example. From the strange looking alien kid who cries for his “mommy” to the gas mask faces of the altered humans, I had the heedie jeebies from start to finish. It was a good episode, no doubt. I’m a sucker for any world war Ii era story, much less with science fiction elements. Interestingly enough, the writer for this episode was Steven Moffat, who also penned the 2nd season episode, “The Girl in the Fireplace,” which airs on the BBC tomorrow. Truly, this is the weekend of the Moffat.

The episode begins with the TARDIS in pursuit of a cylindrical object through space and time. The TARDIS finally lands in a back alley, but the doctor and rose are at least a month behind the cylinder’s arrival. The doctor enters a makeshift cabaret and takes the stage to ask if anyone saw something fall from the sky recently. The crowd is silent for a moment, then bursts out laughing. Air raid sirens wail and everyone scatters. The Doctor realizes he has landed in the middle of the London Blitz. Outside, Rose spots a child crying for his mother on a nearby roof and climbs the fire escape to get to him. By the time she reaches where he was, he has gone up even higher. Rose grabs a rope hanging from the side of the building and reluctantly begin climbing it. Unfortunately, the rope is tied to a barrage balloon which takes off with Rose hanging on for dear life.

As she dangles over a burning London, she is spotted by an American volunteer with the RAF. Truth be told, he’s more interested in her rear end since that’s the veiew we get from his binoculars. It reminds me of the British joke from the time the US was building up forces in the UK in preparation for the D-Day invasion: Americans are overpaid, oversexed, and over here. The Americans would reply the brits are underpaid, undersexed, and under Eisenhower. Oh, well. I expect taking jabs at Americans is often good for a cheap laugh in UK entertainment. The American, who is actually played by a Scot,, saves Rose just as he loses her grip on the rope. He catches her in a tractor beam and pulls her aborad his ship. Clearly something is amiss with this Capt. Jack Harkness--not that Rose really cares. As usual, she falls him. He knows she is a time traveller of some sort.

Meanwhile the Doctor steps back out into the alley when the TARDIS phone rings. A young woman appears and warns him not to answer it. She disappears before he can ask her why. The Doctor answers the phone anyway and it’s the child Rose was chasing after pining for his mother. The Doctor hears chattering from a residential neighborhood nearby and watches as a family there heads for their bomb shelter. Once they are safely inside, the young woman who warned the Doctor earlier sneaks inside the family’s home. She raids the cupboards for food. She is joined by other children who begin scarfing down the full meal the family left on the table. The Doctor sneaks up on them.

Nancy, the young woman, explains they are all orphans once evacuated to the countryside, but have comeback to London since. This is how they survive. The doctor asks if any of them have seen the cylinder, but before they can answr, the strange child appears at the door calling for his mother. The other children flee. Nancy tells the Docor not to let the child touch him or something bad will happen to him. The Doctor decides to open the door anyway, but the child is gone when he does. Nancy tells him something did fall to Earth a month ago and is now guarded by the army. If he wants to know what’s going on, he needs to talk to “the doctor.” that raises an eyebrow.

Jack is putting the moves on Rose on top of Big Ben when he tells her he is a Time Agent. He has something to sell-a genuine Chuba warship--if the price his right. Would she like to buy it? Rose tells him she’d have to talk to h companion first. She’ll have to hurry. The deadline is in two hours. Then a German bomb will hit and destroy it. Some warship, huh? He uses a scanner, with Roe’s approval, to find the Doctor’s alien presence. The Doctor has gone to the hospital to meet Doctor Constantine. He discovers a ward of patients whose faces have been replaced by gasmasks. These are people who have touched the strange child and been altered. Constantine has been touched, too, and his face turns into a gas mask as well right in front of the Doctor. As Jack and Rose meet up with the Doctor, Back at the house, Nancy is gathering up the remaining food when the child corners her. She calls it “Jamie.” I’m not flattered. He inches closer and closer to her. At the hospital, all of the patients in the ward sit up and start fumbling towards the time travelers like something out of Night o the Living Dead. To be continued...

I’m betting Moffat is a fan of the old Vertigo imprint of DC Comics. A lot of elements of this episode were featured prominently there, including the Sandman, a gas mask wearing character from 1939 and the name Constantine. John Constantine was a character, born in Liverpool, featured in the comic Hellblazer. In hi most popular story, Constantine stumbles across a cult that has severely and ritually abued a child who conutes up a monster to take revenge on them. The story was written by Alan moore of V For Vendetta fame. “The Empty Child” had a film noir feel to it just like the comics. It brought back bittersweet memories of days long ago when reading comics was a quiet hobby that was all my own. That’s worth at least four stars, no?

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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