Human Nature (the New Adventure)
  1. Human Nature
  2. The Family of Blood
Human Nature/The Family of Blood

Story No. 196-197 Scarecrow. Scarehumans too.
Production Code Series Three Episodes Eight and Nine
Dates May 26 and June 2, 2007

With David Tennant, Freema Agyeman

Written by Paul Cornell Directed by Charles Palmer
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.

Synopsis: The Doctor has hidden himself from the Family, but the Family know where his weaknesses lie.


A Review by David Smith 25/7/07

Two years ago, Paul Cornell wrote Father's Day and, as a result, when I heard he was writing a two parter for series 3 I cringed. This story involves the Doctor turning himself into a human so as to hide from the sinister Family of Blood who wish to use him to make themselves immortal. Upon turning himself into a human the Doctor becomes John Smith, a teacher at a boys school in 1913 while Martha (still aware she is a space traveller) becomes a maid. The story is notably better than Father's Day though that is hardly a challange and like that clanger it has, quite frankly, rubbish monsters. It also suffers from pacing trouble. However, it does have some effective villains. Also, many of the concepts the story uses are bold and pioneering.

The Doctor turning himself human to avoid being sniffed out and trapping the Time Lord part of him in a watch is a good. It allows for us to see him in a totally new way, gives him an excuse to fall in love and lets him be mean to his companion. Topped off with some nice flashbacks to the Doctor turning human, achieved through good direction, this is most certainly a plus. Furthermore, this renders the Doctor helpless as in human form he does not have any of the answers; this gives a bit more room for Martha to do the thinking. I also like the journal. The Doctor (or John Smith) records his dream/memories in a journal and when we look inside we see drawings of past friends, foes and Doctors. This is a good way of cementing the links between the new and old series as seen effectivly done in School Reunion with the return of Sarah Jane. However, I will point out that I did not like the way the family were alerted to the Doctors presence by that school boy opening the watch. I think it would have been better if the Family had tracked down the Doctor through their own efforts rather than the blundering of another character. Having Timothy open the watch was a bit of a lazy mechanism. Overall, though some of the ideas in the story were not brilliant, the majority were good enough to cast the two parter in a good light, in this field at least.

On the other hand, the pacing of the story is somewhat troubling. The intro involves the Doctor and Martha fleeing some unseen enemies. It is fast paced and enigmatic (due to the anonymity of the attackers), giving the story a good adrenaline-burst start. Unfortunately, the bulk of part one is consists of the Doctor (in the human form of John Smith) flirting with Nurse Redford. Sure Redford is played by Spaced-genius Jessica Stevenson but it is still annoying that so much screen time is devoted to her rather than (or being shared evenly with) the far more interesting villains. The Empty Child/Doctor Dances worked well because the explanation was kept a secret until well into part two; here it is given way too early, though the bit where Martha pedals down to the Tardis is a nice break from Smith and Redford. The cliffhanger with the Doctor having to choose between Redford and Martha ('your friend or your lover' as Baines says) is passable; the resolution (Timothy opening the watch) is not. Part two is more exciting though the attack on the school has its good bits (the murder of the irritatingly patriotic headmaster) and bad bits (the scarecrows< being foddered by the cannons). We are treated to a little more of Redford and the Doctor (reminds of how Cybermen: The Early Years became more about Zoe Heriot than the Cybermen themselves) before the Doctor becomes a Time Lord again. The Doctor goes on to outwit and defeat the Family. I liked the way he did it and they are subjected to differing punishments all of which I liked a lot. Then we have a nice cap on the end. In summary, there is far far too much of the Doctor and Redford (especially in part one). While otherwise the pacing is generally passable these scenes are enough in their own right to drag the story down.

The Jack Straws, these guys annoyed me somewhat. The idea of walking killer scarecrows is a good one that has been used effectively in the past. Indeed, in the Radio Times, Russell T. Davies said 'If you thought scarecrows, you ain't seen nothing yet.' Nice, I thought, these creatures could be an effective new monster. However, last year Russel T. Davies said that series 2 would end on a collosal cliffhanger that was indescribable, saying 'I hope they manage to get it all on film.' It turned out to be Catherine Tate in a bride's dress. Not much of a cliffhanger Russell, unless of coarse it was so big they didn't manage to get it all on film. Either way, I no longer take Russell seriously and therefore wasn't surprised when the Jack Straws did little more than stand in the background and get mowed down by machine guns. Theres a couple of good bits where they jump their victims but that's about it. What background do they themselves have? None, they are simply the Family's soldiers. Why are the Cybermen cool? Because they convert humans! Why where the Ood terribly boring? Because they were written into their story as two-dimensional lackies for the Beast! But if the Ood are two dimensional then the Jack Straws are barely one dimensional! There is a point where one of the members of the family makes a typical cocky villain joke and we see a Jack Straw laughing; it colours their soul a little but no where near enough. Therefore, with the Family being human on screen and it being down to the Jack Straws to be the story's onscreen monster presence Human Nature/Family of Blood disappoints.

Despite the episode lacking effective monsters, it does possess some effective villains: the Family. Pursuing the Doctor in order to gain immortality, the Family has a lot to its credit. Firstly as they take over human bodies and therefore are capable of expressing their feelings (unlike a lot of the people in mask monsters e.g. Clockwork droids). Son of Mine which embodies pompous school boy Jeremy Baines is a good smug villain and works in the way many James Bond villains do. Sister of Mine is kept more in the background but she has her own music when she walks and the balloon becomes almost trademark. They laugh and joke and get scared. As such, the Family work well as the story's main antagonists.

In conclusion, due to its various faults, this story is weaker than the latter season two parter of series 1 The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. It is not as well paced and the poor quality of its monsters have undermined it. However, there are a number of saving graces such as good villains and concepts. Though good overall this was a two parter and its close proximity to the end of the series meant I was expecting more. However, Paul Cornell has improved dramatically since Father's Day and has taken some bold risks in creating the story. A bit more practice and another chance might result in him writing a true epic.

To err is human by John Nor 7/9/07

I haven't read Paul Cornell's book Human Nature, though I intend to now, after watching this two-parter. I am very glad that Russell T. Davies asked Cornell write this story for the 2007 Season of Doctor Who, as this was brilliant.

There were layered and moving performances from Freema and Tennant. The production design was amazing, with the fantastical elements echoing appropriately enough writers of the period like H.G. Wells. The guest cast were great - with Harry Lloyd as the student Jeremy Baines being particularly creepy. The script was brilliant and courageous in its portrayal of an imperfect and flawed human Doctor, condoning beatings and being - yes - a little bit racist.

Part one: the first post-credits image is of the Union Flag. This very charged image could be read in various ways. One way of reading it was that this episode was emphasising that the Doctor was British, as did the 1996 TV Movie ("He's British." "I suppose I am," says the Doctor). Another way of reading it was that it was the heralding of an episode that would tackle the nature of Britishness. Nu-Who and Torchwood have tackled Britishness before, (and Torchwood evaded the sensitive and complex Irish question by misplacing Torchwood 4 in Everything Changes!), but never as directly as this episode.

What was impressive about the opening episode was that it explored notions of Britain and Empire, and the treatment of various different people within and without the Empire, with the human Doctor reflecting the attitudes of the time (as shown by his casually racist treatment of Martha.) The Union Flag was last seen so prominently in The Idiot's Lantern, but I would say there was a more multi-layered approach here. I am not saying the Union Flag equates with racism, not at all, but certain people in Britain who cling to a certain idea of Britishness do use the flag as a symbol of their ideas.

