Friday, May 27, 2005

Jumpin Flash Jack, It's Aghast Gas Mask

Prefect SlogYeah, okay, I'm reeling in agony from that subject header myself. But you know, pleasure often has to come at the cost of a little pain, and boy "The Empty Child" was such a pleasure to watch. In a being scared but enjoying it, honest guv, sort of way. And no, it was actually nothing to do with the prospect of the Eurovision Song Contest hitting our screens shortly afterwards, it was all down to this one Doctor Who episode. Nicely creepy, a terrific sense of setting, an intriguing and involving mystery, beautifully realised and well paced, and convincing child actors. And with the sort of enduring imagery - scary child in gas mask - that used to stick in the mind years after the old classics had aired and helped warp my impressionable childhood imagination so darned well. Back when I saw "The Curse Of Fatal Death", the Doctor Who skit for Comic Relief, I recognised that Steve Moffat had a really good grasp of what Doctor Who was all about, and he demonstrated it tenfold in this one. Even managing to season the whole thing with some sparkling comic dialogue, in the pauses between dishing out cases of the creeps all over the nation. Of course, since we know nothing's perfect, there had to be something wrong with it, right? Um, okay, on first watch I did find the opening a bit rushed to the extent that I missed snatches of the dialogue and, er, I did wonder about the wisdom of Jack Harkness in decloaking his spaceship and lighting up Big Ben in the middle of an air raid. But heck, wisdom shmisdom, it was a bit of romantic fantasy, and worth doing for the imagery. And so nice to get the whole Time Agent thing being threaded into it as a nod to "Talons of Weng Chiang" (although I guess I would say that, being the writer of Emotional Chemistry and all :) ) (And for those who don't get that joke, go out and buy the book :) ) And Rose gets to hang from a barrage balloon, screaming helplessly for the Doctor like a traditional companion, and gets to swoon in the face of Jack's charms and, you know what, I don't think it undermined her feminine strengths one jot. All good fun, and lord knows we needed some of that, as we were never sure when the child was going to come stalking out of the shadows again, calling for his "Mummy" and giving us the jitters. *Maybe* the Doctor's speech about Britain in the Blitz sounded a bit overly patriotic for a non-national, but against that the episode scores serious points for being a wartime Doctor Who that doesn't feature the Nazis. It also scores even more points for the BBC's ability to treat a cliffhanger right and include an advanced warning that the next week's preview was coming up *after* the credits. Well done, people. I knew they'd get the hang of a cliffhanger eventually. Which is what you want at the end of part one of a truly 'Weird Tale'. And now all part two has to do is deliver on all that promise. Hmm. On top of the anticipation for this weekend's episode, I'm a little bit nervous. Are you? Well, whatever happens if an air raid warden shouts "Put that light out", don't listen to him. In the first place, he's probably one of the strange victims sporting a sinister gas mask, and in the second place, you really don't wanna be watching this kind of stuff in the dark.


Stuart Douglas said...

I think we can safely say that Mr Moffat delivered on the promise of 'The Empty Child'.

First classic of the new series...

Mike Richards said...

Is the speech overly patriotic?

Bearing in mind the time the story was set, our only ally in the East (France) had fallen, the Low Countries and Scandinavia had been gobbled up, the Soviet Union was actively conniving with the Nazis (great decision guys - didn't you read 'Mein Kampf'?) and the American Ambassador - one Joe Kennedy - was reporting back to Washington that Britain's position was utterly hopeless and we should be left to the wolves (ahem).

It was an almost irrational decision on Churchill's part to stand up to the Third Reich, it has to be up there with decisions like the Spartan Army to stand at Thermopylae - outnumbered, outequipped, almost certainly doomed - its moments like that of which great history is made. And moments like that which Doctor Who should show are crucial. You don't have to a great patriot (hell I'm not) to realise that something extraordinary happened in 1940/41.

Britain may not have been able to win the War against the Nazis without American help, but it actually halted the advance of fascism and showed that the invincible Nazi war machine was just a myth.

The Doctor's speech was quite clearly an echo of Churchill's speech to Parliament after the French collapse - which (not detracting from Steve Moffat's writing) is even better:

'Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.'

SAF said...

Er, I think my key words were 'maybe', 'sounded' and 'bit'.