Doctor Who: “Human Nature”/“The Family Of Blood”
A

Doctor Who: “Human Nature”/“The Family Of Blood”

Requiem for John Smith, a human

A

Doctor Who

"The Family Of Blood"

Season 3, Episode 9

Community Grade (10 Users)

  • A
  • A-
  • B+
  • B
  • B-
  • C+
  • C
  • C-
  • D+
  • D
  • D-
  • F

Your Grade

?
A

Doctor Who

"Human Nature"

Season 3, Episode 8

Community Grade (10 Users)

  • A
  • A-
  • B+
  • B
  • B-
  • C+
  • C
  • C-
  • D+
  • D
  • D-
  • F

Your Grade

?

At the end of last week’s review, I suggested that “Human Nature”/“The Family Of Blood” represented the apex of David Tennant’s tenure as the show’s leading man, of Russell T. Davies’ time as showrunner, and of the entire new series in general from 2005 to the present day. It isn’t really possible to sensibly argue that last category, as the new series now spans the work of two very different showrunners and four very different incarnations of the Doctor. The only way to call this two-parter the apex of the entire revival is to say that it is “the best” in a general sense. That kind of ranking can be fun—indeed, I’m pretty sure that’s going to dominate a good chunk of the comments section, as it does pretty much every week—but it would take this entire review just to sort out coherent criteria to evaluate all 104 episodes of new Doctor Who, let alone figure out a precise ordering. For this most general of categories, suffice it to say that “Human Nature”/“The Family Of Blood” is a triumph, a beautifully written and superbly acted story that is equal parts scary, romantic, and poignant. If this isn’t the best story Doctor Who has made since it returned to TV screens, then it’s damn close. I’ll dig deeper into why this story is generally so great when I get to “The Family Of Blood,” and I’ll discuss why David Tennant’s brilliant performance is so totally indispensable to this story’s success in the “Human Nature” review.

Before all that, I want to look at a few exchanges from throughout the show’s first three seasons, capped off by a pair of crucial quotes from “The Family Of Blood.”

“It’s like when you’re a kid. The first time they tell you that the world’s turning and you just can’t quite believe it because everything looks like it’s standing still. I can feel it. The turn of the Earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at 1,000 miles an hour and the entire planet is hurtling around the sun at 67,000 miles an hour, and I can feel it. We’re falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world, and if we let go... That’s who I am.” –The Doctor, “Rose”

“From what I’ve seen, your funny little happy-go-lucky little life leaves devastation in its wake. Always moving on, because you dare not go back. Playing with so many people’s lives, you might as well be a god.” –Margaret Blaine, “Boom Town”

“I can see everything. All that is, all that was, all that ever could be.” “That’s what I see. All the time. And doesn’t it drive you mad?” –Rose and the Doctor, “The Parting Of The Ways”

“I don’t age. I regenerate. But humans decay. You wither and you die. Imagine watching that happen to someone who you…” “What, Doctor?” “You can spend the rest of your life with me, but I can’t spend the rest of mine with you. I have to live on. Alone. That’s the curse of the Time Lords.” –The Doctor and Rose, “School Reunion”

“No, I’m very afraid. But you and I both know, don’t we, Rose, the Doctor is worth the monsters.” –Madame de Pompadour, “The Girl In The Fireplace”

“Because the Doctor might be wonderful, but thinking back, I was having such a special time. Just for a bit. I had this nice little gang, and they were destroyed. It’s not his fault, but maybe that’s what happens if you touch the Doctor. Even for a second. I keep thinking of Rose and Jackie. And how much longer before they pay the price.” –Elton Pope, “Love And Monsters”

“Just promise me one thing. Find someone.” “I don’t need anyone.” “Yes, you do. Because sometimes, I think you need someone to stop you.” –Donna and the Doctor, “The Runaway Bride”

“He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun.” “Stop it.” “He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time and he can see the turn of the universe.” “Stop it! I said stop it.” “And he’s wonderful.” –Tim Latimer and John Smith, “The Family Of Blood”