The most extraordinary thing about part one was John Smith's journal. There was a real sense of wonder created by this, mixed in with fannish satisfaction at seeing the Eighth Doctor so prominently featured. (Phew, all those arguments are now over; the 1996 TV Movie is canon.)

As well as the nods to the Classic past, there were also references to The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances with Time Agent technology within invisible space ships. (Is all this part of longer storyline featuring Captain Jack?)

Part one was beyond excellent, with the story shaping up to be one of the all time great Doctor Who stories. And British? Yes. A very English comedy-of-manners was a prominent feature of this episode, with of course a Scottish lead actor in a Welsh production.

Part two was very moving. Three scenes I was especially moved by: John Smith's gradual horrific realisation - "I'm just a story! - and later, "Your job is to execute me!". Wow. The scene where it is revealed that the Doctor is play-acting as John Smith to sabotage the ship (and John Smith is gone). The last scene with the Doctor and Martha looking on from the background at Remembrance Day.

The choice that faced John Smith in part two recalled Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ. I believe that in both this episode and that film, the main character has glimpses of what could be, but that is just what they are: glimpses. In that film, the main character (who is both human and divine) has to make his choice between the human life he could lead and the sacrifice. He chooses the sacrifice. As does John Smith.

Choices. The Doctor to Martha on opening the watch, "It's your choice!". The cliffhanger, "Your friend or your lover!". Sometimes discretion is the better part of valour, as when Latimer echoes the Ninth Doctor in Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways, "A coward? Every time!" but also Latimer recognises later that some things must be confronted. Whatever the situation, we must choose.

Freema was very impressive in the role of Martha here, showing a steely resolve in her scene at the beginning of part two, and the scene were she has to convince the sceptical Joan of her medical knowledge was a powerful one. Jessica Hynes as Joan Redfern successfully brought a complex character to the screen. After the whirlwind romance of The Girl in the Fireplace, there was still a freshness to seeing the Doctor in love as Tennant and Hynes gave a very human depth to their scenes.

The sequence where The Family of Blood are consigned to their fates had me marvelling at the screen in awe - finally after, after a long wait, ever since March 2005, there was the otherworldly Magic Realism that I wanted on screen, last seen properly in Doctor Who in Warriors' Gate. The other awe-inspiring aspect of it was the portrayal of the chillingly cold side of the Tenth Doctor.

Latimer's earlier glimpse of this foreshadowed these events: an image from the dark heart of The Runaway Bride, the Doctor ruthlessly gazes as the flames flicker behind him.

Utterly fantastic, this two-parter is one of the greatest Doctor Who stories of all time.

Adapt to Survive by Mike Morris 18/11/07

Cards on the table. First of all, I've read Paul Cornell's original novel a few times. Also, I really, really, really like it.

That's probably important to get out of the way. This is the new series' second stab at an adaptation, the other being Rob Shearman's Dalek which was taken from his original audio drama Jubilee. While I'd heard Jubilee, I'd been less than impressed with a story that I felt lacked discipline and it didn't impinge on my enjoyment of Dalek one bit. People who really liked Jubilee seemed less enthused with Dalek than I did, feeling that it had removed a lot of the colour and humour of the original. As someone who didn't particularly like the colour - Shearman's writing is too repetitious for my tastes, and I don't find him particularly funny - then I wasn't bothered by this in the least, but I could understand (if not agree with) the objections.

Perhaps you can see where this is going. I really enjoyed this adaptation, but I wasn't quite as crazy about it as others have been. People who didn't read Cornell's novel, or perhaps didn't like it very much, seemed to have derived more from it than I did. Although it's more or less futile to do a compare/contrast exercise when it comes to adaptations, I couldn't help but start enumerating the differences between one and the other. The result is that, while I consider Dalek to be the "prime" version of the Captive-Dalek-Goes-Mad story, I consider the TV rendition of Human Nature to be a half-decent cover version; it's more along the lines of Johnny Cash covering "One" than Boyzone murdering "Father and Son". Still, it's not Jimi Hendrix doing "All Along The Watchtower" either.

[Music analogies cease herewith]

That's not to say it's not very good. It's comfortably the most ambitious story of the season and, when people call it one of the best Doctor Who stories ever, I'm not going to argue too strenuously (although, as far as Series Three goes, I think I rate it behind Gridlock and possibly Blink). I'm comparing Human Nature against stiff competition: itself. I'm going to try and keep this review accessible to people who haven't read the novel, since I think the comparison does highlight a few flaws at the story's core, but the flaws themselves are the type of big, thematic ones that really only occur when you're talking about something very good to start with.

In terms of alterations, some are no-brainers which had to happen. Human Nature the novel has one huge problem, which is that it's way too long (and it's short by NA standards anyway; really, the story wants to be the length of a Target novelisation). It's "padded" - although in the way that only Paul Cornell can, it's padded with moral issues and complex characters rather than running up and down corridors. What we get on television is tighter and sharper. Characters like Alexander and Hadleman from the novel are completely excised, as is Tim's friend Anand, and fairly significant events of the novel are removed or altered.

In some cases, this undoubtedly improves the story. Always prone to what the unkind of us would call "soapboxing", Cornell looked at institutional racism in the novel in a way that felt shoehorned in. The fact that Martha is a black companion obviously helps here, and the portrayal of racism works better here than it does in the book. Hutchison's casual joke to Martha does genuinely shock, and Martha's furiously controlled retort to Joan is a lovely moment. Also, the novel takes a long time to get going and has some events which are truly bizarre - not least the appearance of a future incarnation of the Doctor (sort of) earlier on. Here, the condensation forces the removal of these elements, automatically inducing an editing exercise that the book needs anyway. To sum all this up, Human Nature is now the length it always wanted to be.

The major addition is the scarecrows and these are wonderful, acting at first as a genuine threat and then as cannon-fodder when needed; although they derive from RTD's more commercial sensibilities, there's no denying that they work splendidly. They're also beautifully choreographed, with their shambling, boneless "walk" being an example of how much attention the production pays to script ideas in this story.

Other elements are things that do detract from the story, but I understand their removal. In the novel, the headmaster is an important and unsympathetic character, whereas here he's very much in the supporting cast, most likely for running time reasons (although possibly not; see below). And one of the most affecting scenes in Human Nature involves one of the children being hanged from a dormitory window, and while I miss it I can accept that it's not exactly appropriate for a children's programme airing at seven o'clock.

In fact, there are two alterations I want to dwell on.

First of all; Human Nature the novel is first and foremost a pacifist work. It's about finding ways to win without resorting to guns, and at the conclusion this theme is brought firmly to the fore. In the televised story, this is less emphasised and - more importantly - less successful. I would have less of a problem if they'd excised the pacifist scenes altogether, but in fact a lot of them remain; they're just not as overt, or successful, as they are in the book. The most obvious alteration is the ending, which was actually the one change that really did annoy me. I'm not particularly enamoured with poppy-wearing anyway, for personal reasons, but in the novel the war scenes are quite different and the character at the end is wearing a white poppy. What we get in the televised version is, by contrast, safe and conventional and rather obvious. Seeing that character decked out in medals feels wrong, in spite of his obvious grief, in a way I find rather... cowardly. Two years ago, when the series came back, it wasn't afraid to make serious points. The alteration to Human Nature's conclusion would seem to be because the original ending might have stirred up trouble, and seeing them duck out of it is disappointing. It also must be said that having someone look up to the heavens and say "thank you Doctor" is one of the less subtle moments of the series being needlessly messianic about its central character.

