3.9: Human Nature

Information

  Format:   TV
  Written by:   Paul Cornell
  Directed by:   Charles Palmer
  Duration:   45 minutes
  Transmission Date:   26/5/2007
  Reviewed by:   Shawn Lunn, Nick Murphie
It's 1913 in England, and an ordinary schoolteacher called John Smith dreams of adventures in time and space and a mysterious blue box, as Russell T Davies's Doctor Who continues. But, when lights in the sky herald the arrival of something strange and terrible, Smith's maid, Martha, has to convince him that he alone can save the world.

Review

  Submitted:   19/6/2007
  Reviewer:   Shawn Lunn
 

Martha:
“This is not you, this is 1913”
The Doctor: “This is 1913”.

This episode really doesn’t need any introduction because already even casual viewers will be well aware of not only where the source material of the start of this thrilling two parter came from but also that it’s being penned by the same author. When there’s a good idea out there, you grab and this one is more than good, it’s amazing.

The Doctor and Martha are on the run from creatures we know nothing about but they must be effective because they shoot at The Doctor while he’s inside the TARDIS. Already the threat of doom has been placed and The Doctor not only questions Martha’s trust of him but comes up with an unconventional way of evading his pursuers.

Then bam, we wake up 94 years earlier and it’s not The Doctor who is getting up out of the bed because while the man we see may look like the overenthusiastic Tenth Timelord, this man goes by the name of John Smith and the only escapades he has had in time are clearly in his head and in reality as his maid Martha Jones is told.

If you’re one of the people who haven’t read or heard of writer Paul Cornell’s “Human Nature” book, then you might make the mistake of The Doctor hitting an It’s A Wonderful Life type of reality but soon enough you learn that our Timelord is now human and has another important vocation – education.

Yeah, Mr John Smith is a teacher at Farringham School For Boys where he teaches them history and attempts to motivate their lazy hides into becoming thinkers, scholars and better human beings but while he’s a happy little human, he still can’t really shake his dreams out of his head.

Telling the well versed Martha about them is one as her reasons for believing in them much more is nicely explained halfway through the episode but he also feels compelled to discuss them with Matron Joan Redfern, who it doesn’t take much of a genius to spot that she has an interest in John Smith that well extends professional boundaries.

In Cornell’s book, Joan was a Science teacher but ultimately a change in profession does little to hinder her impact as the casting of Spaced actress Jessica Hynes is yet another spot choice. I could go on and on about how wonderfully she works with David Tennant and I will because I guarantee, it is not hard to see why John Smith takes more than a shine to her as well.

There’s some wonderfully bumbling moments between the pair that could come out of any standard romantic comedy as Joan makes a ham fisted attempt to invite John to a local dance while John saddles her with books and proceeds to fall down the stairs but even a hardcore cynic will find these particular moments quite funny.

However Joan’s affection for John doesn’t help Martha as we soon learn that while The Doctor might be running around thinking he’s human, Martha knows exactly what he is as she later heads to the TARDIS and watches a recording of things to do while her and The Doctor hide out in 1913.

I have to admit as pseudonyms go, using John Smith has got to be the most painfully obvious of choices and if the enemies that are pursuing The Doctor have in depth knowledge of him, then surely they’d be ploughing through the Smiths or Johns of this particular era but changing a name is only one thing in the art of hiding.

The Doctor has always been someone who doesn’t do things by halves so not does he use his much famous alias, he uses a device inside the TARDIS called a Chameleon Arch to rewrite his entire DNA making him a physical human being and due to the fact that he’s on the run, the decision to become mortal is explained effectively and I have to admit I’m glad that he also admitted to Martha that they are times he wanted to do it even when he wasn’t being pursued.

Being a respected teacher with a lovely matron must be every man on the run dream but it poses no surprise that Martha would get the rotten end of the deal. Taking away the fact she could be stuck in another time era for an indefinite period and can possible never see her family, The Doctor left her up the creek without a paddle in other ways too.

Let’s think about it, Martha may know who John Smith really is but his source of remembering himself via a watch is in his possession and he’s quick to not notice it being snatched by one of his students and also due to the time period, the much educated Martha is reduced to a maid who is dismissed by John and Joan at different points and also has to put up with racial taunts from some of the more vulgar students in the boarding school.

