|27 May 2007||Human Nature, by Tim Lane|
|27 May 2007||Human Nature, by Simon Fox|
|27 May 2007||Human Nature, by Frank Collins|
|27 May 2007||Human Nature, by Eddy Wolverson|
|27 May 2007||Human Nature, by Claire Fulmer|
|27 May 2007||Human Nature, by Tony Leith|
|27 May 2007||Human Nature, by Will Valentino|
|27 May 2007||Human Nature, by William Cox|
|27 May 2007||Human Nature, by Paul Hayes|
|27 May 2007||Human Nature, by Joe Ford|
|27 May 2007||Human Nature, by Billy Higgins|
|27 May 2007||Human Nature, by A.D. Morrison|
|27 May 2007||Human Nature, by Adam S. Leslie|
|27 May 2007||Human Nature, by Angus Gulliver|
|03 Jun 2007||The Family of Blood, by Will Valentino|
|03 Jun 2007||The Family of Blood, by Billy Higgins|
|03 Jun 2007||The Family of Blood, by Angus Gulliver|
|03 Jun 2007||The Family of Blood, by Adam S. Leslie|
|03 Jun 2007||The Family of Blood, by A.D. Morrison|
|03 Jun 2007||The Family of Blood, by Frank Collins|
|03 Jun 2007||The Family of Blood, by Eddy Wolverson|
|05 Jun 2007||Human Nature / The Family of Blood, by Tony Whitehead|
|05 Jun 2007||Human Nature / The Family of Blood, by Shaun Lyon|
|05 Jun 2007||Human Nature / The Family of Blood, by Paul Clarke|
|05 Jun 2007||Human Nature / The Family of Blood, by Neil Clarke|
|05 Jun 2007||Human Nature / The Family of Blood, by Robert F.W. Smith|
|05 Jun 2007||Human Nature / The Family of Blood, by Andy Smith|
|05 Jun 2007||Human Nature / The Family of Blood, by Gary Caldwell|
Wow. I have not reviewed any episodes before, although I read the reviews every week. I was so impressed last night that I felt moved to write in.
This episode contained everything an episode of Doctor Who should contain. All the suspense and the WTF moments, damn scary looking bad guys, great characters, great acting and a good plot that continues to thicken throughout.
I think this episode was closer to the classic series than anything the new lot have done so far, for one thing there were several references, e.g. the car that looked a little like Betsy. Also when the girl with the balloon first appeared the tune was the same as used for a very similar looking girl in 7th doctor episode Remembrance of the Daleks. Another similarity with that episode is that had people (school staff even) being changed into bad guys.
Also there were pictures of previous doctors in the book. I always wanted to see Paul McGann in the new series, I guess that's as close as I'll get. I think it is the first time they have shown old Doctors despite opportunities in Rose and Love and Monsters.
All of the acting was great, Tennant continues to extend his range, I enjoyed him going all Hugh Grant over Miss Redfern and falling down the stairs. Martha is looking a lot more settled here and continues to prove herself. All of the supporting cast are strong. I especially thought Tomas Sangster as Latimer was a stand out performance as well Jessica Hynes (who wouldn't fall in love with her).
For once the pacing was dead right on this, in fact they crammed so much in that It felt like a much longer episode, but didn't feel rushed at all, I think having the quite short flashbacks (and forwards) was a good device to achieve this.
So, romps down corridors are well and good but I'd rather have more like this please, In my humble opinion this is by far and away the best episode of series three and at least on a par and maybe better than my previous favourite Girl in The Fireplace out of all the new who.
I am now on tenterhooks for next week, only slightly dampened by the preview spoiling the cliff-hanger, mainly I want to see what Latimer's character has to do with everything and WTF is going on??
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television
I have a sneaking suspicion the current makers of Doctor Who have a How To Make A Classic handbook and not only that, they've been following it step by step, and have read it backwards with a test afterwards to make sure it has really sunk in. Involving intriguing plot? check. Multiple engrossing subplots? check. Aliens signified by a glowing green light? Check. Asides for the fans, scary monsters and an accurate BBC-made period setting? Check, check and check.
The third series, so far, has been brimming with confidence with the way that even when it gets it wrong, it doesn't matter, like a dinner guest who misquotes Wilde but you forgive him because he's so entertaining. This is not only Doctor Who by numbers, but Doctor Who as it always should have - and on occasion - has been. They kind of story that justifies a fan's belief in the series.
The casting was just right from the scary high-cheekboned pupil overtaken by the aliens, the brilliant Jessica Stevenson as Joan Redfern and the psychic kid with the big eyes who is, as tradition would have it, bullied by his elders and lessers. Doctor Who is at its best when examining the endurance of Human Nature, as luck would have it, and this episode has it in bucketloads, proving that the show has long since transcended from a mere kids show into the stuff of cultural phenomenon that will never be forgotten. And quite right too.
It is here that I should mention the two leads, David Tennant and Freema Agyeman. DT revels in his change of role as the humanised John Smith, as does Freema in her anguish over losing the Doctor first as a Time Lord and secondly as he falls for Joan. In the climax, when the aliens figure out who the Doctor is, it is then his absence is most keenly felt and then that we realise how much we really do need the Doctor - after all these years - to still save the day. A lesson in our need for a hero, surely.
Ten out of ten. A sheer classic. Well done to all involved.
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television
It's a pleasure to be able to say that with Paul Cornell's 'Human Nature' that Series Three has at last given us its benchmark episode despite the fact that we've got another five to go! This was a sublime piece of television drama and a brilliant synthesis of the original novel's theme and plot and the Russell T. Davies game-plan for the new series.
OK. Let's get the wonderful references sorted out. For me, it was a lovely mix of Delderfield's 'To Serve Them All My Days', Lindsay Anderson's 'If?' (particularly the machine-gun training) and Cameron-Menzies 'Invaders From Mars' (invasion by possession seen through the eyes of a young boy) and once again the production team here excelled with the period setting. There was a beautiful, and yet sombre, autumnal feel to the episode that evoked the mood of pre-war England. Like two of the references mentioned above, it thematically explored the nature of Englishness, to quote Michael Bracewell 'where the rebels in England's Arcadia are defending the values that they love, passionately, from what they recognise as abuse at the hands of self-serving tyrants and their occupying armies'. I'm reading H.G Wells' 'War Of The Worlds' at the moment and the parallels in this episode, in both evoking the period and playing out of themes, are also striking.
According to Bracewell, nostalgia is the very fulcrum of the English national and cultural psyche: nostalgia for some kind of lost 'idealised past' - an Arcadian wonderworld. As the Doctor hides out as 'John Smith' in the pastoral confines of that typical symbol of Englishness, the public school, he dreams of and makes notes about his other selves, that time-travelling rebel, that alternative life caught in nostalgic flashbacks and scrapbooks. And to add to this nostalgic riff, the episode name-checks Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert as John Smith's (and by extension the series) parents, Rose (again), and showcases that other English (and the Doctor's) obsession: cricket. That the episode could wind these references so delicately into the story without knocking over the whole house of cards is testament to the care that's gone into crafting this superb story.
The episode cleverly touched on the inevitable tragedy of the First World War, in essence the destruction of Arcadia, with Latimer's flash forwards and the 'great shadow falling across the land' as dialogue represented by the hugely symbolic scene of the piano falling into the street and about to literally crush one of the flowers of England. Fortunately, there was a good bowler nearby.
The three people in the 'marriage' at the heart of 'Human Nature': John Smith, Martha and Joan are all classic symbols of the triad, the three -- spirit, soul and flesh, Father, Mother and Child, purgative, illuminative and unitive. The John Smith/Doctor schism not only touches upon Christ's 'I am way, the truth, the life' but also the reverse of that symbolism in the consequences of the sin and lust of human nature. It's all very beautifully played by the three leads with Tennant managing to completely remove the ticks and affectations of his usual performance of the Doctor to give us a nervous, repressed English school master capable of handing out punishments to young Latimer; Agyeman providing a Martha of great depth, saying much about her feelings through expressions and reactions than through speech and certainly I hope finally silencing the naysayers; and Jessica Hynes' Joan as the perfect foil for John Smith, as a sympathetic, warm and completely 'human' human being. The romance between the two is finely played and doesn't descend into sentimentality.
They were supported quite wonderfully by Harry Lloyd, as Jeremy Baines, whose possession by the Family, (the anti-Father, Mother and Child in the story), was much determined by an eerie performance. For me, it was Thomas Sangster as Tim Latimer who sneaked in and stole the supporting honours. He managed to convey a young man, troubled by his growing abilities, wiser and older than he should be. In effect, he was a younger John Smith, hiding out in the school for fear of being discovered as one of the rebels defending Arcadia.
Charles Palmer, the director, is a real discovery. He captured an England in autumnal fugue with a David Lean touch, framing sterling performances from his cast in long shots of the countryside. And I do hope his first shot of the scarecrow moving its arm was an homage to 'The Singing Detective'. And a word of praise for Murray Gold's score with a stunning passage of music as Martha returns to the TARDIS and recalls the incidents that brought her to 1913 and tries to find some comfort in the Doctor's message. Very beautiful string sections kept underlying her growing fear and frustration in the scene.
Overall, the best episode so far this year and certainly on a par with 'The Empty Child' and 'The Girl In The Fireplace' and we have the second part yet to come. If 'Family Of Blood' is half as good as this then I can confidently say we've got another classic to add to the list.
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television
I am sure that I am misquoting somebody when I say that stories are never finished, they are abandoned. But not Paul Cornell's "Human Nature". Times and Doctors and formats may change, but stories as powerful as this one can evolve right along with them.
In the expanded universe of Doctor Who novels, "Human Nature" is the literary equivalent of a TV story like "The Caves of Androzani" or "The Talons of Weng-Chiang". Even those (like myself) who didn't consider it to be the absolute best generally accepted that it was there or thereabouts. But now, twelve years on from the novel's first publication, "Human Nature" hits Britain's television screens as a lavish two-part spectacular. And in doing so, "Human Nature" sets itself up amongst the very, very best of the Doctor's televised adventures to date.
To be absolutely honest, I did not know what to expect of this episode. It has been a hell of a long time since I read the novel, and whilst I may have been sorely tempted over the last few weeks, I have somehow managed to resist the impulse to dust off my copy of "Human Nature" and get myself back up to speed. I wanted this episode to be a whole new experience and, from what I'd seen in the trailers -- Scarecrows, 'chameleon arches' etc --, I had a feeling it was going to be.
With his adaptation of the novel, Cornell has apparently gone back to basics. What we see on screen is the original story completely deconstructed, and then rebuilt with the new series and the different audience in mind. The basic tenets of the story are the same, but there are profound differences in the execution. As good as it was, the novel was catering for a very different audience and more fundamentally, it was a completely different medium. The reflective book dwelt much on Smith's humble existence and the simple pleasures that he took from his life. On TV, Cornell uses the odd scene to get the same ideas across much more economically. What we see come to life before our eyes is a fast-paced, exciting and spellbinding adventure. It's glossy. It's quick. And just like the novel, it's quite, quite brilliant.
"All the times I've wondered?"
From the explosive pre-title sequence, it was immediately evident that we were dealing with a very different animal. Amidst a tumult of weapons fire, the Doctor races into the TARDIS asking Martha if 'they' had seen their faces. When he realised that they had not, he knew that he had only one way out. He'd have to do it. He'd have to become human.
To avoid the Time Lord-hunting 'Family of Blood', the Doctor transforms himself both physically and mentally into a human being. He has one heart; a heart capable of loving in an entirely different way. Small-ly, as opposed to on a grand scale. One woman, as opposed to the whole Earth. This time around, Cornell wastes no time in introducing us to Joan, the kindly Matron who has her eye on 'John Smith' from the off. I was surprised at how different the dynamic was between the two characters on screen; of course the seventh Doctor was much older in appearance than the tenth, and so in print I'd imagined Joan to be a more mature lady. On TV though, Jessica Stevenson is a relatively young woman, presumably around the same age as David Tennant. So rather than wile away their evenings together playing chess and stroking cats, on TV Smith and Joan snog and go dancing. They fall down stairs and mend scarecrows. They save babies from pianos. Their romance is all a bit more explicit than I remember the book ever being, but on TV it works wonderfully.
Smith and Joan are both very likeable characters, yet neither is perfect. With Smith, there is an underlying Doctorishness that occasionally pervades into his life, but on the whole he is a completely different and separate entity -- a fact from which the whole tragedy of "Human Nature" stems. He does do the odd remarkable thing -- the piano stunt, for example -- but he is not perfect and he makes mistakes -- at times you're thinking "c'mon Doctor, you bloody sell-out, do something!" or cringing as he allows young Tim Latimer to be taken for a beating. And when Martha slaps him for being both patronising and even a bit racist towards her, you can't help but take her side.
Poor Martha really has a hard time of it in this episode. The culture of 1913 England is as alien to her as 1914 was to Benny in the novel. Martha is openly and cruelly mocked about the colour of her skin; she has her aptitude insulted by people who are undoubtedly far less intelligent than she is; she has her new best friend taken over by a malevolent alien entity; and, the final indignity, she has to watch as the 'man' she loves falls for another woman.
"You had to go and fall in love with a human. And it wasn't me."
I'm not sure why this episode is set slightly earlier than the book, though admittedly there is a unique sense of romance intrinsic to the winter before the Great War. On Doctor Who Confidential they describe it as "a time of innocence", but I think that's too kind. If the characters of "Human Nature" are anything to go by, it was a time of ignorance. A time of apathy. A time when those like young Tim who have the courage to speak out against racism or imperialism find themselves the victim of institutionalised bullying. Hutchinson, for example, encapsulates all of these traits, and Tom Palmer has to be given a great deal of credit for making the character even more vile than he came across in print.
And as for Jeremy Baines, Harry Lloyd is absolutely incredible in the role both before and after the Aubertide possesses him. There is a cold rage behind those eyes; a truly frightening edge. Baines is unhinged, as are all the Family of Blood. Mr. Clark and 'Mother of Mine' Jenny are also both impressive, as is the young 'Daughter of Mine' character. Little girls are always chilling when used in science fiction -- look at "Fear Her", for example -- but this kid is off the page. The "Remembrance of the Daleks"-style music that accompanies her appearances only adds to the sense of unease.
"Activate the soldiers!"
Oddly, the one element of the novel that I singled out for criticism were the Aubertides. From what I understand, after his epic novel "No Future", Cornell didn't want another big supervillain like Mortimus -- he just wanted a little gang of rogues; a nasty little group that would cause some trouble, but not detract from the book's more central theme of the Doctor's character and in fairness, that is exactly what he wrote. However, because "Human Nature" was such a contemplative piece, particularly in the first half I found that I couldn't really care less about the baddies and that I just wanted to read about Smith. Now on TV, the balance has been corrected. The whole emphasis of the story has changed; these Aubertides, 'Family of Blood' or whatever you want to call them are the whole reason for the Doctor's becoming human -- they are a bona fide and legitimate threat, backed up with an army of shit-scary scarecrows. I mean, how good was that? Scarecrows? Genius! I only hope that the balance remains the same through "The Family of Blood" and that we are treated to the same kind of action that the novel eventually delivered towards the end. That's if they can get away with having schoolboys fighting aliens with machine guns at 7.10pm on a Saturday night?
"The Doctor is the man you'd like to be,
doing impossible things with cricket balls."
However, as this 'Family of Blood' have become more integral to the story, unfortunately something has been lost. Ever since his first Doctor Who story -- the 1991 New Adventure "Timewyrm: Revelation" -- Cornell has skilfully explored the Doctor's thoughts and feelings in a way that no one before him ever had. In "Timewyrm: Revelation" he literally had Ace take a stroll inside the Doctor's psyche, and then in the original "Human Nature" novel, he once again looked at the Doctor's anguish, but from a different angle. When the seventh Doctor made himself human, it wasn't to shroud himself from some mad aliens who wanted to become Time Lords. It was because he'd been through so much grief and pain and he was sick to death of it all. He wanted to leave it all behind for a little while. He wanted to be human for a few months. To experience human life and human emotions. To have himself a quiet life. To conform.
"Have you enjoyed it, Doctor? Being human?
Has it taught you wonderful things? Are you better? Richer? Wiser?
Then let us see you answer this -- which one of them do you want us to kill? Your friend or your lover? Your choice."
And personally, after what the tenth Doctor has recently been through (the Time War; losing Rose; fifteen years as a Postman etc.) I thought that Cornell would use the same device again here, possibly even more effectively than the first time around. From what I remember, much of the drama in what will be next week's episode stems from the conflict within Smith -- if you're a happy man living a quiet life with your new lover, would you want to sacrifice yourself so that a cold and calculating alien adventurer might live? And I guess that's where it all falls down; what may have prompted the shift in emphasis. The tenth Doctor may be brutal to his enemies, but he's not the ruthless manipulator that his seventh self was. And if we're honest, no one really knows what goes on inside the Doctor's head. Maybe he could have escaped the Family of Blood by some other means. Maybe he did actually want to become fully human, just as his seventh self did. Or maybe not.
On the whole, "Human Nature" is an absolute phenom of an episode and, unlike most two-parters, I firmly expect the second instalment to be even better than the first. Without exception the performances are awesome - David Tennant; Jessica Stevenson; Harry Lloyd; Thomas Sangster; and especially Freema Agyeman, who this week has suffered a cruel introduction to the media circus that now surrounds the show --; the visuals are first-rate; and the story is every bit as good as it has always been, if not better. There's even a few loving nods to the show's long history -- 'Sydney', 'Verity' and a handful of past Doctors. And finally, as a huge fan of many of the Doctor Who novels, I'd just like to say that I only hope that this two-parter is not the last adaptation that we will ever see. If the current production team can not only recognise the quality of stories like "Human Nature", but also bring them to life this brilliantly, then the sky really is the limit.
