Doctor Who Discussions: Season 1 – The Doctor Dances

This episode marks a turning point for the Doctor.

The Doctor Dances
The Doctor Dances

Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once, everybody lives.

We left the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack at the end of The Empty Child as they were surrounded by gas mask zombies. How will they get out of this pickle? Why, the Doctor sends them back to bed, of course. It’s absurd, and it makes total sense; these zombies are the extension of the consciousness of one little boy, so of course they’ll go to bed if someone tells them off and sends them on their way.

Sometimes, the best solutions are the obvious ones.

If The Empty Child was all about separating Rose and the Doctor, giving them some time to breathe on their own, then the joy of The Doctor Dances is in their reunion. Only this time, Rose has Jack in tow, and it shakes up that dynamic we’ve been relying on to guide us through this season. At least the first half of the episode is taken up with a sonic device measuring contest (barely a euphemism) between the Doctor and Jack. Jack might have better tech and seem like he’s winning, but the Doctor is always one step ahead of him; the weapons’ factory where Jack got his sonic blaster doesn’t exist anymore, because the Doctor blew it up and planted a banana grove. Jack couldn’t ever go back there even if he wanted to.

But after this inevitable posturing from the two of them, their relationship immediately falls into something more complicated than a simple alpha male contest. Whatever is happening in London is Jack’s fault. The Doctor knows it, and although Jack keeps denying it, he knows it too. As soon as the Doctor realises that Jack introduced nanogenes, which are rewriting human DNA, into the atmosphere, Jack doesn’t protest anymore. He’s genuinely remorseful, and then it’s only one small step to the conclusion that he’s going to sacrifice himself to fix the problem.

The episode spends a lot of time demonstrating that the Doctor could, in theory, be jealous of Jack. But the Doctor constantly pushes back against this, and I don’t think at any point he really comes off as jealous. He’s wary, yes, and he doesn’t trust Jack – but why should he? Jack’s a literal conman with a reckless attitude. But I don’t think the Doctor’s ever jealous. Like I said, their relationship is immediately complicated, and it remains complicated throughout incarnations of the Doctor. I’m sure we will get to Jack and Ten soon enough, and oh boy, is there a lot to say there. Nine, once Jack shows he is willing to fix his mistake, is accepting enough of him – and they are going to become quite good friends in later episodes.

As a side note, there’s an implication that some of the potential for jealousy comes from Rose being obviously dazzled by Jack in a romantic sense. But I’m not sure that’s ever really a thing from the Doctor’s point of view at all. Yes, I think he has deep feelings about Rose by this point in the series, but he’s 900 years old and he’s been around the block a few times; his coy little remark that ends the episode, questioning whether Jack would like to dance with Rose or the Doctor himself, shows that although the Doctor seems a bit clueless about this stuff, he knows what’s going on. And, it seems, he doesn’t really care that much.

The episode ends with the scenes of the nanogenes fixing their mistake, and bringing London back from the brink of gas mask zombie purgatory. Then, to top it all off, the Doctor dances. He’s so happy, so completely made up that for once, everything has worked out. That doesn’t happen much in his line of work; there’s always someone who has to pay a price. But this time, in one completely joyful moment, everybody lives.

This moment, and this episode, feels like a turning point in Nine’s arc. We are only three episodes from the end of his tenure now, and he isn’t the same sad and guarded person we met back in episode one. The Nine of the previous episodes would not have danced. But this one fantastic day, this brilliant day, shows us someone who is starting to appreciate the good again. The Nine of the previous episodes would not have accepted Jack as readily as he did, but because he trusts Rose and he is starting to trust himself again, he just does.

Just this once, everybody lives. The Doctor dances, just this once, because everybody lives. And there’s enough light in his darkness now that it’s something to be celebrated.

READ NEXT: Doctor Who Discussions: Season 1 – The Empty Child

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