It's not that there aren't powerful moments. Seeing schoolchildren cry as they prepare to fire machine guns is a wonderful microcosm of the war to come, and the innocence of Hutchison's "You mean we haven't killed anyone?" remains affecting. You can even interpret the final scenes this way: Martha tells Tim that he doesn't have to fight and he responds "I think we do", so perhaps his tears are in themselves an admission that he was wrong. However, these moments don't quite bond into a whole, and just don't quite pack the punch I think they should; rather than being peaks in a pacifist argument, they are isolated moments in a story which is concerned with other things. One of the key supporting arguments in the novel is the contrast between the morality of the headmaster and that of the Doctor, with Smith trapped between the two; shorne of that, the really anti-war moments tend to float around in the story. It feels as though it doesn't quite have the guts to be the pacifist tale it wants to be, and that leaves a slightly sour taste.

The other element is the adversaries. That's not to say that they aren't well-played (Harry Lloyd being particularly impressive), and their cynicism at key moments is genuinely vile. However, in the final analysis they're a bunch of body-snatching aliens who aren't a million miles from all the other body-snatching aliens we've had down the years; they really are terribly generic. To be fair, the Aubertides of the novel are a species who can mimic any animal they eat, which leads to scenes of cannibalism which telly-Who really couldn't get away with (two stories of Season 22 were about cannibalism, true, but neither were as explicit as this would have to be. The Two Doctors doesn't actually feature anyone actually eating a human, they just talk about how much they'd like to try one; and Revelation of the Daleks refers to people being turned into food, but it's not explicitly seen happening). I'd like a bit more effort than we get, all the same. Again, it's not that what's on screen is offensive, it's just a bit boring. We never actually discover who the Family are, why their lifespan is running out, or... anything at all, really. One of my big complaints about the series since its return is that it hasn't really developed any good monsters aside from ones it's updated from the full-fat cheapo "classic" series, and that continues here.

Okay, enough. Let's find some good bits.

Well, it's not hard. Tennant's performance here is astonishing, getting us to really empathise with a man who is - intentionally - not particularly special. In the moments when he reverts into being the Doctor we see how beautifully his performance has been modulated, and his new-found uncertainty is a delight. The scenes in the house are obviously wonderful, and some of the more pitiful moments are truly heart-breaking. "Why can't I just be John Smith? Isn't he a good man?" he cries out at one point, a man unwittingly thrust into the centre of a horror story of which he knows nothing; at another moment he demands of Martha "So that was your job? To execute me?" and really fires home the horror of what the Doctor has unwittingly done. His frantic attempts to just remove himself from events are beautifully drawn, and the moment when he collapses in tears cap what's a real tour de force by Tennant, and the way that he makes his final decision off-screen seems so... respectful. In the end, though, it's the incidental touches which are so satisfying: the sudden resolve as he mutters "I'll not have this", or the lovely bit of slapstick when he falls down the stairs.

Speaking of incidental touches, I think my favourite bit of acting in the story is Jessica sorry-she'll-always-be-Stevenson-to-me and her delivery of "We make such good wives"; look at the uncertain glance she gives at the end, enabling us all to see through her joke. Jessica's as lovely and as convincing in this as she is in just about everything I've ever seen her in, adding delightful texture to a character who remains sympathetic in spite of her flaws. She doesn't temper the bad points, repeatedly admonishing Martha to know her place before calling her a skivvy, but retains what can only be called dignity. The moment at the conclusion where the Doctor asks her to come with him is - quite deliberately - astonishingly crass, but her refusal and her confrontation of him is as quietly brave as anything in the series.

Martha gets more to do here, and more genuine characterisation, than in any story of the season. Given that her relationship with the Doctor is one of unrequited love, she underplays this element really nicely and doesn't seem out of her depth amid all the good stuff that's going on around her. I found her own speech about the Doctor ("I love him to bits") more satisfying than the slightly showy "He's ancient and forever" stuff we get from Tim, and the increasing desperation as the story progresses shows signs of an actress who really knows what she's doing. My reservations about Martha have always been the character rather than the actress, but she's so obviously out of her depth here that I think she works beautifully.

Structurally, though, the story still isn't quite right. The relationship between Smith and Joan is beautifully developed but it does happen very quickly; although they've known each other for three months they're still quite distant as the story opens (they only agree to use each others' first names a few minutes in), which means that they're not that convincing as a couple for the "friend or lover" cliffhanger. Then, in the second episode, the action splits rather clumsily between Smith going into hiding and the Family hunting for him. The result is that what's going on in the house is far more interesting than the search outside, which drags a little. This ties in with the generic nature of the adversaries; in the novel, one of them is killed, causing them to really go on the rampage, which not only gives us more plot but provides an extra edge to their characterisation. It has to be said that the second episode is a bit light on plot progression, even if the scenes between Smith, Joan, Martha and Tim are truly wonderful.

The conclusion, though, is terrific. The twist of "He was being kind" is great, and I liked that stuff about the mirrors. The scene on the hillside is beautifully shot, and in spite of the story being a grand tragedy there's a wonderfully uplifting sense to it. In conclusion, this two-parter is obviously great television. It's a more personal and small-scale story than the novel, and this is a wise decision. I found it a nice enough adaptation, and most of the decisions that they made work. However, it doesn't do as much for me as the book does. I think it's a more efficient but less interesting piece of work, and the blanding-out of the ending genuinely got on my nerves. It's still terrific, though, and something that the kids will remember.

Which, in the end, is what's important.

Wishful Thinking by Thomas Cookson 13/11/08

I've grown more and more disappointed at the New Series, its lack of maturity, its undignified desperation, till I feel I'd no longer care if it got cancelled, and now I even wonder if we actually needed a New Series at all.

This makes me think back actually to something I said elsewhere on how I was awaiting the comeback:

I doubt that Doctor Who could be the same in today's British media climate which has lost the importance of intelligent liberal Television for the people (as an antidote to the media's heavily conservative and repressive side), ironically this is because of liberal TV's very own abundance in today's excesses of Reality TV and Sex Scandal Documentaries which have denigrated liberal TV to something totally banal.
But soon after writing that, I listened to Jubilee and I thought to myself that even if New Who was a compromised vision, if something a fraction as smart and radical as Jubilee was likely to come out in the New Series then a new series would be a godsend.

Human Nature especially represented the promise of the New Series bringing something from the franchises' off screen arsenal of strong material and bringing it to the masses.

I missed Human Nature on its original run (I was missing episodes a lot at the time; I even missed Gridlock for the sake of playing Jenga at my friend's house instead), although I caught a glimpse of the last ten minutes of it which suggested I'd missed something exquisite. But later I got the DVD of this two parter and Blink. Blink incidentally is Steven Moffat's best story for the series, managing to be his scariest, most intelligent story and to have most of his usual fat cut out. All in all it made for probably one of the best New Series DVDs that money could buy.

It was somewhat refreshing that Season Three was free of the terrible two, Tennant and Piper that made even the best stories of Season Two quite obnoxious and vulgar. Sure we still have Tennant, but he's closer to his Mr. Nice Guy role here. It's sadly telling that my favourite Tennant stories have been either ones in which he's largely absent, such as Blink, or ones where he plays someone other than the Doctor, such as here and in Dalek Empire III. In short, this was a part of the season that didn't sink with the rest.

Indeed, it should be said that in the scene where Martha has to endure some horrific mockery and racism from the prefects, it suddenly shows up what's wrong with the New Series in how the Doctor often acts as the cliquey bully to the viewer's amusement. Furthermore, yes, we get another Rose reference. Indeed we've had too damn many this season. But here the references aren't so pretentious or self-involved on the Doctor's part. They function as part of the Doctor's collection of memories and for once that comes across as genuinely cathartic, as opposed to pretentious or self involved.