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television
"Which one of them do you want us to kill, Doctor? Your Friend..... or your lover? Your choice."
I was Practically gasping for air when this episode ended.
I think I loved this episode for the same reasons I loved 'The Empty Child'. It's probably because they both had humor, wit, romance, and marvelous Classic-series-worthy-cliffhangers!
I've discovered that David Tennent, slipping into the role of the Doctor, is seamless. He's one of those actors that can make you feel that he's been there forever, while only two Seasons in. To see someone so excited, so fond of the series, an actual fan playing the Doctor, hopping on board the TARDIS, so to speak, is truly a blessing to everyone. I've heard some say that he's to young, or not right for the role, but what actor can you really point to and say, 'He IS the doctor.'? The role, all the way back to Hartnell's era to present day, has been changing, growing, evolving, and is it really fair to judge someone for a role that doesn't have much of a criteria? Now looking at this episode, He's practically playing a whole new character here- and he pulls it off marvelously!
First of all, a credit to Louise Page (bless her soul) for the absolutely brilliant Costumes! Who, I ask you, did not squeal with delight when Martha came in in her adorable little maid outfit? Or when we saw Joan's (Jessica Hynes) Gorgeous Titanic era Dance-Dress? Well, maybe people with very little taste, but I sure noticed them.
Mr.Smith, right off the bat, was a very likable character, one with whom the audience immediately connected with, a man who had flaws, yet was a hero. Even though he wasn't the Timelord we'd come to love and know, he was an admirable person, obviously kind and gentle. His falling in love with Joan was something that could be seen a mile off, but you still sympathized with both him, and Martha, and of course, Joan.
It was touching when Martha rushed to the TARDIS after seeing the Doctor kissing Joan, and re-watched the recording the Doctor had left for her, and being frustrated with The Doctor for not mentioning what to do if he started to fall in love. Obviously it hadn't occurred to him at the time, because he hadn't been human then.
In this episode, to me, Martha stands out stronger in performance than the Doctor's character did.
I tended to sympathize with Martha more often than with the Doctor in this episode, because for the moment she WAS the Doctor, taking his place, making the decisions, taking control, coping with being a house servant, dealing with being taunted about her color, befriending people she probably would never see again, watching her friend fall in love with someone else, and in general, surviving. Martha is truly outstandingly amazing here.
I also find Joan's character very interesting, too. She's kind to maid Martha up to a point. She knows that Martha knows something, and treats her with the dignity she deserves, while still acknowledging that Martha's only a servant. I have a feeling I'm going to feel very sorry for Joan in the next episode, according to the trailer for next week.
Oh, and the baddies! My, what a lot! Is this Doctor Who, or the Wizard of Oz? No, really, loved the scarecrows! And, Oooo, "We are the family of blood!"! Harry Lloyd (Baines) is truly terrifying here, along with "Mother of Mine" Rebekah Staton, and The Sinister Little Girl...Creepy! Perfect! Not quite as scary as 'The Empty Child', but I'm sure Steven Moffat will follow through faithfully in 'Blink'.
Just one more mention of an outstanding actor's performance in this episode is Thomas Sangster, or 'Tim Latimer'. In the scene where he opens the watch and a bit of the Doctor goes into his deep, pooling eyes, to me at least, he seemed to become the Doctor right then and there. Amazing job, Tom!
To wrap this review up, I just want to say how pleased I was with this episode. This season just hadn't been impressing me, and the episodes just seemed kinda stale- I had hoped things were looking up when I saw 42, and guess what? I was right. This might not only be the best episode in the season so far, but the whole new series. It felt like a classic Who in plot, style and design. It was touching, warm, and just plain funny.
"Would you like some tea? I could put some gravy in the pot, or a nice bit of mutton? Or sardines and jam, how bout that?"
I found it very hard to criticize this episode, I just hope the 2nd half, 'The Family of Blood' will live up to it.
Brilliant. Just brilliant.
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television
The best of the season so far easily in my view. Not that the rest have been bad -- even the episodes I would count as outright failures, namely the Dalek two parter, have been honourable ones, failing through an excess of ambition rather than a lack of it. I didn't read Paul Cornell's source novel, so the material was new to me. It's the first story this season which has had anything like the impact of 'The Girl in the Fireplace', say, which while managing to stay true to the spirit of the show took genuine risks with its storytelling and pushed the format envelope. My general observation of this season is that while it has generally been more consistent than Tennant's first, in that none of the episodes have been actually boring (sorry, but wasn't anybody else stifling yawns through fillers like 'The Idiot's Lantern' and -- worse even than that -- 'Fear her'), it's lacked the standouts like 'Dalek', Steven Moffat's two stories, or 'The Impossible Planet' two parter from the first two series. Here's hoping the second part doesn't degenerate into much shrieking, running, and blasting with ray guns. The Russell T Davies template for upping the ante in terms of dramatic tension does seem to rely heavily on subjecting the actors to bursts of aerobic exercise, and Russell, it isn't actually intrinsically much more interesting if they're being required to scamper up and down ladders as opposed to running along corridors. I am hopeful that the story won't fall into that particular pit.
I personally don't mind that we're suddenly introduced to a previously unmentioned and entirely unexplained piece of Gallifreyan kit as the central 'McGuffin' of the story. The later iterations of 'Star Trek' got more insufferable the more pains they took to detail the pseudoscience behind their plot contortions; I for one am willing to grant that if you can swallow the time travelling police box and regenerating protagonist, cavilling at the 'Cameleon Arch' is bit pointless. It serves to put the story, and the Doctor, into a very interesting place dramatically, experiencing the 'one adventure I can never have -- living an ordinary life, day after day'. Of course, John Smith isn't really the Doctor, and this episode has really allowed David Tennant to show off (but not in any ostentatious showboating sense) what a fine actor he really is. John Smith does come across as a distinct personality from the Doctor, with his own charm as well as more diffidence and reticence, and odd patches of abstraction where it is evident he's aware that there's something crucial missing. Tennant looks like he's enjoying himself ( 'Permission to beat him, sir?', pause and then an indifferent and somewhat distracted 'Yes'), not least in the beautifully underplayed and very English romantic scenes with Jessica Hynes.
Freema Ageyman also does some sterling and unselfish work in terms of carrying the narrative burden of the story -- she's the audience's eyes and ears, she's the lynchpin from the familiar (early 21st century Earth, the Tardis, gambolling merrily through time and space) to the truly alien (Edwardian England). If some 'source' at the BBC has been shooting their mouth off about Ms. Ageyman's future -- 'lovely girl, but not quite right for Doctor Who' (why? Too 'urban'?) -- I hope a) this is bollocks and b) a hefty boot is applied firmly to his/her arse at the earliest opportunity. Martha has the potential to be a much more interesting companion than Rose, as long as the writing doesn't shove her in the direction of 'unrequited lurve'. For god's sake, she's hanging out with a 900 year old alien who can take her anywhere in time and space, don't trivialize her or the situation by turning it into an adolescent crush. The X files has a lot to answer for, if you ask me?unresolved sexual tension has its place, but not all powerful attractions are sexual.
Other strengths of the episode -- the aforementioned Jessica Hynes, who in quite limited screen time managed to create a very well realised portrayal of a woman of that era, but knowing what she wants and the terms on which she wants to get it (Mr. Smith never stood a chance..). The evocation of time and place was also very well judged, the schoolboy machine gun crew a chilling reminder of what was about to befall that generation. It would be interesting to see this production team tackle a genuine historical piece i.e sans disembodied gibbering beasties, werewolves, time travelling andriods etc. etc. They've been able to smuggle a surprising amount of actual historical information in via period detail, but having the drama turning on engagement with a given historical situation or character would be something new for this generation of viewers. Granted this would be a risk, but risk taking should be what this show is all about. Our antagonists were also satisfyingly creepy, and refreshingly ready to shoot first and ask questions afterward without offering a preliminary explanation of their dastardly plot. Scarecrows seemed a bit redundant, but I can see the playground potential of imitating their ungainly lollop.
All in all, the episode was quintessentially what Doctor Who should be about -- demanding a bit more of its audience than the general run of mass enterainment television, but offering a bit more in return. What I just said about risk is central to the appeal of the show for me. Your average episode of something like 'Casualty' for example, well made though it might be, operates within pretty well defined parameters. By and large, I think that's probably how the viewing public like it -- you know what you can expect. Dr Who isn't -- or shouldn't -- be like that. The original producers of the show initially took viewers from the comforting familiarity of a fog bound London to a Paleolithic moorland, and from there to a petrified forest on an alien planet. It's not likely that this would elicit a shrug, a lunge for the off button maybe, but not a shrug. I hope the production team continue to be willing to take chances of the same order. Sometimes they won't pay off, but when they do, they'll create stories that will live in the imagination of a generation. More important, they'll enlarge the imagination of a generation. Now, that's public service broadcasting.
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television
I must first confess that I have never read Paul Cornell's original treatment of his novel Human Nature, so I am unable to comment on this story from this perspective. I will say that I was looking forward to this story with intense interest having read a little about it's origins and the basis of it's plot line. Any long time fan of Doctor Who would find some interest in a story such as this, and its execution did not fail to impress. More importantly, the episode skirted the fringes of the poetic and romantic DOCTOR WHO; better than any attempt has ever done so before. . There are things in the series that every fan regards deeper than the average entertaining adventure yarn. This, hard to describe intangible thing, we tend to refer to as the "magic" of Doctor Who. The "Magic" is woven into the framework of the series. Long time fans are more in touch with it because there are moments in the course of that 40 odd year journey when the fabric is exposed, torn away and we see the intangible, and it feeds the souls of the starving. In the case of this season, a few stories you would have expected to be satisfying have fallen a bit short and HUMAN NATURE seems to be the oasis in a season I feel sure is going to click into overdrive beginning with HUMAN NATURE. You can never keep a good Doctor down, and I must say, David Tennant is beginning to crystallize into a Doctor of extraordinary depth and HUMAN NATURE does much to further that belief.
HUMAN NATURE has some very strong elements used to support its story that are keystones of DOCTOR WHO canon. As such a tabernacle of such things, holding things revered in the heart of any DOCTOR WHO fan, it cannot and most certainly should not fail to be any short of memorable. As the story opens we see the Doctor and Martha running from unseen shadows that are chasing the duo through time and space. There seems to be some gap that exists between the close of "42' and the opening of "HUMAN NATURE". Suddenly we find the Doctor and Martha, back in the Edwardian days of a private boys school in England which brings to mind some classic BBC dramas set against the backdrop of the age of innocence just before the first World War. "All Creatures Great and Small" and "To Serve Them all my Days" come immediately to mind and you cannot help to think of David Powlett Jones when we first see David Tennant as the very lost John Smith, whose very soul is being kept in something so fragile and easily lost as a pocket watch. Once again, the watch, a symbol of time itself is an archetype of the Doctor, the timelords and the series itself. When the quizzical and clairvoyant Tim Latimer steals the watch,(played by the adorable Thomas Sangster) it immediately imperils the Doctor and alerts the mysterious "family" to the Doctor's presence. An unexpected surprise was seeing the "Journal of Impossible Things' the dreamy eyed Smith has constructed from his memories and "dreams". Just like the Doctor's diary seen in the days of Pat Troughton, we are allowed a brief passage back into the Doctor's world, a world that would make him a dreamer, an illusionist, or a total madman in early 20th century Edwardian Society. Ironically, it is the Doctor, a strangely attired Edwardian gentlemen who we first see in the junkyard in Totter's Lane in 1963 England that is immediately connected to this time and place in 1913 England. The episode once again is a lavish recreation of another time and place, and the story is as period realistic as any BBC period drama, even down to the storefront windows, John Smith's quarters and the encaustic tiles Martha and Jenny are seen scrubbing near the start of the episode. When we see Martha riding her bicycle back to the house where the Doctor has hidden the TARDIS we are briefly allowed to embrace the innocence of the time. She re-enters the time machine and we are home again in the TARDIS, to discover , through flashback, how the Doctor in becoming fully human , has hidden from his would be captors using the "Chameleon Arch" feature of the TARDIS.
In becoming "human", The Doctor has sacrificed everything he is and ever was to try to outwit the still unseen plunders that have been chasing him through time. He seems awkwardly at home as John Smith, and seems trusting enough in his attempts to court Joan played on the sublime by Jessica Stevenson (Hynes), and to show her, boastfully, his "Journal Of Impossible Things". In his pursuit of Joan, he has left Martha little to defend herself with in the vague instructions the doctor has left her with. He tells her" Don't let me abandon you" but he seems ready to unknowingly do so in a heartbeat. Once again, we have to feel for Martha, who could be quite the educator in a school filled with zealous young men, yet she thinks of her love for the Doctor and how he has fallen in love with another human and it wasn't her. You genuinely feel the pain she must have, especially since she must act out her life as a servant girl in a time not particularly kind to women of color. In many way's she is the alien. Racism has been addressed in past episodes, but it seems to be annoying when presented in cruel ways and while the series makes it's point, it seems to double speak itself at times such as the reference to the "tribesmen of the dark continent" during the shooting range practice scenes. I just think the references become excessive in a series that has a beautiful lady of color in a leading role, to almost appear as unintentionally derogatory. In HUMAN NATURE, we see Martha almost as an independent, having to survive and function in the soft gaze of the doctor who is as docile and human as anyone who would live his life cloistered behind the stone walls of a private boys school .It is her strength that carries both of them through the whole ordeal of living back in 1913 as refugees out of time. Paul Cornell beautifully conceives the whole concept.
The episode is beautifully and believably directed by Charles Palmer who seems to understand the core essentials to an atmospherically brooding Doctor Who episode. In fact, the episode felt very much like a Phillip Hincliffe era Doctor Who episode, with the "family" roaming the hillsides in their newly found "shapes", while appearing a trifle clich? in a Sci Fi X-Files kind of way. This season's handling of witches and scarecrows almost seem like long overdue treatments left over from the Hincliffe era. You have to admire the shuffling sideways gait of the scarecrows, which add to their animated believability as "soldiers" in the Family's army. Palmer understands it's the little things that make a great Doctor Who story; the nod of a head. A sniffle, a little girl walking with a red balloon., all small elements that add to the composition. I expect a few surprises will be in store for the concluding" Family Of Blood" episode, to put more of a face on their sinister doings. One character's reference to the 'matrix" opens a Pandora's box to all kinds of speculation, but I suspect it is timelord technology here that is being used against the Doctor. A rather crude redress of the TARDIS set as the alien spaceship is intended to either suggest timelord technology, or awkwardly scream at budgetary restrictions for a series, which seems to be holding back and saving its big dollars and pounds for this years concluding episodes.
Hats off to Paul Cornell for another wonderfully written script. "Father's Day' proved that Cornell had a unique understanding of the Doctor's world and I am very pleased to see him doing the screenplay to his "Human Nature" novel. Mr. Cornell is definitely a fan of the series as evidenced by all the inside references to to the Doctor's past, the use of the John Smith character again, the "Journal Of Impossible Things" and most especially the reference to Gallifrey possibly being in Ireland, and of course the nod to the people who stood at the series' foundations, Sidney Newman and Verity Lambert! What a joyful moment indeed! Cornell is a fan's writer and has been named as a possible successor to Russell T. Davies, and from where I stand; I sincerely would love to see Mr. Cornell involved in the future of the series. One thing is certain with more scripts like "Father's Day" and Human Nature" we can be assured there is indeed a future for DOCTOR WHO, for what is past is prologue and "Human Nature" does more than just prove this. It shows us there is poetry to the music and a harmony to the ideals that stand at the center of the series. Like Rose wanting to believe there was more to life in PARTING OF THE WAYS than just waking, working eating chips and going to bed, Cornell gives us John Smith, who is a human whose imagination makes him that much more extraordinary because he is dreamer! Just like the rest of us.
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television
"Take this watch, my life depends on it. This watch Martha, this watch?"
I was cautiously optimistic when I learned that the BBC were planning an adaptation of Paul Cornell's 1995 novel "Human Nature" for series 3. The prospect intrigued me: after all, this was one of the most highly regarded books to ever come out under the Doctor Who banner, and was voted best New Adventure in DWM. A TV adaptation certainly had a lot to live up to. In addition, having read it over a decade ago, I had only pictured Sylvester McCoy in the role of John Smith, since it was originally written with the character of the 7th Doctor in mind. There was also the fan reaction to consider. Would die hard fans accept a remake of one of their favorite Who stories? That is a debate that is best left for another time and place. My focus is solely on the merits of "Human Nature" as a television production, and in that regard it truly shines.
Pursued by evil aliens who want to acquire his time lord abilities, the Doctor embarks on a daring plan: he will transform himself into a human in order to evade his enemies, and Martha must look after the vessel that contains his true genetic makeup (in this case a pocket watch). After using a device called a chameleon arch to undergo the agonizing process of being remade, the Doctor becomes John Smith, a teacher at a Boys School in 1913. He has no memory of who he once was, although he still has dreams about his previous existence. Martha acts as his maid and his guardian, in case the Doctor's plan goes wrong. And, as anyone who has seen the episode or read the book upon which it is based knows, it does.
The production is a beauty to behold. The BBC are second to none when it comes to period dramas, and this episode is not exception. 1913 has been lovingly recreated and we are readily immersed into the reality presented to us. The acting and direction are also top notch. David Tennant continues to impress as the Doctor, and here he is given a new dimension to work with. He successfully creates an entirely new character while still retaining characteristics of the old. Not an easy task. Freema Agyeman likewise gets a chance to expand Martha's character to great effect. No longer is she just a companion and an assistant. Here, she carries a lot of weight in the episode as she has to deal with the burden the Doctor has been forced to place on her. That the Doctor would entrust something so monumentally important to her and that she would accept the challenge without question shows love and trust on both their parts. The supporting cast are equally effective, particularly Jessica Hynes, who plays Joan Redfern, the love interest for John Smith.
