Crimson Eleven Delight Petrichor

Learning life lessons from the Doctor

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Welcome to my weblog about Doctor Who, where (almost) every post is devoted to analysing one episode in depth!

You can read more about this project, look for answers to frequently asked questions, contact me and support me. There is also some information about my spoiler policy and some disclaimers and legal stuff. The three most recent posts are below; you can also check the full archive or the list of covered episodes and the RSS feed.

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The Doctor dances

– Look at you, beaming away like you're Father Christmas.
– Who says I'm not? Red bicycle when you were twelve?
– What?

Today we learn the secret of the Empty Child. Basically, The Doctor dances resolves the threads started previously, and does not introduce a lot of new things. Does that mean we have nothing to talk about today? Well, of course not!

Nancy again

Like in the previous episode, Nancy is one of the most important people here. Let’s start with a bit of trivia. Florence Hoath was 20 when she played Nancy, and it seems it was a perfect casting (and probably good makeup, too) – she really looked much younger. (And I can’t be the only one thinking that an episode where the Doctor visits her in, say, the 50s and she becomes a one-off companion would be absolutely fantastic!)

Last time I spent quite a lot of time discussing how it was wrong for her to break into houses and steal food, so let me not repeat myself and focus on other aspects of her portrayal. Morals aside, the way she blackmailed Mr Lloyd was really clever – and so sad at the same time. Remember how I praised Mrs Lloyd’s selfless love? Now this is what she was getting in return, an unfaithful husband. Well, this is the risk of loving someone – since true love is selfless, it may happen that you give but don’t get anything… It’s still worth it to love, of course, and people are loved back pretty often, but you’d better be aware that there is a possibility you won’t be…

However, I was supposed to talk about Nancy, right? Let’s start with her reaction when little Jamie obeys the Doctor and goes to his room. She first smiles (though with tears) and then breaks down and starts crying. It is actually the first hint to who she really is.

I also like the scene when she tells the homeless children that she has to go to the bomb site, and gives them her “last instructions”. This is a nice reminder of the role of a parent, who should teach life to their kids but then let them go and lead their own adult life. (Obviously, the children Nancy was caring for were anything but adults, but the lesson remains. And her saying explicitly that she might get killed was especially powerful. So many people try to pretend everybody is immortal and don’t even mention death…) And right before that, when she snaps at the little Jim who annoys everyone by typing loudly on the machine he’s found (by the way, do kids these days even know what a typing machine was? I’m old enough to have been using one many times…), and then apologizes – again, as a parent I can sympathize with this so much… It’s so easy to get angry because of some minor detail, and so hard to recognize that it’s your fault not to restrain your emotions a bit and apologize… High praise for Nancy here!

The next big moment for Nancy was when she talked with the nanogene-slash-zombie-infected soldier who was supposed to guard her. It was really heartbreaking to hear this: “Please, let me go. It’s too late for you. I’m sorry, but please let me go.” Admittedly, that wasn’t very nice to him – pointing out that he’ll be (well, sort of) dead in a moment – but I think Nancy can be fully excused. It’s not that she could help him anyway, and while the truth must have been very uncomfortable for that soldier, it was, well, the truth. This touches a very delicate question. If someone close to you is dying, should you tell them? Or should a doctor tell their patient the same thing? As with many yes-or-no questions, there are two schools of thought. My position is simple – people have the right to know that it is most probably the last moment they have to prepare for the end of their life. Many people fear death (which is natural, of course), and claim that they would prefer to die quickly, not knowing about it in advance. It’s like if a student, who procrastinates instead of studying for their exam, said that they didn’t even want to know when the exam is. We are all going to die anyway, so why not prepare for that? Ideally, that preparation should be done systematically, every day and every hour, but people are people, so knowing that it is now (or very soon) can really help. (Of course, hoping for being able to die consciously is one thing, but counting on that and knowingly living sinfully, intending to only repent shortly before death is one of the most grievous sins, and one of the most stupid things possible.)

Coming back to Nancy – I like to think that her singing a lullaby to the infected soldier was one of the many hints to the Doctor (and the smarter part of the audience) who she really was. Another one was when she corrected Jack (“Not the child. Jamie.”) Yet another one – very easy to miss – was when the heroes came into Jamie’s room, filled with his drawings. Every single one of them was a drawing of his mommy, but not a single one of them had a slightest hint of a sister… (To be clear – I’m not claiming superior intelligence here, I didn’t have a clue, the revelation that Nancy was Jamie’s mother was completely unexpected for me, and I found this observation in the depths of the Internet.)

The last thing I’d like to mention about Nancy was her last scene. It was truly touching, and for two reasons. One is her visible relief that she no longer has to hide her secret. Once the Doctor found out (and it was only then when he finally added two and two together and all the previous hints apparently connected in his mind) and told her that he knew, she didn’t have to care for keeping the appearance of being Jamie’s big sister anymore. And in the same moment we saw how she must have wanted to embrace Jamie. She avoided it all the time because of fear (and she had every right to behave like that!), and we saw how taxing it was for her. Now that she realized that (for all she knew) she – and everyone – was doomed anyway, she finally answered the Empty Child’s queston and gave him a proper hug.

