Rating: 10 out of 5…oh, all rightU5 out of 5

?re you my Mummy??/i>

Absolutely extraordinary. Let? think about this series of DOCTOR WHO for a moment. ?ose?was a huge, invigorating energy rush. ?he Unquiet Dead?was a classic DOCTOR WHO Victorian spook-fest. ?alek?was a spectacular, energising thrill. ?ather? Day?was the best episode of BUFFY never made. Then there? this. Then there? ?he Empty Child.?Throw away the rule book, it doesn? mean anything any more. Forget everything you know about DOCTOR WHO, everything you ever thought it was or could be. ?he Empty Child?is simply astonishing, an astoundingly-confident, brilliantly-realised horror story which is very probably the best thing I?e seen on British television in far too many years. I? old enough to know better but even I found this episode disturbing, chilling, haunting and several other descriptive words ending with ?ng? Once or twice my spine shivered and that hasn? happened in a very long time.

There? nothing at all wrong here. The TARDIS is hurtling through space – just the first of far too many devastatingly-effective FX sequences in store during the next forty-odd minutes – following an out-of-control mauve space capsule. The device crashlands in war torn London and the TARDIS arrives a few weeks later. In very best DOCTOR WHO tradition the Doctor and Rose are immediately separated. The Doctor goes off to ask questions of the locals, Rose gets swept into the sky attached to a barrage balloon just as a German bombing raid begins. The Doctor quickly realises that they?e arrived at the height of the Blitz in 1941 and that a creepy, forlorn gas-mask wearing child is wandering the blasted streets preying on homeless kids. Rose, meanwhile, is rescued from her plight by an impossibly-suave American Airforceman from the 51st Century whose invisible spaceship is tethered to Big Ben. Reunited at the end of the episode in a darkened hospital, the Doctor, Rose and now new boy Captain Jack are stalked by the living dead as gas masked casualties of some virulent plague rise up from their beds and lurch towards them. Come on, be honest, how much do you love DOCTOR WHO?

It? so hard to know where to begin, what particular aspect of this work of genius to single out for praise because absolutely everything here works so well, the whole DOCTOR WHO production team working like a well-tuned machine to craft the best episode of the best show on television. Let? start with the visual side of things as this seems to be the standards that judges genre television, regardless of the quality of the storytelling. ?he Empty Child?does some incredible stuff on a TV budget. The special effects here are just flawless, from the TARDIS space pursuit right down to Jack? invisible spaceship and the jaw-dropping aerial sequences depicting Rose? plight and the German air-raid. London is flattened by bombs, searchlights criss-cross the sky, fighter places roar across the screen. I?e never seen anything like this on British TV and I can scarcely believe I?e seen it now.

Equally impressive is the attention to detail which recreates gloomy wartime Britain. It? all here, from period clothes and music to cars on the streets and all the little set dressings which need to be there to evoke the period but probably won? even be noticed by the larger audience. The nightclub sequence, the brief appearance of Captain Jack? drinking club – realised with such absolute conviction it? sometimes hard to believe we?e watching a supposed kid? science-fiction series and not some trophy prime time period drama.

Long-time series fan Steven Moffatt (you?e now officially forgiven for the CURSE OF FATAL DEATH Comic Relief spoof, Steven), like other non-Russell T Davies series fans who have written for the show, understands exactly what makes DOCTOR WHO tick. Moffatt? script fizzes with real wit, real scares and real invention. If I was going to quote highlights from this episode I? be reciting the whole thing but only the most joyless of fans could have been left cold by Rose? questioning of the Doctor? identity. ?on? you get tired of just being the Doctor? Doctor who??Eccleston and Piper are, as ever, a delight to watch. They work superbly together but, separated for much of the episode? duration, they work well apart too. Here Eccleston strikes the perfect balance between his preferred Northern-boy-on-the-street persona and the more serious mysterious alien hardcore fans prefer. Piper? chemistry with the excellent John Barrowman (Sky Captain as he should have been played if not for Jude ?r Cardboard?Law) is instant, even though it? amusing to see Rose, the feisty, spunky, modern council estate girl ticking off all the WHO girl cliches by screaming, getting into trouble, getting rescued, swooning at a stranger and then fainting. Ah, the more things change the more they stay the same?n

Scares? You got ?m. Apparently toned down because it was deemed to be too scary for the little ?ns (Aww, bless) ?he Empty Child?terrifies in the very best way – by suggestion. The eerie unearthly child wandering the streets in a gasmask, pleading for his Mummy is surely the stuff of nightmares for the tinies and Dr Constantine? (Richard Wilson) transformation to the accompaniment of the ?re you my Mummy??plea nearly sent me scurrying behind that legendary sofa. If only it wasn? so close to the damn wall I? be there now? The whole episode is drenched in subtle, understated fear, creating a sense of terror far more palpable than any number of rampaging rubber monsters or even – steady on – an army of extermination-crazy Daleks.

There? just no downside here. Supporting performances are spot-on – the homeless kids are outstanding, given that child actors are usually pretty unconvincing – and Murray Gold? music is right on the money, beautifully underscoring the action without being obtrusive. The only negatives I can find here are outside the show itself and that? the BBC? Eurovision-driven decision to screen the episode at 6.30pm. This has had the inevitable effect on viewing figures – reported to be around 6.7 million – but even that? not the whole point. An episode like ?he Empty Child?should not only be required viewing for everyone in the country, it? clearly after-dark TV. Screening the new series in the Spring has been an enormously successl, but some of these latter episodes really would benefit from not having blazing sunlight streaming in through the blinds. I? certainly advocate a delayed start for season two to Autumn 2006 but I suspect the BBC will want to capitalise on their new runaway hit of by getting season two on air as soon as possible. I want to see it too but now I know Russell T Davies and his BBC Wales team can deliver the goods, I? rather see those goods screened at a traditional, autumn/winter timeslot. Excuse me while I step down from my soapbox?n

So another remarkable week for the resurgent DOCTOR WHO. Another top-notch episode and, during the week, the show has been rightly hailed as not only the saviour of ?amily television?but also as a shining example of the sort of television show people in the UK want to see more of now the backlash against appalling celebrity/reality television shows has begun in earnest. DOCTOR WHO has never been better, never been more popular and I?e never been happier.]]>

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