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July 30, 2014

Doctor Who: Human Nature / Family of Blood

by Martin Conaghan, posted Jun 7th 2007 7:01PM
The Family of Blood(S03E08 / S03E09) Haven't I always said that the best episodes of Doctor Who are generally set in the past?

I deliberately waited until the second part of this two-part episode had aired before making any judgments on it, partly because the first episode promised so much, but left things hanging in the balance -- but also because it was a sharp turn away from the recent filler episodes which had found me falling asleep on the settee.

But this was a different beast altogether; classic Doctor Who with sinister villains, a curious plot, some romance and a whole heap of adventure and emotion.
Significantly, this unusual departure from the recent norm was written by Paul Cornell, who scripted my favourite episode from Christopher Ecclestone's initial run, 'Father's Day', which not only provided the backbone to the finale of the second series, but a fabulous variation on the time-travelling danger of trying to prevent key events (like the death of a loved one) from happening before they occur.

Cornell understands Doctor Who's audience better than any other writer on the series, including Russell T. Davies. He knows which buttons to press, and he understands the fundamentals of plotting and pace.

Unlike most of the recent episodes, this one didn't kick-off where the previous one ended; it jumped straight in to a plot about a schoolteacher at the turn of the century in England called John Smith, who employed a servant called Martha Jones and dreamed of his travels through time in a strange blue box.

It wasn't long before we discovered what had happened; Martha and the Doctor were being pursued by aliens who would be able to track him across space and time for eternity -- and his only means of escape was for him to re-write his DNA to make him human and hide his consciousness (somewhat appropriately) in a watch.

The aliens decided to permanently occupy the bodies of several townsfolk in order to sniff the Doctor out, as they pursued a life of eternal existence wiping out the galaxy.

Of course, it was up to Martha to prevent this from happening, but with the Doctor falling in love and pursuing his own life as John Smith, his inevitable death at the hands of the Family of Blood and an army of straw scarecrows seemed on course.

I've deliberately attempted to avoid giving away plots and storylines in my reviews this season, and this week's double-header is no exception, but I will say this; in my opinion, allegory is the best form of storytelling, and if Doctor Who is at its best when it is set in the past, then its stories are usually at their best when they are allegorical.

As with 'Father's Day' Cornell not only delivered a fine story, with well-rounded characters, a decent cliff-hanger and a terrible moral dilemma -- but he gave us a clever ending, peppered with the type of menace and malevolence we rarely see in the Doctor, along with an emotional nod to the sacrifices people have made throughout history. 7

I get the feeling our favourite time-traveller is heading for trouble over the coming weeks, and I wouldn't be one bit surprised to soon learn that he might not be quite as good a guy as we think he is...

I'll be away on holiday for the next few weeks, but I promise a bumper cache of reviews when I return, which should set us up nicely for the grand finale on 30 June.

I think I'd have to give this double-header a 7 out of 7.

(Doctor Who - S03E08 / S03E09) How do you rate these episodes?
1 - Worst2 (1.0%)
22 (1.0%)
31 (0.5%)
48 (3.8%)
512 (5.8%)
622 (10.6%)
7 - Best161 (77.4%)

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Emily

About the viewing in US- it is currently playing on SciFi channel on Friday nights- I couldn't stand the wait if it was put off any longer!

I just saw the first episode in this two-parter. It was exciting and stirring! There were so many things left unmentioned but hinted at, it leaves so many doors open.

One thing I noticed though, is that while this Doctor can draw beautifully, the last Doctor(Christopher Eccleston) could not draw very well at all(he WAS drawing quickly, but what he drew looked nothing like what he was describing), as seen in The Empty Child.

August 24 2007 at 10:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Danielle

This episode was great! But I have to tell you, I've just seen episode 10 (BLINK) and it's really really good. The writer is Steven Moffat, the same one from the two parter The Empty Child/ The Doctor dances. I can't wait to see what you all thought about it..
Until next Saturday now.. with Utopia. I've been waiting for this one nearly a month!

June 09 2007 at 9:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Akbar Fazil

Tom. It currently airs in the UK. Commenters here are either from the UK or have acquired the episodes through other means.

Micheal, I agree with Lampbane you should go back and pay attention to the watch and what the kid says about it more closely. As for the whole Martha bit, did you miss the fact that the Doctor even mentioned that he never even mentioned what Martha should do if he falls in love because that thought never even occurred to him. One of the major storylines this series has been the Doctors inability to see love right in front of him and how he deals with that. I felt these episodes were a great reflection of that.

June 08 2007 at 10:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tom

Wait. What?! Is the 3rd series being shown in the US already?!! I thought it wasn't starting on BBCA or Sci-Fi until later this summer. How did y'all get to see this?

June 08 2007 at 10:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mo

Currently I consider Human Nature & The Family of Blood the best two episodes of this series. Until now every episode has been serviceable, but things appear to be building towards something huge! The strategy for this series could be to ease everyone into Freema/Martha before the ride truly begins. People should look forward to the last four episodes. We have a Steven Moffat episode this week. Moffat wrote The Empty Child and the Doctor Dances, both were brilliant series one episodes. After that Jack Harkness returns and a confrontation with Mr. Saxon (John Simm - Life on Mars).

June 08 2007 at 9:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
SeanTubbs

Don't forget Baines, who creeped me out. This episode restored my faith in the show. More like this!

June 08 2007 at 9:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
chadthebad

Before this my favorite Who episode was "The Girl in the Fireplace" - 7 out of 7 .
This 2 parter knocked the socks off that episode! - 10 out of 7 at least. My favorite villians so far have been the creepy scarecrows, and the oddly disturbing clockwork robots in camouflage in 17th Century France - great wardrobe, or makeup, or whoever was responsible for making them so creepy.

June 08 2007 at 7:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Patrick

I don't know if anyone else noted this, but this story was actually a novel by Paul Cornell for the 'New Adventures' series of books, and is one of the most celebrated of that series.

Originally about the Seventh Doctor, I thought it was extremely well adapted for the current Doctor and one of the seasons best.

June 08 2007 at 2:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lampbane

Michael: Were you even paying attention? The kid could hear the watch talking to him, and it specifically said not to give the watch back yet.

June 07 2007 at 11:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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