People did complain about Martha’s skin colour not posing an issue in “The Shakespeare Code” certainly got the issue posed there. Martha took the snide remark about her skin in her stride but I got the feeling she did that more because she didn’t want to blow her cover and be separated from John because she certainly did not feel inferior to some of the war hungry students.

That’s the funny thing about Martha as while this episode is a dramatic free for all and while you definitely pity her for having to bear the brunt of John Smith’s new life including the way people disregard her, there are moments where her jealousy over Joan really annoyed me.

I know it might be silly if Martha’s crush on The Doctor just instantly disappeared but having her constant disapproval of Joan or lament to fellow maid Jenny that John and Joan won’t last makes you want to shake some sense into her. Martha you’re supposed to be undercover which means drawing attention to yourself and telling Jenny you and John are leaving in a few weeks as well as talking about things in the sky, well let’s just there significant ways of drawing attention to yourself.

Still though whoever is pursing The Doctor must be damn powerful for the human option and also damn effective and with the likes of Martha and Joan spotting green lights at night, it’s only when snide Jeremy Baines sneaks out for some late night beer do we get a clue about what’s going on.

The Doctor is being pursued by something called The Family which seems to have the ability to possess and soon enough Jeremy is the first person whose body they seize in order to scope out The Doctor and for Robin Hood actor Harry Lloyd he gets to change physically as a the possessed schoolboy.

That’s another thing as well – the school is which John Smith is teaching seems to be preparing the boys for war and with the exception of Timothy Latimer, these boys are more than eager to get their hands dirty in other people’s blood and even Smith doesn’t seem to have an objective to war.

It’s one of the things him and Joan differ over as she points out that subconsciously perhaps Smith wants to be The Doctor and he certainly proves he has Timelord inside him when his quick wittedness saves a baby from a piano. Okay among the high drama and creepiness that moment felt a bit cartoonish.

It’s also the very touching moments in which John asks Joan out to the dance and when they both discuss their families too. It’s amazing with writing and performances this sublime that John and Joan become ship worthy. We know they’re doomed every bit as much as Martha does but I still can’t help but like them and that kiss between them was very sweet.

Getting back to The Family, while Baines may be getting suspicious of John Smith, one person who knows that things are far from right is Timothy Latimer. He’s the scrawny kid that gets picked on by all the other boys and it’s his abilities at guessing so correctly draw conflict with the boys he bunks with but it also helps forward the plot as well.

It’s him who sense that John Smith isn’t the humble teacher he claims to be and it’s him who takes the watch that would’ve been better in Martha’s possession and by opening draws The Family closer and closer into finding The Doctor and it’s also him who realises that Martha isn’t from this time either.

All in all, he’s a smart kid who could potentially be used to take The Family along with The Doctor and Martha provided he’s not killed or possessed by next week’s instalment. Those of you who wanted continuity on the “you are not alone” message get it here.

With Timothy being on our side in the background and Martha being regarded as a fantasist by both John and Joan, The Family moved faster in getting more for their army and soon enough we have sinister scarecrows called Jack Straws that abduct Clark, a random little girl with a red balloon and Jenny and soon enough all three of them fall in line with the mother of mime.

That’s the other with The Family, just who the hell are they and why do they want The Doctor that they would scour the universe for him? I’d like to think they are somehow connected for this series purpose connected to Mr Saxon but it’s more probable that they have their own agenda rather than facilitating someone else’s.

They are definitely a determined bunch as the actors, especially Harry Lloyd amp the creepy factor in their possessed state and the Jack Straws are one of the most stunning creations we’ve had. Its fantastic how threatening a bunch of scarecrows are made on a Saturday tea time series but at the same time, this season has continued to impress anyway.

However things then come to a head during the local dance when possessed people and Jack Straws invade to take The Doctor and because John doesn’t remember a sodding thing, the threats of harming Martha and Joan does little to help him to jog his memory. If ever there was a danger fuelled cliff hanger, this would be it.

Also in “Human Nature”...