Now, here are my final thoughts about Nancy’s and Jamie’s sweet ending. Let us ask a similar question to the one we discussed when analyzing Father’s Day. Knowing what touching Jamie does to people, does that mean that she (to the best of her knowledge) committed suicide? I’d say technically yes, but given how she must have been convinced about the inevitability of her death at that point and her psychical exhaustion, I wouldn’t dare to blame her for that. But here is another, more important thing. (Note: I might really be stretching things now, I’m not even 100% sure I’m right. But bear with me.) The Doctor – clearly knowing more than her about the whole conundrum – told her that she should tell Jamie the truth. Well, you might say, to tell the truth is one thing, but to hug him – knowing how infectious his condition is – is another. Here is one possible reply to that. “I am your mommy” is basically synonymous to “I love you”, and true love affects your whole person – soul, mind, emotions, body, everything. If you truly love someone, you have to express it with your body, although how you do that depends on the situation and the kind of love we’re talking about. Love of a mother has its own ways, love of a friend has other ways (sadly, in our culture it’s often restrained to just a pat on the back), love of a spouse has (of course) its own ways, and – last but not least – love of God also has its own ways (if you’ve ever been to a Catholic Mass, you know that people there are hardly static!). So, assuming that Nancy truly loved Jamie (and we are fully entitled to believe so – rememer that true love does not necessarily mean ideal or perfect love, so be so kind and shut up about any of her possible faults), she had every right to treat the Doctor’s request to tell Jamie the truth as a request to also take his hand, hug him, kiss him – whatever it takes to express her motherly love. Good thing that this was exactly what was needed to save the day!


Genuine tears of joy. Give me a day like this!

The Doctor or Jack?

Enough about Nancy – let’s talk the second most important topic of this episode. It’s actually kind of an overarching theme of Series 1 and the whole story of Rose Tyler. Time and time again, she has to choose between the Doctor and someone else, be it Mickey (in Rose), Adam (in The long game), Pete (in The long game), soon , and much later . I admit that in this particular episode it’s rather heavy-handed, but it’s still important – though I have already mentioned this topic previously, so I’ll make it short here.

Rose was clearly quite infatuated with Jack from the very start, and in this episode the time has come for her to become (once again) disillusioned. Probably the first moment she started to see through Jack was when he laughed about his Pompeii joke. It’s long been a cliché to say that one of the defining characteristics of Rose is her compassion; making jokes about tragic demise of the whole city’s population in front of her is definitely not the best way to win her affection. After Jack’s failed attempt at humor Rose just gave him a distasteful look and followed the Doctor.

The second moment was when he complained about the “special features” of his squareness gun – notably, how they “drained the battery”. They are awesome – you have to admit that making holes in walls and then immediately fixing them is cool and practical at the same time – but they are not reliable. The Doctor’s sonic is way less impressive in comparison to Jack’s gun, but works all the time (well, most of the time – and now the question that bugs me is whether the sonic blaster works on wood…). Interestingly, even the Doctor himself lost his confidence for a short while (“It's sonic, okay? Let's leave it at that”), but it didn’t take long for him to regain it.

On the other hand, when Rose quips that “[…] he's vanished into thin air. Why is it always the great looking ones who do that?”, she seems to admit to herself (and the Doctor) that “all that glitters is not gold”, and while Jack is handsome and cool, he has just left them in a trap. (Of course, it turned out that he did not abandon them in the end, and Rose apparently did regain trust that he’d not do that – but it was only after he om-commed them.) It’s a nice touch, by the way, that Rose and the Doctor returned (pun intended) that exact favor and came back for Jack at the very end.

On yet another hand, when Rose complains that what she and the Doctor were doing “didn't feel like dancing”, it seems that what she aims to do is to make the Doctor at least slightly jealous of Jack and nudge him to learn to dance. I think this is actually a pretty good way to cope with a feeling of jealousy. Let us stop for a moment, because this is actually an interesting issue. For the sake of example, imagine that I meet a girl who does something – let’s say, dances – better than my wife (and for the record: when I say “dance” here, I mean “dance”, literally, nothing else – and the example is purely hypothetical anyway, since in reality, I’m not very fond of dancing). I may feel jealousy, which is neither good or wrong morally unless I act on that feeling. I could, on the other hand, dance with that girl (imagine that it happened at some party), neglecting my wife – which could be stepping on a slippery slope and would almost certainly be a bad thing to do. I could also mention the fact (and my feelings about it) to my wife in the hope that she’d put some effort to get better at dancing – a much better decision (and possibly much better outcome), and more or less what Rose did here. I could also decide that dancing is not the most important thing in my life and that I have other reasons to spend time with my wife and not anyone else. The last option seems the morally best one at a first glance, but I’m not entirely convinced. It looks the most “pure”, true, but in fact it sidesteps the problem (even if it’s a minor one) instead of solving it. What’s more, it prevents my wife from becoming, well, a better wife. It appears to me, then, that what Rose did was actually close to the best course of action. (Of course, she could make it even better if she spoke to him later, in private, and not in such a sarcastic way.)

And let us finish the section about Jack with a mention to the face the Doctor made when Jack decided to “block out the [Empty Child’s] signal” with the Glenn Miller song. His expression was absolutely priceless!


What do you mean, “our song”?

Other tidbits

As usual, let me now mention a few smaller highlights of the episode without any further analysis.

I quite like the fact that after the Doctor scolded the gas mask creatures and ordered them to “go to their room”, the first thing Rose did was to sit at the bed of one of them. As always she was the most compassionate. And not long after that she also proved that she was clever, too – pointing Jack’s gun at the floor to escape was brilliant.

During the typewriter scene in the house I mentioned when discussing Nancy there is this wonderful piece of dialog between the two boys:

– You can’t even read or write.
– I don’t need to. I’ve got a machine.

During the A.I. craze of this year (for future readers: I’m writing this in late 2023), I feel that this exchange acquired a completely new, pretty ironic meaning…

Jack complaining about the Doctor being the cause of the explosion in the Villengard weapon factory met a quick-witted reply from Rose: “First day I met him, he blew my job up! That’s practically how he communicates”. This is something to point out to everyone claiming Rose not to be very intelligent, people. (And I say that even though Rose is definitely not my favorite companion!)

If you hoped for at least a short discussion about how the Doctor explained to Rose how the human race is going to “seek new life and… dance” in the 51st century – well, here you are. I would prefer to pretend that that conversation never happened and refuse to talk about it. It is in fact one of the weakest moments of this episode. Granted, it ties in with Cassandra complaining about the human race “mingling”, but it still felt off to me.