Yes, Martha is being ridiculously self-involved in pining for the Doctor and bemoaning the fact that he fell in love with someone else, but her confrontation with the Doctor's girlfriend Mrs Redfern is so respectful and so completely unlike School Reunion that it is refreshing to see Martha turn her back on self-interest and think about the greater good and her rival's own well being. It's the idea of a self-involved character aspiring to someone more compassionate, which is a breath of fresh air in a series as non-aspirational as this. I mean really, after Rose's "You upset my mum" moment in Love & Monsters, I completely lost faith that the show would ever escape the gravitational pull of obscene and vacuous pettiness. But the scene here could have turned my head.

I've said recently that I think Nicholas Briggs' Dalek Empire is the Eric Saward era done right. And I'll say the same thing about Paul Cornell's Human Nature and Father's Day representing Russell's remit for sentimental domestics and full-blooded drama done right.

I never really got into the books myself. I always looked to them as an ideal version of the McCoy era which was mature and cinematic and which you could take seriously. I had bought a few when I was 11 when I had been given some free book tokens from my school. My teachers actually approved of me taking such a wholesome interest as Doctor Who, though I'm not sure they'd have been as pleased if they actually knew about the content of the New Adventures. I never really managed to get into them though. I found myself hideously lost in Transit, and to this day I think Blood Heat is the only one I've read all the way through. I've also read huge chunks of the hideously melodramatic War of the Daleks, which was enough to discount any potential canonicity of the books to me. If only an editor had pulled John Peel about the whole 'the Movellan war was a mock up' idea that the Daleks would gladly inflict a deadly, uncontrollable virus upon themselves. Sadly, even in the higher art of literary form, Doctor Who still remains a stranger to quality control.

But Ron Mallett once described the original Human Nature book as being 'not real Who' and being 'aimed at teenage girls and the mentally disabled'. I mean I get no pleasure from reading brutish, obtuse, curmudgeonly and mean-spirited reviews from people who aren't prepared to give anything a chance. So, even though it may seem hypocritical for me, as a new series basher to have a go at another new series basher, that point from Ron Mallett did bother me. I would argue on the contrary that Human Nature was very much what Doctor Who is about. Doctor Who is a very Buddhist series about how good and evil is a state of mind, about facing your fears and about change and renewal, the death and rebirth of the soul. Human Nature takes that theme to its heart in the tale of the Doctor changing into a human.

But of course this retells the story of Human Nature, whilst at the same time rendering the book itself non canon, since it seems unlikely that the Doctor here has gone through this before. I suppose the New Series had to disown the books since they both have contradictory accounts of the destruction of Gallifrey. As I said, I've never really considered the books to be canon anyway, so maybe I'm less inclined to be bothered. However the New Series isn't canonical to my eyes either. It's like a cartoon in its neglect of the laws of physics and pull-out-a-bag resolutions, or like an advert in its desperate cool zaniness and deliberate irritation factor. Therefore it's not canon to me from a stylistic point of view.

I think my cynicism even set in with regards to the Time War. It once gave me my greatest stake in the New Series, in a sense of mythology and pathos. Now I view it as nothing but an easy way of sweeping up cosmic concerns and instead focusing the show on the domestic and petty. And of course as an easy way out that no one need bother explaining properly, it seemed to set the standard for all of Russell's lame and cheating resolutions.

On the subject of canon, the book of impossible things pretty much canonises all the nine Doctors before Tennant, including Paul McGann. I might have been a little unhappy about this, given that beforehand this new series might as well have been a followup to Season 14, and everything in between could be nicely discounted, and I quite liked dismissing everything post Season 17. But, as you all know, I am someone who became a fan of the show when it was off air and had ended in a long train wreck. So I remain forever that annoying 'it should have ended there' kind of fan.

Speaking of disillusionment, the Doctor as John Smith has such a lovely relationship with Mrs Redfern. Now see, this is where Russell's remarks really annoy me. Before the season started he was having a go at his critics for being 'emotionally reserved straight males', and afterwards he was having a go at us for wanting more stories like Human Nature. So are both queues of critics wrong Russell?

But this is an emotional story that outclasses anything Russell has ever done. Mainly because the emotional content comes from adult characters who are prepared to act like adult characters, and I don't feel like I'm exaggerating when I say the New Series has never presented this before. And something else. Mrs Redfern talks about her life, and her past. We learn things about her that make her a real character with a history. It's suddenly dawned on me that aside from the fact that Jackie also lost her husband and she used to have curls, after the best part of two seasons of enduring her, we don't actually know anything about Jackie Tyler other than that she's thoroughly obnoxious. Actually, I can remember the last time I cared about Jackie before too much familiarity bred contempt. It was the opening teaser in The Christmas Invasion, where she was placing the present for Rose who was absent. I actually did find that emotionally touching. But it takes more than poignant moments to build a character out of a cipher.

I've never really been one of those viewers who cared about the 'will they, won't they' kind of romantic tension. But when watching Spaced, I somehow ended up really rooting on Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson to get together and being disappointed that they didn't. There's something so summery about Jessica Stevenson that does that for me, she seems warm and mature, upbeat and adaptable to be anyone's missing puzzle piece, and I really wanted to see her and the Doctor get together.

What's happening to me?

I must say it helps that the author of this story seems to really like the idea of the Doctor falling in love with someone and goes for it with passion, even whilst dodging controversy by having the Doctor turn human first.

Whereas elsewhere when the Doctor act like he's in love with his companion, it seems written purely out of a desire to irritate fans, and play on fandom's worst nightmares of a Doctor in a relationship. Not only does the Doctor love Rose, but when she's gone he spends all the time self-absorbed and moaning about her and having a go at Martha for trying to 'replace' her. Like many boyfriends, he shows jealousy and delights in humiliating others to make himself look big in front of his girlfriend. Basically making the Doctor look vindictive, petty, self-involved, cliquey and sometimes downright punchable.

But I like this Doctor John Smith. A whimsical gentleman with a romantic soul. And I think it's because everything else is working against them as a couple that makes me root them on. This is a repressive time they exist in, with prejudice, bullying and quite mean-spirited snobbery. The Doctor and Mrs Redfern represent a shining light here of thoughtfulness and kindness.

It's also nicely paced as an episode. Fast moving and involving when it needs to hook the viewer. But patient and calm in the moments which demand respect. Indeed, I'd say that patience and contemplation is something mostly lacking from New Who's stories. And here, coupled with exquisite scenery and marvelous attention to detail, it is something that actually makes the viewer feel like they're in the room with the characters.

It also has a quality that hasn't been seen since Season One. Intrigue. There are various different fractal stories going on in the background, which make for very rewarding repeat viewings, and really draw this environment out as a real, living, breathing community. And of course through looking back on the old school system's army chic and through symbolism it speaks very sublimely about military culture and lost innocence. So it really fulfills all of Doctor Who's remits.

This all builds well to a tale of fear and courage, as Doctor John Smith must face his fears and become the Doctor once more to save the day. Tennant pulls off an excellent, unforgettable performance in this season's best display of the more vulnerable Doctor. Furthermore it is a far better triumph of an ending that is emotionally satisfying if not logically satisfying, than what Russell has been writing for the last three years. The Doctor's victory here is represented in vague, narrated montages which presumably cover a timespan of several months. But it works because the emotional struggle of the Doctor becoming the Doctor again sees the battle half won from there. It hides the logistical details of the victories in a way that makes them satisfying and agreeable in a way that Russell's wilfully insulting disregard for the viewers' intelligence with nonsensical touch-of-God magic endings and miracle cures aren't.

