The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and Rose (Billie Piper) track a metal cylinder through Space and Time to the London Blitz of World War II, and land about a month later. As the Doctor tries to find it, Rose finds a young boy wearing a gasmask (Albert Valentine) on a nearby roof, calling for his Mummy. She climbs a rope to the roof and realizes it’s the tethering cable of a barrage balloon. She is carried off, but Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), a former Time Agent from the 51st Century posing as a Royal Air Force Officer, rescues her with his stealth spaceship, parked in the air near the Big Ben Tower. He thinks she is a customer for a probably stolen object he is selling, and she plays along, but claims she needs to discuss the matter with her partner.
The Doctor returns to the TARDIS to find its phone ringing. A young woman named Nancy (Florence Heath) warns him not to answer, but he does and hears the voice of a child asking, “Are you my Mummy?” He follows Nancy to an abandoned house, where she and a handful of orphaned children eat a meal left behind by the homeowners when they take to their bomb shelter. The boy in the gasmask knocks at the door and Nancy ushers the children out the back, warning the Doctor not to touch the boy. When the Doctor opens the door, the boy is gone. The Doctor follows Nancy and the children and learns that the cylinder he is looking for fell near a local hospital and it has something to do with the boy.
At the hospital, the Doctor finds patients wearing gasmasks fused to their faces. A Doctor Constantine (Richard Wilson) explains that Jamie, Nancy’s brother, was the first patient with this symptom, and suddenly turns into a gas-mask-wearing person himself, as the other patients all rise and start chasing the Doctor. Rose and Jack arrive and escape with him. The Doctor forces Jack to tell him that the crashed cylinder is a Chula Medical Ship. The Chula, finding dead people with gasmasks on, believed the mask was their face and fused it to their skulls as they brought them back to life, and their touch passes on the cure. The Doctor and his companions find themselves trapped in a room as patients converge on them, asking, “Are you my Mummy?” The episode ends, to be followed by The Doctor Dances.
The Chula are named after the Chula Indian Restaurant in Hammersmith where the writers gathered. The creepy and emotional story was well-received by critics and viewers, and with The Doctor Dances, won the 2006 Hugo Award. It was the first episode written by Stephen Moffat. The Empty Child is a play on An Unearthly Child, the very first Doctor Who story. The Doctor’s leather jacket is that of a 1938 German U-Boat Captain. The Hospital where the Doctor meets Dr. Constantine is the same one to which the fake space-pig was taken in Aliens of London.
Captain Jack would become a recurring character in the series, a charming thorn in the side of more than one Doctor, and lead character in the Torchwood spinoff. Time Agents like Jack were first mentioned in the Talons of Weng-Chiang with Tom Baker. Captain Jack romances a quite willing Rose but is just as likely to flirt with a fellow male soldier and, later, with any alien creature of any kind, anywhere, any Time. He was the first bisexual (or omni-sexual) character in Doctor Who and became immensely popular with viewers. The character quickly became identical with the actor. He is a smiling, charming, conniving, tragic, handsome devil in a long greatcoat and all the fans love him.