The villains of the story, simply referred to here as "The Family", are chilling in their actions and their mannerisms, but even more frightening are their scarecrow servants, which they are able to animate. The phrase "behind the sofa" immediately comes to mind, and no doubt countless children in Britain got a good scare with this one.
This episode is one of those rare events in which everything comes together so perfectly. Season 3 has finally produced it's first classic, one that will be remembered for years to come. I dare say that next year this episode will definitely be a contender for the Hugo.
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television
Three years ago, I sat in a caf? at the University of East Anglia with Paul Cornell, as he drank a cup of tea and we chatted about Doctor Who. I was at the time involved with the running of the university's student television station, Nexus UTV, and that year we were hosting the annual National Student Television Association Awards. Not just an excuse for a single booze-up but a whole three day shebang, we were tasked with putting on various events over the course of the conference. At my suggestion, we'd invited Cornell -- who'd already kindly agreed to judge the drama category that year -- down to the campus for an afternoon to give a talk about writing for television, which he was generous enough to also agree to. A very nice chap, I have to say.
Anyway, we sat there chatting as we waited for all the various attendees to gather across at the venue where he was to talk, and we discussed the impending new series, about which he was of course allowed to say very little at the time. This was just about slap-bang in between the casting of the leads, when we knew Eccleston was to be the Doctor, but hadn't heard about Piper yet. So, early days.
We talked about what Doctor Who we liked, and what we didn't like, and needless to say the subject of the New Adventures came up. He enthused about the work of Kate Orman, and I had to rather sheepishly confess that, a few books aside, I hadn't really been a great fan of the range, seeing myself as rather too 'traditional' a fan to be part of the audience they were aiming at. He was perfectly nice about this and we swiftly moved on to other things, but it felt a rather difficult thing to confess to, because this was the man whose work had been so emblematic of that range of books. With Human Nature in particular, he had provided them with the gold standard by which other Doctor Who novels are so often judged.
I was never entirely swayed by those who spoke of the book as one of the greatest Doctor Who stories that had ever been written, but this time, in this new version, all these years after I basically and incredibly rudely told the man I wasn't that much of a fan? I have to admit that I was wrong. Because this was wonderful. Perhaps it's because the story has had time to mature and develop in Cornell's mind; perhaps because of Davies's magic touch; perhaps simply because of the different demands of a different medium, but Human Nature in its television form took the very best of the story and substance and heart of the novel, combined it with the freshness and vigour of the new television series, and created something very special indeed.
Let us start with the visual. Director Charles Palmer was praised by many for his work on the first two episodes of series three, so it was no surprise to see that once again he created a dynamic, involving look to the episode. It also stood out, though, because it had such a rural setting. Somehow, alien spaceships and laser beams in the heart of the English countryside have a very nostalgic quality to them. It's strange, in that I cannot off the top of my head think of a specific series whose style this evokes, but the tone seemed to evoke memories of British science-fiction and fantasy series of old. That immediately gave it a different feel to the often urban and gritty episodes of the new series, ever since the beginning of series one, and helped to identify the first instalment of this two-parter as something unique.
It's becoming almost needless to say that the BBC always create period settings very well, and we are in danger sometimes of taking it for granted. But the truth is that they do. It's no longer true, at least not quite so true, what Andrew Cartmel is always saying about BBC designers being far happier in the past than in the future, but all the same the history of Britain does bring out the best in them. Sets, costumes, and all other departments combined to make it look like a proper period drama, and not just the token effort that fantasy shows usually give on shoddy backdrops when they slide back into the past. This was sumptuous.
The performances matched the direction and the design. I can't imagine that anybody who has read the book will have any problems identifying Jessica Hynes's portrayal of Joan with the character as presented originally on the printed page. She has the same passions and angers, the same drives and emotions, and it was pleasing to see that while making the perfect match for John Smith, the perhaps less positive aspects of the character were also retained. In the book, Joan makes an off-the-cuff joke about the Irish at one point, and some of this survived in her apparent relief that John was not an Irishman. Similarly, her dismissal of Martha -- which could, I suppose, have come dangerously close to the schoolboy's racism nearer the start of the episode, but didn't -- is very like her general antipathy towards Bernice in the novel, although as the story went on that was more fuelled by the dreadful fear of what Bernice was going to take away from her.
Thomas Sangster as Tim had less to deal with than the book version of the character, as the bullying he received seemed positively tame by comparison, but nonetheless he seems to be headed the same way as his literary counterpart. Oddly, I thought he seemed a touch too young for the part, but that might just be compared to the older boys we saw elsewhere in the school. One of whom was Baines -- a wonderfully creepy performance by Harry Lloyd once he'd been taken over by 'the Family'.
Speaking of which, I was worried that the vile nature of the aliens might be toned down somewhat for this version, but a lot of their attitudes were still intact. All the business in the ship with their disembodied voices before they took Baines over was suitably sinister, and a new invention for television of their scarecrow servants was terrific. There was more than a passing nod to The Singing Detective, I think, when the scarecrow first appeared to move, but in an episode full of nods and allusions -- as the series as a whole so often is -- that can only add to the fun. The Family has been streamlined a little from the novel, though, and there was sadly not much of the creepiest element of all from the book, the girl with the balloon. At least she's there, though, and I hope she gets up to more of her gruesome tricks next week.
David Tennant discussed on the Doctor Who Confidential episode accompanying Human Nature how he approached Smith as a completely new character, and he certainly seems very different and yet in some ways very similar to the Tenth Doctor. I was worried that the character taking on a human aspect would not be noticeable given how very human he already is, but Cornell confounded my expectations by using the less desirable aspects of humanity to highlight Smith's human nature. His attitude during the Officer Training Corps sequence, for example, extolling the virtues of the gun practice and allowing Tim to be punished, was shocking for those used to the Doctor's heroism and sense of right and justice, and showed us effectively just how different a man he is. True, this is also in the book, but somehow the contrast with the Tenth Doctor is greater than it was with the darker, more manipulative Seventh. Tennant was terrific all the way through, from this ruthlessness right through to his touching romance with Joan.
Also impressive was Freema Agyeman as Martha, and her character's presence in early 20th century England was also well-handled. The racial issue was dealt with but never overplayed, and her concern for the Doctor and dismay at being in this situation was all very good.
Martha had at least had a little time to get used to the situation -- the audience were pretty much flung into it. Indeed, for the vast majority of casual viewers unfamiliar with the book it must have been even more surprising and mysterious an episode than it was for those of us who do know the story, and I envy them in a way. Consider, after all, that until the moment when Martha goes back to the TARDIS for the first time, there's absolutely no indication that the Doctor isn't actually a creation of Smith's imagination. It certainly must have had some people guessing.
Smith's journal, another element taken from the book but expanded on somewhat here, provided the first of several little touches that must have gladdened the hearts of fans everywhere when it once and for all stuck the final nail in the coffin of any of those still clinging to a 'Paul McGann doesn't count' mantra. He's right there in black and white, sketched by the Doctor alongside his other incarnations. Another heartening touch, added by Davies, was the names of the Doctor's parents -- as soon as we heard the first, I think we all knew at once what the second was going to be, didn't we? Some might see it as over-indulgent, perhaps, but then again Lambert herself did a similar thing back in The Rescue ('Sydney Wilson'), so there's an excuse if any were needed. Which it wasn't!
And as if this episode needed anything else to confirm that it's one of the finest of the run, we get an honest-too-goodness old-fashioned cliffhanger, with the music sting crashing in perfectly and making me wish it was next Saturday right now. Some might fear that after such a great first half whatever comes next can only be a disappointment, but I have great confidence in any team that can produce something this wonderful. And if next week's is only half as good as this, it'll still have been a powerful and gripping story.
One thing's for sure -- if I ever happen to meet that Paul Cornell again, I'll make sure I buy him something stronger than tea as a thank you for gracing the series with this.
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television
Quite simply spellbinding. My favourite episode of Doctor Who since it returned to our screens and screaming pure quality from every second of its precious celluloid.
Adaptations are strange beasts. It all depends on your opinion of the original as to how you receive the altered version. With Dalek, BBC TVs adaptation of Big Finish's Jubilee, I felt Rob Shearman had missed a trick. He captured the drama and stunning dialogue of the original play but forgot one of the things that made the story so distinct, its sadistic and very funny black humour. Human Nature, in my opinion is an overrated New Adventure. Its good and it has a brilliant central idea but ive never been that fond of Paul Cornell's over-egged prose. Fortunately, Cornell has the incredible luck of wiping away the (frustrating) seventh Doctor and using the far more likable tenth, the added strength of Martha Jones and gets to turn the whole story into a hunt, which adds far more tension to the proceedings. All the important features are there?the romance with Joan, the fact that he embraces humanity; the incredible atmosphere of the Boy's school and the result is a TV adaptation that is vastly superior to its novelisation. An extremely rare feat.
Performances in the new series of Doctor Who are generally very good but occasionally a cast is assembled that is outstanding. The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit is a good example and Human Nature is another. The three central performances sell the story so convincingly you are dragged against your will into their lives and feel a real connection with them. David Tennant outdoes himself in the central role of Dr Smith. It is enviable to any actor to be able to, in the middle of a series, play a completely different character. Usually science-fiction deals the alternative universe card to achieve this and the regulars ham it up but Human Nature depends on this being our Doctor and our Martha. Its frightening watching Tennant play John Smith, almost as though this is role he has been playing for a season and a half, such is the confidence and the realism in the part. I love his stiff upper-lippedness mixed with a great deal of intelligent charm and a streak of pure eccentricity. You can see precisely why Joan is attracted to him from the off.
What's this? A romance in Doctor Who?for the Doctor? I wouldn't imagine Jessica Stevenson as the woman who would capture the Doctor's heart but that's only because of her phenomenal success with Spaced and the lazy character she plays. I have never been more pleased to be wrong; she's superb as Joan, the most successful celebrity guest spot yet. There's so much truth to Joan and Stevenson convinces entirely as the love struck widow, she's quite a serious character (behaving with proper manners as was appropriate at the time) but there are glimpses of humour that make her very charming. The brief admission, "It's been ages since I've been to a dance but no-one's asked me" could sound desperate but from Stevenson's lips it breaks your heart. Think back to School Reunion last year and Rose and Sarah-Jane bickering over the Doctor, the animosity between Joan and Martha (who must desperately try and stand in the way of this romance) is far more gentle. Had Joan been played by a lesser actress this could have been a real nasty character but there is such depth to her that we see a subtle understanding between Martha and matron.
I do hope the rumours about Freema Agyeman are untrue. I love Martha. I have since Smith and Jones. She's a far more intelligent and independent character than Rose, she compliments the Doctor in the same way that Emma Peel complimented John Steed. Even better, Freema is a fresh young face for the series and it is clear that the show has challenged her and driven some fine performances. Human Nature is as much Martha's story as it is the Doctor's and she is inflicted with more indignity than any companion has for a while. The racial comment about her hands made me gasp, it's almost as bad as the assumption that as a maid she should not be familiar with her master and use the side entrance. Watching Martha tip toe around the Doctor is fascinating, trying to cope her best with this hastily improvised situation. The sequence where she returns to the TARDIS is beautiful, like she is coming home. The music during that sequence was particularly good.
Suzie Liggat's first stint as producer is a huge success. The resources she has made possible have resulted in a high-class production with some atmospheric location filming and some authentic sets. The feels of the episode is elegance from the relaxed pace to the depth of characterisation through to the special effects and camerawork. Doctor Who's production values are astonishing these days, truly beautiful and it is pleasing that they can make last weeks dirty, roasting spaceship as classy as this weeks upper class boys school. Certain shots in this episode took my breath away: the light scanning through the field, the scarecrow bursting from the field to attack the little girl with the red balloon, the moody shots of John Smith and Joan walking through the fields.
Harry Lloyd is the spitting image of a young Captain Jack Harkness; should they need to cast the role he would be superb. He gives an interesting performance here, really up himself as Baines but completely chilling (with possibly the scariest alien eyes I have ever seen) as a member of the Family of Blood. He makes a great foil for David Tennant's straight acting John Smith and their confrontation in the final set piece is a quality moment. Many people playing possessed characters use the excuse to ham it up but Lloyd stays on the right side of silliness with his psychotic grin and glinting eyes.
Its another great cliffhanger in a series that seems to have remembered how they work. This one is especially goof because I don't think it is something the series has ever tried before in its fourty year plus history. Such a simple, brilliant conceit?have the Doctor fall in love in an episode and lose faith in his companion and then risk their lives together in the finale. Who does he save? So simple and so effective.
Human Nature deserves the praise that has already been lavished on it, from the papers to the fan reaction. It is as close to an adult drama as the series is going to get without feeling like another series. For one episode the Doctor gets to fall in love, live as a human and lead a normal life. The drama and the potency of that idea are captured beautifully.
After such an amazing opening can I pray that the conclusion isn't a disappointment.
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television
The name's Smith. John Smith.
Back in time again for the third adventure in this memorable season, and a quite-sublime opening instalment of Paul Cornell's two-part adaptation of his acclaimed Doctor Who novel, Human Nature.
Fom the very first explosive scene, this was an absolute treat and, if the concluding episode fulfills the promise on offer here, we could be hailing the finest Doctor Who story of the modern era.
Ironically, that grab-the-audience-by-the-throat opening scene - The Doctor and Martha rushing into the TARDIS pursued by an unfriendly laser beam - while typical of the super-high-octane nature of 2007 Who, was totally atypical of much of the rest of the episode. It was a gentler-paced tale than anything else since the series returned (although Martha kept up her running quotient!). But it was never slow - and totally gripping throughout.
Under threat of death from a race who want to absorb a Time Lord's life span to prolong their own existence, The Doctor could see only one escape route - changing his biological structure for a time until they lose his scent. Using the Chameleon Arch in the TARDIS for the first time, The Doctor became public schoolmaster John Smith in 1913 England, with no memory of who he really was - save for dreams in which he recalled some of his adventures.
Martha is also in 1913, and working undercover at the schoolhouse as a maid. Before undergoing his metamorphosis, The Doctor told her she must instruct him to open a fob watch, which will trigger his memories, and revive the Time Lord within him, if she senses danger, or when three months have elapsed.
Martha realises that the alien family have taken over the body of a maid with whom she had been working, but is horrified to find out the watch is missing - and she has no way of bringing back The Doctor. She's also dismayed to find out that John Smith has fallen in love with a human, the matron Joan.
Meanwhile, schoolboy Timothy Latimer, who pocketed Mr Smith's watch, opens the device, and his mind is filled with images of frightening future events. Another pupil, Jeremy Baines, has been taken aboard the spaceship of the alien family pursuing The Doctor, and his body has also been taken over, along with other members of the village, after being kidnapped by terrifying living scarecrows which are, in fact, soldiers for the aliens.
The possessed villagers track down The Doctor to the local dance and, despite his protestations that he doesn't know what they're talking about, they demand he changes back to a Time Lord - or they'll kill either Joan or Martha.
Even scribbling all that down has one nodding in satisfaction at a beautifully-structured episode, packed with interesting and well-realised ideas.
The living scarecrows were genuinely frightening. We have seen a scarecrow come to life in Doctor Who before, but that was one of The Master's umpteen "I am the master of disguises" in the classic series - The Mark Of The Rani, coincidentally set in a similar time period. The 2007 version - like all monsters in the new series, properly choreographed, were designed to lollop rather than gallop towards their victims, and this was an effective manoeuvre.
Talking of scary, there was a deliciously-malevolent performance from Harry Lloyd as the possessed Baines. Easy to take it into "ham" territory, but Lloyd pitched it right, with the "sniffing" out of his prey liable to send chills a-multiplying through many a viewer.
Almost a given that Jessica Hynes would be a delight as Joan, as she's a superb actress who never disappoints. And more good work from Freema Agyeman who had several interesting exchanges, touching on racism, sexism and classism, all prevalent in the early 20th century. Nothing too heavy, but nicely structured to make the viewer consider the issues.
Star of the show was the star of the show, though. Effectively playing another role - that of John Smith (and for which he was doubly credited) - David Tennant clearly relished the opportunity to show us his range. And, although he seeded in a few Tenth Doctorisms into Smith, this was a delightful and charming portrayal of a 1913 schoolmaster. Tennant's a high-quality operator, and his acting class shone through here, particularly in Smith's warm scenes with Hynes, and his bafflement at Martha's revelation that his dreams were reality.
The BBC are always terrific at period pieces - and really took us back into time with them. Having visited Shakespearean era and 40s New York as well this season, they've been busy bunnies. And Murray Gold proved he can do "restrained"!
I haven't read Cornell's book, but it will be fascinating to compare the original to the TV screenplay. Cornell's basic story is refreshingly different to anything seen in the rest of the series, and it's hard to pick faults with the script. So I won't. Great job.
Nice touch from Russell T Davies, too, naming Mr Smith's parents as Sydney and Verity - respectful acknowledgements to two key figures in the 1963 version of the show of which RTD is so fond, namely one of the programme's creators, Sydney Newman, and producer Verity Lambert.
Nine out of 10, and comfortably the best of an excellent season, which just keeps getting better.
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television
In any other era this story would have been seen as as controversial as The Deadly Assassin (which revealed more about the Doctor's background than ever before, and also, by placing him tangibly among his own kind, portrayed him for the first time as vulnerable, out of his depth and thus more mortal) was in its day, in its radical take on the nature of the Doctor and the Timelord makeup. But in a revamped series already littered with romantic lapses on the main protagonist's part, the radical departure of this episode has had its way softened. Nevertheless, finding the Doctor living as a literal 'human' school teacher in 1913 England, enamoured to the school matron, is still quite disorientating, albeit in a well-articulated and quite moving way.
