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The Empty Child was the ninth episode of series 1 of Doctor Who.

It was the first part of a two-part story, and writer Steven Moffat's first episode of Doctor Who. Furthermore, it introduced Captain Jack Harkness into the DWU. The idea of alien interference during the Second World War would be revisited later in the Eleventh Doctor story Victory of the Daleks.

It's the first of the Revived Series to have a child being responsible for the bizarre goings-on in the episode, due to gaining some kind of extraterrestrial powers. This pattern would be repeated in future stories such as Fear Her and Night Terrors.


Chasing a metallic object through the Time Vortex, the Ninth Doctor and his companion, Rose Tyler, arrive in London during the Blitz. While Rose meets "Captain Jack Harkness", the dashing Time Agent responsible for bringing the object, the Doctor finds a group of homeless children terrorised by Jamie, an "empty" child wearing a gas mask.


The Doctor's TARDIS chases a metal cylinder displaying mauve alert, which prompts Rose to ask why they are chasing it. The Ninth Doctor explains that mauve is the universally recognised colour for danger, and that "red's camp" — only humans considered red a colour for danger. The Doctor hacks into the flight program of the cylinder and keeps the TARDIS locked on it. However, the cylinder begins jumping time tracks. Coming out of the vortex, they find the cylinder is thirty seconds from the centre of London.

The TARDIS materialises in a narrow alley between some brick buildings at night. The Doctor and Rose step out in search of the object; the Doctor notes they have arrived a couple of weeks to a month after the cylinder's impact — it was jumping time tracks, which made it hard to keep up. He hears music coming from behind a locked door and uses the sonic screwdriver to open it. He steps inside, but Rose hears a child calling for his mother. She looks up and sees a young boy wearing a gas mask on the roof.

The door the Doctor enters leads to a makeshift cabaret. After the singer ends her set, the Doctor steps up to the microphone and asks if any object has fallen from the sky in the last few days. Everyone laughs, and the Doctor finally spots posters showing that it's 1941 — the middle of the Blitz — and closes his eyes in embarrassment.

In the meantime, Rose has reached the roof of the building where the young boy is standing on a cargo container. A rope dangles in front of her. She uses it to climb up, not realising that it is attached to a barrage balloon above. It rises, taking Rose with it, clean off the roof and hanging on for dear life. Rose sees bits of the city of London in flames, spotlights sweeping through the sky, the sound of anti-aircraft fire and bombers flying right at her.

The Empty Child 076

The Doctor finds that the dummy police box telephone is ringing.

The Doctor returns to the TARDIS and sees no sign of Rose. Petting a stray cat, he rather sarcastically remarks that one day, he'll get a companion that actually does what he says. He pulls up short when the exterior telephone of the TARDIS rings; it's not a real phone. He prepares to examine it with the sonic screwdriver when a young woman appears and tells him not to answer it. The Doctor asks her how the telephone can be ringing, but when he turns back she has disappeared. He picks up the earpiece, but all that comes through is a child's voice asking, "Mummy? Are you my mummy?" several times before the phone falls dead again. Hearing clattering down the alley, the Doctor looks over a wall into a residential garden and sees a woman ushering her family into an air-raid shelter. He also spots the young woman he saw moments before entering the house. Once inside, she begins to raid the cupboards for tinned food.

Rose is still hanging by a rope over a blazing London. From a balcony below, a man dressed in RAF uniform peers through binoculars up at her. A British Army officer addresses him as "Jack" and asks if he is going to the shelter, but Jack is distracted by the sight of Rose's bottom in his sights. Jack mutters, "Excellent bottom", and grins at the officer, before saying that he has to meet a girl, "but you've got an excellent bottom too."

Rose loses her grip on the rope and falls, screaming, until she finds her descent halted by a blue beam. Jack's voice tells her to deactivate her mobile phone and to keep her limbs inside the light field as she slides rapidly down the beam into Jack's ship and his arms. Rose stares at the handsome Jack and gets out a couple of "hellos" before she faints.

Back at the house, the young woman has been joined by other children. They start to eat the dinner left on the table. The Doctor appears suddenly and deduces that all of them are homeless, but notes that, as it is 1941, they should have been evacuated to the country long ago. The children say that they were, but they returned to London for various reasons. Nancy, the young woman who told him not to answer the phone earlier, finds them food this way, waiting for families to hide in shelters before stealing their food. The Doctor thinks it a great idea, but isn't sure if it's "Marxism in action or a West End musical".