Nancy asking Rose if she weren’t German was yet another underrated moment. It is very easy to overlook the fact that Nancy’s trauma was caused not only by losing her own child (and blaming herself for that), but also by seeming to have lost her country. Rose was right that her telling Nancy that Germany was about to lose the war was not exactly something a time traveler should do, but she still thought it was better to tell her, and I agree.

The Doctor’s love for absolutely terrible puns strikes again in this episode when he calls doctor Constantine a “constant doctor”. Even I – a hopeless pun addict – gritted my teeth and groaned when I heard that. In other words, I loved it!

Speaking of Doctor Constantine, him asking one of the cured patients if it was possible that she miscounted her legs due to the confusion caused by the war is British humor at its best.

Yet another moment which seems criminally underrated is the Doctor basically telling Rose that he went back in time some 7-8 years to give her a red bicycle for Christmas. When I first heard that, I thought it was extremely cute and literally cheered.


– Red bicycle when you were twelve?
– What?

On the completely other hand, the Doctor’s “definition” of life (“What's life? Life's easy. A quirk of matter. Nature's way of keeping meat fresh. Nothing to a nanogene.”) was a very strange thing for him to say. We know that Doctor is very protective of life in all its forms – a topic we are going to return to many times if I manage to write on this weblog longer than for the next few weeks. . Dismissing life as a “quirk” and a “way to keep meat fresh” looks like a not-very-well-thought-out insert from Steven Moffat (or was it Russel T. Davies who suggested that? no idea). Given the Doctor’s happiness about the overall result of the whole adventure (we’ll get to it in a moment), why didn’t he investigate th Chula culture and their nanogenes in more depth so that he could revive dead people in the future? Don’t get me wrong, The Doctor dances is a very strong episode, but I consider it my duty to point out a seeming inconsistency here. (Not that an inconsistency is a rare thing in Doctor Who.)

I also laughed hard when Jack told his computer “Lovely. Thanks. Good to know the numbers” when informed about his imminent death. It immediately reminded me of another space jerk-turned-hero who got a similar comment (though his chances were actually much better) from a machine once, and famously replied “never tell me the odds!”. I’m almost sure this was an intentional reference, despite how often this episode refers to the other franchise. And of course the Doctor telling Jack to close the door, because the explosion of his ship is going to cause a draught is again one of the highlights of Nine’s dry sense of humor.

Last but not least


Just this once, everybody lives!

Unlike some other moments I mentioned in the previous section, the Doctor yelling “Everybody lives” is not underrated – it is in fact one of the most iconic moments of the whole series. I don’t think it’s overrated, either. His joy is funny, adorable and infectious, all at the same time. And yes, technically he’s wrong – German bombs are still falling all over London and people are dying all the time, but that’s not the point here. The point is that nobody dies because of the events he was directly involved in. It is good to understand and accept that we cannot fix the whole world, and we should focus on fixing some small part of it we can actually influence. (Of course, concentrating also on expanding the part we can influence is not a bad thing, either.) Ah, and one more thing – it is very easy to miss (in fact, I missed that completely), but the “everybody lives” line also shows the progress of the Ninth Doctor as the character – eight episodes ago he said that “everything has its time and everything dies” and did nothing to save Cassandra (well, she was a criminal, but still). It is quite possible that if this adventure happened then, the Doctor would just apathetically comment how Jack was the cause of his own demise and did nothing to save him.

The empty child

Hello. Might seem like a stupid question, but has anything fallen from the sky recently?

This seemed tough. When I started writing this weblog, I made a decision to write one post per episode, not per story. It looked like it was rather difficult to say anything about The empty child without getting into the territory of The Doctor dances, which I will cover in two weeks. (And by the way, if you’re reading this, and if you want to read my thoughts past Series 1 with a reasonable frequency, consider supporting me in one way or another. Sadly, as of now the support I get is way below the threshold needed for this weblog to continue at the pace of one post per two weeks after I get to Ten…)


Are you my mummy?

It turned out, however, that there are quite a few things that can be said about The empty child even though it ends with a cliffhanger and I’m not allowed (by myself, of course) to reveal too much. Please note, however, that – according to my own policy – I avoid spoilers, so I may deliberately mislead you in certain aspects of this episode, much like the story itself.

Who is Nancy?

Quite obviously, Nancy is one of the central characters here. (That despite Captain Jack Harkness doing his best to steal the spotlight.) I admit that she is one of my favorite characters of the whole series. This episode poses an important question, though. Is her choice to enter empty houses during air raids and feeding homeless children with the food gathered there a right one?

Now that’s not necessarily an easy question. The situation is far from “normal” (whatever that means). She clearly does not seek personal gain, and despite her young age, she is an obvious motherly figure for those poor kids. Not only does she feed them, she genuinely cares for them and also does her best to teach them restraint (“one slice each”!) and good table manners. And it seems that the family whose dinner she took and then gave to the children got it in a not-fully-legal way anyway.

She’s still entering other people’s houses and taking their property, though. Such an action may be morally justified in extreme circumstances (people dying of hunger, for example). However, these children – even if malnourished – are not literally starving. (One of the boys mentions how “it’s better on the streets anyway. It’s better food”. So they were fed even without Nancy, just with cheaper stuff.) Even if Nancy is definitely not the villain of this story (this distinction really goes to Captain Jack!), despite how much I sympathize with her – I have to say that no, she didn’t choose well. (Mind you, given the trauma she went through, her young age and the resulting inexperience, I wouldn’t dare to say that she actually bears full blame for her bad choice, but that’s another question.)