Before commenting on this highly promising opener to the latest - and most anticipated - two parter of this season, I'd just like to say that I do think the convenient 'chameleon device' the Doctor uses to turn his actual physiology human is a really hard concept to swallow: it seems impossible in theory, as in, how can it actually turn his two hearts into one (which it does of course, as witnessed in the scene when Redfurn checks his heartbeat(s)? Plus, why hasn't he ever used it before? Like when he was fleeing the Black Guardian for instance? This idea really does stretch us from the outset in terms of credibility. However, when an episode is generally as impressive and beautifully made as this, I'm almost beyond caring about the logistics. (One might also now use the concept of this device to argue that the clumsy revelation in the 1996 movie about the Doctor being half-human could be explained by him altering his bio-makeup in order to try and avoid detection from the Master in said story - though clearly in that case he half-botched it...)
This is one of the most filmic episodes done so far and the opening shot of the school to the choiring of 'Yee who would most valiant be' was inspired and reminded me of the classic TV series To Serve Them All My Days. Indeed, Tenant's teacher, Dr John Smith, could quite easily fit the part of said series' cheif protagonist, David Powlett-Jones. 21st century hairstyle aside (they could have gelled it down for this episode really couldn't they?), Tenant very much resembles and acts the part of his disguise, though one of course he has necessarily forgotten to be a disguise, truly believing himself to be the earthling teacher, who is disturbed by strange dreams of time travelling adventures.
This premise is one of the most superb ever thought up for Doctor Who (I know, it's based on Cornell's 90s novel), and in terms of developing the Doctor in a very new way, a truly unique scenario in the entire series' history (a sort of Superman III/Last Temptation of Christ outing for the Timelord). It is handled with great delicacy and feeling here: the romance with Nurse Redfurn is believable, gentle and actually moving, helped by Murray Gold's most/only accomplished music so far, which captures - for once - the mood of the episode. There is none of the adolescent sloppiness of the Doctor/de Pompadour liaissons of the otherwise well-realised Girl in the Fireplace of last year. This is a rather awkward, innocent and abstract love affair (bar one kiss this episode, which too was done believably), perfectly fitting the more sexually restrained Earth period. And for once the Doctor seems to be attracted to someone whom one could conceivably understand him liking: a kind, intelligent woman who oozes humility. The shots of the very convincing and detailed notes and pictures of Smith's time travels are beautifully choreographed, enriching this immaculately realised episode with extra poetic leaven.
The mysterious schoolboy is excellently portrayed, a real Little Father Time (re Jude the Obscure) - if only they'd though to nickname him that, so appropriate too - if I ever I saw one, harrowed-eyed and silently knowing, surely either an alien, a young Timelord, or some sort of younger version of the Doctor? We'll find out next week...
This apparently trapped 'alien' English schoolboy of course is very reminiscent of Turlough in Mawdryn Undead, a story also set in a public school. But what is even more challenging about this episode - and too in common with Mawdryn - is the focus on what might be described as 'the Doctor having a nervous breakdown', as opposed to the Brigadier's literally alluded-to crisis in said Davison story (another case of amnesia). Brilliant treatment of Tenant here.
The elder, Flashman-esque prefect is also an engrossing portrayal, even if he goes a bit too far with some of his lines, overdoing his RP. But he really is a menacing-looking young actor, with his goggling eyes and resonant voice to match. Some shots of him are truly disturbing.
Not so impressive are his two fellow 'family' members and one can't help feeling RTD had a hand in casting them in these roles, echoing his rather childish preoccupation with portly villains (see, well, maybe don't see, Aliens of London). At one point I seriously worried they might have written in those interminable Slitheens into this - that would truly wreck the story.
The scarcecrows! Well, these have to rank as one of the most evocative and creepy monsters ever done in the show (old or New), alongside the baroque clockwork robots in Girl in the Fireplace. Indeed, these scarecrows actually move like clockwork, lurching clumsily forwards with their heads lolling to the sides, a macabre posture duplicated eerily in the humanised 'family'. The shot of the first scarecrow moving its hand on the top of the field is a classic series shot - as are the subsequent rampages. Excellently realised creatures - one wonders why the old series never used such a potent disguise for aliens (the nearest they got was the Master stuffed with straw in Mark of the Rani).
Human Nature does of course have its clumsy lapses (as do all the stories of new Who so far, even the best ones; ie, Dalek (the Doctor with the gun), Impossible Planet (the Doctor's hugging session) and so on): tenuous humanisation plot device aside, we also have aliens firing rather wieldy and cartoon-like ray guns, and a pointless scene in which Martha moans to herself about why the Doctor had to fall in love with a human woman who wasn't her. If this is going to be the extent to Martha's characterisation, I rather hope the recent rumours of her being axed from the series come true (sorry Freema).
But slight quibbles aside, this is a beautifully shot, acted and written episode, and will in time I am certain be regarded as one of the all-time classics in the entire cannon of Doctor Who (though still not quite on a par with Deadly Assassin, Caves of Androzani, Genesis of the Daleks, Pyramids of Mars, Seeds of Doom or Kinda, in my view). But this of course depends very much so on how it pans out and concludes next week! One has grown quite accustomed now to striking first episodes and flatter finales, but I think and hope that with the emotional depth and uniqueness of Cornell's highly ambitious plot, we shouldn't be let down this time.
This season keeps getting better (bar the ok but rather empty filler 42). Human Nature is the best episode of the series so far (and up against strong competition such as Gridlock, Daleks in Manhattan and Lazarus), and arguably of new Who altogether. But as I say, how it concludes next week will very much determine its potentially great status as a complete story. Still, at least we have one episode so far which already achieves greatness in itself.
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Now this is more like it; a beautiful, properly-paced old-style adventure that really shows up the frantic one-episode runarounds like 42 and Lazarus as the empty vessels they are - and this story actually has a decent central premise that makes it both unlike anything that's been attempted before, and oddly remensicent of the slow-burning more surreal adventures of early Davison.
A lot of the reason this 2-parter works so well, I think, is that it is finally structured like an old-school 4-parter (so far at least). Whereas some of the previous doubles have just been extended episodes 1 and 4, with the first half all slow build-up and the second collapsing into 45 minutes of frantic resolution, as it stands Human Nature is a perfect tradational 1 and 2, with the scary scarecrows arriving at almost bang-on the half way point in time for what would have been a cliffhanger.
Oh yes! It's all just so wonderful up to that point. The acting, the atmosphere, the delicately woven plotting, the nostalgic nods to the show's past. And just when you think it can't get any better, a bunch of scarecrows turn up and start rampaging about with their own patent Wizard-Of-Oz-gone-bad lollop. There's nothing scarier than animated scarecrows, not even clowns, so why it's taken them so long to mine this particular source of kiddy nightmares is a mystery.
Another important reason this story is such a triumph is that it's just so different. I've recently been bemoaning the profusion of urban-set adventures and lack of anything rural during RTD's reign, and bingo - a little English village, country folk, woodland... I've also been getting a bit bored by the regularity of alien invasions and large landmarks becoming illuminated, so again this is looking very promising in that respect. Only "The Family" themselves feel a bit standard, shooting innocent bystanders like the Judoon and generally over-acting in their first scene (all very high school drama class, the weakest moment for me), chewing their dialogue like any number of other invaders.
While we're on weak moments, the bit with the piano was silly but didn't overtly bother me. Only yet more Rose-based mooning soured the cream a little, but only a little. It passed quickly enough.
David Tennant was at his best yet, playing the likeably vague school teacher with total conviction; the scene with our hero coolly overseeing the machine gun practice, and authorising the young lad to be beaten by his colleagues were chillingly out of character. Two honourable special-mentions for me must go to Spaced's Jessica Hynes, who would make a wonderfully different companion were she allowed to stay on - the most enjoyable companions from the original series were often those from very closeted backgrounds having their eyes gradually opened by their travels with the Doctor; and a straight-laced woman in her mid-30s in the TARDIS would be a delight - and an unexpected left-field treat in the form of Murray Gold's score, not the usual metallic pomp and bombast at all. The strange piece of music which accompanied Martha's visit to the TARDIS sounded like a Burt Bacharach instrumental from the 1960s, while the waltz at the village dance was just lovely. Not to everyone's taste, of course, but I like that kind of thing.
So, on to the references. Nods to the past in Doctor Who have a habit of seeming either crassly smug (the horribly misjudged "new science fiction series" moment in Remembrance Of The Daleks), or just shoehorned in for the sake of it. Here they were perfectly balanced; the nostalgic trawl through memory lane combined with the Doctor-becoming-human plot, this almost felt like what the last episode ever would be like. I'm sure I haven't spotted them all, but these are the ones I noticed:
The biggest reference has to have been Mawdryn Undead: a regular character, having taken a post teaching in an all-boys public school, loses all memory of his past adventures; meanwhile one of the pupils is not all he seems. On the same track, the scene between "John Smith" and the young boy is very very reminiscent of a similar scene towards the start of An Unearthly Child. Then there's the cricket ball stunt from Four To Doomsday. The gag about Gallifrey being in Ireland is a reference to at least one Tom Baker adventure (I forget which). There's a musical nod to Remembrance Of The Daleks with the little girl. And the cockle-warming namecheck for Verity Lambert and Sidney Newman, which could have been toe-curling in the wrong hands. I'm sure there were many others too, and I'm equally sure other reviewers will point them out.
I'm almost nervous to watch next week's episode, I desperately don't want them to blow it. As it stands, I would say this was the best Doctor Who episode since the Davison era, perhaps even Hinchcliffe's Tom Baker years. I'm told this story comes from a spin-off novel predating the RTD era; if so it shows in the depth and richness of the adventure. The only depressing thing is that they could and should have been making stories of this calibre sooner. This is how it's done!
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Last week I mentioned the series perhaps being stuck in fourth gear. This week, maybe, we shifted into top. If next week's "Family Of Blood" worthily wraps up this two-parter then we will have the most successful adventure of 2007 for the good Doctor.
As we all know, this story is based upon the 1995 novel by Paul Cornell. I was generously lent a copy of this by the friend we watched "Smith & Jones" with (Hi Chris!). Only after reading this did I seek out reviews, and I generally agree with those who feel there's a good story in there but the book concentrates too much on the Aubertides without making them particularly interesting characters.
Thankfully the premise seems to have been changed somewhat for the TV version. The Doctor must change physically and mentally into a human because he's being chased, and as a Time Lord could easily be tracked.
So we have John Smith, English public schoolteacher in 1913, as the clouds of war are forming. Cornell and director Charles Palmer skillfully get us into the story quickly, indeed I felt this episode established a lot of essential facts and packed in a lot of action quickly but without leaving the viewer feeling rushed. The marks, I believe, of a good writer and director.
The Doctor has "hidden" his real persona inside a pocket watch, which is found and briefly opened by one of his pupils, leading the alien Family of Blood (no mention of Aubertides) to locate him, The Family posess an (excellent CGI) mostly invisible spaceship complete with forcefield that is activated when anybody touches the ship. And they use spooky scarecrows as soldiers, these deserve a special mention for their design is truly un-nerving!
The Doctor (or should I say John Smith) begins to fall for Joan, and eventually invites her to a local dance where the aliens finally locate him...cue "scream" and the cliffhanger.
Regular readers will know I was not overly impressed with Cornell's "Father's Day" from 2005. I felt it was great dramatic television but had nothing much to do with Doctor Who. However, despite the main character being effectively absent "Human Nature" works much better. Like "Father's Day" it gives us a chance to focus on the companion, but with the Doctor still very much being the central character and crucial to the plot.
As the first of a two-parter, this does its job in an excellent manner. It was entertaining, I didn't catch myself clockwatching. It was scary in places, it was well written with observations on racism and sexism gently woven into a script that was correctly more concerned with telling a story. Roll on next week!
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Continuing on the strengths of HUMAN NATURE, FAMILY OF BLOOD takes us further into the story of The Doctor's singular human adventure hiding from a band of shapeless chameleons who seek his time lord lifespan. Tucked gingerly into a fold in time, we find the Doctor and Martha exiled in hiding at a private boy's school in England of 1913, just before the start of the Great War.
Where HUMAN NATURE explored the character of John Smith, FAMILY OF BLOOD does more to unravel the inner mind of the Doctor and Paul Cornell builds upon the unique insight into the working mind of the time lord that we have glimpsed in "FATHERS DAY, and "SCHOOL REUNION". FAMILY OF BLOOD unfolds, at first with more physical action than it's counterpart but it soon becomes a revealing portraiture of the inner struggle of the Doctor's identity as he fights to keep his newfound human existence and sacrifice his true self, and Martha and everything he has ever known for a life "On the Slow Path" with Joan. We see the time lord as a very lonely figure transfixed on keeping the identity of John Smith as a prize in a vicious war that has cost the lives of many people, who, as Joan points out to the Doctor, would never have died if the Doctor had not returned in hiding to 1913.
Of course this opens up a Pandora's box of temporal probabilities and one has to wonder if the Doctor has damaged the timeline just as Rose did in "FATHER'S DAY", an earlier Season 1 script penned by Paul Cornell as well. Circumstances were a bit different as Rose, saves her Father, when he should have died and the Doctor in arriving in 1913 becomes a part of events. Of course, at the end of the story, we do see little Tim Latimer (Thomas Sangster) using knowledge he obtained from the watch to save his life, and the life of his schoolmate friend during a World War I confrontation, and we are back again to "FATHER'S DAY". Surely the Doctor has done considerable damage to the course of events? His returning to the future to see Latimer at a Veteran's ceremony incriminates him, but it is also a beautifully rendered scene and a poignant memorial to Britain's World War I dead.
In "FATHER'S DAY" we hear the Doctor remark to the wedding couple about their chance meeting and his choice to help them " Look at you, 2 AM, in the rain waiting for a taxi?I could never have that life". Paul Cornell gives us a glimpse of just what might be if the Doctor was allowed to live such a life. It is this sort of life that the Doctor becomes transfixed on as John Smith, as he fully imagines his life with Joan, their marriage, children and his ultimate ephemeral death as an old man?. a life, as a time lord traveling through time and space he can never have. This scene is perhaps one of most poignant ever seen in DOCTOR WHO and you cannot help but well up in emotion over the loss of his human self . This is DOCTOR WHO at its finest, and most poetic. The story continues to put out, even after the viewer is satisfied with its conclusion. While the Doctor can do little to bring back the people who died at the hands of the Family Of Blood, he is relentless in his merciless punishment, while cruelly giving them exactly what they were seeking?. eternal life, ?.or eternal imprisonment. One wonders if the Doctor in his struggle to retain human ephemeral form, feels likewise about his life wandering the galaxy in a TARDIS, never knowing a permanent home, and a life such as the one John Smith would have led. . The Doctor truly is an exile now. . An exile from his time, his people and ultimately himself.
Bravo to David Tennant who delivers his best performance ever as John Smith, struggling to keep his feet on unmoving ground. His transformation from John Smith, back into the character of the Doctor on board the alien's spaceship clearly is a map and guidepost to his portrayal of The Doctor, and a peek into the mind of the dream and the dreamer. Such a paradox is John Smith- who dreams of traveling the universe in a magical blue box, and then fights with a vigorous stance against his "dream" becoming reality. The reality is its is the Doctor's dream to be human, to live life on the slow path and die an ephemeral death. A reality that could have come true with Madam Du Pompadour (in GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE) if he had let it, but she gave him his means of escape and he took it. The Doctor's ability to become "human" is his poison chalice, and he knows this at the start of the HUMAN NATURE but has to open this Pandora's box to save himself and Martha, but a very expensive price to everyone who falls within the shadow of John Smith. Ultimately, it's the Doctor's dream that is shattered, as John Smith must realize his life can no know no future and he struggles almost to tears at it's passing.
Of course it is Martha who saves the Doctor. She is the glue and binding thread connecting the Doctor's two selves and keeps them from totally unraveling and losing sight of each other. She confesses to loving the Doctor, although his invitation to Joan to travel with him really does tell us how he must feel towards Martha. Because of this there seems to be opposition to the character of Martha, but she really is a wonderful illuminating companion and Russell T Davies knows the audience must love her, and not necessarily the Doctor. Her drive and dedication to the Doctor is immeasurable and as a character, she must do so in the steely face of racism as has been rather starkly portrayed. . She has proven herself to be very strong and Freema Agyeman is indeed a worthy successor to the Kingdom of "Rose".
If HUMAN NATURE and FAMILY OF BLOOD have one weakness, , it is the development and portrayal of "The Family Of Blood" themselves. They are a trifle clich? and underdeveloped and seem to have needed more thought and substance. Perhaps more could have been made of their ephermerality and because we never see them in their truest form beyond being a gaseous cloud in "HUMAN NATURE", their motivations are a bit foggy. The idea may have worked well in a book form, but they did not transfer well enough in the transition from book to television screenplay. Russell T. Davies in ALIENS OF LONDON also borrowed the idea of the "Family", which lessens the impact and idea in this story and further the theme of repetition used excessively this season to annoyance. Still, a small issue to note in a story that was brilliantly rendered from start to finish.
Fortunately, and thankfully, Russell T Davies had the insight to see the strengths of Paul Cornell's original novel and ask him to adapt it to the televisual form. In a season that has not been that strong on storyline and originality. I would hope in the future this tradition is continued, especially since it has yielded a wonderful story such as this.. HUMAN NATURE and FAMILY OF BLOOD are definite jewels to be savored in all their beauty and complexity for years to come!
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While extolling the many virtues of Human Nature last week, I speculated that we might be celebrating the arrival of the best Doctor Who story since the series returned if Part Two, The Family Of Blood, was of similar quality. So. Was it? Let's discuss.
Firstly, how the story panned out . . .
