THIS EPISODE TAKES
AFTER THE TV EPISODE
AND PRIOR TO THE
TV EPISODE "BLINK."
'THE COMPLETE THIRD
EXCLUSIVE DVD BOX
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
1913 AND WAR COMES
TO ENGLAND A YEAR IN
ADVANCE, AS THE
HUNT FOR THE DOCTOR...
2ND JUNE 2007
(45-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 2 OF 2)
As many predicted, The Family of Blood turned out to be one of the best episodes
of Doctor Who period, as they say stateside. Last week’s episode flawlessly set the stage, writer Paul Cornell having masterfully condensed the bulk of his acclaimed novel into one astonishing forty-five minute script. Naturally, many superfluous plot elements were excised - the fake Doctor, the suffragette, Alexander; even the Doctor’s motive for becoming human. But we were certainly given plenty in exchange - Scarecrows, Gallifreyan fob watches, not to mention the titular 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!”
bashing media. This episode is without a doubt her strongest
outing to date, both in terms of Agyeman’s performance and
also in terms of how her character really shows her mettle. The resolution to the cliffhanger 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 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 was not 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 as Benny was white. But to her credit, Martha shows what she is made of; the Doctor trusted her with his life and she doesn’t let him down, no matter how dejected she feels.
“Women might train to be Doctors, but hardly a skivvie and hardly one of your colour.”
What I really like about how Cornell uses Martha here is that she doesn’t hit back in a pred-ictable 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 isn’t a bad woman – the racist slurs that come out of her mouth don’t come from the heart; she’s just had certain views drummed into her since birth. And so when Martha is insulted and belittled, how does she respond? She names each and every bone in the hand and forearm, silencing Joan with her expert medical knowledge.
Another standout performer here, as in the first episode, is Robin Hood’s Harry Lloyd. All
the Family are very impressive on screen, but Baines is really something else. Last week
we were treated to a few fleeting glimpses of Baines’ deliciously mischievous, over-the-top, almost playful brand of evil, but this week he really lets rip. He’s loving every second of the hunt; every moment of the chase. He takes great delight in every death; in every humiliation. The way that he bates the Headmaster (if you’ll pardon the pun) 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 school’s Headmaster is so disagreeable that I was all but rooting for Baines to kill him, and when he does eventually meet his doom at the hands of Daughter of Mine it is almost gratifying. Perhaps it’s his superciliousness or his pig-headed refusal to look facts in the face that makes him so utterly loathsome. Or perhaps it’s that he seems to encapsulate everything that feels so wrong about the time period and the school – it’s men like this that keep boys like Latimer down and encourage boys like Hutchinson and Baines to be aggressive, cruel and ruthless. It’s also men like this 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, and on screen it’s 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 the episode’s
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... his life and his job and his love. Why can’t I be John Smith?”
And then, as a slightly corrupted version of Murray Gold’s stirring Boe plays, the real tragedy of the story unfurls. The Doctor hadn’t even considered the possibility that his human counter-part might fall in love. More importantly, he hadn’t considered the possibility that his human counterpart might not want to relinquish his existence.
My favourite scene in the whole two-parter takes place in the Cartwright’s cottage. In fact, I reckon it’s one of the greatest scenes ever in Doctor Who; it simply says it all. It is the point where it all stops being implied. We have 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.”
Latimer’s lyrical description of the Doctor is sheer poetry; I’ve never - not even in the novel - heard the Time Lord described quite so succinctly and romantically. In a single paragraph Latimer sums up what the Doctor is all about and why he’s 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 incredibly vivid visions of their possible future – marriage, children, dying old and happy in bed – the viewer is reminded more forcefully 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 Doctor regretfully states that he’s never had “a life like that”. And, perhaps even more memo-rably, as the tenth Doctor says his tearful goodbye to Rose on the Bad Wolf Bay beach in Doomsday he says, again quite mournfully, 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 is 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 this is exactly what we have! 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 the hard way over the course of this series. The Doctor has no concept of monogamy. Of sex. Of love. Not on such a ‘small’ scale.
He certainly loved Rose, 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 he is. Perhaps Rob Shearman hit the nail on the head in his Scherzo when he likened the Doctor’s companions to pets. Now I love my cat, and I’d certainly be devastated if she found herself marooned 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 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 declaring himself “the stuff of legend”. Episode 9 of Series 3 ends with the Doctor proving the truth of that statement. The cold and brutal Doctor that we see chain Father of Mine in unbreakable bonds; cast Mother of Mine into the event horizon of a collapsing galaxy; and 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 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 legendary 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, Cornell’s story turns back to more personal matters. In what 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 could. But he won’t.
And she hates him for it.
“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 same part of him that was tempted by the Master’s trap
in Cornell’s recent Big Finish audio drama, Circular Time. And worse, Joan 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.
By the time that the TARDIS had dematerialised I‘d already passed my usual limit of one lone, manly tear shed per emotional episode, and so when the Doctor’s voiceover led us
into the Great War and then into a remembrance ceremony I found it all 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 inherently 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 tastefully.
The final moments of the episode at the Cenotaph are equally powerful, if not more so. Old man Latimer, clutching at 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.
“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.”
In my review last week I stole the old quote “stories are never finished, they are abandoned”, but not Human Nature. Terrifying, mesmerising and painfully perfect, I think that Cornell has now finished what I’m sure will be considered the definitive version of his Doctor Who mas-terpiece. This one is certainly a fan-pleaser that will live on as one of the series’ best stories ever. It has everything that anyone could ever want from a Saturday Night family drama, and even more importantly, it re-affirms exactly what it means to be the Doctor.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Quite astonishingly, and no doubt contrary to authorial intent, the events of this adventure can be reconciled with the events of the novel Human Nature on which it is based. This is because this story takes place in November 1913, five months prior to the events of the novel. However, this theory admittedly relies on one being prepared to accept that the Doctor could enjoy two suspiciously similar adventures with suspiciously similar protagonists and then forget all about the earlier one, but we’ve made bigger leaps...
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