This, by the way, makes me somewhat sad. If she were saving these children from starvation, it would make for a way more interesting problem, and I love when a work of fiction poses such an issue. It would be sort of a “moral playground”, where you can ponder difficult ethical choices without having to choose for real and face possibly bad consequences. Also, such a story would be a great example why it is impossible to “codify” morality as a (perhaps very long) list of things you must or must not do, eliminating the need of personal judgement. You need some general rules (like the Ten Commandments), but then you also need a rational person with a well-formed conscience to be able to apply these rules to a particular situation. To continue the example of taking someone else’s food when you are starving, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says (CCC 2408):

There is no theft […] in obvious and urgent necessity when the only way to provide for immediate, essential needs (food, shelter, clothing…) is to put at one’s disposal and use the property of others.

Some people might think that the Catechism is exactly that – a long list of things you must or must not believe and do – and it sort of is – but it’s still not comprehensive, because it can’t be. Notice how the ellipsis suggests that “food, shelter, clothing” are just examples, not an exhaustive list. If Nancy were taking care of a traumatized 4-year-old child who witnessed death of their parents, would a toy be an “obvious and urgent necessity”? I can easily imagine arguing that yes, it would – but on the other hand taking a small child’s toy seems much more cruel than just taking someone’s dinner… So if anyone hoped for a full and easy to follow instruction on how to live your life well without thinking and making moral decisions – well, you won’t find it. And, to (mis)quote the Man in Black, “anyone who says differently is selling something”. ;-)

What I like even less is that the actual script is very quick to praise Nancy’s actions (“It's brilliant. Not sure if it's Marxism in action or a West End musical”). In fact, this is a very strange remark from the Doctor – he utters the words “Marxism in action” like a high praise. Well, I was born and raised in one of the places in Europe where Marxism actually was being applied to govern the country. To say that it sucks is a gross understatement. The amount of suffering and death Marxism (and its descendants) caused is unimaginable. To hear the Doctor using this very word as a praise is almost physically painful for me… Besides, I think that the episode would be much better if the actual judgment of Nancy’s actions was left ambiguous as something for the viewers to wrestle with.


Hello, I’m Nancy. Stealing doesn’t bother me, but bad table manners do. I might become a doctor in the future…

Let’s move on. There are two more things about Nancy which are truly powerful. One is how she is depicted as someone who lived through a trauma, and how she reacts to the Empty Child being nearby. . One outstanding moment is when she speaks with the Doctor in the house while the Empty Child is standing right outside the door. You can see how unsettling it is for her, and when she hears the boy say “mummy” in his creepy tone for the umpteenth time, she snaps, tells the Doctor, “you stay here if you want to”, and runs. Poor Nancy… And what I appreciate even more is how the Doctor instantly understands her, asking her a truly armor-piercing question, “who did you lose?”. It is quite clear that Nancy blames herself for the death of her little brother, and said brother becoming basically a zombie and harassing her doesn’t help a bit. Trying to “make up” for her apparent “fault” by helping other children seems a very natural reaction, but that doesn’t make it any less tragic. Frankly, I think the only reason Nancy didn’t get a good hug in this episode was that Nine is not exactly a hugging type, and Rose was elsewhere at the time. (Not that a hug would help a lot – but it might help a tiny bit. Hugs are great, and I’m certainly not against the hugging.)

But there is one more scene with Nancy which resonates with me a lot. When the Doctor follows her and she is astonished that he was able to do that (“people can’t usually follow me if I don’t want them to”), he quips that he’s “got the nose for it”, since “[his] nose has special powers”. And what happens next? Of all things, Nancy asks him if his “ears have special powers too”, with a mischievous smile! This scene never fails to amaze me. Here we have a young lady, in the middle of a war, living in a severe trauma – and she is making fun of a strange man with big ears. This human ability to distance oneself from the most severe circumstances, make jokes and laugh, has fascinated me for years. Undoubtedly, it is some kind of psychological coping mechanism, but just think about it. In extreme situations, people can act with selfless love or unbelievable heroism. These are the big words. But in such moments, people also are capable of retaining the little brother of those grand qualities – their sense of humor. This is so beautiful it almost makes me cry.

The Doctor and children

I think this is the first time in New Who – and probably the only time for Nine – when we watch the Doctor interact with children. Different incarnations have slightly different attitudes, of course, but he is generally known to like and take care of them. (Eleven will turn it up, well, to eleven.) And how he handles them is brilliant. Him joking with the children Nancy was feeding was incredibly cute. He must have been aware that they were in a terrible psychical shape, and , but he still managed a smile and a few jokes. (And speaking of terrible psychical shape, one of the boys suggests he was abused sexually, which makes one shudder.) And the epitome of the Doctor being especially protective towards kids is his attitude to the Empty Child. We can see it first when he answers the T.A.R.D.I.S.’ phone. He is clearly enjoying himself. “A phone that isn’t a phone gets a phone call” – and that is right after he claimed that there is basically nothing in the universe that can surprise him. How not to be thrilled? He is literally grinning when he answers the call – and then he hears a frightened child, and his grin fades away in a second. This is what I call great acting (and great storytelling, too, by the way). It is amazing how much meaning Chris Eccleston could convey in these two seconds, without even saying a word. And then, less than ten minutes later, the Doctor tells Nancy, “it’s never easy being the only child left out in the cold”, and when she calls him out (“I suppose you’d know”), he says – with that clownish smile of him – “I do, actually, yes”. Just thinking what he must have experienced as a child (we will get some very short glimpse in , ) gives me shivers. And seeing this smirk of him makes me want to run and hide. (If that’s not what you feel, consider that this is the same smile he was wearing when talking to the Dalek in van Statten’s vault, and he’ll put the same mask .


Top: A phone that isn’t a phone gets a phone call, how cool is that? Bottom: oops, there’s a child in trouble.

Captain Jack Harkness

Any discussion of The empty child would be incomplete without mentioning Captain Jack Harkness. I have to admit that I have rather mixed feelings about him. On the one hand, he is a very likable person, with his laid-back attitude to life and great sense of humor. On the other hand, he tends to have a very… specific attitude to people, especially people who he considers attractive. Let’s just say that it’s hard to treat him as a role model for people who consider that certain behaviors are only appropriate between a husband and a wife and leave it at that. Add to that his general carelessness and it’s not hard to understand why I’m not a fan of him.

