Written by Paul Cornell, ‘Human Nature’ and ‘The Family of Blood’ were the eighth and ninth episodes of the modern Doctor Who era’s third season.
The story aired from 26 May to 2 June 2007.
England, 1913. A schoolteacher named John Smith dreams he’s a mysterious time-travelling hero called ‘the Doctor’.
But is it really just a dream? Or is the Doctor in actual fact in hiding from a terrible enemy?
Son of Mine holds Martha and Smith’s lover Joan at gunpoint in a bid to make Smith change back into the Doctor – “Which one do you want us to kill?” A chilling and somewhat restrained cliffhanger that just works brilliantly.
John Smith offers the Family the Doctor’s fob watch, accidently falls and presses some buttons on their camouflaged spaceship. When the Family realise the watch is empty, Smith reveals himself to be the Doctor! A fabulous moment of misdirection and a real punch-the-air moment.
The closing moments with the elderly Tim at a war memorial service, looking up and smiling at the Doctor and Martha brings tears to the eyes every time.
Smith names his parents as Sydney and Verity, named after Doctor Who creator Sydney Newman and the show’s first ever producer, Verity Lambert.
The story began life as a New Adventures novel for Virgin’s range of Doctor Who books in 1995.
The novel differs greatly from the eventual TV adaptation, with the Seventh Doctor choosing to become human in a bid to understand human grief, though the central idea of the Doctor/Smith falling in love and the school setting remain the same.
Tim Latimer: “He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun”.
John Smith: “Stop it”.
Tim Latimer: “He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time and can see the turn of the universe”.
John Smith: “Stop it, I said stop it!”
Tim Latimer: “and… he’s wonderful.”
Son of Mine: “War is coming. In foreign fields, war of the whole wide world, with all your boys falling down in the mud. Do you think they will thank the man who taught them it was glorious?”
Son of Mine: “Have you enjoyed it, Doctor? Being human? Has it taught you wonderful things? Has it made you better? Richer? Wiser? Then let’s see you answer this: Which one of them do you want us to kill? Maid, or matron? Your friend, or your lover? Your choice!”
Easily the highlight of David Tennant’s era, this two-parter from 2007 is an emotionally complex piece of sci-fi drama, exploring and addressing subjects and themes like the terrors of war, racism and what it truly means to be human. Add in the fantastic concept of the Doctor becoming human and forgetting about his life as a time-traveller, and you have the recipe for a dark and powerful story.
It’s a story that really does put Martha through the ringer. Freema Agyeman finally comes into her own here, here forced to watch the man she loves forget her and fall into the arms of another woman. It’s heart-breaking stuff.
More heart-breaking though, is watching the blossoming relationship between John Smith and poor Joan Redfern (played by the ever excellent Jessica Hynes) and knowing that it’s doomed from the beginning. Add in some truly creepy villains in the form of the Family (particular praise should go to Harry Lloyd as Son of Mine), and a perfect Who adventure is born.
But we can’t go one more sentence without mentioning the amazing David Tennant. It’s here that Tennant truly shines, both as the innocent Smith and as the heroic but arrogant Doctor, here completely unaware of the pain and misery he’s bought upon the people Smith knew and cared for. It takes a great actor to convince us he’s playing two characters at once. It takes David Tennant to play two characters and make us care for both, even when one is clearly doomed to die.
Boasting a great script from Paul Cornell and fine direction on the part of Charles Palmer, ‘Human Nature’ and ‘The Family of Blood’ form one of the finest Doctor Who stories ever made, both visually and emotionally. The performances are all perfect, the ideas even more so.
It’s the type of story only Doctor Who can pull off – and it does so beautifully.
What’s your favourite moment in ‘Human Nature’ and ‘The Family of Blood’? Let us know below…