It was the second of a two-part story, which narratively marked the start of Jack Harkness' travels in the TARDIS. Behind the scenes, The Doctor Dances — along with his script for the preceding episode — landed writer (and future showrunner) Steven Moffat a Hugo Award.
This is also an occasion, as noted by the Doctor, where no-one has died during one of his adventures. It also implicitly introduced the concept of what humanity is doing in the 51st century; according to the Doctor, the human race has a focus on breeding with aliens by then, using 'dancing' as a euphemism for sex.
The Child's plague is spreading throughout wartime London, and its zombie army is on the march. The Ninth Doctor and Rose form an alliance with intergalactic con man Captain Jack, but find themselves trapped in the abandoned hospital. They head to the crash site of Jack's supposed space junk and discover the ground zero for the mysterious plague.
The gas-masked virus carriers each call out "Mummy?" while they back the Ninth Doctor, Rose and Jack into a corner; meanwhile, in a house in another part of London, the child himself is cornering Nancy. At the last moment, the Doctor forcefully steps forward and commands the zombies in a stern, parental voice to go to their room. The zombies stop, uncertain, and simultaneously, so does the child. The Doctor repeats his order, saying that he is very cross with them. Slowly, the zombies turn and return to their beds. At the same time, the child turns away from a confused Nancy, leaving the house and wandering off. As Jack and Rose laugh with relief, the Doctor expresses his gratitude that his plan had worked, as "those would have been terrible last words".
Jack explains how his con was supposed to work: he would find some space junk, throw it through time, and convince a Time Agent that it was worth something. He would then get 50% of the payment up front before a German bomb (which Jack would know about in advance) would land on it and erase all evidence of the swindle before the buyer could claim it. He says the London Blitz is particularly good for this, as bombs fall all the time, and recommends Pompeii as another suitable location that can double as a "vacation". The Doctor does not approve of this and points to the dormant zombies around the room as the consequences of what Jack has done. Jack protests that the crashed ship was an empty, burnt-out medical transport and so could not have anything to do with this. As the Doctor heads for the door and upstairs, they hear the all-clear siren sounding.
Nancy hears the all-clear as well. Before she can leave the house, she is caught by the family that lives there, who grab and force her back inside until the authorities can deal with her. However, when alone with Mr Lloyd, Nancy adroitly points out that there was much more food on the table than should have been in a time of rationing. She says that half the street believes that Mrs Lloyd is "messing about" with the butcher, but she knows that it is actually Mr Lloyd who is doing so, leaving the implied threat of blackmail hanging. She demands wire cutters, a torch, food, and a trip to the bathroom before she leaves.
Back at the hospital, the three time travellers reach Room 802, where the child, the first victim of the "bomb", was taken. The Doctor gets Jack to use his sonic blaster, identifying the weapon as coming from the 51st century. The blaster digitises the lock, leaving a clean square hole where it used to be, and they enter. Smirking, the Doctor tells Jack that he went to the factory where the blasters were made once; Jack notes that it blew up. The Doctor retorts "Like I said, once."
The room is in disarray, the glass separating the observation booth from the rest of the room smashed. The Doctor prompts Jack, who notes that whatever did this was powerful and angry. On the floor are toys, and on the walls are child's drawings in crayon. The Doctor turns on the tape recorder in the booth, and the voice of Dr Constantine issues from the speakers. Constantine had been questioning the child, but the only reply he received was the child asking him if he was his "mummy". Rose is perplexed by this, as it seems the child doesn't even know who his mother is.
As the tape continues to play, the Doctor walks around the room, thinking out loud. The homeless children he encountered earlier were living around the bombsite. He supposes one of them wandered near the crashed ship and was somehow altered. The child is incredibly powerful, and he will soon realise that. The tape has stopped playing, but the cries of "mummy" continue to play. Rose is confused by this, but the Doctor suddenly realises his big mistake; he had sent the child to his room, and this is his room. The trio turn around and see the child standing there, asking his eternal question.
Jack tries to point his blaster at the child but finds the Doctor has swapped it with a banana. The Doctor uses Jack's blaster to digitise a wall of the room, telling Jack not to drop the banana as it's a good source of potassium. They run into the corridor, and Jack reverses the settings and reintegrates the wall, sealing the child in. However, their respite is short-lived as the child begins to batter his way through the wall and the zombies start approaching them from both sides. The child is not just controlling them — he is every living thing it has infected.