That said, I like the way his character was introduced as someone who was also not from this time and place. Him asking Rose to “switch off her cell phone” was a nice way to show her – and us – that she and the Doctor are not the only time travellers here.

On the other hand, I am a bit on the fence with the latter part of Jack’s introductory scene. His flirting with Rose (and Rose’s with him, let’s be honest) was really funny and maybe even cute, but come on. I know that Rose is not married, but I felt bad for poor Mickey. Despite all his faults, he at least deserved to be told clearly that he should not consider Rose his girlfriend anymore at least four episodes ago. The interactions between Rose and Captain Jack, however, are a great (even if sad) example of how people often behave. Let’s cheat for a moment and treat Rose and the Doctor as the “official” couple. The dynamics of their interactions are so common. The Doctor, the older and more mature one, is someone who may not be the most “fun” to be with (after all, he didn’t “give Rose some Spock” despite her requests), but is reliable and serious in his commitment. And Rose, the younger and immature one, who basically gets infatuated with a new man every other episode. First there’s Adam, then the whole situation with Pete (whose relationship with Rose was obviously very different in nature, but she still basically ignored the Doctor and his warnings), and now Jack. It is as if the writers wanted to show us the better side of Rose in the first five episodes, and now decided that we should learn that she’s not really that good a person. I’m all for realistic, multi-dimensional characters, but Rose in the latter half of Series 1 moved from “flawed” to “almost unbearable” pretty quickly. (As a side note, this dynamic between a more stable (even if far from perfect) man and a more irresponsible girl seems surprisingly common in New Who. Rose and Mickey, Rose and the Doctor, , … Interestingly, examples of a reverse situation seem to be more rare, even if they are pretty common in real life.


My name is Rose, my official boyfriend is 64 years away, my new kind-of-boyfriend doesn’t see me, a handsome stranger wants to dance with me on an invisible spaceship tethered up to Big Ben during a German air raid, and I’m absolutely fine with that.

Let’s get back to Captain Jack Harkness, though – I have one more thing to say about him in this episode. The scene near the end when the Doctor is furious at him, assuming the whole gas-mask-zombie plague was somehow started because of the “Chula warship” crashing in 1941 London, is really great. Watching the Doctor being angry at someone is always fascinating, and as we will see, Nine’s anger looks completely different than Ten’s or Eleven’s one. (To be honest, if I had to choose which incarnation of the Doctor I’d prefer to be around when he’s angry, I’d choose Nine over Ten and Ten over Eleven without a second thought, by the way. Angry Ten is really scary, and angry Eleven is downright terrifying. But let’s not get ahead too much.)

Other tidbits

As usual, there are some smaller details I’d like to just point out without much analysis. For example, I like the opening scene of the episode, when the Doctor tells Rose the meaning of “muave” and “red”. It’s really a pity that it wasn’t referenced later in any way. For example, in the PA system can be heard announcing “red alert”. I am aware that saying “muave alert” would be confusing especially to casual viewers (who were supposed to be a significant part of the audience of that episode), but I still consider this a bit of a lost opportunity.


Mauve, the universally recognized color for danger

On the other hand, if you look closely, it is the Albion Hospital (again!) where something strange and alien happens – this is a great callback to Aliens of London.

Anyone knowing classic Who must have been very excited to hear the Doctor’s reaction (“Yeah, I know the feeling.”) to doctor Constantine saying “before this war began, I was a father and a grandfather. Now I am neither. But I’m still a doctor”. This is another fantastic reference. (Though technically, even if his children and grandchildren are dead, he still is a father and a grandfather, of course.)

Another great piece of trivia is where the name Chula came from. When I was watching one of the special features on one of my Series 1 DVDs, there was this moment when Steven Moffat (who wrote The empty child and The Doctor dances), Paul Cornell (who wrote Father’s day), Rob Shearman (who wrote Dalek) and Mark Gatiss (who wrote The unquiet dead) were sitting and talking in a restaurant called “Chula”. Wow. So this is where they get these alien names from!

When the Doctor accused Rose of “strolling”, her answer was this: “Who’s strolling? I went by barrage balloon. Only way to see an air raid”. That was really funny! And so was the absolutely priceless look on the Doctor’s face after Jack’s comment on his outfit (“Flag Girl was bad enough, but U-Boat Captain?”), too.

The next detail I’d like to point out in this section is yet another easy to miss line. When Nancy evacuates the children from the Lloyds’ house after the Empty Child turns up, one little girl – maybe six, maybe seven years old – sits stupefied and can’t move. Nancy telling the little kid that it’s like a chasing game made it truly heartbreaking… As a father of two I almost couldn’t watch that scene without a tear in my eye.

And finally, there is a short (about 5 minutes) documentary about the filming of the barrage balloons. They considered doing them as CGI, but settled for miniatures instead – hence its hilarious title, Mike Tucker’s Mocks of Balloons. (Mike Tucker was the model unit director, and the bulk of the documentary was him being interviewed. Funnily enough, another person interviewed was a cameraman called Peter Tyler.)

Last but not least

There is one more tiny detail in this episode which I consider very touching and deeply true, and it doesn’t have to do anything with Nancy. We have two pairs of people here which are in stark contrast to one another. On the one hand, there’s Jack, which is obviously flirting with Rose (not that she has much against it!), but – charming as he is – he is completely irresponsible. Dancing on a spaceship parked near the Big Ben in the middle of WW2 air raid? Seriously? Not to mention the whole Chula ship thing. And on the other hand, we have Mr and Mrs Lloyd, whose marriage () is quite obviously far from perfect. But if you look closely, when they get to their shelter, you’ll see that instead of rushing to safety, Mrs Lloyd first makes sure that her husband gets there first. Now this is what I call true love! Risking your own life like this to make sure the other person is safe may not necessarily look “romantic”, but true love is not at all about feelings and looks, but about deeds. As someone who has been married for almost two decades I can assure you that nice and pleasant feelings about one’s spouse come and go (and then come and go again, and again, and again – it’s not that it’s over after a year or two, it’s just that feelings depend on many, many factors, most of them outside our control), but a decision to care for them can (and should) stay firm.

