Monday, 8 April 2013

Review: Doctor Who 3.8-9: Human Nature and The Family of Blood

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The creepy Son of Mine leads the Family of Blood
Doctor Who - Season 29, Episodes Eight and Nine - Human Nature and The Family of Blood
Written 2/3/13

In the Wilderness years between the cancellation and the return, the only source of new Who were several series of books, running under various different companies - the most popular of which can be said to be the Virgin New Adventures. The thirty-eighth novel in that series was Human Nature, written by the erstwhile NuWho writer Paul Cornell. Like Blink next week, prose was adapted to screen and we got this rather interesting two-parter that juggles examinations of historical attitudes with a scathing deconstruction of who The Doctor really is. It has the moral ambiguity that the series held during the Wilderness Years, and that's probably one of its main selling points.
     The Family of Blood are an alien family of amorphous smoke who have been chasing The Doctor in order to adapt his Time-Lord DNA and live forever. Planning to let them die out, the Doctor uses a machine to change him into a Human and put his Time-Lord consciousness into a pocketwatch - a Chameleon Arch. Five months later, and The Doc is living as John Smith in a school in 1913, a product of his time who hires maid Martha to do his handywork for him. Martha is troubled when John falls in love with Nurse Joan Redfern (Jessica Hynes) and the Family of Blood catch up with them. With the Watch kept safe by young boy Timothy Latimer (Thomas Sangster), John Smith must face the reality of becoming The Doctor once again, losing his human identity.
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Joan (Jessica Hynes) falls in love with John Smith and is
forced to put The Doctor in his place.
     The New Series has a massive habit of really pumping The Doctor up beyond his means. We know the Tenth Doctor has an ego, and it's one of that the series is very happy to stroke. But this episode sorta takes that down a level, by throwing all of this hype at a normal person and seeing a real reaction to it. John Smith isn't just scared by the idea of losing his life to become The Doctor - he also thinks that The Doctor is kind of a dick. This gets some concrete confirmation when Joan inquires to a flirting Doctor whether his presence on Earth caused so many people's deaths.
     The continuation of the Martha/Doctor dynamic is really well done, too. The show never pretends that their relationship is healthy one, and John Smith's rascist abuse of Martha only encourages that. She's put up with five months of abuse from the locals, especially with the imperialist attitudes surrounding colonial wars in Africa. The rest of this series is basically gonna see how much abuse we can put Martha through before she finally leaves - like, almost non-stop. And she still gets battered by fandom. Bah.
     Those colonialist attitudes underlined the story in many other ways, taking on the guise of a Wilfred Owen-style criticism of the dulce et decorum est attitudes of the Edwardian era and how they led to large numbers of casualties in the First World War. There's a wonderful sense of that impending doom that makes the attack by the awesome Family of Blood that more ominous. I do think that the episode goes an incy wincy bit over the top with this, with it ending on an aging Latimer attending a Remembrance celebration in the Present, but I do love the way the idea is implemented.
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David Tennant is awesome in this story, by the way.
     The question that Human Nature/The Family of Blood asks is simple: would you actually want to be The Doctor? It's an admission that the moment you lose the Classic Series' perception of The Doctor as a travelling magician who pops from place to place and enter this modern era of The Doctor being a universally famous action hero, then you must also accept that he's no longer the same kind of role model. The Doctor here is not someone that we (or, for that matter, John Smith) would want to become, and that is the kind of nuanced portrayl of the character that I so enjoy. The two-parter is complex and bold while still providing a fun narrative for the kids, and that is one definiton of perfect Who.

Thanks.

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