It also must be said that it shows an especially vindictive, retributive side to the Doctor, which I've always liked and it's all the better for being so muted from the Doctor's end. And so here we get a glimpse of how well David Tennant could have played, or indeed outclassed McCoy's dark Doctor, who was an untrustworthy, death-like figure contemplating the fate of worlds and dishing out harsh justice. Sadly, instead, most of the time we're stuck with Tennant as the untrustworthy Doctor who'll bitch about you behind your back or set you up for a humiliation for a laugh with his girlfriend.

But the point is that everything has the right denouement, sometimes a sad one, such as the final scene between the Doctor and Mrs Redfern, and when the Doctor leaves it feels like the story of this village could go on by itself. This is pretty much a story I won't forget easily and will treasure for decades to come.

I will say that the Family of Blood are very threatening and I must say the action and tension is extremely well directed. I also feel that the urgency was well set up from the beginning, by having the Doctor's transformation be a forced option to escape the family of blood, rather than done as a whim in the book. Lawrence Miles certainly said it worked far better as a piece of television than as a book. Mind you I don't really pay mind to what he says anymore. His review of 42, where he describes sci-fi fans as 'scum of the Earth' was so twisted and hateful that I genuinely hope he gets hit by a bus and we're forever spared his mean spirit. His reviews this year have been terrible anyway. The fact is that manic depressives can be the most vicious character assassins, and hearing them mouth off at anyone is like a violation of the mind because they are almost scientological in their relentless smearing and absolution and their morbid obsession with details. It's sad that he has such a talent for writing and cultural analysis and wastes it on hateful, evil verbiage. Seriously Larry, Jeremy Kyle thinks you're vindictive. Besides, I really don't think a dirty old man like you should call other people 'scum'.

But I guess his attitude represents fandom at large, that has perhaps remained so firmly in denial that the New Series has been getting a bit shit in the main, that they'll concoct the idea that nothing's wrong with the New Series and you'd have to be a freak of nature to think otherwise. And they say us Russell-bashers take the show too seriously. Pro-Russell fans may say fans like me are sad, when I'm not the kind of fan who particualrly cared if Doctor Who came back, and certainly wasn't prepared to fellate the first person who made it happen, no matter how undignified and desperate the results.

So going back to my question of whether we needed a new series, I think this story was worth it for the bargain and makes me... begrudgingly... grateful to Russell for bringing the show back.

I think if Doctor Who was only able to come back for just the one story, then it should be this one. Indeed my biggest regret is that this wasn't chosen to be the pilot for the new series. It's definitely up there with City of Death and The Ribos Operation as potential pilot stories. The Doctor living amongst us, trying to understand the life he once had. It's the perfect introduction to the character. Crucially, if this had been the pilot, then it would have set a high standards bar to be sophisticated, rich and mature all the time and never be disposable or patronising. This would be a show that from the outset would be aimed at a demanding audience who wouldn't tolerate being cheated or having their intelligence insulted.

But alas, no.

It's a shame because stories like this and Blink are a tantalising glimpse of how good the show could be.

But Russell T. Davies declared that the show wouldn't be doing any more stories like Human Nature anyway, and he actually told fandom to 'complain all they want', which in the realms of controversy whoring was pretty desperate even for him. He gets so territorial and pathetically insecure about Doctor Who and threatens to take our toys away just to get to those of us who aren't thinking good and faithful thoughts and aren't happy with him being producer and think someone can do better.

But that means there's nothing to look forward to until Russell leaves.

Better, richer, wiser by Neil Clarke 21/11/09

Human Nature/The Family of Blood is the story I've been waiting for since 2005, being as close to perfection as televised Doctor Who is likely to get any time soon. Even the arguable classics of the new series - Dalek, The Girl in the Fireplace - haven't come anywhere close to this. (Even The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances doesn't have the same level of structural and emotional complexity.)

It seems such a shame that one of the few examples of real brilliance from the Davies years is taken wholesale from the New Adventures. Aside from this, story the new series simply hasn't aimed at creating anything comparable to the maturity, originality and emotion of the best of those novels. Everything's straightforward and easy to grasp on one viewing; it's all dumbed-down and very "Saturday night viewing" (which, arguably, I don't think the best of the original run was).

So, on the one hand I feel vindicated that the best story of the new run derives from those books, but it's depressing that no brand new story has been as fully-formed or multilayered as this adaptation (perhaps with the exception of Silence in the Library/ Forest of the Dead).

The structure alone is unusually ambitious, with its narrative straying beyond the given setting, to Tim's glimpses of the future; the war; the memorial; the flashbacks of past stories (which are effectively and economically used, for once); John Smith and Joan's possible life; down to the voiceover handling of the ending. Even the three-month time span is a welcome exception to the adventures more usually taking 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 broader medium than television: no other story of the new series has been quite this audacious or wide-ranging. In this way, the story felt like a "novel on film", rather than a simply televisual creation.

It really seems as if the stakes were raised 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 been an admirer of Paul Cornell; it's always seemed to me that though he has the ideas, they're let down by pedestrian prose. Here, freed from those constraints, it is wonderful to see the plot refined, and imbued with a loving attention to detail.

The continuity references, for example, are rather joyous, but not overplayed: the music accompanying the sinister schoolgirl from Remembrance of the Daleks momentarily echoed for the Family's Daughter of Mine; the reference to the village's dust being "fused into glass", alluding to the sequence from the novel in which the school itself is turned to glass; and, most charmingly of all, the sketch of the Eighth Doctor in the journal of impossible things. It's wonderful that such a tiny thing (which'd be overlooked by the vast majority of the audience) is so heartening; it's great to see McGan's portrayal vindicated by the new series, even if only so briefly.

It was also gratifying to see a story achieved so effectively with minimal use of CGI (which everyone seems to forget is going to date as badly as any crap blue-screen in about, ooh, two years). The use of green lighting for the Family's communication is a pleasing demonstration of how effective simple, in-camera effects can be, while the rendering of the bombardment of the village is all the more impressive for being so low-key.

On its initial broadcast though, the Doctor's elaborate punishments for the Family came close to ruining things for me. Given that this sequence was narrated by Son of Mine, I immediately assumed that it was intended to appear unreliable: the Doctor doesn't do this sort of thing! Which, given Cornell's obvious understanding of Doctor Who and what it stands for, seems all the more bizarre. What happened to "never cruel, never cowardly"? Now, I've actually quite warmed to the Family's "mythic" fates; it feels pleasingly huge and magical, compared to the majority of the series at large, and, in a perverse way, it's quite exciting to see an atypically vengeful edge to the Doctor.

This story really shows the difference it makes when a story is written by someone with an abiding love and understanding of not only the series, but Doctor Who in a broader sense, as opposed to the jobbing writer approach of, say, ,ahref=schoolreunion.htm>School Reunion (compare and contrast these two stories set around a school, in which the Doctor takes the role of a teacher).

A strong script, complemented by great character moments, the backdrop of the oncoming war, and some pleasingly non-"mainstream" directorial touches (the slow-motion shooting of the scarecrows scored by children's singing, etc) add up to the strongest story yet of the resurrected series (again, only contested by Silence in the Library/ Forest of the Dead). Among the elements that particular impress me is the emotion of Smith?s breakdown ("What exactly do you do for him?") and the entirely appropriate excision of Smith's sacrifice and his change back into the Doctor. Also, I always want Doctor Who to be beautiful, but it's ordinarily too busy being flashy; for once though, with Charles Palmer's use of shallow depth of field and visual darkness, it really is.

