As The Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack are trapped and surrounded by victims of the gas mask plague,the bombs start falling on London and the pressure rises. What is Nancy’s secret?
The Doctor’s doesn’t get to dancing until the end of the episode, so why was the episode titled that? It’s a reasonable question, and not just because writer Steven Moffat throws in several suggestions that “dancing” is a euphemism for, well, something else. Something I don’t think any Doctor in the revived series did until maybe Twelve (you sly dog, Twelve!) How did the strangest script tangent become the title for this episode, which marks the Ninth Doctor’s best and happiest moment through the first series?
Well, it’s because this marks exactly the moment where the Doctor is finally able to feel comfortable in his shoes. He’s shown glimpses throughout the series to this point – enjoying the party at the end of the world, and definitely when he first took Rose by the hand and led her off into adventure – but this episode shows him triumph. He not only saves the life of the little boy who had been killed before the episode started, but he reunites a family, restores everybody who had been infected by the plague, rescues Captain Jack from a self-sacrifice, and y’know what? Maybe he deserves a little dance at the end.
After hundreds of years stuck in a brutal, horrible Time War which likely saw him make terrible decisions and take thousands of lives, the Doctor can shake away his time in the trench, just for a short while, and celebrate. There are few other moments in the series where the Doctor can just enjoy himself, and each time he does so by dancing. Think of the Eleventh Doctor after the Big Bang, showing a group of children his dubious moves. Think of the Twelfth Doctor having a little private dance inside his Tardis. The Doctor is one of the most brilliant people in the universe, but he’s always running, always holding back. Here: he celebrates.
There’s real joy in it specifically because it feels somewhat out of place. We’ve spent time with Nine, and we know he’s working through guilt and prone to bursts of anger and rage. We’ve not seen him comfortable enough to calm down before, but here his ‘victory’ at the end of the episode unlocks something within his psyche. You can arguably trace the origin of the Tenth Doctor – who never dodged a party and became self-confident to his own destruction – to these moments right here, where the Doctor realises he can be himself again. The sheer elation on his face is wonderful, and it gives the character so much empathy.
Up to this point we’ve been following Rose’s story more than any other. Here, she brings in Captain Jack, but by the second half of this two-parter she’s moved into the background to allow the Ninth Doctor a chance to showcase himself. It’s telling that the previous episode brought in Captain Jack, another time-traveller, to offer Rose a glimpse at two very different approaches to time-travel. Jack shows off relentlessly, and in doing so he overlooks something crucial which launches a virus at the helpless local population. He wants to save the day, which is why he’s worth saving, but his thinking is to sacrifice himself in a blaze of glory, martini in hand.
On the other hand you have the Doctor, all caution. While Jack woos Rose with cocktails by Big Ben, the Doctor was having dinner with a group of street kids, trying to work out what he can do to help them out. He repeatedly tells Jack what caused the problem, but Jack won’t listen until things are dire. When Rose compares the Doctor to Spock from Star Trek, it feels like a bit of a diss. But it’s actually perfect – Kirk may have done the posturing, but Spock was the one who always got things done at the end of the day. And that’s true for the Doctor. He sees all the pieces early on, and just has to work until he can reach a point where he can gather them all in order to save the day.
This isn’t a murder mystery or curious case which the Doctor has to solve. Almost from the start, he has an idea of what’s happening. It’s just that he has to gather more and more parts of the puzzle until he can tale the problem and address it: it’s a showcase for the Doctor, his most defining moment in this regeneration cycle. Nobody dies, everybody lives, just this once.
Since coming back, the show has been almost reckless with lives, with stories where most people die before anything is done. That’s paid off here: the Doctor refusing to be in another tragedy when he has everything he needs to create a happy ending. And that’s why the episode has the title “The Doctor Dances”. It’s simply and effectively saying that here is his moment of celebration. He remembers to be himself – when he says “I just remembered I can dance!” and busts out some dad moves, it’s a totally different Doctor to the one we first saw in Rose. The potential was always there, and has been growing from episode to episode, but here is where we see it bloom.
You need that battle and trauma and loss of the first episodes in order to build up to this moment… but we also of course know that loss, trauma and battle are all coming back round in due course. This is his moment, though, and who are we to argue it?
Doctor Who Series 1 Episode 10: The Doctor Dances
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by James Hawes