The Doctor asks the children if they have seen the cylinder, drawing them a picture, but before any can answer, there is knocking on the window, accompanied by a child's voice asking for its mother. Outside is a child in a gas mask. He wanders over to the front door, repeating his query. Nancy hurriedly bolts the door before he can get in. Nancy tells the Doctor that he is "not exactly" a child, and then orders the other children to leave via the back entrance.

The Empty Child Nancy and the Doctor

Nancy and the Doctor watch the gas-masked child beyond the door.

The child sticks his arm through the mail slot; he has a strange scar on his hand. Nancy tells the Doctor not to let the child touch him or he will become just like him — empty. The telephone on the mantelpiece rings. When the Doctor picks it up to hear the same plaintive request for its mother, Nancy grabs the receiver and hangs up. The child has the ability to make telephone calls.

The Doctor asks the child through the door why the other children are frightened of him, but he keeps asking to be let in, saying he is scared of the bombs. The Doctor agrees to open the door, but when he does, the street is empty.

Rose wakes up in Jack's ship, which she says is very "Spock", a reference he does not understand. He introduces himself as Captain Jack Harkness, an American volunteer with No. 133 Squadron RAF. He hands her an identification card which Rose identifies as psychic paper — it shows her whatever he wants her to see, which is apparently that he is single and works out. To Rose's embarrassment, when she hands the paper back, Jack reads it as showing that Rose has a boyfriend but considers herself "very" available. Jack uses his ship's nanogenes to treat Rose's hands for rope burns. He also tells her to stop acting, he can spot a "Time Agent" a mile away and has been expecting one to turn up. Jack invites her for a drink on the "balcony"; opening the hatch, they step out onto the invisible hull of the ship, floating next to Big Ben.

Nancy makes her way across an abandoned rail yard to a locomotive, where she unloads the tins she took from the house. The Doctor surprises her again, having followed her. He has made the connection between the fallen cylinder and the empty child. Nancy tells him about a "bomb that was not a bomb" falling near the Limehouse Green station. It is now guarded by soldiers and barbed wire. Nancy says that if he wants to find out what is going on, he needs to talk to "the doctor".

The Empty Child Jack and Rose screenshot

Rose and Jack dance to "Moonlight Serenade" in front of Big Ben.

On top of his ship, Jack and Rose continue to flirt. He tells her that he has something the Time Agency might want to buy and asks her if she is empowered to negotiate. Rose plays along, saying that she should talk to her "companion" first. Jack tells her that what fell on London was a fully equipped Chula warship — the last of its kind — and offers to get it for her if the Agency names the right price. However, the deadline for a decision is in two hours — because that is when a German bomb will fall and destroy it. He proceeds to look for her "companion" by scanning for alien technology. Rose gives an approving smile — the Doctor had earlier refused to do just that.

The Doctor uses his own binoculars to monitor the cylinder's crash site from afar with Nancy. She encourages him to go speak to the doctor at nearby Albion Hospital. The Doctor remarks that Nancy is looking after the children to make up for something and she admits that it is because her brother Jamie died during an air raid.

In the wards, the Doctor finds the beds apparently filled with corpses wearing gas masks. An elderly man in a doctor's coat appears. He tells the Doctor that there are hundreds of masked people in the hospital. Dr Constantine invites the Doctor to examine them, warning him not to touch their flesh. The Doctor finds that, impossibly, all of them have the exact same injuries to the skull and chest cavity. The gas masks are also seemingly fused to their flesh, although there are no burns or scarring. They also have lightning-shaped scars on the backs of their hands; Constantine has the same scar, but the Doctor does not notice.

Constantine explains that when the "bomb" dropped, it claimed one victim. Those in contact with the victim soon suffered the exact same injuries, the symptoms spreading like a plague. After the Doctor guesses unsuccessfully what the cause of death was, he asks Constantine for the answer. Constantine tells that there wasn't one; they are not dead. When he raps his cane against an empty pail, the "corpses" come to life, sitting up in their beds.