This story is sad and complex and serious and wonderful. (A shame then that Journey's End is a bit of a betrayal of Human Nature's affecting human Doctor, as is Utopia's demeaning reuse of the chameleon arch fob watch.) It's just regrettable that, despite demonstrating the highs the new series can evidently reach, a story this strong is definitely in the minority.

A Review by Finn Clark 16/1/11

Here's a coincidence. Human Nature is the 38th Virgin NA, but in adapted form it's also New Who Series 3, Episode 8. I haven't read the novel in a while, so I'm afraid this isn't going to be a detailed point-by-point dissection. I think I remember the basics, though.

To get the obvious stuff out of the way, it's brilliant. It's one of three or four NAs that could reasonably be called the best ever, now adapted into a TV two-parter that's every bit as good. It was also the last of Cornell's gob-smackingly stonkmungous novels before he started wobbling with (in no particular order) Happy Endings, Oh No It Isn't!, Scream of the Shalka and Shadows of Avalon. This novel, though, is emotionally powerful, has a strong pacifist message and is blessed with a unique high concept.

So which is better, the book or the TV story? That's not an easy question to answer, but the first thing to note is that I think most of the adaptation's changes are improvements.

The biggest one is the baddies. The novel's Aubertides suffered from Cornell's obsession with humorously self-mocking Doctor Who villains. Theoretically, I quite like this idea, but both here and in Shadows of Avalon, he makes it look bloody terrible. Fortunately, the TV version blows that out of the water with the Family of Blood, effortlessly going from "cringeworthy" to "awesome". They're played to the hilt, especially by the creepy Harry Lloyd as Baines, and another example of how good acting will always trump goofy CGI. Their guns look a bit daffy, but I adore their arrogance and body language. They're evil, they're nasty and we don't even miss the original Aubertides' method of stealing someone's appearance, i.e. eating them.

Backing them up are an army of scarecrows, who somehow seem less scary than I'd expected. Oh, I like them. They do everything you'd expect of them and of course look great, with that obscurely angry-looking sackcloth and their lolloping walk. It's just that they feel like something of an afterthought, dragging away the odd passer-by in episode one and never really interacting with our heroes. Maybe this was even deliberate? The production team might not have wanted the second-string monsters hogging the limelight. Note for instance that whistling pipe music has been chosen to accompany the night-time scenes of a scarecrow army massing outside the school. With darker music and different editing choices, that could have been horrifying. Similarly, the scarecrows never seem like more than cannon fodder when they actually attack, with the emphasis instead being on the World War One foreshadowings of John Smith, his schoolboys and a machine-gun.

The plot's impetus is more dynamic too. Virgin's Doctor turns himself into John Smith because he can, basically. Tennant's Doctor does it because he's being chased through time and space by unstoppable alien hunters. It makes for a good pre-credits sequence, anyway.

Characters and incidents from the novel have been trimmed, but the profoundest change is the pacifism. The novel is really hammering its pacifist message, whereas the TV version is more conservative. The headmaster is almost admirable, despite his appalling beliefs, while Tim Latimer doesn't become a conscientious objector but instead tells the Doctor that he has to go to war. Personally I find the TV version more powerful. That final sequence from the battlefield to the war veteran's scene is astonishing, actually managing to outshine the final farewell of the Doctor and Joan. Oh, and thank goodness they swapped the novel's white poppies for red ones. The TV story is actually asking harder questions, concerning the right thing to do in the face of horrors. The Doctor's choices were meant for the best, but as Joan points out, he still brought death to the village. Similarly, when they pull the boys away from their guns at the school, the immediate result is to give the upper hand to the Family of Blood. I'm not necessarily saying that either of these actions was wrong, but it does take us away from Doctor Who's usual cartoon manicheanism.

As a TV production, it's almost perfect. The acting is impressive, with even the child actors never coming across as child actors. I've already mentioned Harry Lloyd as a favourite, but I was almost hypnotised by Thomas Sangster as Tim Latimer. Those huge, black eyes. Wow. They're almost insect-like. He's astonishingly assured in the role, having already been working as an actor for six years at the time, most notably in Love Actually.

Of the regulars, Freema Agyeman is a rock. She's crucial for the story. So much depends on her and she gets it right. She has clear notes to hit and she hits them. Then of course there's Tennant, who's so good and so subtle. You could go mad trying to nail down the differences between his Doctor and John Smith, which are almost subliminal and yet impossible to miss when he goes from one to the other. A slightly different English accent. That's the most obvious one. He's also playing that distracted "left the kettle on" thing that Joan talks about in episode one. He and Jessica Hynes get it spot on, basically, and that kind of performance quality is the best justification for adapting a novel.

I admire the production's honesty. Martha's skin colour draws comment in what's still the only story where she ever faced any racism, but that's only the beginning. Smith lets Tim Latimer get beaten. There's subtle racism even from the sympathetic characters, like Joan. Oh, and the aliens kill a little girl. New Who historicals sometimes get a bit plastic and Disneyfied, but you couldn't possibly say that of Farringham School in 1913.

I also love the Magrsian sequence of the Doctor's punishments. That's the 8DAs' influence, that is.

I'd really have to dig to find nitpicks. The cliffhanger could be argued to be cliched, even if it is perhaps more powerful than usual in the context of this story. The Crimean War was in 1854, which is perhaps a bit too far off. Um, that's it, I think.

Continuity hounds could perhaps explain the co-existence of the novel and TV story with the Time War. I could imagine the Daleks taking an interest in these events in their fight against Gallifrey. Note also that the novel has a fake 10th Doctor, while the TV adaptation stars the real one! Overall, this isn't a story that you'd exactly call fun, but it's strong, clear and honest. Blink is more enjoyable, but it's not really saying anything. This is. I don't know if the TV show could ever do an actual war story, rather than just playing on the fringes as with Curse of Fenric or The Empty Child, but if it did, I don't know if it could tackle the themes and material better than in this story.

They look close, but they're miles off. Nothing left but a cinder. by Evan Weston 19/5/15

Paul Cornell's Series 1 story Father's Day is one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes ever, so it should come as no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed Human Nature/The Family of Blood, which is actually an adaptation of a New Adventures novel he wrote. The book is much longer and more detailed, and, like Robert Shearman's audio story Jubilee that was trimmed into the triumphant Dalek, the novel Human Nature makes a very successful and efficient trip to the small screen. This is due to Cornell's extremely refined emotional sensibilities and ability to tackle a high concept, with an assist from the acting.

Human Nature/The Family of Blood features David Tennant's best performance since Series 2's The Girl in the Fireplace, and he's not even playing the Doctor. Instead, Tennant is human professor John Smith, a character created by the TARDIS to shield the Doctor from the ruthless Family of Blood. Smith is what you'd expect the Doctor to be if he hadn't up and stolen a TARDIS and zoomed off from Gallifrey: timid, soft-spoken, caring, intellectual, moral without being pretentious. He's not an idiot, as Baines describes him, but he's certainly not the genius that the Doctor is. He's an upper-class everyman from 1913, not a flawless man - he's certainly a product of his time and he often comes across as a coward - but one with a bright future ahead, and Tennant takes Smith's life-or-death choice seriously. The character realizes the importance of what's around him, and ends up playing the hero in the end. Tennant takes strides to ensure we know he's playing a different character: his accent is slightly less harsh, his expressions are softer, he speaks slower and more deliberately, and even his movements are a bit tenderer. It's a lovely characterization, helped by Tennant's ability to nail the emotional highs.