Surrounded, Jack explains the functions of his weapon. He asks if the Doctor has anything. The Doctor is about to say what he has, but stops short; he explains that it's sonic. Jack demands to know what, to which the Doctor finally yells "screwdriver!" Rose pulls Jack's blaster down to disintegrate the floor just as the zombies close in and they fall down to the ward below. The zombies in that ward wake up as well, and the trio runs for a door, sealing it shut behind them with the Doctor's sonic screwdriver. However, it is a storeroom and a dead end. As the Doctor looks for a way out, Jack vanishes.
Nancy reaches her makeshift living space at the abandoned rail yard and finds the other children there. She chides them, saying that they should have looked for somewhere else to stay, but they say they are safe with her. Nancy disclaims this, saying that it is not that the child keeps coming after them; the child keeps coming after her. As if to prove her point, a typewriter in the hovel starts typing on its own, tapping out the child's question repeatedly. Nancy leaves, heading for the bombsite.
In the storeroom, Jack's voice comes over a disconnected radio. He had used his ship's emergency teleporter, but could not take the others along because it was keyed to his molecular structure. He is trying to override the navigational computer's security, but it will take some time. Jack is able to communicate over the disconnected radio because of his ship's Om-Com technology — an ability the child also has. The child's voice comes over the radio, tauntingly saying that he is going to find them, and Jack jams the signal by playing Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade", the same music he and Rose danced to on top of his spaceship.
As the Doctor works on breaking through the concrete by setting up a resonance pattern with the sonic screwdriver, he asks Rose why she seems to trust Jack. Rose says Jack reminds her of the Doctor, except with "dating and dancing". The Doctor is mildly offended that Rose assumes he cannot dance, and Rose, amused, asks him to prove it. As they start to dance, however, they are teleported up to Jack's ship. There, the nanogenes heal the Doctor's hand that he had burnt on the TARDIS console when it sparked during the pursuit of the cylinder. The Doctor identifies Jack's "borrowed" ship as being of Chula design like the crashed ship. Jack works on getting the nav-com back online, and in answer to Rose's questions, he explains that his confidence trickster activities are not wholly mercenary. He left the Time Agents when he discovered that they had stolen two years of his memory. Jack observes that the Doctor does not trust him, and he may be right not to.
Meanwhile, Nancy has reached the crash site and uses the wire cutters to get past the barbed wire. However, as she reaches the tarpaulin-covered ship, she is discovered by the soldiers guarding the site and placed under arrest. She is brought to a hut where Jenkins, a sick soldier bearing the lightning scar mark of the child's plague, is resting. Despite her pleading with the commanding officer Algy not to leave her there, he handcuffs her to the table. Once left alone, Nancy can do nothing but watch helplessly as Jenkins painfully transforms into another zombie in a gas mask.
The Doctor, Jack and Rose reach the crash site as well. Rose offers to distract the guards' commander, but Jack points out that he knows Algy - and Rose is not his type. Jack goes ahead instead, leaving Rose slightly shocked. The Doctor points out that in the 51st century, people are a lot more flexible in who they "dance" with — "so many species, so little time". However, when Jack tries to talk to Algy, the British officer asks if Jack is his mummy before transforming into a zombie and collapsing. The Doctor hears singing from a nearby hut and finds Nancy, who is keeping the zombie Jenkins asleep with a lullaby. The Doctor frees her from her bonds and they all head to the Chula transport.
As Jack tries to open the coded lock on the transport, he sets off an alarm which awakens the zombies in Albion Hospital, who then start to move toward the site. The Doctor orders Jack to secure the gates and tells Rose and Nancy to reconnect the barbed wire with the sonic screwdriver. Nancy asks Rose who they are, and Rose tells her that they are from the future. When Nancy is sceptical that there will even be a future, given all the carnage of war around them, Rose tells her that she is from London in the future. Nancy is a little hesitant to believe this since Rose isn't German. Rose confidentially tells her that the British will win the war.
Jack manages to open the transport, revealing that it is empty. However, the Doctor asks Rose what they should expect in a Chula medical transport, and Rose hits on the right answer: nanogenes. The ship was full of them, and when it crashed, billions and billions of nanogenes escaped, programmed to heal everything they came across. However, the first thing they found was a dead child wearing a gas mask; never having seen a "normal" living human before, they used that as their only pattern. They then started to transform everything they encountered to fit that baseline. The nanogenes have given unimaginable power to a little boy searching for his mother. The Doctor says that there isn't a child alive that wouldn't tear the world apart to find their mother and this is one who is both willing and able to do it.