The Doctor takes a startled step back, but Constantine tells him they are harmless: they just sit there. They have no life signs, but they do not die. The Doctor is shocked that the patients have just been abandoned with nobody doing anything about it; all Constantine can do is keep them comfortable. Constantine states that before the war, he was a father and a grandfather; now he is neither, but still a doctor. The Doctor, having been through a similar experience, tells Constantine that he "knows the feeling". Constantine suspects that the Army plans to blow up the hospital and blame it on a German bomb, but the Doctor suspects that it is probably too late for such a act to make a difference. Constantine agrees, stating that there are now isolated cases breaking out all over London. Suddenly, he enters a coughing fit; when the Doctor moves to help him, Constantine tells him to keep back. He directs the Doctor to Room 802 on the top floor of the hospital, where the first victim from the crash site was housed. He also advises the Doctor to find Nancy again; the first victim was her brother, and she knows more than she is saying, but she has refused to tell Constantine anything.

The Empty Child 290

Constantine's transformation.

Before Constantine can say anything else, he grabs his neck and starts to choke out the words, "Are you my mummy?" The Doctor watches aghast as Constantine's features shift and change into a gas mask and he slumps in his chair, as lifeless as the rest of the plague victims.

Rose and Jack enter the hospital. Jack introduces himself to the Doctor, calling him "Mr Spock", to the Doctor's puzzlement. Rose privately tells the Doctor that she had to tell Jack they were Time Agents and give him a false name. She tells the Doctor about the Chula warship. The Doctor demands to know from Jack what kind of warship it is, but Jack insists that it has nothing to do with the plague. Jack confesses that the cylinder was just an ambulance — an empty shell which he was trying to pass off as valuable. Jack realises now that Rose and the Doctor are not really Time Agents. The Doctor explains that human DNA is being rewritten by an idiot — but for what purpose?

Back at the house, Nancy has returned to raid the kitchens, but the child gets inside. She does her best to hide, but the child eventually finds her in the dining room and asks her, "Are you my mummy?" Nancy backs away, calling the child "Jamie" and pleading, "But you're dead!"

In the hospital, the gas-mask virus carriers suddenly get up and start advancing on the trio of time travellers, all calling for "Mummy"...


Uncredited Cast[]


General production staff

Script department

Camera and lighting department

Art department

Costume department

Make-up and prosthetics



General post-production staff

Special and visual effects


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.


Theories and concepts[]


  • One of the kids thinks the Doctor is a "copper".


  • Rose wears a Union Jack T-shirt.
  • The Doctor states that if he was Hitler, he would be scared of Britain.
  • The Doctor's jacket matches the style worn by U-boat captains.
  • Rose uses the word "flash" as slang.
  • Rose tells Jack that the Doctor's name is Spock.


  • The Doctor says about milk, "Of all the species, in all the universe, it has to come out of a cow."
  • The Doctor talks to a cat about his companions "wandering off".
  • The Doctor describes the United Kingdom standing up and fighting against Germany as "a mouse in front of a lion".

Foods and beverages[]

  • The children eat turkey inside a home during the air raid.
  • Jack and Rose drink champagne.


Psychic paper[]

Story notes[]