He's assisted strongly by Freema Agyeman, who does a ton of heavy lifting as Martha. Oh, poor Martha; after saving the Doctor's life in 42, he thanks her by marooning her with a complete stranger in 1913, when it's not so great to be black, female and poor. The racist comments from both antagonistic and sympathetic characters are genuinely shocking, and Martha handles it like she's been doing it all her life. It's subtle commentary - something modern Who almost never does well - and it's effective. Martha shows great growth throughout the episode, but she still needs the Doctor in the end, furthering her development towards Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords.

The supporting cast is the best of the season (until Blink), with gold stars going to Jessica Hynes and Harry Lloyd. Hynes is wonderfully subtle as Smith's love interest, Nurse Joan Redfern. She handles her character flaws in a serious manner, but her best moments come when she's interplaying with Tennant. It's not an electric turn like Sophia Myles in The Girl in the Fireplace - the Doctor-Reinette relationship was far more passionate than Smith-Redfern, and that's mostly intentional - but Hynes is solid throughout, and her response to the Doctor's obnoxious request to join him is earned. Lloyd, on the other hand, absolutely chews up every scene he's in as Baines, the Family's ringleader. His sharp, twisted eyes and uneven delivery help convince the viewer of his alien presence, and his violent bursts of rage never fail to surprise and scare.

The Family of Blood is effective for what turns out to be a quartet of desperate mustache-twirlers. It's a shame that they aren't developed further; by the end of the story, we still don't know anything about their backstory, and they mostly just kill people and sniffle. But for what we get, they are a hell of a lot of fun. They are brutal in the execution of their plan, murdering several innocent bystanders and possessing/killing a little girl along the way. Their motive is very simple, which enhances the primordial nature of their appearance. The direction around the Family is stylized in a good way as well, with angular shots and quick cuts displaying how not-quite-right they are.

Overall, the episode is really well put together on a technical level. The direction from Charlie Palmer, whose work I loved in Smith and Jones, is legitimately excellent throughout, quickening what is in essence a fairly slow-paced story. This is also one of the best editing jobs I've seen in a Doctor Who episode, with sporadic cutting and twisting through scenes elevating the different levels of wrong present in the school and the village - though again, Blink tops it. The constant overcast sky and the overall grayness of the proceedings also feels right for what Human Nature/The Family of Blood is going for, and even the mostly black-and-white costume design is fittingly drab. Who's production team has always been good, and they show off their stuff in the back half of Series 3 quite nicely.

Mostly, though, it all comes down to Cornell's brilliant script. Father's Day was a simple yet incredibly deep look at a father-daughter relationship and what fate really means. Human Nature/The Family of Blood is bigger and far more romantic, with Cornell expanding his themes to include the complexity of who we are and what our personalities look like. Not everything works - it's never clear what exactly he's trying to say about war, though the novel is quite pacifist - but the central exploration of the Doctor-Smith dynamic is terrific. The episode asks great questions: is Smith really a brand new character or an extension of the Doctor? And if it's the latter (and I'm inclined to think it is), must he choose between two different parts of himself? Must we put our desires, no matter how innocent and lovely, aside in order to do what is right? And is the Doctor truly wonderful, or is he a destructive force of nature?

Cornell answers these difficult queries with extraordinary delicacy, walking Smith through his moral dilemma naturally. Martha represents the righteous voice begging him to save the world, while Joan embodies his desire, which he displays in the touching montage of their life together. While Smith's final choice doesn't quite evoke the tears Cornell got pouring down my face in Father's Day, he provides a more intellectual and rewarding thought experiment with some emotional heft. Cornell also foreshadows his themes from the very beginning of the episode. There's a ton of dialogue (like my titular quote) that hints at what Smith is and what he'll have to sacrifice, and a lot of clever winks at World War I as well. For a two-parter, it's one of the tighter scripts the show has done, certainly in the often-sprawling and messy Davies era.

The plotting of Human Nature/The Family of Blood, unfortunately, falls far short of its other elements, and it holds the episode back from classic status. After a ripping first 20 minutes, the story slows down far too much as it waits to reach the pointless cliffhanger at the end of the first installment. Then we get the action scene, which is done quite hastily, and then the next 20 minutes are spent hanging out in an abandoned house that no one knew about in the preceding hour. It often feels quite herky-jerky, and, while it never hurts the story's themes, the plot is exposed as a bit thin. I also don't love the use of Tim to extend the plot. He's got the watch for virtually the entire episode, and it's extremely annoying to watch him flounder while Martha desperately searches for it. Tim as a character isn't all bad, but he doesn't add all that much to the story besides being a plot device. His psychic abilities are also never explained, which feels both exploitative and like a missed opportunity. The walking scarecrows are also not nearly as scary as the production team wants them to be, and they end up being relatively unimportant and underused by the end.

Still, this story continues the tradition of strong middle two-parters started by The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and continued brilliantly by The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit. While a lack of emotional power and some plotting problems prohibit it from the highs of the latter story, Human Nature/The Family of Blood is a fascinating moral and conceptual exercise centered around terrific performances from David Tennant and Freema Agyeman, not to mention a totally unique and clever story within the realm of Doctor Who. With Tennant sidelined for much of Series 3's back half and especially the next episode and the finale, it's nice to see him really step up and give a gutsy performance right where it's needed. The episode also nicely continues Martha's arc from confident Rose clone into a strong, independent woman, both inside and out. Unfortunately, on the flip side, Paul Cornell would not write for televised Who again, but this adaptation was a fitting way for him to go out.


The Day of John Smith by Matthew Kresal 5/5/16

Look at almost any list of "best of" Doctor Who stories, and it's hard to escape the conclusion that Doctor Who is at its best when it is being atypical. Stories like Blink and The Deadly Assassin are different from anything else in the canon of televised Doctor Who. Perhaps though there is no story on that list that is more atypical of what the series usually does than the Series Three two-parter Human Nature/The Family of Blood.

For starters, it is the first time the television series had done a full-on adaptation of a previously existing, albeit non-televised, Doctor Who story. The new series, and showrunner Russell T Davies, showed an interest in reaching into the stories written and produced during the 'wilderness years' as shown by how both Dalek and Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel pulled ideas from the Big Finish audios Jubilee and Spare Parts. While those episodes mined for ideas more than anything, Human Nature/The Family of Blood presented a much more faithful adaptation of Paul Cornell's 1995 Virgin New Adventure Human Nature, a novel widely regarded as perhaps the best Doctor Who novel yet written.

Of course it isn't a word-for-word reproduction of what was on the page, either. The novel was done as part of a range that, at the time, featured the Seventh Doctor and Bernice Summerfield, so the television version automatically updates for the Tenth Doctor and Martha. More, the novel saw the Doctor taking on human form for reasons that were less than clear (being the Seventh Doctor, perhaps this comes as no surprise), before the bulk of the story taking place at the Hulton Academy for Boys and the Norfolk town of Farringham in April 1914, where a group of shape shifters called the Aubertides arrive seeking the Doctor's Time Lord identity. So the two versions feature different Doctors, different companions, are set at different schools a year apart and change villains, amongst other details.

Yet, for those changes, the broad strokes and even some of the finer details of the novel are present. Both feature John Smith creating a story inspired by the Doctor's adventures (the novel's version of the journal was in fact plotted by none other than future showrunner Steven Moffat); there's a schoolboy named Timothy (though with the surname of Dean in the novel instead of Latimer) who plays a pivotal role by finding the device holding the Doctor's Time Lord identity; and the little girl with the red balloon and even the final scene can be found in both versions. Last but not least, in an ironic piece of unintended foreshadowing, there's a scene where Bernice Summerfield meets an Aubertide claiming to be the Tenth Doctor who is looking in on his past! So while there are definitely changes between the novel and the screen version, Cornell's original novel is still felt and for the most part faithfully presented.