What’s more, we don’t even get to know Mrs Lloyd’s first name, not even from the script. This is sad, but for me it reinforces the notion that love is selfless and “does not seek its own interests”, as St. Paul put it in his beautiful song about love in 1 Corinthians 13.


Mrs Lloyd making sure her husband gets to safety

Father’s Day

Your wish is my command. But be careful what you wish for.

And finally we got here. This is the moment when Series 1 gets really good again, after the two weaker stories (Aliens of London​/​World War III and The long game) and Dalek, which is highly regarded, but for some reason doesn’t work that well for me.

I won’t deny it – I like the more emotional Doctor Who episodes. And Father’s day is definitely the saddest story of Series 1 (and perhaps tied for “the most emotional” with the next one). And before anyone tells me that it doesn’t make much sense narratively – well of course it doesn’t, it’s Doctor Who! Maybe it’s a bit late to say that – this is the eighth episode I’m analysing here – but if you got this far in Doctor Who and on my weblog, you must be aware that Doctor Who is not about cohesive stories without plot holes. Technically, I would categorize it as a (modern) fairy tale, where the whole point is to tell a story with either a good life lesson, or good dialog, or likable characters, or all of the above. Some episodes are almost just strings of loosely coupled scenes, or “skits”, joined together with some sort of story which doesn’t really make much sense and is there only because the format of a tv series seems to require it. And that’s ok! Nobody who loves Doctor Who loves it for being hard sci-fi!

With that out of the way, let’s look at what we can learn from the Doctor, Rose, Pete and Jackie (yes, her too!) this time. But before we start with that, let’s tackle the most uncomfortable question.

Was Pete’s sacrifice actually a good thing?

As you know full well at this point, I stick very strongly to Catholic ethics. And if you don’t know it, let me tell you that suicide is a big taboo here. Taking your life is a grave sin, and for many centuries many Catholics were sure that it basically earned you damnation automatically. The stance is more nuanced nowadays, not because the Catholic teaching changed – it didn’t – but because we know more about psychology. As you may know, the two other conditions – apart from gravity of the matter – that must be satisfied for a sin to be mortal (which is the theological term meaning a sin so serious that it results of eternal damnation if not repented) are full knowledge and deliberate consent (see CCC 1857). It is thought that various psychological conditions which tend to be connected with suicidal tendencies may significantly decrease the ability to exercise deliberate consent (see CCC 2282), so there is a chance of salvation for people who killed themselves after all. Still, suicide – which is always a tragedy – is even sadder for us believers, since we are aware that the person deceased in this way may be in a very dire need of prayer. (Let’s put the discussion about the three possible states one may find oneself in after death for another time.)


Sacrifice, not suicide

But the main question is this: was Pete’s death actually a suicide? There is a fine distinction between a suicide and a sacrifice, and it is widely considered a very noble deed to sacrifice one’s life for someone. I have to admit that I do not regard myself as an expert on difficult ethical questions, so please take what I write with a grain of salt, but here is my take. Killing oneself because of some hardships, or lack of will to live, or to hurt someone, or to make a point definitely is very bad. On the other hand, giving one’s life “in exchange” for some higher value is probably what makes the difference. And even though what Pete did looked like a suicide, I think it was not. He did not jump in front of that car because he didn’t want to live – it was just because he wanted Rose (and I’m sure also Jackie) to live, and he figured that this is the only way he could make it happen. (And – within the confines of a Doctor Who story, of course – it seems that he was right.)


While Father’s Day is a very serious episode, it is not without its comedic moments. One of them is Rose’s realization that her parents’ marriage was not exactly what her mom used to tell her all her life. Well, it is actually a bit dark comedy, for obvious reasons. But it is also something that reminds me of an important piece of wisdom I already wrote about. It is so easy to forget to appreciate and be thankful for the people around us – even when they annoy us or do not meet our expectations – and then it’s too late when they are gone. Pete was definitely not the best husband. He probably wasn’t even a good husband. But I’d argue that he did love Jackie (even if his love was far from ideal), and she did love him back (also less than ideally, without any doubt). And it is clear that even in the original timeline, when Pete did not sacrifice his life for the others, Jackie remembered him with fondness. It is hard to say if she considered herself guilty for how she (mis)treated him – but even Jackie being Jackie, I think she did, somewhere inside her hard shell… And when I see someone feeling guilty for their past deeds, I can treat it as a warning to myself: do I want this to be my future? And if not, what should I do to avoid it? And if this means being more loving, more forgiving, sometimes also more demanding (after all, if I love someone, I am responsible for their growth as a person, and how else make them grow if not by setting high expectations?), why not give them these things now instead of regretting not doing that in the future? Is it really so hard? (Well, yes, it is. But it’s worth doing as much as you can. And it also works, even if not immediately. I really believe that people change for the better when they know they are loved.)


Perfect love? Far from it. True love? Yes.