  • This story introduces John Barrowman as Jack Harkness. Although slated to become a companion, Barrowman's name is not added to the opening credits. The notion of adding a third name to reflect an "expanded roster" would not be introduced until Barrowman's return to the series two years later in Utopia.
  • The only words the Empty Child says not in relation to his mummy are "balloon" and a mention of his fear of "bombs".
  • The Empty Child shows an ability to make telephones ring even when they are not really connected to anything, such as the fake police box phone. Steven Moffat would later reuse this device in his series Jekyll, in which Mr Hyde develops the ability to make his alter ego, Tom Jackman, believe that phones are ringing even if they are turned off or disconnected, and can then communicate with Jackman through these phones.
  • This episode had the working title World War II. Early versions of this script quoted this episode's title as being An Empty Child. This is a reference to An Unearthly Child. The episode's television listings information and the DVD cover also mention that "London is being terrorised by an unearthly child".
  • In Russell T Davies' initial pitch, Captain Jack was originally called 'Captain Jax', an interstellar alien soldier who befriends the Doctor but intimidates Rose. He was to be tracking an escaped child-creature, the story's antagonist, while posing as an English officer. The name Jax was eventually dropped, as was Jack's original characterisation, instead being a human conman from the 51st century. Steven Moffat suggested making Jack a human from the future rather than an alien, to avoid having too many extraterrestrials present in 1941 London. His relationship with Rose was made more flirtatious, helping to establish Davies' vision of the character as pansexual.
  • The sound of Dr Constantine's skull cracking as his face changes into a gas mask was considered too horrific in its full form by the production team and was cut before broadcast. However, writer Steven Moffat claims on the DVD commentary to this episode that the sound was discussed but never put on.
  • Unlike previous episodes, the "next episode" trailers were shown after the end credits instead of immediately preceding them, possibly in reaction to comments after Aliens of London about having the cliffhanger for that episode spoiled. This trend has continued for most two-part stories in the new series.
  • Steven Moffat says in the DVD commentary for this episode that the Doctor's reply to Rose asking him what she should call him ("Doctor who?") was originally going to be, "I'd rather have Doctor Who than Star Trek," a metafictional dig at the latter programme. This is the first televised Doctor Who story to make a direct reference to Star Trek.
  • 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. This meeting was videotaped, and is available on the DVD release of Doctor Who — The Complete First Series.
  • The episode was initially smaller in scale and personal with Steven Moffat saying that "there was no big enemy and the major fear factor was a little boy looking for his mummy. Doctor Who can be small and domestic, and brilliantly effective."
  • The French title is "Drôle de Mort" (A Weird Dead), while the Hungarian title is "Bomba meglepetés" (Bomb Surprise).
  • Early drafts included the character of 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.
  • This episode, along with its following part, has the distinction of being ranked as Doctor Who Magazine readers' favourite Ninth Doctor story in all three of their major polls held since its airing, in 2009, 2014, and 2023. (DWM 592)
  • Russell T Davies chose a World War II setting because he wanted to place Rose in a romantic era that was just far enough away from her own time to be disconcerting.
  • Whereas Russell T Davies focussed on the romance of the period, Steven Moffat wanted to emphasise the haunting nature of Blitz-torn London. Spending some time immersing himself in the history of the era, he was struck by the image of gas masks tailored specifically for use by children. This suggested that the child-creature of the pitch document could instead be an eerie young boy clad in a gas mask.
  • The initial draft of the serial gave the infected humans more elaborate powers, including the ability to levitate and generate waves of force.
  • Dr. Constantine was originally called Summers, and it was he who brought the Doctor to the hospital after meeting at the club.
  • The material at the hospital was originally more horrific, depicting a skeleton and organs in jars, all sporting gas masks.
  • The street urchins were originally protected by a woman named Miss Timberlake and a man called Mr McTavish. It was ultimately revealed that Timberlake was Nancy's mother and McTavish was really the German father of Nancy's child. The former was dropped, while the latter was at one stage an apparantely mute man named John who hovered around Nancy.
  • The Doctor was originally led to the hospital by one of the children, who was called Billy. However, concern then arose that the Doctor did not meet Nancy until the very end of the narrative, so she was given Billy's role.
  • The nanogenes were originally called nanites; the new terminology was suggested by Helen Raynor after it was observed that nanites were a plot device often used in Star Trek.
  • James Hawes was originally a candidate to direct Block One (Rose, Aliens of London and World War Three).
  • Lighting the Vale of Glamorgan Railway proved to be a challenge. Director of photography Ernie Vincze erected a single large arc lamp, which proved to be visible from a great distance, becoming an irritant and a traffic hazard. A number of smaller lamps were used instead, slowing the pace of production to the point that some material had to be dropped or rewritten for the studio.
  • Jamie was played by Albert Valentine, although Luke Perry (who had been cast as Timothy Lloyd) stood in for him in some long shots. It was originally planned that Valentine would also provide the Empty Child's dialogue but, in post-production, concerns were raised that his delivery lacked a sense of menace. The production team instead turned to Zoe Thorne, but her timbre was too obviously feminine. Finally, it was decided that the Empty Child would be dubbed by Noah Johnson, who was the son of a friend of dialogue editor Paul McFadden.


  • 7.11 million viewers (UK final)[1]

Filming locations[]

Production errors[]

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • When the Doctor opens the TARDIS' telephone compartment, it's blue but both the inside of the TARDIS doors and the phone compartment are white.


Home video releases[]


Series 1 Volume 3 DVD Cover

DVD releases[]

Blu-Ray releases[]

  • 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. The release was initially bundled with the first seven series of the revived Doctor Who.

Digital releases[]

  • This story is available for streaming via HBO Max. It can also be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, and other online video stores.
  • 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.

External links[]



  1. In TV: Everything Changes, Yvonne states that Jack failed to report for duty on the morning of 21 January 1941.