John Smith, the human manifestation of The Doctor hiding in a village in Edwardian England, and Martha are being pursued by the malevolent Family Of Blood, a murderous race who want the essence of a Time Lord to extend their lives.
Martha is desperately trying to convince a confused Smith that the time-and-space-travelling adventurer of his subconscious, The Doctor, is his true form, and she needs him to return to defeat The Family - but she needs to find the stolen fob watch which contains his life patterns.
The boy who stole the watch, Tim Latimer, brings it to them in a deserted house, and even Smith's girlfriend, the matron, Joan, believes Martha to be speaking the truth. Smith is faced with the personal dilemma of opening the watch, in the knowledge that he would most likely cease to exist. He decides to make that sacrifice, and The Doctor destroys The Family's spaceship and gives them the immortality they crave - in a form that they can never do any harm to anyone else.
The Doctor asks Joan to travel with him in the TARDIS, but she rejects him as a result of his role in the death of many innocent villagers.
Young Latimer, with the power of foresight given to him by the watch, narrowly escapes death in The Great War, and goes on to live a long life. The Doctor and Martha return to Earth to visit him as an old man before continuing their travels.
Now, that rough outline of the second episode perhaps doesn't sound that special - but there was so much more beneath the surface that made this one of the finest written and acted characterisation pieces in any Doctor Who.
There were so many great scenes. Early in the episode, there was Martha battling to hold off The Family on her own with their laser gun. This was a great story for Martha, with more to do in two episodes than some previous companions had to do in two series! Without "The Doctor" for most of it, she was left to effectively take the lead against a more-advanced race, and had to cope with her own feelings of hurt that her beloved Doctor in his human form had fallen for another woman.
Plenty for Freema Agyeman to get her teeth into, and she didn't fail to deliver. If, as rumours have it, her first series is also to her last, that would be a sad loss to the show. I think both actress and character still have much to offer.
Another extraordinary scene was the scarecrow soldiers' attack on the school, defended by armed pupils. The sight of pre-teenage boys firing rifles at their assailants was a chilling reminder that lads of not much older went off to war in real life in that time period and, in fact, still do today all over the world.
From a filming perspective, it was one of many superbly-realised action scenes overseen by director Charles Palmer, who has made a big impression this season, and we'll hopefully see more of his work in Series 4. It rather reminded me of a brutal scene in the first episode of Genesis Of The Daleks, which saw men in gasmasks being gunned down in a trench, and made a vivid impression on this young man of eight or nine in 1975.
Curiously, although the scarecrows were made of straw, seeing their innards splatter out as they were shot was surprisingly effective. It sounds like a funny scene, though was anything but, and the excellent direction and lighting was a large contributory factor here.
The scary scarecrows themselves worked marvellously well throughout the two parts. From Ailsa Berk's clever "lolloping" choreography to the malevolent tilting of the head to the actual design, they were a triumph. The production team could have got them very wrong, but they were very right.
Also "very right" was John Smith being given a foretaste (via the watch) of what his human life could be like - through marriage and children until death. This was the life The Doctor can never have (and, deep down, doesn't really want as "he could have changed back"). Making David Tennant up as an old man was another great job from Niall Gorton and his prosthetics team, as it was with Mark Gatiss in The Lazarus Experiment.
The closing scene of The Doctor and Martha returning to Earth to visit the elderly Latimer was touching, but perhaps the finest scene of the episode - and maybe the entire series - was The Doctor meeting Joan after despatching The Family.
This was a significant scene because it clearly showed the arrogant side of The Doctor. Having been partly responsible for the devastation which befell this innocent village upon which he descended, he then assumes Joan will be grateful for the opportunity to travel with him in the TARDIS - and without any mention of poor Martha, who has constantly risked her life to save him. Joan's quiet and dignified dismissal of him with a "you can go now" was an even better put-down than Jackie Tyler's slap of the ninth incarnation.
Superb stuff from Jessica Hynes as Joan - I think she would have made a fascinating short-term companion - and David Tennant was absolutely immense here again, in his dual roles as John Smith and The Doctor. And it was the former which was arguably the more likeable of the two in this episode. The portrayal of Smith's struggle to grasp what was going on and then make the decision to give up his life enabled Tennant to underline the range of his ability.
I'm rather inclined to gloss over rather unconvincing elements of the plot, notably The Family's sudden demise. Having The Doctor "just press buttons" on their spaceship to make it blow up was a slight let down, and you could argue that the whole premise of the story was rather elaborate if The Doctor could just revert to Time Lord status, and had the power to confine The Family to "a life sentence" straight away.
That said, I wouldn't be up all night worrying about things like that when there was so much to enjoy. The idea of "giving those who seek immortality what they wish for" was actually explored at the end of The Five Doctors. It's a rather-chilling prospect, and the little girl trapped in the mirror was another intriguing concept.
There was a nice nod for fans with a snatch of Ring O' Roses (as accompanied a similarly-malevolent little girl from Remembrance Of The Daleks) and a reminder that a fanboy runs this show! And is making a pretty fine job of it . . .
This was the best story of David Tennant's tenure as The Doctor for me, and possibly the finest since Caves Of Androzani. Nine and a half out of 10, and surely even the blinkin' majestic Steven Moffat can't top this little gem next week. Can he?
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I find this episode difficult to review. I also find it hard to praise. Ultimately I was disappointed. I have to hand it to those who say that Paul Cornell is overrated. He set up a great first episode, only to disappoint with the conclusion.
To sum up my disappointments, first off I think it wrong and out of character for the Doctor to end the story effectively torturing the Family by dooming them to all to spend eternity trapped and separated from each other. Why not simply let them live out their (short) natural lives? The given solution seems cruel, vindictive and vengeful - surely characteristics we do not associate with the Doctor.
Second, I had hoped we might find out why the schoolboy Tim had premonitions BEFORE he came across the pocket watch. But the episode leaves us none the wiser.
Third, I am not sure we ever found out how the Family tracked the Doctor to a small English village in 1913.
Maybe others will disagree, but I think those three points are fundemental to tying up all the loose ends presented by the excellent "Human Nature" episode last week.
Otherwise the cliffhanger was resolved well, the pace was kept up and while I was disturbed to see John Smith so enthusiastic in his insistance to defend the school with guns, one could argue this was to make the point that he is a different character to the Doctor.
I thought it appropriate that Joan refused the Doctor's invite at the end of the story, and we once again see that the Doctor has in many ways sacrificed a "normal life" for his travels, and that he has a deep effect on some of the people he meets.
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I must admit I was almost nervous sitting down to watch this episode. It could surely never live up to last week's 'new series'-conquering triumph - the second installment of two-parters have traditionally been weaker since the show returned; and to be fair, even in the original series it was finding out about the problem in episodes 1 and 2 which was almost always more fun than solving it in 3 and 4.
And true to form, the carefully-nuanced plotting, subtle textures and left-of-centre score of Human Nature gave way to the usual running around, zapping and orchestral bluster in Family Of Blood. It's a shame. It was all very well done of course, but nothing we hadn't already seen in the recent Dalek two-parter, or the cyberman double last year, or in variations on the theme countless other times. It would be lovely if an RTD-era Doctor Who two part adventure could find another way to reach a climax without resorting to running, screaming and shooting for 30 minutes.
However, it was the final act which really left me cold. It wasn't so much the sentimentality that did it for me (though they did appear to be using a spade to heap it on), more the fact that we suddenly seemed to be plunged into Fan Fiction Hell.
I think it was Tom Baker was who said that fans kill the thing they love. I don't know specifically what he was referring to on that occasion, but surely it's a quote which fits perfectly with the unhappy notion of fan fiction. Take Star Wars for example. The reason we all love Star Wars is that it's a simple and enjoyable slice of escapist film-making, a place we can go to escape the drudgery of the real world and spend time with swashbuckling heroes on fantastical adventures. There's just enough texture and background detail to prick the imagination, and there's just enough of a smattering of darkness to keep it this side of lightweight fluff.
And this unfortunately is where the fans come in. They feel compelled to give a name to every background extra, write a novel to explain who they are and how they came to be in a bar on Tattooine, and how their paths cross with Luke and Han again in the future, how they become generals in the rebel alliance and how they die at such-and-such a battle defending some other background extra's life. Suddenly there's absolutely nothing left to the imagination; the fans have ended up killing the thing that brought them to the franchise in the first place. The same goes for the back stories and future adventures of the main characters - it's not enough that the story ends and we are left to imagine their "happily ever after". The fans have to go and write books about it all.
All easy enough to ignore, of course. The real problems come when those in charge start taking notice, when the the convoluted soap operatics and hystrionics of the back story come to drown out the desire to tell a rattling good adventure yarn. Flash forward to me enduring Episode III wondering at which point Star Wars had become the by-word for tortured misery rather than escapist fun, and whether my time might not be better spent sitting on the bus home.
And this is the same complaint I had with the finale of Family Of Blood. The reason we fell in love with Doctor Who as a series and as a character is that he represented the underdog; he was the lovably eccentric alien (with the occasional flash darkness) who would always save the day with a combination of wit, charm, ingenuity and, above all, COMPASSION. That's not to say he was always a pacifist, despite his many protestations to the contrary, but the alien menaces would either be regretfully dispatched by the Doctor or, more often than not, by the heroics of a secondary character emboldened by the Doctor or by the bad guys' own folly tricked into hubris by the Doctor. The Doctor was the little man standing up for the little people, his only weapon a combination of his brains and ingenuity and personlity.
So, since when has he become this all-powerful avenging angel flouting the Geneva Convention like some Old Testament bully?
Since Andrew Cartmel began to inject the convoluted pretensions of fan fiction into the series during the late 1980s. Suddenly it was no longer enough to love Doctor Who for the reason we had always loved Doctor Who; suddenly our foppish but reliable hero was an arch-manipulator from beyond the dawn of time. More grown up, perhaps - but did this new character really speak to us in the same way as he had always done before? No longer the exciting big brother or eccentric uncle you always wished you had, this new Doctor is the school bully all grown up and morally decent but with that glint still remaining in his eye, he's the evangelical copper roughing up criminals in the back of the van for the greater good, he's the Old Testament God telling the little kids they'd better behave otherwise they'd be holding a one-way ticket to hell.
And so, Family Of Blood: meet the dark Doctor of fan fiction pretension; the Doctor who'll arbitrarily condemn middle of the range space thugs to disproportionate hellish eternities (though the fairytale punishments were rather nice in their own right); the Doctor who'll beg some poor baffled traumatised nurse to shack up with him, rather than slip off into the night as he has always done previously... yes, it's character development, and yes I did enjoy it for what it was, but is it still the Doctor Who we fell in love with?
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television
Family of Blood
Well, this conclusion must rank as one of the most missed opportunities ever in the history of Who. Human Nature was probably the best episode so far of new Who (just having the edge - by virtue of such unique storyline - to Dalek, Father's Day, Unquiet Dead, Tooth and Claw, Girl in the Fireplace and Impossible Planet) and promised so much, but unfortunately Family of Blood in general seems to take a wrong turn, or should I say, a lazy one, in what is rapidly becoming the new Who two-parter tradition (and horribly reminiscent of the various let downs of Season 22). Not to say that Family of Blood is a bad episode, far from it, in new Who terms it is still a high-ranking slice, and in places it still reflects glimmers of its opener's poetry ('he's fire and ice... he's... like the night' - nice but actually a bit lame in true poetical terms and ironically not a patch on an immortal line about the Doctor from the otherwise deplorable romp Meglos in Season 18: 'he takes the strands of the universe and binds them back together' (sic)).
The sad fact is that the very kernel of this unique story in the history of Who is also its downfall: what in Human Nature starts out as an almost profound and deeply enriching take on 'what if the Doctor was suddenly a human, what would he be like etc.', in Family of Blood egenerates into a cod-Messianic take on the Timelord ('he's ancient and forever...' - no he isn't, he only has 12 lives!), which echoes back to the 'God in the police box' of Season 26 and to the literally messianic post-regeneration prostration of the Eight Doctor ('Who am I?'), but goes even more overboard than before. The flash forward of the Doctor marrying Redfurn, having kids and then dying of old age as a human is of course a direct copy of Last Temptation of Christ - it is quite moving in a way but again is possibly taking things a bit too far when one considers the nature of the film it is copying. As soon as one start supposing the Doctor to be some sort of 'lonely God' or even Messiah, the whole history of the series is in danger of losing its real substance in that this implies the Timelord is omnipotent and invulnerable and not the character of old who had to use his wits and intelligence to solve various dilemmas. Whereas in classic Who the Doctor was more equatable with Sherlock Holmes in space (a celebate genius - juxtaposed quite literally in Talons of Weng-Chiang), the clumsier new Who goes the full hog and practically equates him with a Christ-like figure.
This hint at ominpotence is only further cemented in the almost absurdly poetic/arthouse-esque conclusion in which the Doctor quite callously traps the family of blood in inert immortality (the girl is apparently that thing in the corner of the eye when we look in a mirror and the boy has been more fittingly imprisoned as a scarecrow - the latter was a nice touch, a potent and crucificial motif, but again a rather ruthless curse by the Doctor). This smacks of the fate of Borusa in The Five Doctors, frozen forever immortal as a face on the base of Rassilon's tomb. If we always wondered who the third of the Rassilon-Omega triad was, it seems we're looking at him every week, apparently.
Flawed poeticism aside, my other criticisms of Family of Blood are as follows:
a) the complete failure to develop the character of Latimer, who we find out in the end is nothing more than an Earth child with precognitive abilities, who just happens to be the one who eventually finds the Doctor's watch, which in turn enables him to see into the future, which he could do anyway - therefore a red herring of a character
b) the mawkishly sentimental and ridiculous scenes of Latimer, still visibly too young to be in combat, managing to avoid a shell thanks to his insights of the future from the Doctor's watch - ok, wonderful, so of course there weren't any other shells or bullets to strike him down in No-Man's-Land, only that particular one!
c) the very Schindler's List -esque overkill of the last scene at the war memorial
d) the complete lack of development or explanation about who exactly the family of blood are, what they really look like etc. - the glib description of them 'living only three months, like mayflies' thus needing the Doctor's regenerations to cheat death was again poetically put, but more insight into their true nature and form would have been nice
e) why in the first place did the Doctor decide to change himself into a human for fear of being detected by the family when he hasn't done this before in same circumstances, and also when he was only going to change back and defeat them in the end anyway? Ok, so we're told that it was his compassion to avoid defeating them that led him to do this - that's fair enough - but then it doesn't hold up considering people are killed in the process. On the surface it seems it's just a convenient plot device to explore him as a human.
f) the ludicrous and unexplained process of changing his entire biology with some unsubstantiated 'device' - had it been a 'cloaking device' - a true parallel to the chameleon device of the TARDIS - to simply disguise him as human, it would have sounded more plausible, but to actually physically transform into one - come on! The Timelord part of him (his bio-data extract?) put into a little watch!? Yes, but how? This all smacks of hocum and magic symbolism.
g) the performances of the family are a mix of menacing and hammy - but in this episode, more the latter, especially with the leader's increasingly over-zealous articulations - and the ray guns are clumsy and unsubtle and undermine any real menace
h) the absolutely inappropriate and tedious lapses of Martha regarding her apparently 'loving to bits' the Doctor - whom she hasn't known that long anyway; we have a companion simply filling the shoes of the previous, offering nothing new in terms of personality or perspective, but who is unfortunately far less of an actress than her predecessor, so seemingly has nothing to offer but just air-sprayed looks and doe eyes
i) why does the Doctor have talk and act like a flippant, trendy nerd in order to emphasize the contrast between the real him and the frankly more preferable and interesting John Smith? With a flick of those Jarvis Cocker glasses and he's back!
j) why on Earth did the Doctor offer to take Redfurn with him? What's all this about? What did he mean by saying 'all those things he was I am'? Was this an offer of marriage? Surely this undermined the whole storyline of the Doctor only being suitable for such a union in human form?
The good aspects to this episode: the battle against the scarecrows was very well choreographed, and was a very nice juxtaposition to the oncoming war, the scarecrows falling down instantly at the bullets, a powerful motif for the futility of the oncoming conflict, in which the soldiers may as well be just stuffed of straw for all their chances against the enemy guns. These scenes were very effective indeed and the highpoint of the episode.
As I said, the poeticism of some lines and moments were well done, if a little over-done; the shot of the Doctor dying of old age in his present incarnation was fairly profound; the acting of Redfurn was exceptional in the parting scene with the Doctor; Tennant's acting as John Smith when hearing the truth of his true nature was also exceptional, though a little bizarre to see the Doctor bursting into tears (though I suppose Eccleston was often near to it, especially in Dalek, and didn't even have humanisation to answer for that).
I've never read Human Nature (nor any of the new adventures), but I'm assuming some bits were hacked out of this story for televisation, as the fans have always railed about how good it was. On the basis of this dissapointing conclusion, I'm not entirely sure why. I suppose the premise, and certainly the first half of the story, might be the reason for this. Human Nature was and remains a classic episode - but I am very dissapointed that Family of Blood proved an unworthy successor. It is still a very good episode in places, but it just doesn't fulfill the huge promise of the opener, due to a lapse into sentiment and mawkishness which isn't quite rescued by its better, more resonant and poetic aspects.
Next time, why not adapt Lungbarrow? Now that really could make a classic, and surely now Human Nature has paved the way for an even more penetrating look at the Doctor's true nature and background?
Family of Blood: a disappointing 6.8/10, considering the near perfection of its first part.
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television
'We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved, and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.'
-- John McCrae
It's really quite difficult to sum this episode up without laying on the superlatives. As with the first part of this story, 'Family' is beautifully written, acted and shot with meticulous period detail and again comes with a fantastic score from Murray Gold. It is a fine piece of television whether it is 'Doctor Who' or not.