Cries of "mummy" fill the air as the zombie army, led by the child, approach the site. When Jack triggered the alarm, the ship thought it was under attack and so summoned the zombies as troops to protect it. The transport was a battlefield medical unit, built to heal Chula warriors and send them back to the front lines; that is why the child is so strong and can transmit his voice using the same technology as Jack's ship. Nancy begins to cry, saying that it is all her fault. The Doctor starts to comfort her but then realises that the child — Jamie — is not her brother, but her son, whose maternity she kept a secret from everybody, even Jamie himself.
Jack notes the bomb is seconds away from dropping, but the nav-com is back on-line and the teleporter is only working for him again. The Doctor tells him to do what he has to, and Jack teleports away, making Rose think he has abandoned them. The Doctor asks Nancy to tell Jamie the answer to the question he has been asking all along. Jamie steps up to Nancy, asking once again whether she is his mummy. Nancy answers yes, she is, and she will always be. They embrace, and the nanogenes swell up around them in a cloud of glowing particles. To the Doctor's delight, the nanogenes scan Nancy and Jamie, matching their DNA. Because she is Jamie's mother, Nancy's genetic code provides them with the information they lacked with Jamie. The nanogenes recognise Nancy's living form as the correct pattern and, using this as their new baseline, restore Jamie back to full health. With a laugh of joy, the Doctor unmasks the restored Jamie and lifts him in his arms.
Rose suddenly remembers the bomb, but the Doctor says it has been taken care of. As it streaks down towards them, so does Jack's ship, capturing the bomb in its tractor beam. The Doctor has judged Jack's psychology rightly, and the former Time Agent has returned for the rescue. Jack is riding the bomb itself in the beam and tells the Doctor that the bomb has commenced detonation. Jack is keeping it in stasis, but it will not last. The Doctor asks him to get rid of it as safely as he can. Jack bids Rose goodbye and teleports away with the bomb back to his ship, which flies away. The Doctor waves his fingers, summoning the nanogenes around them and applying a patch to their programming. He hurls the nanogenes towards the zombies, crying out triumphantly, "Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once — everybody lives!"
The former zombies rise, all of them restored to their normal selves and with their ailments cured by the nanogenes, even to the extent of Mrs Harcourt regrowing her missing leg. The Doctor leaves Dr Constantine to tend to his patients and take credit for all the cures, bidding them farewell with an exhortation to beat the Germans, save the world, and not forget the Welfare State. He sets the Chula transport to self-destruct once they leave, to fulfil history's requirement of an explosion. As Rose and the Doctor enter the TARDIS, the Doctor is pleased with himself — the reprogrammed nanogenes will fix all the earlier damage they did before they deactivate and Nancy and Jamie will get the help they need from Dr Constantine. Rose then asks about Jack and the unexploded bomb, and his smile fades.
In space, Jack discovers that there is no way to eject the bomb or even himself, and his situation seems hopeless. With an air of resignation, he orders "emergency protocol 417", a large martini (with too much vermouth) and begins to drink as the strains of Glenn Miller start to play... from the open doors of the TARDIS appearing at the back of his ship. He enters the console room and the Doctor, pointing out that "your ship's about to explode, there's going to be a draft", tells him to shut the doors, welcoming him to his ship. Rose is trying to teach the Time Lord how to dance, but he's having trouble remembering how. "Much bigger on the inside," Jack exclaims, looking around the control room in amazement, to which the Doctor tells him, "You'd better be," as he sets the TARDIS off on its next course. Rose then offers a dance to Jack, but the Doctor interrupts, saying that he "remembers" how to dance, and changes the song to one that is more upbeat. Rose points out that Jack may want this dance, to which the Doctor agrees, but mischievously asks, "But who with?" As Jack watches, smiling, the Doctor and Rose dance around the console.
