“Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once, everybody lives!”

NOTE: Episode spoilers

First impressions can be so important. They can also be quite, quite wrong. So it was with ‘The Doctor Dances’, the second episode of the Doctor and Rose’s escapade amongst the bombs and barrage balloons of Blitz-torn London. Having been unable to watch the 7pm broadcast I found myself slumped in front of my DVD recording in the wee small hours and I’ll admit that the episode somewhat passed me by as I struggled to stay awake with the help of a big steaming mug of tea and a fistful of particularly-tasty chocolate biscuits. But I was under-whelmed and vaguely disappointed by what seemed like a lacklustre and severely-padded conclusion to a chilling and atmospheric horror story. But like I said, don’t trust those first impressions. This new series of DOCTOR WHO demands much more attention than it can be given in the middle of the night after five hours standing behind two CD players spinning cheesy party music to half-drunk wedding-revellers. Well, that’s how I spend most of my Saturday nights?n

So second time around ‘The Doctor Dances’ does what it’s supposed to do. It’s the usual concoction of glorious acting, sparkling dialogue and state-of-the-TV-art visuals we’ve come to expect over the past ten weeks (is it really ten weeks already??) and while the episode isn’t quite up to the frankly-awesome standard set by ‘The Empty Child’ it’s a rousing, full-blooded and utterly enjoyable episode, another jewel in the already embarrassingly-studded crown of this remarkable series.

Where were we? Oh yes, the Doctor, Rose and cheery intergalactic conman Captain Jack are trapped in a gloomy hospital in 1940s London, surrounded by gas-mask-faced zombies demanding their mother. The resolution to this cliff-hangar is as extraordinary as it is audacious – and it’s a hoot. The Doctor’s very annoyed and he tells them to go to their room. The zombies promptly turn away and troop back to their sick beds. Ridiculous?ell, maybe. Hilarious?ndoubtedly. Post-credits we spend the next fifteen or so minutes in story-telling territory which would have been episode three in a traditional DOCTOR WHO from the olden days. The Doctor and co are trapped; they run around a lot, chat a lot and get chased by zombies again. The plot doesn’t so much grind to a halt as move sideways a bit as the narrative suddenly shifts from the eerie threat of the gas-masked empty child and focuses on this new Doctor/Rose/Jack triangle. This is a bit irritating at first as the dialogue becomes increasingly humorous at the expense of the dramatic situation itself. The Doctor and Jack comparing sonic devices is rather more than the “Captain envy” Rose refers to and it’s hard not to wonder for Rose’s sanity when, in the middle of what is supposed to be a pretty desperate situation, she’s more concerned with persuading the Doctor to show her his dance moves than finding a way out of their dire predicament. Arch and witty as it is, much of the dialogue between this threesome is a bit too knowing and a bit too unsubtle in its ambiguity. The revelation of Jack’s bisexuality may come as a shock to Rose (and not to the Doctor who’s clearly aware of the more liberal standards of 51st century Man) but to the rest of us it’s a bit of a bore and, frankly, probably unnecessary. The intention may well be to create some unusual sexual tension in the TARDIS and while that’s all very commendable and all well and good for a modern television series (although maybe a bit at odds for the tiny tot audience the show’s makers seem to be constantly insisting it’s aimed at – despite the fact it very obviously isn’t) it takes a bit of getting used to in a new version of a series which ran for 26 years without anyone even holding hands, whatever their sex.

What made ‘The Empty Child’ so outstanding was its visual scope. From the incredible barrage balloon sequence, the Doctor’s visit to a nightclub, Jack’s invisible spaceship, the Lloyd household, the bombsite, the hospital – the episode was broad and ambitious. ‘The Doctor Dances’ is a bit narrower and it’s hard not to feel that there are no surprises left in the story, visually or otherwise. We’ve seen all the tricks this particular story has to offer and now all that’s left is to let the pieces play out and find their proper order. Fortunately they’re played out with some style. There’s a little bit too much meaningless techno babble (Jack’s sonic weapon, teleportation devices, nanogenes, some gubbins about the operation of Jack’s ship) which may have left the show’s casual audience feeling a bit restless and confused but otherwise there’s a lot to recommend here, so much that repays the effort of repeated viewing.

The story itself is particularly ingenious. It’s nice to watch a DOCTOR WHO story which doesn’t have a villain. The Chula medship’s nanogenes were simply doing what they were programmed to do – repairing damaged organic matter to their best of their ability. Hardly their fault that, on arriving on Earth, the first damaged human flesh they came across was the shattered body of a London boy, gas-mask still in place, blown to pieces. Without a genetic blueprint to work from, the nanogenes simply recreated the damaged – and empty – child from the material in front of them – gas mask included. The Doctor’s realisation of what happened, coupled with his awe and jubilation at watching the nanogenes putting right their mistake, is genuinely emotive stuff, the sort of drama only a show like DOCTOR WHO could ever dream of attempting. Eccleston is again on top form throughout, whether in his sparring with Jack or in his more intense emotional sequences with Nancy (an incredible performance by Florence Hoath, who, unforgivably, I failed to name-check in last week’s review) and his easy, comfortable relationship with Billie Piper’s Rose remains a joy. We’re losing Eccleston so let’s hope that rumours of Piper jumping ship next year prove to be unfounded. (They are according to one popular tabloid – Editor)

Visually the story is as good as we’ve come to expect. Captain Jack’s spaceship in flight was the equal of any space sequences seen on contemporary American TV although the composite scene featuring the ship, the hospital and the cast gathered around the capsule on the ground was a little bit too fussy and cluttered to totally convince – and I couldn’t resist a smile at watching Jack’s ship blasting away from Earth at speed without blowing a hair out of place of anyone gazing up at it about six feet away.

‘The Doctor Dances’. Well, despite all the evidence to the contrary, he certainly can. Back aboard the TARDIS, with Captain Jack now in attendance, our hero rediscovers his mojo and takes Rose for a spin around the control room to the sounds of Glenn Miller. It’s a sequence as warm and evocative as anything we’ve seen yet in this series and it reminds us, once again, why we’re so lucky to have the Doctor back in our lives.

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