The writer, Paul Cornell, should be applauded for his very dark and complex discussion of the Doctor's essential nature and character and one that questions his moral choices, his singular raison d'etre and his humanity. Whilst doing this, the episode also seeks to deal with sin and redemption, masculinity and madness that connects us to Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress', Elliot's 'The Waste Land', Scorsese's 'Last Temptation Of Christ' and some of the themes in Pat Barker's 'Regeneration'.
The engine that keeps this lot moving along and prevents it all from becoming overly sentimental is David Tennant. These two episodes have allowed us to see a version of the Doctor that has, temporarily at least, stripped away the Time Lord's god-like powers. He has become John Smith, the everyman schoolteacher whose encounter with aliens is richly symbolic of the dilemma many men were faced with at the outbreak of war in 1914. He's seen what violence can do and he recognises that he's preparing children for a conflict they can never hope to survive. Realising this, he is the only one who doesn't fire in that encounter with the scarecrows as the boys wipe away their tears of terror and fear. John Smith is the human the Doctor aspires to be.
But Cornell's John Smith is faced with a choice between suicide or the subjugation of the Earth and countless other worlds by the Family. Tennant stunningly and completely captures the poor man's fear, exasperation and denial as he wrestles with his conscience. And knowing he must make this choice, he joins the sleep of the dead both physically and spiritually as played out in the trenches and the epilogue's Remembrance service.
Hammering this home is the final encounter between Joan and the restored Doctor. The Doctor is so 'alien' here in thinking he can simply carry on where Smith left off in the relationship. Joan can read him like a book, like the very journal she weeps over in the conclusion. She understands the dark nature of the Doctor and throws it back in his face. The allusion is to the sexual wounding of the Fisher King in Arthurian legend and the sympathetic sterility of his lands that is caused. Wherever the Doctor goes, as the lonely God he is, death follows, lives are shattered. She knows that the Doctor can never have what John Smith would have had with her and she rejects him, denies him as Peter denied Christ in the garden of Gethsemane.
Jessica Hynes and Tennant are quite amazing in those scenes, adding a heart tugging depth to the dilemma. And I loved Joan's questioning of Martha's role in the Doctor's life. Freema was again on great form and she captured that 'Martha's had the rug pulled our from under her' moment with great skill. How can you sum up what being with the Doctor is like when he's become this totally deniable alien figure to Joan?
Cornell's brave questioning of the true purpose of the Doctor; his capacity for cold revenge whilst also setting in motion the long game of Tim Latimer's survival is at the heart of the episode too. He's a mass of contradictions, at once horribly, cruelly dangerous and then quietly saving Latimer's life and remembering that generation's sacrifice in the trenches. Where the poppy is symbolic of the sleep of forgetfulness, then perhaps the Doctor is seeking the salve for his literal interpretation of the Family's desire for longevity and the death of John Smith.
And also at the centre of the narrative is time itself with the various flash forwards from the possession of that watch. The watch narrates both human time, as in Smith's vision of marriage, birth and death and Latimer's fate, and divine time where we have the summation of Time Lord experience and the visions of destruction and evil. Both the finite and the infinite described by that one object. Time is seen as 'the watchful deadly foe, the enemy that gnaws at our hearts' to paraphrase Baudelaire. Certainly, time comes full circle for the Family as they all end up suspended in their own personal and endless hell. It is also ironic that Son Of Mine is reduced to becoming one of his own scarecrow soldiers.
Praise must also go to Harry Lloyd as the serpentine Baines/Son Of Mine and Rebekah Staten as the equally repellent Mother Of Mine both of whom brought such a vivid wickedness to the presentation of the Family. And once again Thomas Sangster was great as Latimer, a proto-Doctor figure if ever there was one.
A sublime achievement from director Charles Palmer too, despite the pacing being slightly off for the opening ten minutes, and who evoked the bittersweet nature of sacrifice and redemption to which Latimer and Smith were irrevocably married. His use of slow motion and cross fades added a further visual dimension to an already lovely looking episode.
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television
As predicted, "The Family of Blood" turned out to be one of the best episodes of Doctor Who ever. Period, as they say stateside. Last week's episode flawlessly set the stage -- Paul Cornell masterfully condensed the bulk of his acclaimed novel into one astonishing forty-five minute script. Naturally, all of the superfluous plot elements were excised: the fake Doctor; the suffragette; Alexander; even the Doctor's very motive for becoming human. But we were certainly given a lot more in exchange: Scarecrows; Gallifreyan fob watches; the Family of Blood. And this week, the last hundred pages or so of Cornell's novel are brought to life explosively along with so much more?
"God you're rubbish as a human. Come on!"
This episode is the perfect response to the Freema Agyeman-bashing media. "The Family of Blood" is without doubt her strongest outing to date, both in terms of Freema's performance and also in how her character really shows her mettle. The resolution to the cliff-hanger says it all -- Martha holds the Family at gunpoint allowing Joan, Smith and all the other villagers at the Dance to escape. And what thanks does she get?
This situation is so hard on Martha for so many reasons. In the novel, Benny certainly had no love lost for Smith's lover. Joan came across as stuck-up, pompous and patronising in the scenes that they shared. For Benny though, it was a little bit easier for her to just grit her teeth and get on with the job in hand as for one thing, she wasn't seething with jealously over the Smith / Joan relationship, and for another, Joan's bigotry didn't cut quite as deeply with her as it does here with Martha for obvious reasons. But to her credit, Martha shows what she is made of; the Doctor trusted her with his life and she does not let him down, no matter how dejected she feels.
"Women might train to be Doctors,
but hardly a skivvy and hardly one of your colour."
What I really like about how Cornell uses Martha here is that she does not hit back in a predictable way. Had Ace, for example, been treated in the way that Martha is in this story then she would have busted some heads. Martha, on the other hand, keeps her cool. She knows that Joan is not a bad woman -- the racist slurs that she makes do not come from the heart; she has just had certain views drummed into her since birth and Martha knows this. And so when she is insulted and belittled, how does she respond? She names every bone in the hand and forearm. She shuts Joan up with her expert medical knowledge. She proves that she is telling the truth.
"Super, super fun!"
Another standout performer here, as in the first episode, is Harry Lloyd. All the Family are very impressive on screen, but Baines is something else. Last week we were treated to a few fleeting glimpses of his deliciously mischievous, over-the-top, almost playful brand of evil but this week he really lets rip. He is loving every second of the hunt; every moment of the chase. He takes great delight in every death; in every humiliation. The way he bates the Headmaster is absolutely brilliant. His mockery is as grotesque as it is chilling.
"Do you think they will thank the man who taught them it [war] was glorious?"
I have to admit though, the Headmaster is so disagreeable that I was rooting for Baines to vaporise him! When he does eventually meet his doom at the hands of Daughter of Mine it is almost gratifying. Perhaps it is his arrogance or his pig-headed refusal to look facts in the face that make him so utterly loathsome. Perhaps it is that he seems to encapsulate everything that feels so wrong about the time period and the school -- it is men like this Headmaster that keep boys like Timothy down and encourage boys like Hutchinson and Baines to be aggressive, cruel and ruthless. It is also men like the Headmaster that make young boys fight with machine guns.
As do men like John Smith.
Young boys weeping and panicking as they are forced to discharge firearms in a battle situation is one of those haunting images that stuck in my mind for a long time after I first read the "Human Nature" novel. On screen it is even more of a disturbing picture. This is as nothing though when compared to seeing the man who should be the Doctor holding a rifle, armed and ready to fire. Charles Palmer directs this battle sequence skilfully, particularly in how he singles out David Tennant for those profile shots, aiming the weapon straight at the camera. It really hammers home the gulf between John Smith and the Doctor.
"I'm John Smith, that's all I want to be!
With him? his life and his job and his love?
why can't I be John Smith?"
And then, as a slightly corrupted version of the 'Face of Boe' music plays, the real tragedy of the story unfurls. The Doctor hadn't even considered the possibility that his human self might fall in love. More importantly, he hadn't considered the possibility that his human self might not want to relinquish his existence.
SMITH: You're the Doctor's companion, why can't you help? What do you do for him exactly? Why does he need you?
MARTHA: Because he's lonely.
SMITH: And that's what you want me to become?
My favourite scene in the whole two-parter takes place in the Cartwright's cottage. In my opinion it is one of the greatest scenes ever in Doctor Who; it simply says it all. It is the point where it all stops being implied.
The human Doctor, terrified.
His loyal companion, smitten.
His lover, enamoured.
The young boy with the extra engram, enchanted.
"Because I've seen him and he's like fire and ice and rage.
He's like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun.
He's ancient and forever.
He burns at the centre of time and he can see the turn of the universe.
And he's wonderful."
Tim's description of the Doctor is sheer poetry. I've never - not even in the novel - heard him described quite so succinctly and flagrantly. In a single paragraph Tim sums up what the Doctor is all about and why he is so fantastic, and then in one line John Smith says exactly what he lacks: "He won't love you."
Quite frankly I was surprised -- pleasantly surprised! -- at just how far Cornell was allowed to push the envelope in this scene. As the fob watch shows Smith and Joan vivid visions of their possible future -- marriage; children; deathbed etc. -- the viewer is reminded more than ever that the Doctor could never have that sort of life. In the gut-wrenching 2005 episode "Father's Day", also penned by Cornell, Christopher Eccleston's ninth Doctor regretfully states that he has never had a life like that. And much more memorably, as the tenth Doctor says a tearful goodbye to Rose on the beach in "Doomsday" he says, again regretfully, that she is embarking on the one adventure that he can never have. "The Family of Blood" makes that adventure explicit. We see what might have been. Everything that John Smith has to lose.
Everything that the Doctor can never be.
"The Time Lord has such adventures, but he could never have a life like that."
Last week I got into a bit of a heated debate with my Dad about the Doctor and women. He's firmly against the Doctor having 'a girl in every Fireplace', instead believing that the show should just be about the Doctor and his companion going off and having adventures in time and space. What I couldn't make him understand is that the above is exactly what we have! The Doctor and his companion going off and having adventures in time and space. Stories like "Human Nature" only emphasise the harsh reality that nothing traditionally romantic could ever happen between the Doctor and his companion no matter how strongly he feels about them, just as poor Martha is learning over the course of this series. The Doctor has no concept of monogamy. Of sex. Of love, per se. Not on such a 'small' scale. He certainly loved Rose, just as he loved Sarah Jane and all the others. But not in the conventional human way. It's easily forgotten that the Doctor is an alien, but this two-parter serves as a poignant reminder of just how alien the Doctor is. Perhaps Rob Shearman hit the nail on the head in "Scherzo" when he likened the Doctor's companions to pets. Now I love my cat, and I'd certainly be gutted if she got stranded in a parallel universe, but still?
"He never raised his voice. That was the worst thing.
The fury of the Time Lord. And then we discovered why:
why this Doctor, who had fought with gods and demons,
why he'd run away from us and hidden. He was being kind."
The emergence of the Doctor at the end of the episode is oh so quick and oh so brilliant. He defeats the Family of Blood with ease and then sentences them to fates worse than death. Episode 9 of Series 2 ("The Satan Pit") ended with the Doctor proclaiming himself to be the stuff of legend. Episode 9 of Series 3 ends with the Doctor proving himself to be the stuff of legend. The cold and brutal Doctor that we see chain Father of Mine in unbreakable bonds; that we see cast Mother of Mine into the event horizon of a collapsing galaxy; that we see trap Daughter of Mine in a mirror -- in every mirror -- is Time's Champion of the New Adventures. He's an alien. He's a legend.
And he's a million billion light years away from John Smith.
And as for Baines, his calm voiceover describing the plight of his family seems to reveal a begrudging respect for the entity that thwarted his plans so utterly. Like some begotten creature of myth, Baines is resigned to his perpetual fate.
"As for me, I was suspended in time
and the Doctor put me to work standing
over the fields of England, as their protector.
We wanted to live forever, so the Doctor made sure that we did."
But it doesn't end there. With the alien menace defeated, the story turns back to more personal matters. In what David Tennant describes as his favourite scene, the Doctor pays Joan one last visit with the intention of sweeping her off her feet and showing her the stars, but all she wants is for him to change back into John Smith. And he can. But he won't. And she hates him for it.
"John is dead, and you look like him? If the Doctor had never visited us?
on a whim? would anybody have died?"
The Doctor leaves Joan a broken woman and she too leaves her mark on him. Because whether he admits it or not, on some level that Doctor has tasted this life that he can never have, and part of him wants it - the part of him that was tempted by the Master's trap in "Circular Time". And worse, she leaves another painful mark on him because he knows that she's right, morally speaking. Wherever he goes death and destruction inevitably follow, and there is nothing that he can do about it.
"He took my hands, and he kissed my forehead?
He turned back once and looked around.
And somehow he found where all of us were looking at him.
And then he started to run. With determination. Without a hint of reluctance.
Because he still had things to do?
He had a whole other self that he had to be to do that."
By the time the TARDIS dematerialised I'd already passed my usual limit of one single manly tear shed per tear-jerker, and so when the Doctor's voiceover led us into the Great War and then into a remembrance ceremony it was a bit too much to take. The scene of Latimer saving Hutchinson's life, all thanks to the Doctor's pocket watch, is a wonderful coda to the story. And, even though Hutchinson is so thoroughly unpleasant, there is something uplifting about his life being saved by the boy that he used to bully. For some reason I half expected Rolf Harris to start singing Two Little Boys, though. Thankfully Murray Gold scored the moment much more appropriately.
The final moments of the episode at the Cenotaph are equally powerful, if not more so. Old Tim, clutching his medals and sat in his wheelchair, looks up to see the Doctor and Martha -- neither of them a day older -- wearing their poppies and paying their respects. It says so much about the life that the Doctor leads and the effect that he has on people. He may bring death and destruction in his wake but, more often than not, he also brings hope.
In my review last week I ripped off the old quote 'stories are never finished, they are abandoned', but not "Human Nature". Terrifying, mesmerising and perfect, I think that Cornell has now finished what I'm sure will be considered the definitive version of his Doctor Who masterpiece. This is a fan-pleaser that will live on not only as one of the best new series stories but as one of the best Doctor Who stories ever. I'd also be surprised if it didn't get a BAFTA. It has everything that anyone could ever want from a Saturday Night prime time family drama and even more importantly, it re-affirms exactly what it means to be the Doctor.
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television
Come back John Smith we miss you already! One of the strongest images from this outstanding two-parter is of the Doctor slouching by the door asking Joan nonchalantly if she might like to go travelling with him - this in contrast to his former alter-ego John Smith's kaleidoscopic imagined life in which as he faces his maker on his deathbed he remembers to enquire solicitously about his children/grand children. Is Paul Cornell having a sly dig at the cyber punk generation? Despite the moral dilemma of the First World War and the racial and class hypocrisies we see displayed before us - the undeniable values and courage of 1913 England are played pretty straight. John Smith's straightforwardness and selflessness make a nice counterpoint to the Doctor's damaging wilfulness.
Family of Blood managed to do what the concluding finale of few Who two-parters have succeeded in doing -- in ferociously cranking up the volume without exploding the plot. Whilst a poignant theme of Human Condition was intimacy -- an intimacy torn asunder through the greed of the Family -- part two Family of Blood brings to life the contrasts and moral ambiguities of a long-lost England juxtaposed with a rather scruffy and superficial here-today. Sure: we know that the Doctor is (at least maybe) the last of the Time Lords -- and Martha (as she points out to Joan) is actually a Doctor -- but the two of them also reflect the values and lifestyle of their noughties audience -- a contrast nicely undercut by Cornell when the two of them saunter along poppies in lapels to Latymer's Remembrance Day celebration.
Not only do we miss John Smith -- we even more desperately miss Joan. What would we have given to have had her grace the Tardis and accept the Doctor's causal offer and up sticks and travel through space and time with him -- knowing in our heart of hearts -- that this could never happen. What was remarkable about these episodes was not just the way that the characters got seriously under our skin -- but the way the gulf between quite different value systems was being represented for our entertainment -- through a love story -- in the main characters. Joan movingly acknowledges this gulf when she rejects the Doctor's invitation.
Whist the Doctor can be seen as wilful -- his casual actions result as Joan candidly points out in the avoidable deaths caused as a direct result of his presence in 1913 -- he is also portrayed as a stern revengeful judge. Cornell's Doctor is moving perilously close to a godlike figure -- at one point he is taken to a great height and shown the delights of being human -- the human condition -- at another he becomes a 'Christus Pantocrator' figure replete with those intense angry dark eyes. The justice he meters out to the unfortunate Family members -- part Biblical Judgement Day -- part Lord of the Rings fantasy -- is so wonderfully unexpected. Most viewers like me I am sure expected the exploding spaceship to be followed by a safe plot-fix recovery of the original owners of the bodies taken over by the Family. What refreshing courage and skill to serve a much darker dish -- the original owners of the bodies are dead and gone -- we've already been told that -- and now in addition the Doctor delights us by serving up the harshest of just punishments.
Human Condition and Family of Blood is exactly what excellent Who is all about -- dark -- entertaining -- moving -- and not short changing an expectant audience. At its core is writing that works on many levels -- with villains that are scary and evil -- and also like the best of Who villains frequently and perceptively close to the moral truth -- as with Baines as he questions the Headmaster who is shortly going to send his boys to war. Great writing and direction -- bolstered by fine acting -- and a believable 'human' love story that managed to kick even the excellent Girl in the Fireplace into touch. With this two-part episode we've been spoilt good and rotten. The Human Condition and Family of Blood easily establish a new dramatic high for a wonderful series.
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
Not so long ago, in an English springtime...
