Aired 28 May 2005
After the spectacular success that ‘The Empty Child’ represented, Steven Moffat does the seemingly impossible and fulfills expectations by delivering an equally satisfying concluding act in ‘The Doctor Dances.’ Delving into his past with both drama and comedy, ‘The Doctor Dances’ touches upon multiple genres while presenting intriguing and engaging events and characters that leads up to one of the most glorious conclusion in Doctor Who history.
Truly the testament of a good concluding act is its ability to wrap up its storylines, and Moffat does so ingeniously in one single scene when Nancy is forced to reveal her secret to her brother while under imminent threat from a horde of gas-masked zombie-like creatures. The reasoning behind the secret as well as the way in which it is handled is simply superb and touches upon the morals and social norms of the time, another reminder amongst the carnage of war of just where and when this episode takes place. As strong as the special effects continue to be to bring the environment to life, it’s rightfully the emotional core of the story itself that brings the episode to life. And, finally, after the bombardment of turmoil and internal chaos the Doctor has experienced, he receives a well-deserved wholly optimistic outcome to his actions. For just once, everyone survives, and the relief that Eccleston’s Doctor exudes is palpable. It’s hard to think of another time when the Doctor has been quite so joyous and proud, and given how poorly events could have turned out, it’s hard to argue with his moment of overt glee. There is often a messy trail along the way, and the Doctor doesn’t always think of long-term repercussions, but it’s hard to argue that the Doctor does inevitably make people’s lives better.
It could be said that each Doctor Who episode is like a feature film on a smaller scale, but this two-parter could easily find its way onto the big screen. The nighttime setting is masterful and certainly adds an extra level of tension to proceedings, the German bombs exploding brilliantly in the background and both the hospital’s and zombie creatures’ level of menace heightened. With a great score and some clever camerawork that creates a sort of disturbed perception of events, everything about this episode continues to fire on all cylinders.
The seemingly permanent addition of Captain Jack Harkness to the TARDIS team is a very welcome one as John Barrowman clearly has already developed a great sense of camaraderie with Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper. Even during the most horrific of scenes, they manage to keep a certain air of levity about their interactions, and the pangs of jealousy that the Doctor and Jack feel towards each other for different reasons absolutely adds an intriguing dynamic to this particular team. Still, as the truth behind Jack’s actions and his involvement in the creation of situation comes to light, it takes a heroic sacrifice on his part to earn the lasting trust of the Doctor and Rose, as it’s in that moment that everyone- both on the programme and at home- learn what kind of man he truly is beneath his charismatic wit and ego.
Yet as strong as the core characters are, ‘The Doctor Dances’ is truly a story about Florence Hoath’s Nancy, a wonderfully developed character who is unafraid to put herself first but, more importantly, unafraid to claim responsibility for her actions and to confront them directly. It’s unsurprising then that, with such a strong story on so many levels in such a rich atmospheric environment, this two-parter is unquestionably the strongest pairing of episodes in the first series of the new Doctor Who, unafraid to explore as-yet unexplored territory along the way.