The Good: Good plot, Decent acting, Moments of humor and horror work well, Special effects, Self-referential moments, Moments of character
The Bad: None
The Basics: Filled with good banter and horror moments, “The Doctor Dances” is an impressive resolution to the storyline begun in “The Empty Child.”
It is a rare thing for me to find a mystery truly engaging. I know that I am not the only one. In fact, there are very few dramatic television shows that produce two-part episodes (or longer arcs) in the form of mysteries. Mysteries are hard to pull off: if the clues are not all given in the first part, viewers feel cheated – like they could not have gotten the answers even by paying attention. If the clues are too obvious, though, a second part will bore viewers because they will have seen the end coming a mile away. “The Doctor Dances” is the second part of a mystery-horror episode of Doctor Who and it is actually a stronger episode than the first part.
“The Doctor Dances” follows immediately on the heels of “The Empty Child” (reviewed here!) and it is one of the rare second parts that is stronger than the first. It is impossible to discuss “The Doctor Dances” without revealing some aspects of “The Empty Child.” “The Doctor Dances” builds on the first part with all of the elements introduced in “The Empty Child” without simply reiterating the feeling of the first part.
With The Doctor saving himself, Rose, and Captain Harkness (and unwittingly, Nancy) by sending the gas mask-clad patients of the hospital to their room, Nancy collapses and is caught in the house she used to feed the children. Harkness details the con he was planning to play on The Doctor (thinking he was a Time Agent). The Doctor is convinced that the space junk, a Chula ambulance pod, is what was responsible for transforming the patients of the hospital. Together, the trio goes to the room where Jamie (The Empty Child) was brought the night the pod fell to Earth and they discover that the room is empty and the child has broken out of.
With the patients of the hospital closing in on The Doctor and Rose, Harkness helps the trio get to a secure location before he teleports out to his ship. Nancy abandons her orphan charges and tries to break into the crash site where the Chula hospital pod crashed. When Harkness rescues The Doctor and Rose, The Doctor deduces the cause of the mutation that turns people into gas mask-wearing undead. With the Nanogenes going airborne and rewriting people all over, Rose, The Doctor and Harkness find themselves at ground zero for a futuristic plague that threatens to wipe out human existence.
“The Doctor Dances” is an impressive mix of humor and horror. Doctor Who is seldom self-referential or willing to reference other science fiction programs. While “The Empty Child” referenced Star Trek, “The Doctor Dances” pokes some fun at the conceits of Doctor Who. The Doctor reveals the origins of the sonic screwdriver in a scene that makes the exposition fun and funny. Jack Harkness has a sonic disruptor and when he and The Doctor are fleeing, Harkness says what many fans of Doctor Who have long been thinking, “what the hell is the point of a sonic screwdriver?!”
Harkness is a fun character, but the real character development comes in the form of Rose Tyler and The Doctor. Rose re-establishes her interest in The Doctor, whatwith having been swept off her feet by Harkness in the prior episode. The Doctor’s trademark blend of humor and intelligence is played out brilliantly in “The Doctor Dances.” The humor comes in the form of a hilarious exchange about bananas that plays out well. What could have been a dry scene that discusses the origins of the sonic screwdriver is turned into a funny exchange. The chemistry between Rose and The Doctor is wonderfully re-established and it feels entirely organic.
“The Doctor Dances” is a perfect episode of Doctor Who that does not feel like it is rich in character, but it builds the characters of The Doctor, Rose, and Jack Harkness in a compelling way. Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston have amazing on-screen chemistry in “The Doctor Dances.” What is truly impressive is how John Barrowman fits into their couple with a similar energy that is fun to watch and does not seem at all distracting or improbable (i.e. Rose’s attraction to Harkness seems like it could lead her legitimately away from The Doctor). All of the guest stars are good as well.
What is arguably the most impressive aspect of “The Doctor Dances” (outside the direction by James Hawes that captures the fancy footwork of The Doctor and Rose at the episode’s climax) is how the episode is entirely rewatchable because it quickly departs from the mystery format that build “The Empty Child.” Instead, the answers to the mystery that was unresolved in “The Empty Child” come quickly and the rest of the episode is spent on dealing with the cause of the creepy legion of undead mutated people and how all the various pieces might be altered to solve the resulting problem. “The Doctor Dances” is smart, tight television and it leaves the viewer satisfied that they have just watched something intelligent and enduring because they have.
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sole season with the Ninth Doctor here!
For check out how this episode stacks up against other Doctor Who episodes by visiting my Doctor Who Review Index Page where the episodes and seasons are organized from best to worst!
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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