There are one or two people I know who, upon hearing that the producers were about to embark on yet another "adaptation" of a beloved piece of Doctor Who writing, immediately decided that blasphemy had occurred. Never mind the fact that it would be Paul Cornell adapting his own material; Rob Shearman had done the same two years prior with the loose adaptation of his audio "Jubilee" turned into the brilliant "Dalek," and last year's best-foot-forward attempt by Tom MacRae to capture the essence of the audio "Spare Parts" by Marc Platt in the two-part "Rise of the Cybermen". There are reasons, after all, why Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner may want to look toward previously-written material: stories that won the hearts of fans might, in a larger venue, capture the hearts of the viewing public as well. For this attempt, there would be no obfuscation; Cornell was charged with a direct adaptation of his perhaps his most celebrated Doctor Who novel, "Human Nature," published in 1995, altering the characters (the Seventh Doctor and print companion Bernice Summerfield to current Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones) but keeping the rest.
I have a confession to make: I never read "Human Nature". I was rather picky with the print Doctor Who I read at the time, and a boys' school in 1914, I must admit, never really interested me. When I first heard Paul was adapting his novel, some time ago, I pulled it off the shelf but never actually opened the book; why ruin the surprise? I knew two things -- the setting, and that the Doctor became human.
What goes around, comes around, and in retrospect I made the right choices. For ninety well-spent minutes, in one sitting, "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood" (which I will refer to as "Human Nature" in entirety in the remainder of this review) unfolded like an epic treat, with all the benefits a two-part story presents these days: adventure, drama, a cliffhanger that excites and moments of insight that challenge. It is, first of all, an exploration of human nature itself, what it means to be human. More importantly, it is an examination of just how inhuman the Doctor truly is. David Tennant has perhaps never been as strong as he is here, creating a character in John Smith that is truly different and unique from that of the Doctor. When we first meet him, it is but a superficial change, an educator's hat and black robes, but soon we realize the change is far greater than that. This is a man capable of love, of humility, of stuttering through an entire conversation about a topic he has very limited experience with: romantic interest, specifically from Joan Redfern (Jessica Hynes, in an equally magnificent performance). His depth of feeling for the humble nurse Joan is readily apparent, his mannerisms quite a change from the usual no-nonsense attitude; when he takes the tumble down a flight of stairs, nervously making his way through a non-invitation to the local dance, it is not the Doctor -- the Doctor is far away, in another lifetime. In that moment where Tennant is ready to take up the role of the Doctor again, aboard the Family's spacecraft, it is not a subtle change -- it is forceful and amusing and absolutely real, and Tennant demonstrates the power of his performance simply by being a different man. What hurts most of all is the debate -- should the Doctor return, or should John Smith carry on with his life? There are merits to both sides, with a heart-wrenching look into a future that will likely never happen favoring the latter, and our own sensibilities which would otherwise root for the former option being checked.
I've read many comments on the Internet about the moments in which people teared up while watching this story. For me, it wasn't the heartbreak of watching Smith and Joan parting for what would likely be the last time, or the funeral piece at the end, but the words of truth from young Tim Latimer (played by Thomas Sangster, in one of the finest performances by a child actor to grace a Doctor Who story) ... everything about the Doctor being fire and ancient and all that, but the moment I cracked was when Tim said he was 'wonderful'. Up until that moment, I was really waffling on whether or not John Smith should accept his fate; then, all of the pent-up emotion of the Doctor being the selfless hero, the one man standing against the evil of the universe came flooding back.
But "Human Nature" questions that in another moment of brilliance, as Joan asks him if all of the death and destruction around them would have happened if the Doctor hadn't chosen 1913 England on a whim. It is rare form when Doctor Who questions its own existence, and this is another of Cornell's strengths -- not just playing to the audience with the fear and the humor and the romance and the adventure, but asking pointed questions to an audience that may have become used to black and white instead of the shades of grey that exist in life. Unsatisfied with questioning the hero's role in the events that have unfolded, "Human Nature" further explores the depths to which the Doctor will go to satisfy his moral objectives: he will not murder his opponents, but in fact subjects them to a fate worse than death. Would murder have been the easy way out for the Family of Blood? Or are they now subject to a malevolence not unlike torture?
Director Charles Palmer demonstrates tremendous skill in his cinematography, capturing the essence of 1913 England beautifully, while an exceptional cast handles the story with ease. Besides Hynes and Sangster, Harry Lloyd is a stand-out as Jeremy Baines, the troubled schoolboy who becomes the warmongering Son of Mine. (Has there ever been a guest star on Doctor Who who demonstrates such otherworldliness and creepiness with a tick of the head and eyes like the possessed?) Rebekah Staton (as Jenny, later Mother of Mine) gives another equally noteworthy performance, first as the standard 'period housemaid' and later as the standard 'possessed villain' but excelling at both to feel as though they were played by two totally different actresses.
Freema Agyeman, meanwhile, like Tennant gives perhaps her best performance to date, as Martha discovers a terrible secret -- not that she is the Doctor's friend, or that the Family is after him, but that she is, in fact, far behind in the running to capture both John Smith's, and the Doctor's heart. Her reaction when John shows Nurse Redfern the pages of his 'Journal of Impossible Things' and comes across the sketch of Rose is yet another revelation, and Agyeman plays Martha as if she is struggling against her own convictions. (Another heartbreaking moment, for me anyway: the Doctor invites Joan to join him in the TARDIS, the two of them together -- and never mentions Martha. I'm not sure I'm very happy with where this is leading...)
While Doctor Who often ignores its own past, "Human Nature" actually makes several references to its roots. The aforementioned 'Journal' and its caricatures not only of adversaries from the past three seasons but also the unmistakable features of Paul McGann, William Hartnell and Sylvester McCoy... John Smith's handiness with a cricket ball... even the lovely homage paid to Doctor Who founders Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert. It is always nice to see the past being paid service while still blazing new trails, and yet it is never done in a heavy-handed fashion. The past, in fact, is as important as the future is in "Human Nature," which explores both cause and effect, actions and consequences -- never moreso than in the aforementioned scene where Joan Redfern chastises the Doctor for bringing the death and destruction, the Family of Blood, and the life and death of one man, John Smith, upon them.
There are rare moments in Doctor Who history when everything comes together -- a perfect cast, a thrilling story, fantastic direction and a magic captured like lightning in a bottle. "City of Death" comes to mind from the original series, or "The Caves of Androzani" -- stories that take an already enjoyable concept and transcend the ordinary, becoming something unusually special. There have been many opportunities and many successes by this production team in three years, with bonified thespians in the roles of Doctor and companion, directors that blend subtleties with their talents, magic in the moments that define Doctor Who ? but rarely in combination. Steven Moffat's "The Empty Child" proved that writing Doctor Who had come of age; Davies' own "The End of the World" demonstrated that style played as important a role as substance. Of course, fans bandy about the term 'classic' so often that it fails to have any meaning anymore -- there are many other examples of fine moments of Doctor Who from the past three series, but what defines a genuine classic is when that cast and story and direction and production come together and create something far more. Dare I say it, but Paul Cornell's "Human Nature" -- and I'm not talking about the book I've never read -- is indeed worthy of the term. Three series of Doctor Who to date, and this is the best it's ever been.
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
I didn't want to see 'Human Nature' adapted for television: it's one of my favourite of the New Adventures, and I had a horrible feeling that the trappings of the new series would ruin it. It turns out I was wrong, since 'Human Nature'/'The Family of Blood' is easily the best Doctor Who television story since the Welsh revival began.
In fact, 'Human Nature'/'The Family of Blood' benefits the series enormously. Cornell's tale of a Doctor who becomes human is stripped down to the basics here, with much cut from the novel, including much of the rather hellish interaction between the pupils at the school and the headmaster. Everything focuses on John Smith, and by transforming the Doctor into a human, Cornell emphasises the fact that the Doctor isn't human: as such, the Doctor feels truly alien here for the first time since the new series started. The ending is startling: since the Family of Blood are different from the antagonists of the novel, I didn't know quite how they'd be defeated, and the voice-over from Son of Mine revealing how the Doctor trapped them all for eternity, gives the story -- and the Doctor -- a sense of the epic. The revelation that the Doctor chose to hide from them until they died not because he feared them but because he was being kind is utterly unexpected, and his revenge his terrible, Son-of-Mine noting "We wanted to live for ever, so he made sure we did". This all makes him seem genuinely dangerous in a way that he hasn't since, well, the New Adventures, with Tim's fear of the Doctor causing him to hold off on returning the watch, and Tim's speech about the nature of the Doctor, which could easily have been dreadful, is scripted just right, so it makes him seem mythic. His failure to leave Martha instructions as to what to do if he falls in love simply because it doesn't even occur to him is a nice touch, and one I didn't expect to see in this series. And the moment when Joan asks him he'll change back into John Smith and he firmly states "No" is great.
All of this is helped by the fact that John Smith also works as a character in his own right. As he falls in love with Joan, it's utterly believable, such that his anguish when faced with the difficult decision to sacrifice his life -- and everything that he could have as a human -- to restore the Doctor is heartbreaking. That he has "Doctorish" moments (the journal, and the magnificent cricket ball scene) only serves to make him seem extraordinary, so when he effectively dies, it has real impact. And David Tennant is key to this: there have been times in the series when he's been almost hammy, with some cringe-worthy moments as he has to handle self-consciously "wacky" dialogue, but 'Human Nature'/'The Family of Blood' demonstrates just how good an actor he can be, as John tearfully and angrily realises that Martha is expecting him to throw his life away so that she can have her friend back. Especially notable is the moment of realisation when he insists, "I'm John Smith! That's all I want to be! With his life and his job!"
Martha also gets a great story, as she loyally takes care of the Doctor whilst he's John Smith. Wisely, Cornell doesn't just give her Benny's role from the novel, but instead tailors it to the character. For all that her declarations of love for the Doctor and anguish that he falls in love with a human other than her are bound to irritate some, Cornell handles it well: Martha comes out this looking not like someone with a schoolgirl crush, but a loyal and brave friend, which is what the companion should be, especially as she has to deal with the bigotry and prejudice of the times, something that Benny, who spent the early part of the novel getting pissed, didn't have to deal with. She also ends up looking very capable, especially during her face off with the Family: for a moment, when she establishes that Jenny is lost for ever, I really thought that she was going to shoot Mother-of-mine.
Thus, in plot and scripting terms, 'Human Nature'/'The Family of Blood' is almost flawless. Cornell's politics tend to leap out of all his novels, to such a pious extent that they often alienate the readers, even those who, like me, tend to broadly agree with him. This is reigned in here, partly because timing means that the bullying and abuse of the novel is only alluded to. Amusingly and almost certainly unintentionally, the message that sending children to war is wrong ends up looking very muddied since, as John Smith points out, they don't have much chance here: Smith could feasibly have ended the attack by surrendering to the Family, but the consequences would have been so terrible that everyone would probably have ended up dead anyway. This ends up conveying an ambiguous message about the need to fight and give ones life for the greater good (as Smith does) in some situations, which is very Doctor Who (and what he vengefully does to the Family is almost as nightmarish as the World War One scenes), but not very Paul Cornell. Nevertheless, it works well, resulting in some genuinely moving scenes.
There's some fine support here from Jessica Hynes as Joan Redfern, who helps to make the character both believable and very sympathetic, and conveys a real sense of just how much Joan is giving up to save the world when she persuades John to become the Doctor again, whilst Thomas Sangster is also very good as Tim. Both episodes are also beautifully directed by Charles Palmer, who brings an almost fairytale feel to the flashbacks of the Doctor deciding to become human, and of montage of his defeat of the Family. And both episodes look stunning, with gorgeous location footage and sets, and some great design touches such as the Doctor's journal. The journal, incidentally, is a treat for long-time fans, with sketches of past Doctors, including McCoy, McGann and Hartnell, briefly visible on screen. This is the sort of unobtrusive continuity that pleases the old guard without baffling new fans, as is Smith revealing that his parents were called Sydney and Verity, and the musical cue that gives a nod to 'Remembrance of the Daleks'.
But whilst 'Human Nature'/'The Family of Blood' is extremely good, it isn't perfect: Harry Lloyd is embarrassingly hammy as Baines/Son-of-mine, and Rebekah Staton and Gerald Horan as his parents are only marginally better, which makes the Family, despite their army of very creepy scarecrows, rather less impressive than they should have been. This is a shame, but it is by no means the greatest failing of the episodes: that lies with a familiar problem. On the commentary track for the Region 1 DVD release of 'The Armageddon Factor', director Michael Hayes mentions the old principle that the best incidental music is the kind that the audience doesn't notice, a view that I subscribe to, but which Murray Gold evidently does not. He has, by this point, ruined scenes in every single episode of the Welsh revival, but here, in a story that is generally outstanding, his abysmal, overblown musical tripe is smeared over the episodes to such an extent that it frequently pulls me out of the drama and throws me headlong down a helter-skelter of aural assault into a pit of auditory excrement. Never has the score seemed so intrusive, with Gold's pompous refrains attempting to signpost whatever emotion the viewer should be feeling in the least subtle ways imaginable. It actively detracts from many scenes: the scarecrows, which should have been very creepy, are robbed of menace by the score, and some of the pathos during Smith's scenes in the second episode are rendered vaguely nauseating by the accompanying warbling. The commentary tracks on the DVD releases of series one and two, reveal that the current production team think Gold to do no wrong, so we're clearly stuck with him, but I long for a day when he gets another job, preferably on a program I don't watch, possibly in partnership with Keff McCulloch.
Fortunately, 'Human Nature'/'The Family of Blood' is so well written and (in most cases) performed that it can survive such audio assault, and still stands, for me, as the best story since Doctor Who returned to our screens. I assume that adapting an existing novel is something of a one off, although given how well it works here, it wouldn't surprise me if the trick was repeated. And personally, I'd love to see them try realising the Dyson Sphere of 'The Also People' on the available budget?
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
At this point in its history, Human Nature is pretty much as perfect a story as I think Doctor Who is capable of producing on TV. Even the arguable classics of the new series (themselves all too few and far between) haven't come anywhere close to this -- even Dalek, The Girl in the Fireplace, et al.
It just seems such a shame that, to my mind, the only real, true brilliance of what are destined to become 'the RTD years' is taken wholesale from the NAs. I love the New Adventures, but I don't see that that should be any barrier to appreciating the series in the way I do the 'classic' TV stories; but, quite simply, the new series simply hasn't even aimed at creating anything comparable to the complexity, originality and emotion of the best of those novels. Everything's straightforward and easy to grasp on one viewing; it's all very dumbed down and very Saturday night?
So, on the one hand I feel vindicated that the best story of the new run derives from those books, but it's a depressing proposition that no brand new story has been anywhere near as fully-formed or multilayered as this adaptation.
Even the way in which the narrative strayed outside of the given 'here and now': to Tim's glimpses of the future - the war, the memorial; to the flashbacks of past stories, which were effectively and economically used; down to the voiceover handling of the ending. Even the three-month time span -- a welcome exception to the adventures more usual seeming to take place over only a day or so. Sadly, I doubt any of these techniques would have been employed had the script not derived from a story from a 'broader' medium than television -- born out by the fact that no other story of the new series have been quite this audacious or wide-ranging. In this way, the story felt like a 'novel on film,' rather than a simply televisual creation.
Can anyone else even believe that this and Gridlock are the products of a common series? Perhaps if Russell T Davies weren't so monumentally arrogant about his own ability as a writer (or having his ego so fully and inexplicably stroked by seemingly everyone who works with him), he'd be cringing with mortified jealousy round about now.
It really seems as if the stakes were ramped up for this production, as if, because of its origins as a novel, people realised there was more behind it than the majority of stories. I've never even been that much of an admirer of Cornell -- it's always seemed to me he has the ideas, but they're let down by slightly pedestrian prose. Here, freed from those constraints, it was wonderful to see the plot refined, and imbued with a loving attention to detail.
The continuity references, for example were rather joyous, but not overplayed -- the music accompanying the sinister schoolgirl from Remembrance of the Daleks momentarily echoed for the Family's youngest sibling; the reference to the village's dust being 'fused into glass,' alluding to the sequence cut from the novel in which the school itself is turned to glass; and, most charmingly of all, the sketch of the Eighth Doctor in John Smith's journal. That warmed the old cockles -- wonderful how such a tiny thing (that'd be overlooked by the vast majority of the audience) could be so heartening; it's wonderful to see McGann's portrayal vindicated by the new series, even only so briefly.
The ending though came close to ruining things for me -- the Doctor devising elaborate punishments for the Family? Given that this sequence was narrated by one of their number, I immediately assumed that it was intended to appear unreliable -- it's just so jarringly? wrong. The Doctor doesn't do this sort of thing? it's just so off. Which, given Cornell's obvious understanding of Doctor Who and what it stands for, seems all the more bizarre.
I'm telling myself that perhaps that along with the Doctor's Runaway Bride callousness, this is leading somewhere. But, I'm not convinced -- like the Sixth Doctor's worst excessive which everyone gets so het up about, the problem for me was there wasn't even anyone to question his actions. Are we meant to suddenly accept the Doctor -- someone the episodes tried so hard to persuade us was worth fighting for -- is the kind of man to truss up his enemies and kick them into the centre of suns?? The whole sequence had a kind of unreal or storybook feel, so here's hoping there's something clever going on there. Even the NA Seventh Doctor at his most pitiless would never actively punish an adversary -- perhaps the worst would be to not save them from someone else, but even he (arguably the most godlike and terrible Doctor - until now, perhaps?!) -- never stooped to undeniable, deliberate sadism.
So it's sad to say that really struck me as a jarring moment in an otherwise note perfect story.
Although, it is kind of amusing -- or a bit depressing, depending -- that, in a wonderful but essentially Doctorless story, when he does reappears, he's being such an annoying tit.