“Answer me this. Just one question, that’s all. If the Doctor had never visited us, if he’d never chosen this place on a whim, would anybody here have died?” –Joan Redfern, “The Family Of Blood”

That isn’t a comprehensive list, certainly, but it’s a workable cross-section of just how the show under Russell T. Davies’ stewardship conceives of the Doctor. The new series has repeatedly emphasized the Doctor’s godlike qualities and the sometimes dire consequences of his decision to walk among mere mortals. On some level, all these grand pronouncements about the Doctor really just represent Davies and company’s attempt to grapple with the fundamental weirdness of what has become the Doctor Who mythos. After all, so many of the criticisms lodged against the Doctor are really just reflections of narrative realities. The Doctor is always surrounded by death and destruction, because Doctor Who would be dreadfully boring if it didn’t constantly send its hero into the next cosmic crisis; this is a fictional universe full of strange and terrible things, and the whole point of Doctor Who is to show what happens when such creatures encounter the Doctor. He has to go on traveling and regenerating forever even as companions come and go, because the show’s producers realized five decades ago that it was possible to swap TARDIS passengers in and out pretty much indefinitely, but something rather more drastic would be required to endure the departure of the man at the controls.

It’s not the Doctor’s fault that he’s the star of a show called Doctor Who, but so much of the new series has been concerned with figuring out just what that status means for his place in the universe, both good and bad. Frankly, not every argument quoted above is entirely compelling, and part of the reason is that the new series can’t always show enough of the Doctor’s terrible, godlike side to really drive home what it wants to tell us about him. It isn’t until “Human Nature”/“The Family Of Blood” that the show puts together everything it’s been trying to say about the Doctor into a single coherent, persuasive message. How that message should be interpreted is left up to the viewer, just as Tim Latimer and Joan Redfern depart this story with very different understandings of who the Doctor is.

The Doctor of “Human Nature”/“The Family Of Blood” never means to hurt anybody; indeed, the entire reason he goes to such absurd lengths to conceal himself is that he’s trying to show mercy to the Family. For a man whose perspective spans all of space and time, he can be so maddeningly short-sighted. The Doctor recognizes the scope of his power, but he forever hesitates to use it. That in itself isn’t a wrong impulse—indeed, it’s a major part of why he’s such a great man—but it means that the Doctor is forever being maneuvered into situations where his hand is forced. He has to give the Family the opportunity to do the right thing, but he must know from long, grim experience what most of his enemies do with such a chance. His attempted compassion is the most human thing about the Doctor—as opposed to John Smith—in this story, but it plays as a kind of unconvincing facsimile of humanity. The Doctor is always trying to be like us, even when he isn’t rewriting his biodata, but such a human form of kindness is dangerous, even destructive, when it operates on the Doctor’s more cosmic scale.

Joan’s final question to the Doctor puts me in mind of creatures from folklore—vampires, most notably, which I know for a fact the Doctor wouldn’t want me comparing him to—that can only enter a house when invited. Part of the rationale behind that trope is that supernatural beings are bound by certain ironclad prohibitions; their incredible power means their limitations must come from elsewhere. Gods are meant to have rules, but the Doctor is so desperate to convince everyone—himself most of all—that he’s just a traveler, so reluctant to engage with the true scope of his power, so the only rules he has are the arbitrary, frequently broken ones he makes up for himself. The Doctor of the Russell T. Davies era is a theoretically omnipotent being who is forever trying to invite himself into the world of humans. But the Doctor is so vast and so powerful that he’s always liable to break something when attempting to live in our tiny, achingly mundane world. He takes humans with him because he needs their perspective; without friends like Rose, Martha, or even Donna by his side, he would become the cold, vengeful being that we saw briefly in “The Runaway Bride” and here again in this two-parter’s strange, impressionistic coda, in which the Doctor bestows the gift and the punishment of immortality to the Family.