- Doctor Who - Christopher Eccleston
- Rose Tyler - Billie Piper
- The Child — Albert Valentine
- Nancy - Florence Hoath
- Jack - John Barrowman
- Timothy Lloyd - Luke Perry
- Mr Lloyd - Damian Samuels
- Mrs Lloyd - Cheryl Fergison
- Jim — Joseph Tremain
- Ernie — Jordan Murphy
- Algy — Robert Hands
- Jenkins - Martin Hodgson
- Dr Constantine - Richard Wilson
- Mrs Harcourt - Vilma Hollingbery
- Voice of The Empty Child — Noah Johnson
- Computer Voice — Dian Perry
|Executive Producers Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner and Mal Young|
|Not every person who worked on this adventure was credited. The absence of a credit for a position doesn't necessarily mean the job wasn't required. The information above is based solely on observations of the actual end credits of the episodes as broadcast, and does not relay information from IMDB or other sources.|
- Jack uses a sonic blaster from the weapons factories of Villengard and learns that the Doctor had arranged for the destruction of the site and its replacement with a banana plantation.
- Waiting to hear what sonic device the Doctor has, Jack mentions his blaster can also function as a sonic cannon and triple-fold sonic disruptor. Using the "squareness" function drains its battery quickly, however.
- Setting 2428-D of the sonic screwdriver allows it to reattach barbed wire. The Doctor also uses the sonic to attempt to resonate and break apart concrete.
Bad Wolf arc
- The German bomb Jack sits atop while his Chula spaceship uses a tractor beam to keep it from impacting and exploding has the words "Schlechter Wolf" stamped on the side. This is a rather awkward translation of "Bad Wolf", as "schlecht(er)" means bad in the sense of inadequate, rather than the fairy-tale like sense of evil which is meant to be invoked. A more proper translation would be "Böser Wolf".
- When Nancy approaches the crashed ship and cuts the barbed-wire fence, the score features the brisk string motif that would become the featured motif in the Torchwood TV series theme.
- This is the second time that the cliffhanger from the previous episode was resolved before the main title sequence. The first was in World War Three. This practice would fall out of favour amongst the BBC Wales production staff, however. Since 2005, most "part two" pre-titles sequences have been comprised entirely of a "part one" recap, or of a recap plus a seemingly unrelated teaser.
- This is sometimes assumed to be the first episode to use a verb in the title, but that honour actually belongs to "All Roads Lead to Rome", the second episode of The Romans. In any event, it is unusual for a Doctor Who title to have a verb in it, but it is more common in the BBC Wales version of the programme. Steven Moffat seems to enjoy titles with verbs, having also contributed The Pandorica Opens, A Good Man Goes to War and Let's Kill Hitler. Arguably, Blink could also be included, but blink is both a noun and a verb.
- This was the first single-Doctor episode since Doctor Who and the Silurians, part seven, to directly name the programme's main character in its title. However, it's not quite so unusual as might be thought. It had happened a couple of times in Hartnell-era episode titles, with "The Death of Doctor Who" (the fifth episode of The Chase), "A Holiday for the Doctor" (the first episode of The Gunfighters) and Doctor Who (1996 TV movie). Also, the title of season 23 simply refers to the Doctor by another name, since he is the "Time Lord" indicated by The Trial of a Time Lord. It has happened repeatedly since The Doctor Dances, with The Doctor's Daughter, The Next Doctor, Vincent and the Doctor, The Doctor's Wife, The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe, The Name of the Doctor, The Night of the Doctor, The Day of the Doctor, The Time of the Doctor, The Return of Doctor Mysterio, and The Doctor Falls.
- The word dancing is frequently used in this episode as a metaphor for sex. Writer Steven Moffat would use the innuendo again in The Girl in the Fireplace, in which it is hinted that the Tenth Doctor might have some form of romantic dalliance with Madame de Pompadour.
- Taken in its more innocent context, this episode features one of the few scenes in which the Doctor is actually shown to partner dance. The only time he does so in the "classic" series is when the Seventh Doctor briefly and awkwardly dances with Ray in Delta and the Bannermen.
- According to Steven Moffat, the sonic blaster used by Jack to blast open the door is destined to be kept in the TARDIS for River Song to find, so that she can use it in Forest of the Dead. (CON: River Runs Deep)
- Originally, the story following this one was meant to have Jack discover that the Doctor has been manipulating Rose's life to create the perfect companion, explaining the circumstances behind the Doctor's comment of her receiving a red bicycle at Christmas. The story was ultimately scrapped when its scriptwriter, Paul Abbott, was unavailable, and the comment was later expanded upon in the story The Red Bicycle as a part of the Twelve Doctors of Christmas set.
- When Captain Jack arrives at the climax, the Doctor shouts to him "Change of plan!", but they never actually made a plan. In the script book, Steven Moffat explains that the plan was in an earlier draft of the script and got cut because it was slowing the episode down.
