The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances are two of my episodes of any TV series, period. Granted, they also left me with a mortal fear of gas masks and small British children inquiring as to the location of their mothers, but hey, it’s to be expected. Doctor Who excels at taking benign objects and situations and making them completely terrifying just because it can. The writers are a slightly twisted lot at times, and I love them for it.
To make a long story significantly shorter, Rose and the Doctor find themselves in London during the Blitz, where they meet Captain Jack Harkness, a time-traveling con man who intended to sell what he thought was a piece of space junk but instead released a truly disturbing sort of artificial plague. Jack’s scheme was strictly about the money and he planned to let a pre-determined event (a falling German bomb) cover his tracks and clean up any mess he left behind. Unfortunately, thanks to some ill-programmed nanobots, he wound up creating an army of gas-mask bedecked zombies and came very close to getting himself, as well as the Doctor and Rose, killed. Luckily for Our Heroes (and humanity at large), a solution is found, and as the Doctor joyously exclaims, “just this once, everybody lives.”
Technically, the philosophical question we’re supposed to address is this: is there such a thing as a victimless crime? However, in this case, the crime wasn’t victimless, so I’m going to approach the original prompt abstractly.
Jack never meant to hurt anyone. Should he have been punished for the consequences of his actions anyway? At the end of the episode, Jack captures the aforementioned German bomb with his ship so that it won’t detonate over the crowd of newly-cured Londoners, dooming himself in the process. He seemed resigned to his fate once he realized he couldn’t jettison the bomb or abandon ship, perhaps considering it just punishment for the damage he’d caused.
The Doctor clearly didn’t think so. Despite having raged at the con man when the results of his carelessness became apparent, the Doctor swooped in to rescue Jack moments before the ship blew up. It was reassuring to see this side of him, as the Ninth tends to exist on a sliding scale from sarcastic to prickly to downright ruthless. (Though Doctor Who is intended as a family show, it’s awfully dark sometimes, the actions and motivations of its titular character included.) I wonder, though, if the Doctor would have been inclined to save Jack at all if everybody hadn’t lived. Mercy is a quality that doesn’t always come easy to the Ninth Doctor, a topic that’ll be addressed in next week’s episode as well.