The Doctor Dances

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164b – "The Doctor Dances"
Doctor Who episode
Doctor Dances.jpg
The army of "empty children" marches out of the hospital.
Directed by James Hawes
Written by Steven Moffat
Script editor Elwen Rowlands
Produced by Phil Collinson
Executive producer(s) Russell T Davies
Julie Gardner
Mal Young
Incidental music composer Murray Gold
Production code 1.10
Series Series 1
Length 2nd of 2-part story, 45 minutes
Originally broadcast 28 May 2005
← Preceded by Followed by →
"The Empty Child" "Boom Town"

"The Doctor Dances" is the tenth episode of the first series of the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who, which was first broadcast on 28 May 2005. It is the second of a two-part story and saw Jack Harkness, played by John Barrowman, join the Doctor as a companion. The first part, "The Empty Child", was broadcast on 21 May. Together with "The Empty Child", it won the 2006 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.


Continuing from the cliffhanger of "The Empty Child", the Doctor, Rose, and Jack are cornered in the hospital by the "empty children", patients who all have gas masks fused to their faces. The Doctor fakes being an angry parent and loudly tells the patients to go to their rooms. It works, and the patients retreat to their beds. At the same time, young Jamie, the index case of the "epidemic", retreats from his older sister Nancy. The trio go to the hospital room in which Jamie was first taken, where the Doctor realises that the child is still learning what it can do and soon will be too powerful to stop. Suddenly realising that he had just sent the child "to its room" which happens to be the room that they're standing in, the Doctor turns around and finds Jamie standing in the doorway.

Escaping from Jamie and the other patients, the three end up trapped in a room. Jack teleports back to his ship and plays music over the radio to prevent Jamie from using the radio to track the Doctor and Rose. Challenged by Rose to dance while they wait, the Doctor accepts but is interrupted when they are teleported to Jack's Chula ship. The Doctor uses the ship's nanogenes to heal a wound while Jack explains that he went renegade from the Time Agency after they stole two years of his memories. Meanwhile, Nancy returns to the railyard to tell the other children they are not safe while they are with her, because it is her that Jamie is trying to get to. She then tells them she is heading to the bomb site, but before she can reach it she's captured by soldiers. Despite her pleas, she is shackled and left with an infected guard who grows a gas mask on his face.

The Doctor, Rose, and Jack arrive at the bomb site and realise that the contagion is now airborne as the soldiers begin to transform. They free Nancy, who saved herself by singing a lullaby to the transformed soldier, putting him to sleep. The Doctor investigates the bomb, which is the cylinder he was chasing at the beginning of the last episode. He determines it is the empty shell of a Chula medical transport. Realising that the ship also contained nanogenes, the Doctor deduces that the transformations are caused by nanogenes who, never having seen a human before used Jamie's dead body in a gas mask as a template for all humans. Because the Chula were a warrior race and the vessel was a battlefield ambulance, the nanogenes have given the transformed beings enhanced abilities.

As they attempt to open the cylinder, they wind up triggering an alarm that calls all of the transformed humans to defend it. The altered people from the hospital arrive at the railway station. The Doctor reasons that since Jamie was the template, it is his mind that drives them hence their collective obsession with finding a mother. A distraught Nancy claims that the situation is all her fault before the Doctor realises that she's not his sister—she is actually his mother. Jamie heads through the gate and approaches Nancy, still asking if she is his mother. The Doctor pushes Nancy to tell Jamie the truth, which she does while hugging him. The nanogene cloud gathers around the two, and are able to identify Nancy's DNA as being that of Jamie's parent. The nanogenes properly repair Jamie, and the Doctor gathers them all up and sends them out to repair all of the transformed people.

Meanwhile, a German bomb falls onto the site, but Jack uses his ship to capture it and hauls it out into space. Then the Doctor sets the medical transport to explode once everyone is safely far from it, thus destroying the technology and matching the historical records of an explosion at the site. After celebrating that "everybody lives", the Doctor and Rose head back to the TARDIS. Aboard his ship, Jack discovers that he cannot jettison the bomb or abandon his ship. Resigned to dying, he fixes himself a drink before hearing music and seeing the TARDIS parked at the back of the ship. He quickly joins Rose and the Doctor, and the three put on music and dance together as the TARDIS takes them off the ship.