Not that I dislike Tennant. But still, imagine that story with Sylvester? And Bernice come to that. I say that and I like Martha! It does just show though -- despite the strong script, complemented by great character moments, the backdrop of the oncoming war, and some very nice, non-'mainstream' directorial touches (the children's singing over the slow-mo shooting of the scarecrows, etc)? I still just crave the NAs. Because it makes me sad that, despite the highs the new series can evidently reach, a story this strong is definitely in the minority. (And the NAs might seem a defunct reference now, but, it a way, a story like this defies direct comparison to the classic series because then the idea of making fully emotional 'dramas' wasn't the concern; the NAs et al are much more the precursor to what seems, to a general audience, to be this 'brave new approach' to the series?)
However, this story really shows how much difference it makes when a story is written by someone with an abiding love and understanding of not just the series, but Doctor Who in a broader sense - as opposed to the kind of jobbing writer approach of School Reunion (compare and contrast these two stories set around a school, in which the Doctor takes the role of a teacher?), or 42 (a less developed Satan Pit rip-off).
I desperately want to love the new series, but it never quite delivers. Yes, I'm probably being harsh - but having a high-point like this almost makes it worse. Even if you're trying to be charitable about the 'average' episodes, you suddenly can't kid yourself about how vapid and hollow and unoriginal the majority of them really are?
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television
A lot of people over the years have said it's the best Doctor Who novel ever. Personally I think it's far from perfect: naturalism is often a problem, and so is melodrama, for the novel inhabits the Cornell-verse, a peculiar take on reality in which all soldiers are cowards and any problem can be solved simply by complete emotional honesty. It has a whacking great info-dump half way through that takes you right out of the story, and the wisecracking, self-aware dialogue is such that companion Benny's speech patterns are indistinguishable from those of the villains (an alien race called the Aubertides who want to conquer Gallifrey and become Time Lords using the Doctor's DNA). Nevertheless, the strength of the fundamental conceit, the Doctor's desire to escape from his cold, inhuman Time Lord existence and become a human being, and the consequences it has for the people around him, makes it a big winner in spite of everything. And it benefits greatly from a hilarious cameo by Steven Moffat, writer of two new series stories!
That was why, before this latest two-parter, I was concerned by all the potential changes that Cornell and Davies would have to make, and a bit miffed at the implicit suggestion that this was somehow going to be 'Human Nature done right': it was bad enough that the new series has already comprehensively demolished any chance of reconciling the novels with the TV show (for those who care about that sort of thing, which I must confess I do!), and this was the final confirmation: 'Human Nature' (1995) and 'Human Nature/The Family of Blood' presumably can't take place in the same continuity any more than 'The Gallifrey Chronicles' and 'Aliens of London' can. Bad enough, as I say; but for the new series to just carelessly invalidate the book lines, which are responsible for many of Doctor Who's finest moments, symbolically painting over them like an artist revising an imperfect work, was a presumption too far.
It isn't quite clear, though, that that is in fact what they've done, which is a blessing anyway, and the pictures in Smith's journal during part one of previous Doctors was balm for the possible sting. In fact, part one is really excellent; mostly, I think, because it's so very different to anything in the series revival so far. All that greenery: because when you think about it, every single episode so far has either been set in a huge city or a claustrophobic, metallic 'space base' (with the possible exception of the one set in Scotland, which was mostly in doors and at night anyway). The relaxed pace and unusual plot (for the series post-2005 anyway, which is ironically all monsters, corridors and sarcasm) contribute to the feeling of novelty.
Jessica Hynes, as Joan Redfern (now a nurse not a teacher, in a change which actually does enhance the original novel), is superbly clipped and loveable, and Martha's jealousy puts her in just as unflattering a light as did Benny's, though she at least has the excuse of being madly in love with the (now sexy and young-looking) Doctor, and Harry Lloyd makes a fabulously alien and unhinged Baines. The villains, in fact, without 255 pages in which to do post-modern things, are in a sense a rather better bunch than the Aubertides in the novel, though they lack the back-story and grisly personalities.
The problems, then, do not surface until part two, but when they come they are familiar from the original novel, but given added impetus by what we have seen in the new series so far. This basic conception of the Doctor as a lonely, tormented figure was fine in the New Adventures, but as time has gone on it's become clear just how far removed it was from the spirit of the original series: watch any of those old stories from before 1988 and see what I mean. Now that the revival has enshrined it (with all this 'Lonely God' nonsense) it's like the whole history of the show has been retconned in a way I can't say I'm totally happy with. Far, far worse though, is the way 'The Family of Blood' dredges up a horror from Series One that I dared to hope we'd seen the back of. "Coward!" shouts Hutchinson. "Oh yes, every time", replies Tim with satisfaction. Yep, it's 'The Parting of the Ways' again.
It is, and was, utterly, self-evidently, indescribably wrong to describe the Doctor as "coward rather than killer". It's become Russell Davies' answer to the famous lines coined by Terrance Dicks to describe the essence of the man, which remain to this day immeasurably superior and a far better template for our hero? and in which, I seem to recall, the words "never cruel or cowardly" feature prominently. Go figure. It's such a small thing here as well, but it ruined the episode for me.
As for the rest, Cornell resuscitates the concept of gratuitous racism on Joan's behalf, just to make sure we don't get to like her a bit too much; and his own particular hobby-horse comes out again with the scarecrows' attack on the school, although admittedly in not such an overbearing way as in the book: the notion that Smith is taking the easy way out by choosing to fight, while the morally superior Tim runs away to do something else, and that his mustering of a defence by the militarily-trained and heavily-armed pupils is somehow the wrong thing to do.
It's completely counter-intuitive, part of the "coward rather than killer" idea, but something which I can't blame RTD for because Cornell was already using it 12 years ago: it doesn't seem to factor in that sometimes it can take enormous bravery to fight (what else does the Doctor spend his life doing?), and that Smith, backed into a corner with no other options, is really taking the obvious course of action. So why is Martha's immediate reaction, like Benny's, that the Doctor wouldn't want this? And as for the ending! The cruel ways in which the Doctor ultimately disposes of his enemies is far worse, morally, than simply leaving them on the spaceship to be blown up would have been, something that Doctors have been doing all through time and space since 1963: another inconsistency.
One last complaint: although Smith's romance with Joan is wonderfully touching, and a salutary example to 'The Girl in the Fireplace' and the whole Rose story-arc of how to do a romance for the Doctor right, it ends on a duff note when the returning Doctor offers to take her along for the ride at the end, claiming that he is capable of doing everything Smith could have done. Well, maybe, these days, but in contrast to the Seventh Doctor's sorrowful incomprehension and alien asexuality, this definitely undermines the central story, although having the Doctor only become human as a throwaway solution to a temporary problem rather than because of genuine, psychologically complex needs, had rather done it already by that point. In spite of this, watching part one I was fervently wishing that this was the first time the new series had given the Doc a lady friend -- yet another reason why romanticising the character in the first place was a terrible mistake.
So in conclusion, a two-parter redolent with frustrated promise that was let down by things that most people, I'm uncomfortably aware, would see as trivial; but still, given that it's taken nine episodes for Series Three to offer an episode that left me as disappointed and deflated as all those Series One and Two stories.
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television
Every now and then, an episode leaves such an impression on me that I feel duty bound to sing its praises as loudly as possible from the rooftops. The first such story was Father's Day from series 1, and Paul Cornell's latest offering has my vocal chords at full stretch once more.
If there has ever been 90 minutes of television which has so vividly portrayed such a wide spectrum of emotion - horror, poignancy, drama, romance - then I'd be very much surprised. Once again the makers of the series have shown that there is so much more to this show than monsters and comedy, and once again the detractors of the show, many of whom bizarrely seem to spend an awful lot of their time on online Who forums and writing reviews for this website, are shown to be silly and foolish. There is simply no argument that after nearly 3 seasons, the show is still pushing boundaries and daring to approach subject matter that would never have suited, or been braved by, the classic series, let alone anything else on TV.
The First World War is of course such a special and heartrending time in the history of the world and this country in particular, and the period lends itself very easilly to drama. Even a show which on the surface was very fluffy and juvenile like Blackadder Goes Forth, spoke volumes in its final seconds, as the show's main characters went over the top to almost certain death, and here the horror of the impending cataclysm is captured at times very subtly, at times very graphically, but always with the beautiful finesse of a master scriptwriter. Whether the horrific scene with the massacre of the scarecrows - and that phrase simply can't capture the power of this scene - which so brutally and vividly portrayed the sheer horror that the young boys of this era would all soon be enduring - or the final moments at the war memorial, heartrending and touching without any schmaltz - this was as powerful a comment on the horrors of the Great War, and war in general, as there could be, and I'd like to think a few familial discussions followed on from this, with children's curiosity pricked.
Against this wider picture was a more intimate theme, that of the nature of both human and Time Lord. This is, of course, a theme which the RTD series has constantly looked at - an approach which has given the Doctor a depth and raison d'etre which was never present in the classic series. Much as a great film maker like Tim Burton would take an established character such as Batman and completely explore his psychology and certain loss of humanity, so RTD and writers have totally reinvisaged the Doctor by a) making him the last of his kind (...?) and b) completely exploring the mind of an eternal wanderer through time and space. While investigated reasonably frequently, this motif was able to be pushed to the forefront of the entire story by the idea of the Doctor losing his Gallifreyan self and becoming human, and it seems in retrospect that Paul Cornell's original book was completely destined to be adapted at some point by the current production team. And in so doing, the heartbreaking reality of the Doctor's eternal plight was painted as beautifully as it has ever been possible to do. While the basic idea of the story was almost paper-thin, and the technology to change the Doctor's entire biology a very handy plot device, these ideas are only there to set up a situation, and the beauty of the script is in the reaction of the main protagonists to this situation. With this in mind I would say that Paul Cornell has written a pretty much flawless script which probably even outshines The Empty Child - a scenario I would hardly think possible as that story was til now the absolute pinnacle of the sereis in my mind.
The BAFTA word was mentioned in the Radio Times coverage of this episode, and while it can be easy to get carried away with these things, it's hard not to feel that there is much justification here, from the beautifully flowing script to the fantastic production. Charles Palmer really has impressed me with his efforts this season, and here while the more eye-catching scenes such as the aforementioned slo-mo scarecrow massacre will probably draw most attention, the fabulous performances of the actors and gorgeous use of locations show that he is a director at the top of his game. With only a couple of exceptions, the RTD series has constantly found directors who are not only inventive and hugely capable, but who so obviously understand the whole feel of the show. James Strong, Joe Ahearne and James Hawes have been the frontrunners but Charles Palmer, with this story, can be added to the list.
The scarecrows - well, as with the Reapers in Father's Day, they are almost an irrelevent addition to the story, yet they are given some fantastic moments - the snatching of the girl with the balloon being the most nightmare-inducing i would say. As such, despite the fact they could easily not have featured, they add a horror to the story which I'm sure will make it a story that all children who watched it will remember vivdly into adulthood. Again, monster design and realisation has been of the highest order, in this series 3 perhaps more than ever.
The acting of all and sundry was of the highest order - Freema Agyeman has had tough shoes to fill, and in general I do feel there is a slightly less emotional attachment to martha's character - this is no criticism of Freema, but Rose and family were so solidly characterised over the last 2 seasons that inevitably that whole backstory is missed. However, as many fans were quick to point out, Rose's character did become irksome at times last series, although her eventual exit was one of the most touching and heartwrenching moments of British TV history. Martha has been instantly likeable, and here, as in 42, her character has started to flesh out nicely, and it perhaps adds a nice variety that her family have taken much more of a back seat this season than the Tyler clan did. Freema herself continues to impress, and I'm quite prepared to expect that she'll become the second-best companion of all-time (behind Billie's Rose of course!) Added to this was a beautiful performance from Jessica Hynes, who I have long admired but did I ever expect her to deliver such a powerful and well-judged performance as this? Her final scene with the Doctor, and scathing banishment of him, was a magical moment of TV drama.
And finally.....now, who's my favourite Doctor? No question. Tom Baker was MY Doctor, through my teenage years, he became the Doctor, a magical iconic figure, instantly recognisable, totally loved.....and yet....nostalgia is a funny old thing and hard to shake off, but with this performance, David Tennant has knocked the socks off everything that's come before. This is, quite simply, the Greatest Performance ever from a Doctor (though you could argue of course that the most powerful moments were not played as the Doctor, but as John Smith). Tennant is simply mind-boggling, especially in his final angst as he knows he must choose between sacrifice and destroying the Family. The scene where his never-to-be-lived future is played out left me with more than a tear in my eye, and his verstaility was so in evidence when changing in a second from Smith to the Doctor - it really wasn't just a matter of a different accent. David Tennant truly has now delivered the ultimate performance in the show's title role, and if he isn't at least nominated for the aforementioned BAFTA, it is purely and simply snobbery against the show. Nuff said.
So, the best Dr Who episodes ever? Hard to say when there is such a long and rich history and diversity to choose from, but very possibly, and in many ways undoubtedly. The intensity which I've felt has been slightly lacking this series - though hugely entertaining and wonderful in so many ways - has materialised with a vengeance here. Well done to absolutely everybody involved, and with all the recent press speculation, let's hope that all those involved continue to have a long and productive future in this, the absolute jewel in British TV's crown.
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television
Actually, that opening phrase doesn't refer to 'Human nature/ Family of blood', but the fact that a production like this, sits alongside the various levels of dross that have comprised series 3 to date.
Right from the opening scene with its palpable sense of urgency (nicely edited reverse angles of the Doctor working the controls) this effort seemed to be operating on a higher level and for the last two weeks it's been like a different show... the kind it should be more often then not!
Everything seemed better pitched, the characters more defined, the historical setting more believable (all it takes is a good location scout), the direction tighter, the casting better (the supporting cast having the appropriate air and look for the period), the FX work better (no overstretching) and most importantly... it had a story.
Yeah... that's right. A story!
A story with it's own internal logic (a rarity in new Who), a story not dressed up in clich?, wonkoid science, or borrowed from a better source. A story allowed to unfold without the usual hurry, unburdened by the desire to pack in as much as possible in as little time as possible. A story with genuine emotion as opposed to manipulative sentimentality. A story with no silly 'broad' humour, and finally, a story which, despite it's fantasy leanings, never felt less than confident to bear the weight it's time period carried, the first World war hanging like a dark pall over the tale from beginning to end.
There were of course faults (nothings perfect). Plot wise, Martha should have been given possession of the watch, not the Doctor (which made no real sense considering the circumstances). Then again, something had to motor the plot along, so as a story device, this was a more forgivable anomaly then the show usually offers. In the acting stakes, Tennant and Agyeman seemed a little inadequate alongside the unusually good supporting cast ( Hynes, Sangster, Lloyd, and in lesser roles, pretty much everyone else). To be fair, Tennant had a lot to do, and he did pretty much run the acting gamut. His eyes still bulged a little too much, and his facial expressions were a little too overstated when acting alongside the more naturalistic Jessica Hynes, to fully convince, however. That said, I much preferred the vulnerable John Smith persona to his smatarse portrayal of the Doctor, and Charles Palmer rightfully reigned him in for the final scenes when Smith was gone. Actually, if Tennant played the part entirely as he did during the last ten minutes I'd like him a damnsite better then I do.
Agyeman, it has to be said, was noticeably struggling. She's just not that great an actress, likeable... yes, but without the skill to convey the weight of character and delivery (which, sometimes, just seemed off) this story demanded. Joan, would never have become a companion, (cos' the kid's would have had difficulty relating to her, though a character like this wouldn't have been out of place in the original series) but she would have been far more interesting then Martha, and this story only really served to throw up just how lightweight Agyeman / Martha is.
The scarecrows were a bit naff (though not a bad idea, by any means) with their 'Wizard of Oz' gait, however, I'm viewing them with adult eyes and I'm pretty sure you're average ten year old and under would have thought differently. The courtyard 'shoot em up' was well handled with it's well judged slo-mo inserts and I liked it's allegorical leanings (the youths themselves would be mown down, like so many scarecrows, in the coming years... see what I mean about operating on a higher level). Compare this sequence with the similar set piece in Hooverville in 'Evolution' and you'll see what Palmer brought to this particular gig.
All in, then, it was a strong production in virtually ever department. It was, however Paul Cornell who shone the brightest, delivering, to my mind, the best written episodes of New Who to date. His understanding of the Doctor seems way beyond RTD, and indeed Moffats (I still cringe at the thought of that drunk scene in 'Girl in the fireplace'). While the various punishments dished out to the family seemed a little like a cop out storywise, they also gave the Doctor a mythic quality and this hitherto unexplored aspect seems entirely appropriate considering his somewhat God like abilities. This is a facet that should be run with (but probably won't).
Elsewhere, Gold did his customary fine bit, with an appropriately soaring eulogy at the end. He'll bugger off when RTD steps down, I would imagine (he may well go sooner if the movie world beckons) and the show will be the lesser for it. Good editing, and sound design (I'm a sucker for the 'thrunch' of bullets ripping through straw) rounded the package off. There's plenty more nice thing's to mention, but I'm sure they'll be covered by other reviewers (unless this story is considered crappy by everyone except me, in which case'I'll just crawl into a corner, to ponder how out of touch I am with the world, and probably never recover!!!)
In closing, this was a glimpse at the kind of show 'Who' can so clearly be when the right people are at the helm, both episodes embracing the solid tradition of superior British storytelling as opposed to American (we just can't beat them at they're own game, so why bother... we shouldn't even be wanting to). In fact, I can't imagine a single American show (Sci-Fi or not) that would even attempt to put something like this together (they do 'slick', they do 'sentimental' but they don't often do gravitas!).
This two parter was well written (it might even spark some interest in the first world war with some kids who otherwise have shown none), well paced, well acted and well directed!
I just wish (placed in the latter half of a poor season) it didn't feel so much like a glitch!
Filters: Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor Television