All of this sounds awfully negative, I realize, but then that just speaks to how devastating Joan’s final question is. “Human Nature”/“The Family Of Blood” is an incredible story, one that rewards multiple viewings and careful consideration as much as or more than just about any Doctor Who adventure, yet none of it would have ever happened if not for the Doctor’s well-intentioned but destructive whim. Still, that really is only half the story; there’s a reason I quoted Tim Latimer alongside Joan Redfern. Other stories of this era have celebrated the essential beauty and wonder of Doctor Who’s premise: stories like “The Empty Child”/“The Doctor Dances” or “The Impossible Planet”/“The Satan Pit,” or indeed Paul Cornell’s previous effort “Father’s Day.” Other stories have engaged with the essential scariness, even horror of the Doctor’s existence, with one story from the fourth season standing out as the high point for that strand of Doctor Who tale. But “Human Nature”/“The Family Of Blood” stands apart from all others because it manages to explore both sides of the Doctor with equal power. This story is equal parts condemnation and celebration of all that the Doctor—and, by extension, Doctor Who—can ever hope to be, and that’s why it’s so special.

“Human Nature” (season 3, episode 8; originally aired 5/26/2007)

(Available on Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Instant Video.)

“Mankind doesn’t need warfare and bloodshed to prove itself. Everyday life can provide honor and valor. Let’s hope that from now on this country can find its heroes in smaller places. In the most ordinary of deeds.”

As an exercise, it’s possible to imagine an alternate version of the new series in which Christopher Eccleston didn’t leave at the end of the first series. Most of David Tennant’s episodes would still just about work with Eccleston subbed back in; indeed, because of the timing of Eccleston’s departure, at least some of the stories in season two were initially conceived with the 9th Doctor in mind. To some extent, that speaks to the fundamental interchangeability of the Doctor’s incarnations, even when talking about two Doctors as dissimilar as Eccleston’s 9th and Tennant’s 10th. You could rewrite every episode from “The Christmas Invasion” to “42” to feature Eccleston’s Doctor without fundamentally compromising their stories; yes, some narrative points of emphasis and some of the emotional beats would change, but the underlying stories would be basically recognizable. (Admittedly, an Eccleston-led version of “The Girl In The Fireplace” would be very, very strange, a fact that makes me want to see it all the more.) That isn’t meant to diminish what David Tennant has brought to the role, as his stories so far have been shaped, even defined, by his presence and his approach to the Doctor. But “Human Nature”/“The Family Of Blood” is the first story that lives and dies on his performance, and its success is so inextricably intertwined with Tennant’s unique strengths as an actor.

It’s ironic then that this story was originally conceived for another Doctor entirely. This two-parter is Paul Cornell’s fairly close adaptation of his own novel Human Nature, published in 1995 as part of Virgin Publishing’s New Adventures series of 7th Doctor stories. These books took the dark, mysterious Doctor of classic Doctor Who’s final two seasons to his logical extreme; nowhere else in the Doctor Who mythos can be found a Doctor quite so remote, so manipulative, and so fundamentally inhuman as the New Adventures Doctor. In that context, it made perfect sense for Cornell’s novel—which I must admit I haven’t read, though it’s generally considered the best of the New Adventures—to contrast the human John Smith with the very alien 7th Doctor. It’s not as immediately obvious why such an exercise would benefit our understanding of the 10th Doctor; after all, compared to Eccleston’s 9th Doctor or Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor, Tennant’s incarnation feels like a decidedly accessible, human take on the role. But that’s precisely the point that “Human Nature”/“The Family Of Blood” makes: This is a Doctor who is very good at fooling the audience and himself into thinking that he’s human. It’s only by contrasting him with John Smith that we can see how truly alien this Doctor is.

There are three specific moments that absolutely must work for “Human Nature”/“The Family Of Blood” to have real weight, to stand as something more than just an intriguing creative exercise. The first such moment comes as a terrified John Smith holds the watch and, just for a second, the real Doctor emerges; the next instance comes when the Family realizes the watch is empty and the Doctor drops his brief John Smith charade; and the last comes when Joan Redfern looks upon the Doctor, once again clad in his iconic suit, and notes that he looks just like John Smith. Each such moment drives home just how much Tennant has been able to draw the Doctor and John Smith as distinct, even dissimilar characters, and that’s all the more remarkable when you consider he’s provided with virtually nothing external that might help him differentiate the two.