Jack mentions Pompeii as another ideal place for a con, although he jokingly says that one has to set the alarm clock for "Volcano Day". The Seventh Doctor and Mel visited the ill-fated city in the Big Finish Productions audio drama The Fires of Vulcan. The phrase "Volcano Day" is used again by the Tenth Doctor in "The Fires of Pompeii" when they were present during the actual eruption of Vesuvius.[2]

It is established that Jack comes from the 51st century. This is a particularly significant period in the Doctor Who fictional universe, being the time of the Great Breakout, an expansionistic period where mankind headed for the stars (The Invisible Enemy) as well as the home era of K-9.[3] Other historical events of the 51st century include a new ice age, a near world war, early experiments in time travel, the establishment of the Time Agents and the rise and fall of the villainous Magnus Greel (The Talons of Weng-Chiang).[4] Parts of the Tenth Doctor episode "The Girl in the Fireplace" as well as the entirety of "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead", and "Time of Angels"/"Flesh and Stone", all written by Steven Moffat, take place in this era as well.[5][6][7] The Doctor identifies Jack's sonic blaster as coming from the Weapon Factories of Villengard and implies that he blew them up. He also notes that there is a banana grove where the factories were, and that "bananas are good". The Tenth Doctor repeats this sentiment in "The Girl in the Fireplace" and claims that he invented the banana daiquiri in 18th century France.[5]

As mentioned in Doctor Who Confidential, in this episode "dancing" is used as a metaphor for sex.[8] In this light, lines like "The world doesn't end if the Doctor dances," the Doctor being offended that Rose assumes that he does not dance, and the Doctor saying at the end that he remembers that he can, are references to the long-standing controversy regarding the Doctor's sexuality, and whether or not the series should address it. Moffat also alludes to this metaphor in "The Girl in the Fireplace" with the line "There comes a time, Time Lord, when every lonely little boy must learn how to dance."[5]

Continuing the "Bad Wolf" references, the German bomb that Jack sits on has the words "Schlechter Wolf" stencilled on its shell which, literally translated from German, means "Bad Wolf".[9] Mickey's website, "Who is Doctor Who?" and the UNIT website both carry reports about unexploded "Schlechter Wolf" bombs in the present day, implying they may be something more sinister than just a German terror weapon.[10][11]


The working title for this story was "Captain Jax".[12] In the DVD commentary for this episode, writer Steven Moffat reveals that up until a very late stage, the nanogenes in this story were called "nanites". However, script editor Helen Raynor decided this name sounded too much like similar nanotechnological devices in Star Trek: The Next Generation.[13] Moffat had first used the line "Life is just nature's way of keeping meat fresh" in the second series of his 1990s sitcom Joking Apart. He reused it here as he thought it was a good line, but laments that people quote lines from this episode instead of that one.[13][14] The Chula ships are named after Chula, an Indian/Bangladeshi fusion restaurant in Hammersmith, London where the writers celebrated and discussed their briefs on the scripts they were to write for the season after being commissioned by Russell T Davies.[13][15]

The climactic scene of the episode at the alien crash site was filmed on Barry Island, Wales.[16] Several scenes of this story were filmed at the Vale of Glamorgan Railway sites at Plymouth Road on Barry Island.[17]

Anachronistically, Jamie's voice is recorded on tape. While compact magnetic tape recorders were developed in Germany in the 1930s, the technology did not make its way to the rest of the world until after World War II. Wire recording was used by the BBC during this period, but recording gramophones, using wax discs as a medium, were more common. Steven Moffat acknowledges this mistake in the DVD commentary for "The Doctor Dances", but jokingly suggests that an ancestor of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart stole the machine from Germany to help with the war effort.[13]

Both songs heard in the episode are by Glenn Miller. They are "In the Mood" and "Moonlight Serenade". In a reference to Dr. Strangelove, Jack Harkness rides the bomb while it is held in stasis.[citation needed]

Broadcast and reception[edit]

"The Doctor Dances" received overnight ratings of 6.17 million viewers, a 35.9% audience share; this was the lowest figure yet for the series, but it was during a bank holiday weekend and was the most-watched programme on Saturday.[18] It received a final rating of 6.86 million viewers.[19]

SFX stated that the two-part story had "everything", particularly praising Moffat's script. They highlighted the ending of "The Doctor Dances" as "funny, surprising, heartwarming and life-affirming without slipping into syrupy schmaltz".[20] Dek Hogan of Digital Spy disliked Barrowman as Captain Jack,[21] but named the two-part story as the best episodes of the series.[22] Arnold T Blumburg of Now Playing gave "The Doctor Dances" a grade of A, writing that it "may be the production and plotting high point of the first series to date". He said that the episode "manages to smoothly present a ton of technobabble with clarity and precision" and praised the dialogue and the "exhilarating" climax.[23]

