Review: The Empty Child

Last Alteration: Monday 19 September 2005


Huge fun- Good n’ spooky.


I had quite a grumble about ‘The Unquiet Dead’ on the grounds that, while it was very well executed, it seemed like the tv equivalent of a Dr. Who tribute band, admirable in its recreation of a previous-era but not really offering anything new.

With its similarly zombie-centric theme, ‘The Empty Child’ is for me a much fresher story even though having said that, one could easily imagine the script being staged by pretty much any production team from the show’s past.

Okay, attempting the wonderful air-raid sequence with the axis powers of Liz Sladen, the cream of Airfix and heavy dollops of CSO would have been a disaster, but this is merely icing in the cake, an imaginative and therefore very welcome, use of CGI.

Perhaps what I’m getting at, is that two months in, the whole ‘Shock of the new’ as regards Eccleston’s take on the Doctor is now comfortingly familiar. This is in no way a criticism. Rather I feel that previous scripts have done their job well enough in defining this Doctor’s approach to things that we no longer need reminding every week that he can be callous when provoked or have a more direct manner of dealing with problems. I’d agree with Lawrence Miles’ suggestion, this is not so much the NINTH Doctor, as THE Doctor- the essence of the character when stripped of frock coats and welded on eccentricities.

The script works through creating an authentic atmosphere (I’ve no idea if this is anything like the true Blitz, but it works for me), a set of well drawn characters you’ll be eager to discover more about and, best of all, a threat that while visually simple is chillingly effective.

This isn’t to ignore the excellent achievements of the rest of the production team- it’s just that as an idea one can imagine this working with any previous Doctor. In fact as I type this out I’m picturing a seriously rattled Troughton pleading with a silhouette through a letterbox while Deborah Watling is swept off her feet by a mysterious buccaneer.

…though of course that version of the story would have been wiped from the archives thirty years ago.

Richard Wilson’s cameo works a treat. It’s some tribute to him as an actor that I never for one second thought of him as Victor Meldrew.

The only slight reservation I have is with John Barrowman’s Captain Jack, not that there’s anything at all wrong with his performance, in fact he really goes for it with appropriately melodramatic relish. If he is to become a companion then I'll be genuinely interested to see quite how a new, three-way dynamic will work. It’s just that his presence here as a time-travelling rascal over-eggs things and certainly in this first episode intrudes somewhat on a fabulous story about creepy, shuffling gas-mask bogeymen.

I look forward to seeing more of Capt. Jack though I’d hope that rather than a full-time TARDIS-buddy, he’ll be more of a recurring character, pitched mid-way between the Brigadier and The Master if you can imagine such a thing.

Easily amongst my favourite episodes so far and with any luck the next instalment will conclude things at the same high standard.


Bad Wolf? Didn’t spot a direct reference unless Nancy teasing the Doctor about, first his big nose, then his big ears was an oblique tip of the hat to Little Red Riding Hood. But then if you stare at anything hard enough you’ll see any pattern you want to.


I don't recall the 'controversial' scene having any skull-cracking sound effects. If it did, then I assumed that it was the squeeky, rubbery sound that usually occurs whenever a gas mask busts out from one's mouth, all 'Company of Wolves' like.

Actually, as I was watching, I thought the transformation looked great to begin with before flipping over into 'pretty silly'.

In fact I couldn't help but think of the old Grumbleweeds character, Wilf 'gas-mask' Grimshaw...that's assuming that you suffered through the same horrible television shows I endured during the Eighties.

As for the 40 mins. thing- the 'Next Time' trailer, which seemed longer than usual, was on after the end credits so maybe that will dropped from the BBC1 screening, then re-instated for the BBC3 repeats. With a few less trailers between WHO and Eurovison I'm sure that will get the scheduled running-time down to 40 minutes.

Jim Hall

  • Read Jim's review of the previous episode, Father's Day, and the next, The Doctor Dances.