After all, the story only works as well as it is does because the two characters look identical, even though a “real” John Smith in that time and place wouldn’t look like the Doctor. The only real concession the show makes to John Smith’s status as a human in 1913 is to get him out of the suit and into teacher’s clothes, but the Doctor’s haircut—complete with sideburns intact, which I believe were very much out of fashion a hundred years ago—remains as anachronistic as ever, a constant reminder that this is indeed the same actor playing a mere variation of the same person. It would have been such an obvious move to have John Smith speak with Tennant’s natural Scottish accent, especially since Tennant can access an even wider, more nakedly human range of emotions when speaking with his own voice (Broadchurch has some nice examples of that). But John Smith sounds more or less like the Doctor; Tennant tamps down the Estuary tones a bit and goes for a more neutral English accent, but it’s a relatively subtle shift.

The result is that John Smith initially does initially like the Doctor playing pretend, rather than his own unique person. But then Tennant gradually, inexorably pushes John Smith further and further away from the Doctor, making the eventual gulf between the two characters all the more striking. Some of that is in Paul Cornell’s script, which consciously frontloads the more Doctor-ish aspects of John Smith’s character. The man’s fascination with his adventurous dreams, his exhortation to Tim Latimer to stop hiding his genius, and even his fumbling romance with Joan Redfern all play as minor variations on what we might expect the Doctor to do. Yet John Smith’s very next interaction with young Tim sees him grant Hutchinson permission to beat the poor boy for cowardice. Every transgression that John Smith commits—his racist dismissal of Martha’s dire warnings as a cultural inability to tell reality from fiction, his decision to mobilize the schoolboys to fight the Family of Blood—marks him as a man of his times and absolutely nothing more. We see enough of John Smith to learn that he is a good man, albeit one fundamentally limited by the cultural expectations of England in 1913. He’s a man who does his duty, because he is of a time and place that demands that its people do their duty above all—“for King and Country,” as I’ll discuss further in just a moment—even if that means allowing his identity to die.

The Doctor, by contrast, is a great man, one who is not bound by duty but instead takes it upon himself to define the rules. Because he exists in no particular historical context, his faults are fewer than those of John Smith—again, he wouldn’t send boys into battle to protect himself, and he certainly wouldn’t be racist to his companion—but those that remain are entirely his own. Indeed, his chief failing here is an inability to consider the human cost of his actions: to Martha, to Joan, and, yes, to John Smith. Indeed, that’s the real triumph of David Tennant’s performance, as he makes the audience care about the silly little human that the Doctor so briefly becomes. Cornell’s script is careful to pepper just enough little appearances by the Doctor throughout the story that the audience never entirely forgets his presence, but this really is John Smith’s story. His death is heroic precisely because he doesn’t face it with the stoic resolve that we see so often in Doctor Who. He’s terrified, heartbroken, and even selfish, but he still does what is required of him. Never forget that the Doctor is capable of such sacrifice as well—the fact that we’re talking about the 10th Doctor shows that he’s already proven that several times over—but Nurse Redfern is right: “He was braver that you in the end, that ordinary man. You chose to change. He chose to die.”