The scene where the child surprises the Doctor, Rose, and Jack in Room 802 was voted television's "Golden Moment of 2005" by viewers, as part of the BBC's 2005 TV Moments programme.[24] In a poll conducted by Doctor Who Magazine in 2009, the two-part story was ranked the fifth best episode of Doctor Who.[25] The Daily Telegraph named the story the fourth best of the show in 2008.[26] In 2011 before the second half of the sixth series, The Huffington Post labelled "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances" as one of the five essential episodes for new viewers to watch.[27]

"The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances" won the 2006 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form).[28]


  1. ^ "Dian Perry Official CV" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-02-08. 
  2. ^ Writer James Moran, Director Colin Teague, Producer Phil Collinson (2008-04-12). "The Fires of Pompeii". Doctor Who. Cardiff. BBC. BBC One. 
  3. ^ Bob Baker, Dave Martin (writers), Derrick Goodwin (director), Graham Williams (producer) (1–22 October 1977). The Invisible Enemy. Doctor Who. BBC. BBC1. 
  4. ^ Robert Holmes (writer), David Maloney (director), Philip Hinchcliffe (producer) (26 February – 2 April 1977). The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Doctor Who. BBC. BBC1. 
  5. ^ a b c Writer Steven Moffat, Director Euros Lyn, Producer Phil Collinson (2006-05-06). "The Girl in the Fireplace". Doctor Who. Cardiff. BBC. BBC One. 
  6. ^ Writer Steven Moffat, Director Euros Lyn, Producer Phil Collinson (2008-05-31). "Silence in the Library". Doctor Who. Cardiff. BBC. BBC One. 
  7. ^ Writer Steven Moffat, Director Euros Lyn, Producer Phil Collinson (2008-06-07). "Forest of the Dead". Doctor Who. Cardiff. BBC. BBC One. 
  8. ^ "Weird Science". Doctor Who Confidential. Series 1. Episode 10. 28 May 2005. BBC. BBC Three. 
  9. ^ "Bad Wolf: Clues". BBC. Retrieved 2012-02-20. 
  10. ^ Defending the Earth! Because friends stick together
  11. ^ Top Secret: Unit
  12. ^ Sullivan, Shannon (17 August 2009). "The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances". A Brief History Of Time (Travel). Retrieved 2012-02-20. 
  13. ^ a b c d "The Doctor Dances", DVD audio commentary
  14. ^ Steven Moffat, Joking Apart, Series 2 DVD audio commentary, Replay DVD
  15. ^ "Waking The Dead" featurette on Doctor Who Series 1 DVD, 2Entertain
  16. ^ "Walesarts, Barry Island Railway". BBC. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  17. ^ "The Empty Child - Location Guide". BBC. Retrieved 2012-02-20. 
  18. ^ "Sunday Series Update". Outpost Gallifrey. 29 May 2005. Archived from the original on 5 June 2005. Retrieved 29 November 2013. 
  19. ^ Russell, Gary (2006). Doctor Who: The Inside Story. London: BBC Books. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-563-48649-7. 
  20. ^ "Doctor Who: The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances". SFX. 28 May 2005. Archived from the original on 27 May 2006. Retrieved 28 April 2012. 
  21. ^ Hogan, Dek (22 May 2005). "No love for the Island". Digital Spy. Retrieved 28 April 2012. 
  22. ^ Hogan, Dek (19 June 2005). "The Global Jukebox". Digital Spy. Retrieved 28 April 2012. 
  23. ^ Blumburg, Arnold T (1 June 2005). "Doctor Who - "The Doctor Dances"". Now Playing. Archived from the original on 4 April 2006. Retrieved 27 March 2013. 
  24. ^ "2005 TV moments". BBC. Retrieved 2012-02-20. 
  25. ^ Haines, Lester (17 September 2009). "Doctor Who fans name best episode ever". The Register. Retrieved 2011-08-09. 
  26. ^ "The 10 greatest episodes of Doctor Who ever". The Daily Telegraph. 2 July 2008. Retrieved 2012-02-11. 
  27. ^ Lawson, Catherine (9 August 2011). "Catch Up With 'Doctor Who': 5 Essential Episodes". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2012-02-12. 
  28. ^ "Hugo and Campbell Awards Winners". Locus Online. 26 August 2006. Retrieved 2006-08-27. 

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