This two-parter is also atypical because, like Blink, it's the Doctor Who universe seen through the eyes of ordinary people who find themselves caught up in an extraordinary situation. Human Nature, for most of the actual episode, could almost as easily be as much a period drama about a school teacher named John Smith who falls in love with a matron named Joan Redfern as it is about a human-looking alien from an extinct race who travels around in time and space. Indeed, it focuses not on the Doctor but his human alter ego, John Smith.

By focusing on John Smith, David Tennant gives what might well be his best performance from his entire era on the series. For while Smith has the face and voice of the Doctor, he is the average educated person from 1913; as a result, the Doctor, or the man we've come to know as the Doctor, says and does things we would never expect him to do. There's the rather casual way he gives permission for Latimer to receive a beating for example, something that upset a portion of fandom who simply couldn't believe that the Doctor would allow such a thing. They missed the point: this isn't the Doctor at all, but a man who is a product of a time when such things were common place - as is the casual racism displayed when Smith dismisses Martha's claims as simply being "cultural differences". Yet Smith also has moments where the Doctor seems to shine through, such as the cricket ball scene in Human Nature or his decision not to fire his rifle during a particularly haunting scene in Family of Blood. In the end though, Smith rises to become something both greater and yet also more tragic as he faces a life-and-death situation where he must decide between living as an ordinary man with the woman he loves and the future before them, or to sacrifice all of that to once again become the last of the Time Lords and save the day. The final scene in the Cartwright cottage, as Smith at first struggles and then finds the strength to make a decision is perhaps Tennant's single strongest scene in Doctor Who.

Watching this story again, it's hard not to be struck by how much this story takes what seems to be an honest look at both the classism and racism of the period. Just a few episodes earlier in the Dalek two-parter, the series conveniently skirted around the issue of racism in 1930s America, a time when the real world saw the infamous Scottsboro Boys trial taking place in Alabama. But this two-parter doesn't shy away from this, as illustrated not just by the two aforementioned examples involving Smith, but also in the scene early in Human Nature where Baines and Hutchinson talk to Martha and Jenny and end the conversation with a racist joke. Even Joan Redfern, Smith's love interest, isn't above this herself. Initially, we see her telling off Martha for being too close to Smith. Later, however, Joan goes even further when she has a hard time believing that Martha could be a doctor, saying: "Women might train to be doctors, but hardly a skivvy and hardly one of your color."

Indeed, the Doctor once said that: "The past is another country," and this two-parter certainly proves that.

There is perhaps no better reason for why this story is both so atypical and well-regarded than by the element that makes it stand out more than any other: it's a love story. For whatever the reason the Doctor becomes human, in both the novel and the televised versions, there is one thing he does not expect to happen: he falls in love. Cornell wrote the relationship between Smith and Joan, but it really is sold by the chemistry between Tennant and Jessica Hynes. The two actors make the whirlwind romance between the schoolteacher and the school nurse believable from moments of Smith's initial nervousness (something with which, I suspect, many a fan can identify) to the heartbreaking final scene as both they and the viewer see their potential future flash before them that is, alas, not to be. Smith and Joan are the literal heart and soul of the narrative as it is their relationship - and its climax - that really makes this stand out.

It's hard not to think of this two-parter as being a Doctor Who equivalent to the James Bond novel and later film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Both are by and large faithful adaptations of well-regarded paperbound adventures, and both are held in high regard by their respective fans as a result. Looking further than that, though, both Bond and the Doctor are characters who constantly go around saving the day from dastardly villains and do so with beautiful women by their sides. They may become somewhat attached to those women but the one rule they seem to have is that they never fall in love with them. This is the story of what happens when they do, and, for all the happiness they do find, it ultimately doesn't (and perhaps even can't) end well. Look beyond the genre trappings, be they action/adventure in the case of James Bond or sci-fi for Doctor Who, and there's tragic love story to be found beneath it all that separates them from their more typical entries.

Human Nature/The Family of Blood remains not only memorable but one of the best offerings either the post-2005 series or indeed televised Doctor Who as a whole has presented us with. It is a tale taken from the era between the screen adventures faithfully brought to the screen (albeit with changes both big and small), with a strong period feel and a doomed love story at its heart. You'd be hard-pressed to find both a more atypical or better example of what Doctor Who can be at its best.

A Review by Jacob Licklider 22/6/19

This is one of few Tenth Doctor stories that I absolutely adore. In fact, this story is tied for the top spot of my favorite David Tennant stories, sharing the honor with Midnight and Blink. From the first viewing, I knew that this was based on a previously published novel featuring the Seventh Doctor. That would make you think that having two stories that are very similar would obviously terminate any real status of the original novel being considered canonical. This is not the case, however, as the two stories actually share very little, as the adaptation process has taken its toll. The plot setup remains largely the same, with the Doctor becoming human and falling in love while an alien family terrorizes an English town pre-World War I, and it is up to the companion to convince John Smith to become the Doctor again. There are only two characters that remain from the novel, the first being Timothy Latimer (Dean in the novel) who, although he is never hanged and doesn't get to make a deal with Death in this version, still has the same sort of storyline with dealing with bullying. The next character to remain intact was Joan Redford, whose only real change is that instead of being a teacher, she is upgraded to the position of nurse, which helps a lot with the idea that it is the Tenth Doctor experiencing these events.

The rest of the story went down a very different sort of plot with a different sort of message. While the original novel was a tale about what it means to be human, as seen through the alien Seventh Doctor becoming John Smith, and how not to discriminate, the television story is more about what it means to love, with the Tenth Doctor, who was already basically a human with two hearts and a time machine, falling in love. This story would have worked much better with a different Doctor even with David Tennant working his hardest with a script that he honestly loves. Tennant isn't a bad Doctor, but he is my least favorite, yet here by the end where he punishes the titular family of blood, he comes across as the Doctor. He is not the man who never would but the Doctor who is someone who knows when there is a need to kill. His actions are fitting of the Doctor, especially the Seventh Doctor who, ironically, in the novel only has his enemies exploded as tributes to Death.

The companion in this story is not Benny but Martha Jones as played by Freema Agyeman, who has her best appearance in this story. Martha being black and in an era that is both racist and sexist actually gets to have a better appearance than Benny with one exception that I will get into in a moment. She has to deal with minor slurs on screen but in the moments behind the scenes I'm guessing the character had been called a lot worse. Martha becomes an advocate for suffrage and knows that the racism of the period is going to end in time and wants to get people pushed in the right direction. There is one glaring problem in the story concerning Martha, as Russell T Davies just had to force in some Rose angst in Cornell's already fine script that actually acknowledges that the classic series exists and that Paul McGann is the Eighth Doctor. We have an emergence of the jealous Martha that I hate, and the Doctor acting like Rose is the only companion who could ever solve problems, even if Martha has always been more capable, as she is a doctor. The other flaw with the story is it has a lot of intrusive music from Murray Gold, which just ruins some scenes.

To summarize, Human Nature/The Family of Blood has the makings of a classic, and time will tell if it is one, as the flaws are very few and far between. The Tenth Doctor gets a chance to really shine here, and Martha actually works better in this type of story than Benny did, but some interference from a certain showrunner stops this story from being a perfect one, and there is one character whom Davies really should have let Cornell keep in, considering who Davies is. If you have read the novel, you would know who mean. I still love this story, nevertheless, but it could have been a perfect story and would have improved Series Three, which is already a little bit below average with only two stories reaching above an eighty. 95/100