Stray observations:

  • Although David Tennant’s work dominates the proceedings, this two-parter also depends on some terrific performances from the rest of the cast. This story probably represents Freema Agyeman’s best work as Martha, as she is forced to endure the heated attacks of John Smith and Nurse Redfern while also doing what she can to resist the Family of Blood; the sequence at the dance hall in which she puts herself in harm’s way is pretty much Exhibit A for the essential awesomeness of Martha as a companion. Spaced star Jessica Hynes is pitch-perfect as Nurse Redfern, projecting real warmth and romance without ever betraying her character’s 1913 origins. It would be so easy to make Joan come across as too good to be true, but Hynes plays her with a keen understanding of the bitterness, even harshness, found lurking beneath her character’s basically good nature. Neither John Smith nor Joan Redfern is perfect, but Tennant and Hynes convey why they are perfect for each other.
  • As for the students, Thomas Brodie-Sangster—who went on to be both Jojen Reed on Game Of Thrones and Ferb on Phineas & Ferb, though I assume you all knew both those facts already—is great as Tim Latimer. It would be so easy to overplay Latimer’s psychic abilities or his connection to the Doctor, but Brodie-Sangster is careful to keep the character grounded, despite his remarkable abilities. Tom Palmer also does some very nice work as Hutchinson, crafting a truly odious character while still leaving just enough room for his humanity to peak through. One line of his in particular stands out, as I’ll get to in the next section.
  • Harry Lloyd, the future Viserys Targaryen, is delightfully over-the-top as Baines, and he deserves some kind of award for keeping that ridiculous smirk in place throughout his entire performance. What makes his work particularly good is the little bit we see of the human Baines, who comes across as a distinctly underwhelming refugee from a Jeeves And Wooster episode. If anything, I wish the story could have played up a little more just how radical the transformation is from human Baines to Son of Mine, but either way, he’s a lot of fun. It isn’t a terribly deep performance, exactly, but then that part of the story doesn’t really require that. If anything, the Family of Blood represents this story’s comic relief—albeit of a very dark variety of humor—and its respite from the tragedy of John Smith.
  • Incidentally, if you’re wondering what the 10th Doctor was talking about on the segment of the recording that Martha fast-forwarded through, then do check this out. The line about not eating pears might sound like an ad-libbed invention by David Tennant, but it actually has its roots in Paul Cornell’s novel. This sets up one hell of an in-joke once you see what kind of fruit John Smith is holding in one of his scenes.

“The Family Of Blood” (season 3, episode 9; originally aired 6/2/07)

(Available on Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Instant Video.)

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 from us and hidden. He was being kind.

There’s a tendency in our cultural depictions of World War I to think of the conflict as one not fought between the Central Powers and the Allies but one fought between detached, possibly mad armchair generals and the noble soldiers that they left to die in the trenches: the Blackadder Goes Forth school of history, basically. The battle scene in “The Family Of Blood” addresses this notion, suggesting that this conception of history isn’t wrong, necessarily, but it’s at least incomplete. To blame the horrors of war on the misdeeds of a few people, even those in authority, is too easy, as it allows us to ignore the institutional rot. Baines alludes to the conventional narrative when he taunts the headmaster with visions of the coming years’ battles, wondering whether the schoolboys “will thank the man who taught them it was glorious.” Pip Torrens absolutely nails one of the most crucial lines of the two-parter as he delivers the headmaster’s thunderous response: “Don’t you forget, boy, I’ve been a soldier. I was in South Africa. I used my dead mates for sandbags. I fought with the butt of my rifle when the bullets ran out, and I would go back there tomorrow for King and Country!” It would be so convenient to dismiss the headmaster as a coward or a hypocrite, someone deluded about the nature of war, because then there would be no question that he is in the wrong.

But Cornell’s script refuses to let the audience off the hook; the headmaster has earned the right to send his men into battle, if anyone has. But his charges are emphatically not men, and that’s a better indication of where the true insanity of the situation lies. The headmaster’s response to Baines’ glib provocation is problematic not in how it reveals the man’s personal failings—if anything, the line confirms his essential humanity—but in how it reveals the larger absurdity of the situation, something that the episode digs into deeper with the subsequent montage of pre-battle preparations; even when fighting killer scarecrows, a British army still has time to put its soldiers on report for lackluster work. The headmaster and his charges do not relish the prospect of war, but their absolute faith in an abstract, essentially meaningless principle like “King and Country” makes them prepared to fight. The scary thing about this two-parter’s vision of 1913 is not how horrible its denizens are but instead how fundamentally good they are. Even an utter bastard like Hutchinson shows palpable, even childlike relief when he realizes he and his schoolmates didn’t actually kill anyone.