The Doctor and Rose

At this moment we know how much the Doctor cares for Rose, but that is even reinforced in this episode. For example, when Rose sees her father on the day of is death, she is shocked, and the Doctor gently takes her hand. When she says “It’s too late now”, the Doctor’s face screams “I told you so!”, but he doesn’t say that. Nine, usually harsh, is extra compassionate here. (Maybe because he knows so well what it means to lose one’s family…) Now, it’s utterly fascinating to watch how they deal with a situation which is very hard for them. There are a lot of harsh words in this episode, from both sides. This should be familiar for anyone living in a serious relationship of any kind – be it a marriage, a friendship, or even a business partnership. We all know how easy it is to say a bit too much, and how hard it is to patch up what has been broken. How do you cope with hearing that “for once, you’re not the most important man in my life”? What do you do when you are called “another stupid ape”? I’m not claiming that either the Doctor or Rose behaved well when they fighted (even if the Doctor was correct to call Rose out for what she has done), but I love how they made it up for each other afterwards. First thing, they started to talk. Calmly. Then, the Doctor apologized. Even though Rose was the first to do wrong, even though they both said things they probably regretted instantly – he didn’t say “I’ll apologize if you do, too”, he just said that he was sorry. This is a powerful lesson for me. I’m not a saint (yet – of course, I intend to become one when I die, like everyone should!), and I need to apologize to my wife pretty often, but for an apology to be real, it should be unconditional. Of course, it’s a risk – when you say you’re sorry, and you mean it, it’s always a possibility that the other person won’t say the same thing. But this is how love works. Love implies many things, and one of them is taking the risk of trusting the other person, accepting the possibility that they will hurt you, and forgiving them anyway.


And you are forgiven. Always and completely forgiven –

Of course, the Doctor still expects – even asks! – Rose to apologize, too – and he has every right to do that. That is also interesting. He clearly sees Rose is devastated and torn – she saved her dad only to bring about the end of the world and death of everyone, including her father. To be fair, him asking Rose to say she was sorry seemed a bit harsh – she obviously regretted what she had done – but notice that he still tried really hard to be delicate. When they talked in the church, he didn’t make accusations, he didn’t repeat what he already said (and what Rose was well aware of). He just explained – matter-of-factly but softly – how grave the situation is. And if I ever make a list of most heartbreaking moments in Series 1 (and this is more or less what I intend to do in about 3 months on this very weblog), the time when Rose had to apologize for saving her dad’s life will surely make that list.

One more thing I’d like to mention about the crisis between the Doctor and Rose is that it is similar and different at the same time to what happened previously. Last time, the Doctor also had to deal with a companion disappointing him, and he did it in a pretty cold and cruel way. This time it is much different, and we can legitimately ask why. Well, the answer seems rather obvious – while Adam was only seeking personal gain, Rose acted out of compassion. Imagine, though, that Adam tried to get the information about future technology in order to find a cure for his terminally ill father – in fact, this is exactly what early versions of the script of The long game said, and the topic is explored in Doctor Who comics. Then, the similarity between the two stories is particularly striking! Had that been a case, would he be treated so harshly by the Doctor anyway? My conjecture is that yes, because the real reason for Adam’s expulsion from the T.A.R.D.I.S. was that he neither admitted to his wrongdoings nor repented, which Rose did.

That poses yet another interesting question. The theme of forgiveness will not really take off until much later (, , reaching a climax in and further explored in later series), but I would argue that it already starts in Series 1. Did the Doctor forgive Rose? Obviously. Did he forgive Adam? I think yes. Then, why he punished him? Here’s my take: forgiving does not negate punishment. Punishment is often seen as a kind of revenge, which it is not (or at least should not be). Punishment is about justice. As every parent can confirm, it is fully possible to forgive your child for doing something wrong and punish them anyway. In fact, the ideal punishment is simply letting them suffer the consequences of their own actions. This is how you teach a youngling making right moral choices.

Pete Tyler

It would be impossible to write any analysis of this episode without looking at the dynamics between Pete and other characters – especially Rose, but also Jackie and the Doctor. Of course, this is usually the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Father’s day, and obvious things are obvious, so I don’t want to reiterate things like the fact that Rose got disillusioned with her father (which was a good thing, even if it was difficult for her).


Peter Alan Tyler

Instead, let me point out a few slightly less obvious things about Pete (in no particular order).

Firstly, he is clever, and a very rational person. Not educated, maybe not even extremely intelligent – but still pretty clever and quick to connect the dots. His business schemes are ridiculous, yes, but he can think outside the box. When he met Rose, he clearly saw that something was off, and when he got enough information, everything clicked and he guessed the truth about Rose’s identity. In a similar vein, he figured why she came to this exact day, and what he needs to do. None of that was very difficult for us, viewers, but his thinking could have been clouded by emotions, and it still didn’t prevent him from reaching the correct conclusion.

Even better, when he was fed lies about how good he was as a dad – he had the courage to admit to himself that he couldn’t live to that, and that Rose must have been lying. Being able to admit to himself – and to his daughter! – that he was a flawed father required a lot of courage and humility. And he accepted his fate and sacrificed himself with calmness and dignity (well, save for that quick drink in the background, but let’s not mention that, ok?).

Also, I feel slightly bad for it, but the whole premise of this episode makes me chuckle – because of Pete. Do you know why? It is no secret that Russell T. Davies has rather left-wing views. (And I make it no secret that I strongly disagree with them.) In The end of the world he gave us the obscenely rich and unscrupulous Cassandra. (To be fair, there was also Jabe, another upper-class and very wealthy person who turned out to be quite the opposite.) In Aliens of London and World War III we saw ruthless and ugly farting capitalists. In Dalek we had the cold-blooded Henry van Statten, who basically swam in money and prevented humanity from benefitting from the technology he hoarded. In The long game there was a mention of a consortium of banks. In other words, the show seems to repeatedly tell us that making money is immoral (which it isn’t). And here we have a clever and righteous (well, sort of) man who saves the world in an act of selfless sacrifice, and while not exactly rich, he is – of all things! – a businessman. Good job, R.T.D.;-)!