- Early drafts included Jamie's father, who would silently and anonymously appear to aid Nancy and the war orphans. The climactic discovery of his true identity would be accompanied by the revelation that he is German, providing an alternative motivation to Nancy's shame.
- The episode had the working title Captain Jax.
- The Hungarian title of this episode is "A mutáns gázálarcosok támadása" (The Attack of the Mutant Gas-Masked People).
- In the DVD commentary, 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.
- Steven 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.
- 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.
- 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, but jokingly suggests that an ancestor of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart stole the machine from Germany to help with the war effort.
- 6.86 million viewers (UK final)
- During the scene where the Doctor, Rose and Jack are being confronted by zombies in the hospital, the light from Jack's sonic blaster can be briefly seen reflected in the window.
- The German translation of "Bad Wolf" isn't "Schlechter Wolf", because the word "bad" is ambiguous. Translated to German it can mean "Schlecht" as well as "Böse". The correct translation according to that is "Böser Wolf".
- The Eleventh Doctor later also visits the London Blitz during 1941. (TV: Victory of the Daleks)
- River Song later mocks the Eleventh Doctor for brandishing his sonic screwdriver in a gunfight and tells him to go "build a cabinet" (TV: Day of the Moon) — similar to Jack's taunt that the Doctor could put up some shelves.
- The Doctor's defence of making a screwdriver sonic - "You've never been bored? Never had a long night? Never had a lot of cabinets to put up?" - suggests he created the device himself. The Eleventh Doctor similarly suggests the First Doctor invented a sonic screwdriver, (TV: A Christmas Carol) though it's been shown some models of the screwdriver are created by the TARDIS herself. (TV: The Eleventh Hour, Hell Bent)
- Rose tells Jack that when she met the Doctor, he "blew up [her] job". (TV: Rose)
- The Doctor exclaiming "Everybody lives" with joy mirrors his callously stating that "everything dies" while allowing Lady Cassandra to dry out. (TV: The End of the World)
- Jack Harkness says, "You've got to set your alarm for Volcano Day", to the Doctor when referring to holidaying in Pompeii. The Doctor later uses this same terminology when finding himself in Pompeii on the eve of Vesuvius' eruption. (TV: The Fires of Pompeii)
- The Tenth Doctor says, "Are you my mummy?" when given a gas mask to wear, (TV: The Poison Sky) as does the Twelfth Doctor when he sees the mummy-like Foretold. (TV: Mummy on the Orient Express)
- The Doctor once again tells Rose that "bananas are good" while in his tenth incarnation. (TV: The Girl in the Fireplace)
- The Ninth Doctor jokingly suggests to Rose that he's Father Christmas by mentioning the red bicycle she got when she was twelve, which was, in fact, an anonymous gift from him. (PROSE: The Red Bicycle)
- Weapons of Past Destruction takes place soon, if not immediately, after the events of this story.
- The Doctor mentions that he has been to Villengard 'once' when he detonated the weapons factories. (COMIC: The Whole Thing's Bananas) He had actually visited its ruins before in his first incarnation, who was travelling with a future incarnation shortly before both were about to regenerate in order to investigate the Testimony, (TV: Twice Upon a Time) but forgot about this as the timelines were out of sync with one another. (TV: The Day of the Doctor)
Home video releases
- This story was released on a vanilla DVD with The Long Game, Father's Day and The Empty Child on 1 August 2005.
- It was also released as part of the Series 1 DVD box set on 21 November 2005.
- This story was released with Issue 5 of the Doctor Who DVD Files.
- This story was released in the Series 1 Blu-Ray set in November 2013 along with the rest of the series. Despite not being filmed in HD, the Blu-Ray features an upscaled picture and fewer compression artefacts. This release was initially bundled with the first seven series of the revived Doctor Who.
- This story is available for streaming via Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime. It can also be purchased on iTunes.
- In 2015, it was released by BBC Worldwide on BitTorrent and iTunes, in A Decade of the Doctor bundle to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the new series. It included introductions by Peter Capaldi, Earth Conquest: The World Tour and an episode guide.
- BBC - Doctor Who - Episode Guide - The Doctor Dances
- The Discontinuity Guide to: The Doctor Dances at The Whoniverse
- The Doctor Dances at Shannon Sullivan's A Brief History of Time (Travel)