The two-parter takes a similar approach in its handling of race. After largely sidestepping the issue in “The Shakespeare Code” and “Daleks In Manhattan”/“Evolution Of The Daleks,” Doctor Who finds a deft way to deal with the prejudices of the era without letting them overwhelm the story. Cornell says all he needs to say with three crucial scenes: Hutchinson’s unprovoked cruelty, John Smith’s dismissal of Martha’s concerns as a cultural inability to tell fiction from reality, and Joan Redfern’s refusal to believe that Martha could ever be a doctor. The story is mindful of its younger audience in how it depicts such racism; the awfulness of each instance is conveyed without the use of slurs or statements that would be easily repeatable as schoolyard taunts. More importantly, we see a range of characters engage in such behavior, emphatically proving that bigotry isn’t the exclusive province of “bad” people. Perhaps mindful of not having the Doctor say anything too racist—even if he isn’t in possession of his body at the time—the show gives John Smith the least offensive statement, but Joan’s harsh words represent a truly uncomfortable moment, given how much warmth Jessica Hynes brings to the role. Again, the key here is that Cornell’s script doesn’t let us fall back on easy distinctions. Outside of Tim Latimer, Nurse Redfern is the most unambiguously goodhearted character we meet in 1913, yet even she cannot magically rise above the prejudices that define her era.

Indeed, that last point leads me to the other reason that this story manages a worthwhile discussion of race: None of it really has anything to do with Martha. “Human Nature”/“The Family Of Blood” is about the failings of Joan Redfern, of Hutchinson, of John Smith, of the headmaster, of an entire damn civilization, but it’s never Martha’s job to point out the error of their ways. Her primary reaction is one of exasperation with—appropriately enough—the backward primitives that surround her. Hutchinson deserves a bucket on his head for his wisecrack, and Martha likely puts a little extra oomph into her memory-restoring slap after John Smith’s condescension, but in neither instance can she really be bothered to engage with their bullshit. Her demonstration of medical knowledge to Joan isn’t about proving her worthiness to the prejudiced nurse, at least not primarily, but rather about reasserting her own sense of self after weeks of patronizing dismissals. On this occasion, Doctor Who gets it right: Martha’s presence allows the show to hold a mirror up to the bigotries of 1913, but the show doesn’t then waste her time by making those issues define her part in the story.

Admittedly, I’m not entirely convinced by Martha’s story, but at least its weaknesses are purely on a character level. After all, both Cornell’s script and Freema Agyeman’s performance do an exemplary job in showing strength in response to the era’s attitudes, but neither is able to find similar success with the story of Martha’s ongoing infatuation with the Doctor. “Infatuation” is the right word, at least if her word choice when speaking to John Smith is anything to judge by: “I love him to bits” is the statement of someone who knows she is dealing with a hopeless crush, not a love for the ages. That said, both the phrasing and the delivery of the line in “Human Nature” about how the Doctor “had to go and fall in love with a human, and it wasn’t me” is rather too on-the-nose; that’s a big, clear statement for Martha to make, and the story wimps out in dealing with its implications. Now, Martha’s romantic feelings work just fine on a narrative level, as they help further define the contrast between the Doctor and John Smith. Martha can only engage in a pale simulacrum of romance with the Doctor—hell, that was arguably true of Rose as well, even if the Doctor sort of reciprocated her feelings—whereas John Smith is fully capable of love with Joan, even imagining a bond that lasts for decades. It’s just a shame that Doctor Who then undoes this development once the Doctor is restored.