The opening sequence is part present day, part 1913. It’s a strange sequence because not every reason behind The Doctor’s decision to become human feels verified until halfway through the episode.

The Doctor: “Martha you trust me, don’t you?”
Martha: “Of course I do”
The Doctor: “Because it all depends on you”.

I’ve noticed with this series when The Doctor and companion go undercover, the latter gets a menial job. Rose had to be a dinner lady in “School Reunion” in which The Doctor was a teacher.

Martha: “You’re as human as they come”
John Smith: “That’s me, completely human”
Joan: “I appear to be holding your books”
John Smith: “So you are”.

The things in John’s diaries include images of Daleks, Cybermen, Slitheen, Clockwork Droids, Rose, Rienette, the TARDIS and previously incarnations of The Doctor. We never would’ve gotten that in the first series.

John Smith: “I dream quite often that I have two hearts”
Joan: “Well I’ll be the judge of that”.

In the books, The Family were called the Aubertides but according to Cornell their motivations are the same. The Family sounds a bit better to me.

Latimer: “I’m good at guessing that’s all”
Student: “Idiot”.
Jeremy: “Who are you, why can’t I see you?”
The Family: “Why would you want to?”

Latimer saw images from the monsters in the first two seasons when he opened up the watch. I delighted in the act he heard “burn with me” more than “last of the time lords” or “you are not alone”.

John Smith: “Anything the matter Baines?”
Jeremy: “I thought, no sir, nothing sir”.
John Smith: “Lucky”
Joan: “That was lucky?”

We learned that Joan had a deceased war hero husband. I bet everyone spotted the name of John’s parents being the names of people significant with the old series. This episode has the biggest nods to the old series bar none.

Martha (regarding The Doctor): “You had to fall in love with a human and it’s not me”.

David Tennant is credited both as The Doctor and Smith in this episode while the preview for next week’s was at the end.

Joan: “You best warn me in advance, can you actually dance?”
John: “I’m not certain”.

The Doctor’s rules for Martha during their hiding out involved The Doctor not being allowed to hurt anyone, not to worry about the TARDIS, no involvement with historical events and to not abandon Martha which kinda got broke.

Doorman: “Spare us a penny”
Jeremy: “I didn’t spare you”.

Jeremy: “You took human form”
John Smith: “Of course I’m human, I was born human”.

Chronology:
November 13th 1913 but The Doctor took Martha along in 2007, which contradicts previous chronology on the series.

This was the most breathtaking piece of television I’ve ever seen and I have seen plenty that could rival it. “Human Nature” is definitely a more sophisticated, adult look at Doctor Who and Paul Cornell’s much revered novel will now be a much revered set of episodes in this show’s history. It’s one of those magical things where works – the characters, performances, the writing, the history of the Timelord, the essential creepiness and imminent disaster and Murray Gold’s superb scoring. It’s possibly the best episode of the series yet and definitely the most ambitious.




© Copyright Shawn Lunn & Doctor Who Online, 2007.

Review

  Submitted:   19/6/2007
  Reviewer:   Nick Murphie
 

I expected Human Nature to be something different and was certainly unlike any other Doctor Who story.

Each episode of the Dalek two-parter earlier this season stood up very well on its own, but Human Nature’s more pedestrian plot made it feel very dependent on its conclusion before being able to give it a thorough analysis. That’s not a criticism at all. the more gentle nature of this story allowed for some fantastic characterisation from the regular and guest cast.

The dramatic beginning left no room for the viewer to take a breath, as the Doctor and Martha were pursued into the TARDIS by the mysterious Family, who have a relentless nose for hunting their prey. The Doctor used the never-seen-before chameleon arch to entirely re-write his body’s DNA and memories so that he became a fully-fledged human, complete with memories that inserted him seamlessly into 1913 England as teacher John Smith. Martha serves as his watchful maid while they hide from the Family, who inevitably find the fugitives.

The episode certainly lacks the pace and drama of other episodes this year, but watching our familiar Doctor portraying the unfamiliar John Smith is compelling. We all know David Tennant is a great actor, and his new performance is the jewel of this episode. Smith was far less assured than the Doctor, but with a moral wholesomeness that we know he shares with the Doctor.