The other father

One of the episode central themes is of course the relationship between Rose and Pete. It is worth noting, however, that Pete is not the only father in this episode. Sonny Hoskins, the father of Stuart Hoskins, the groom, is just a cameo role, but even from the few short scenes he’s in, we can say a thing or two about him. While Pete is portrayed as flawed but sympathetic figure, Sonny is anything but. He treats his son with disrespect, both when he talks about him and even when he talks to him. In fact, he earned the dubious distinction of saying the most terrible line in the entire episode. When he berates Stuart (we can only assume not for the first time) for deciding to marry Sarah, he tells his son this: “Live in sin for a bit”. I can only imagine that if my child were living in grave sin, risking the pearl of eternal happiness for a trinket of pleasure, I would do my best to encourage them to change their ways. And yes, in case of rebellious youngsters (which Stuart is obviously not, I’m generalizing here) that might mean specifically not trying to preach (which could have the exact opposite effect), but definitely not enticing them to sin more, either (even if ironically). (I can’t help but think of Saint Monica, by the way, and if you haven’t heard her story, do yourself a favor and read up on her). While marrying in a hurry when one’s fiancée is pregnant is not necessarily a good idea, continuing to live like a husband and wife is even a worse one.

Coming back to Stuart’s father – normally I wouldn’t like to spend much time discussing a flat tertiary character, but what captured my attention was how Stuart treated him. The guy was plainly abusive towards his son, yet despite being rather meek, Stuart clearly did not let the dad manipulate him. Even more importantly, he seemed to respond with love and respect. It could be seen in the way he speaks of him, and especially in his brief moment of joy when it seemed that it was the battery from his dad’s mobile phone that was going to help the Doctor save the day. And I think this is exactly how one should treat abusive parents. Keep a healthy distance, but care for them, respect them and love them – even if from afar.


Don’t be like him

Other tidbits

There is a well-known (even if unwritten) rule that the Doctor never says “I love you” to his companions. That rule is bent sometimes, but as far as I know, hasn’t been explicitly broken as of yet. . . However, this episode is another moment where we get an almost confession of love from the Doctor. “Your wish is my command”, he says to Rose, which is as close to “as you wish” (which, as everyone knows, means “I love you”) as you can get.

Also, this episode contains one of the most hilarious things in all New Who. It is very easy to miss, but when Pete drives with Rose (and before her phone and his radio start going crazy), guess what is playing on the radio? Of all things, Never gonna give you up! This makes absolutely perfect sense – the song was released in July 1987, it became the number one hit in the UK within months, and Pete died in November 1987. Now, this episode aired in 2005, and rickrolling was invented in 2007. In other words, we have a rickroll – in a tv show about time travel – two years before rickrolling was even invented! It never fails to crack me up (and yes, I am singing that sentence in my mind while writing this;-)).

Another thing which is pure cuteness is when the T.A.R.D.I.S. starts to appear in the church. The Doctor looks at it and – just for a moment – starts hopping, of all things. We don’t even see his face, but the pure joy emanating from this scene is adorable.

The Doctor berating Jackie (“Jackie Tyler, do as I say!”) – and her instantly obeying him (“Yes, sir.”) is fantastic. It is also a good lesson about how to behave properly in an emergency, like when you witness a car accident or a fire. When it happens to you (and I hope not!), never say something like “Someone call 112” – choose one of the bystanders, point your finger at them and tell them to do it, personally and explicitly. And no, you don’t have to ask them their name (or know it beforehand) – just make sure you address your command to a particular person and that they are aware of it.


Jackie Tyler, do as I say!

And for the last of these tidbits, I find it great – fantastic, even – that the place which is the safest one, and where the Doctor tells everyone to gather to save their lifes, is a church. (Technically, it’s not what I believe to be a “real” one, since I assume it’s an Anglican church, not a Catholic one. As much as I love my Anglican brothers and sisters, I do believe that the true Church Jesus founded is the One, Holy, Apostolic Roman Catholic Church. But – to be clear – that does not mean that millions of Anglicans are not loved by God, and I am conviced that if they sincerely offer their prayers, services and faith, they can get closer and closer to Him – even without the tremendous help of Holy Sacraments. That said, their full conversion to the Catholic faith would be great news, and not without a precedent, by the way.) The idea of a church (a building) – and also the Church (the community) – being a safe haven in the midst of danger is one close to my heart, and deserving more than a brief mention. I’ll try to get back to this in the future, since this is not the only case like this in Doctor Who.

Last but not least

This episode is probably the first one (at least in New Who) where the Doctor explicitly states how important ordinary people are to him. We already saw glimpses of it, even as early as in Rose (when we saw a picture of the Doctor saving some family who almost boarded the Titanic), then (sort of) in End of the world, when Rose treated Raffalo with respect, then in Unquiet dead, when it was Gwyneth who saved the world from the Gelth, then in World War III, when the Doctor asked about the name of the secretary… But here he says it plain and simple, and two times. First, he says that Pete is “an ordinary man. That's the most important thing in creation”. Later, he asks Stuart and Sarah rhetorically, “Who said you're not important?” The respect for every life, however mundane, small or (apparently) insignificant, is one of the defining characteristics of the Doctor, and one of the reasons I love Doctor Who.

Even better, when the Doctor says “I've never had a life like that”, it’s clear that he sort of envies them – but not in a bad way. It’s not really envy, I just don’t know a word which would describe his attitude well. He is aware that their way of life is completely unavailable to him, and sincerely wishes them the best. And he must be seeing something valuable in their life, too, since what he says next is “Yes, I'll try and save you”. Last time I mentioned how the writers of Doctor Who make the Doctor – often consciously, sometimes perhaps not so – a God-like figure. Here we have this again. I think this is what happens when God sees our efforts at love (which is, ultimately, the thing that matters the most in the universe). Even if these efforts are tainted by sin (and since we’re humans, they always are) – which in this case is represented by the fact that Sarah is pregnant before their wedding – God looks at us sinners and says, “I’ll save you”.


– I don’t know what this is all about, and I know we’re not important.
– Who said you’re not important?