Still, this is ultimately a minor criticism in what is otherwise a basically perfect story, especially as the sidestepping of the Doctor and Martha’s (non-)relationship issues allows “The Family Of Blood” to end by telling the rest of Tim Latimer’s story. In the time between that terrible day in France and that Remembrance Day ceremony, Tim lives an entire life, and we can only speculate on its contents. We know at least that it was a human life, and that he did some good in the time allotted to him. We know that he never forgot about the Doctor and Martha, nor that they forgot him. That final scene may well be my favorite ending in all 50 years of Doctor Who. As the aged Tim Latimer, Huw Rees doesn’t have any lines—hell, his name doesn’t even appear in the credits—but the look on his face when he sees the Doctor and Martha after all that time tells you everything you need to know about this story. I’m tearing up again just thinking about it.

Stray observations:

  • “Travel with me.” “As what?” “My companion.” “But that’s not fair. What must I look like to you, Doctor? I must seem so very small.” “No. We could start again. I’d like that. You and me. We could try, at least. Because everything that John Smith is and was, I’m capable of that, too.” I’ve already talked at length—such absurd, ridiculous length, I realize—about how this story reveals the Doctor’s fundamentally alien nature, and I’d say this exchange puts the perfect period on that discussion. For us, it’s easier to understand the Doctor as an alien not so much in terms of the things that he does but rather all the human things that he doesn’t do, and his inability to understand how awful this offer truly is really hammers home the fundamental disconnect between the Doctor and the humans that he encounters. He looks like us, but he really, really isn’t one of us.
  • This Week in Mythos: I gave this section the week off last time, and that’s just as well considering the insane amount of references we find in this two-parter. The Journal of Impossible Things is a treasure trove of Doctor Who references, with its page of previous Doctors attracting the most attention. Most notably, this was the story that firmly established that Paul McGann’s 8th Doctor was canonical by placing his incarnation front and center on the page; this issue was largely settled by 2007 in the minds of all but the most hardcore fans, but it was still nice to see him get such attention. The Doctor names his parents as Sydney and Verity, an allusion to Sydney Newman, the BBC executive who was the closest thing to Doctor Who’s creator, and to Verity Lambert, the show’s first producer. Plus, John Smith shows off some serious skill with a cricket ball during his walk with Joan Redfern, a skill most keenly associated with Peter Davison’s 5th Doctor.
  • In case you haven’t read his review of “Terror Of The Vervoids”—and if you haven’t, why ever not?—my A.V. Club colleague and fellow Doctor Who expert Christopher Bahn is one of the guests at the upcoming Doctor Who convention CONsole Room, which will be held May 16 to 18 in Minneapolis. Other, non-Christopher Bahn attendees include classic series companions Sophie Aldred and Deborah Watling, so it should be a good time. So, if you’re in or theoretically could be in the Minneapolis area, Christopher would love it if you stopped by; he doesn’t have an exact schedule yet, but he will be keeping us posted. Pre-registration closes on April 15.

Next time: We’re reaching the home stretch of the Doctor Who rewind, considering we only have four episodes left in season three. However, as some of you may have noticed, two additional episodes—“The Next Doctor” and “Planet Of The Dead”—weren’t actually reviewed during their original runs. I’ll be looking at those as well, with each getting a separate review. Why do those episodes, neither of which is really considered a classic, merit their own reviews? Well, only half of each review will actually be devoted to the episode in question; the rest will take a larger look at this era of Doctor Who, allowing us to wrap up this retrospective of the Russell T. Davies era in style. 

The upshot of all this is that we are going to be talking about season four, albeit in a compressed format. So consider this advance warning that it’s time to start rewatching that season, if you’re so inclined. Here’s the schedule for the next four weeks:

  • April 13: “Blink” and “Utopia”
  • April 20: “The Sound Of Drums” and “The Last Of The Time Lords,” plus “Time Crash”
  • April 27: “The Next Doctor,” plus an overall review of season four from “Voyage Of The Damned” to “Journey’s End”
  • May 4: “Planet Of The Dead,” plus my closing thoughts on Russell T. Davies’ tenure as showrunner

Should be fun! (Assuming I don’t go insane from so much concentrated Doctor Who. In which case, it should be even more fun!)

Filed Under: TV, Doctor Who

More TV Club