Fans may get their knickers in a twist that Smith falls in love with and snogs Joan Redfern, but I don’t know why. Watching the Doctor (as Smith) fumble through life’s dramas such as falling in love is just refreshing… The previous week, in 42, we saw the Doctor who was really scared. This week we see something entirely different…Surely after 44 years of Time Lord adventures, any opportunity to do something different should be welcomed? I for one liked seeing him in a totally different role.

The setting of the boys’ school and small village in 1913 was very evocative, featuring some stunning location work. It’s a setting in which John Smith seemed perfectly comfortable.

The same cannot be said for Martha Jones. This episode also provided a lot of scope for Freema Agyeman. The 1913 setting must be as alien to contemporary Martha as another planet would be. It would have been challenging to portray life in a time when racial attitudes were less enlightened than they are now (not to say 2007 is perfect!).

Martha seemed disempowered when forced into the maid’s role and is constantly reminded to mind her place. Martha suffers the attitudes of school students and staff with quiet indignation and a touch of sarcasm (love the scene when Matron tells her she should knock before entering, so she goes back to the door and knocks with a very sarcastic look on her face). The only thing with this scenario is that Martha was left not being able to do too much. Her moping in the TARDIS is both touching and frustrating for us as much as her.

The other character of note is Matron Joan Redfern, John Smith’s love interested. Perhaps what makes her so appealing is that she seems a little out of her time. She certainly seems quite forward for an early 20th Century lady, and maybe that’s what’s appealing to John Smith.

Smith’s attraction to Joan has a visible impact on Martha. Martha’s scene in the TARDIS where she says, “you had to go and fall in love with a human – and it was not me” was extremely poignant and finally affirms what we all knew – Martha fancies her travelling companion big time.

The rest of the episode is littered with lovely characters – the thoroughly dislikeable Hutchison, homely Jenny and curious young student Timothy Latimer. Latimer’s psychic abilities seemed to jar as there appeared to be no explanation for his unusual abilities, but perhaps that will come next week.

Creepiest of all is student Jeremy Baines. Like Hutchison, he was unpleasant to start with, but becomes thoroughly creepy when possessed by the Family. Who would have thought taking a big sniff could be so unsettling?

That brings me to the Family of Blood… Their invisible ship was nicely realised and I like the concept that they have no permanent form but take whatever form they need. They want a Time Lord… but what for? It was annoying not to know the back story as to why they were chasing the Doctor and Martha in the first place. I hope their motivation and plans become clearer next week.

The Family’s scarecrow army does not quite work for me. They look fantastic and creepy, granted, but they failed to ever seem that scary. Perhaps it’s their slow lumbering walk, or the fact that most of their scenes are so brightly lit, which bleached away any menace.

One of the biggest gripes I have with the story is the watch. The Doctor stressed that all he is – his Time Lordiness and memories - will be stored in the watch. It must not be opened at any cost, and it must be kept safe. Then why would John Smith have been left in possession of the watch? Smith was unaware of its nature, so wouldn’t he open it to see the time? Even if he was not using it, why would it be left casually around for young school pupils to steal? Surely Martha, who knows its real value, would keep it safe. Of course, as soon as it was stolen, Martha needed to open it. It seemed a bit contrived.

Speaking of contrived, the scene where Smith uses a cricket ball to save a mother and baby from being squashed by a piano is also very contrived. But a lot of fun and a nice homage to the 5th Doctor.

Homages to the past were another nice link in this episode. The Doctor may have gone but his Diary of Impossible Things contained some lovely drawings that not only beautifully recapped the previous two seasons but linked it to the classic series – lovely touch.

Overall, Human Nature is a gentler episode than other recent outings. A nice pause after the manic rush of 42. It was new territory for Doctor Who that proved the formula for the show is as limitless as the imagination. I’ll look forward to The Family of Blood, but also look forward to having the Doctor back as well!




© Copyright Nick Murphie & Doctor Who Online, 2007.

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Reviewed By

Shawn Lunn
Submitted: 19/6/2007

 

Nick Murphie
Submitted: 19/6/2007


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