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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “Human Nature”

(intro to my Who blogging, please read before commenting / previous: Episode 7: “42”)

Why is my Doctor Who blogging so late this week? Because I can’t stop watching ‘Doctor Who’. I mean, apart from all the other stupid weekend stuff that always has to be done and takes up way too much time, like cleaning the birdcage or putting away the laundry and all that other nonsense that — it must be said — never has to be done on the TARDIS, apparently. I’d do some boring chore and then tell myself, “Well, I think I’ve earned a quick peek at another episode, maybe one I’ve only seen three or four times so far,” and that would turn into two episodes, and then there’d be more stupid life-maintenance work to be done, and then I’d have earned another episode or two, and, well, it’s all research for my Doctor Who blogging anyway, so it’s not like watching is not work too…

It’s a sickness, I tell ya. A sickness. I hate you, Russell Davies. And I hate you, David Tennant. Hate. Please just go away and take the Doctor out of my head when you leave. I’m begging you.
Is “Human Nature” — along with its conclusion, “The Family of Blood,” and oh, do I pity those of you who have to wait two whole weeks to find out what happens — the best Doctor Who ever? Is Doctor Who the finest television series in the history of television? Could it be the pinnacle of human civilization? If the sun went nova tomorrow, should we be satisfied to know that episodes of Doctor Who are streaming through space riding electromagnetic waves? (Oh my god, has anyone thought to make sure that this new Doctor Who is actually broadcast, so that it does get out into space, as well as cablecast?)

I’m only wondering, is all.

I mentioned a few episodes back that this new incarnation of the show is about the Doctor in a way that the old show never was, and this episode (and its conclusion) is the best example of that. It’s such an intimate look at the Doctor, more than we’ve ever seen before, maybe. And I don’t mean the whole falling-in-love thing: I mean all the stuff behind that. Like how it doesn’t occur to him that he might fall in love and so he leaves Martha no instructions on what to do in that case… and yet he falls in love so quickly and easily. Not that that’s any kind of diss on Joan — she seems perfectly lovely; it’s an indication, again, of how lonely the Doctor is, and how desperate he is to reach out and connect with other people. And how, by inference, he is unable to as himself, as the last Time Lord.

It’s all terribly sad and poignant and moving — and it gets more so in “The Family of Blood.” What’s worth throwing away in exchange for happiness? Is it worth pretending to be something you’re not? Will the Doctor, when he becomes himself again (as you know he has to) dream about his life as John Smith in the same way that Smith dreamt of the Doctor’s life? (Smith writes down the fanciful stories he sees in his imagination — the Doctor is writing his own fan fiction!) Whipping up tales about these kinds of things — the Doctor’s deepest hopes and fears, for instance — were what the fan fiction writers of the old series were doing, and we always thought we were the only ones who saw the “real” Doctor. It’s still so startling to see the new show doing the same thing, and that Davies and the other writers clearly share many of the same ideas about who the Doctor really is. That’s part of why the new series is so particularly touching for many fans: it’s showing us a Doctor we secretly knew but didn’t realize so many other people secretly knew as well.

Speaking of fan fiction: scriptwriter Paul Cornell based these episodes on his novel of the same name, which was published in the mid-90s and featured the Sylvester McCoy Doctor. (Buy a copy at Amazon, or read it online for free.) Those novels are close to fan fiction as “official” Doctor Who gets.

Speaking of dreams and fan fiction: A while ago, before I saw Tennant’s second season, I actually dreamt about a scenario for an entire season of the show with another actor as the Doctor (part of the dream was prompted, I know, by a rumor I’d heard about a possible 11th Doctor). It wasn’t like a dream: it wasn’t weird and surreal like dreams usually are. It was like watching TV: it was lucid and coherent. No: it wasn’t like watching TV: it was like being in the action myself, not as myself, but as a player in the action who wasn’t me. Which was really cool. So — heh — what does that mean, that I dreamt about the Doctor as if he were real? Beyond, of course, the obvious explanation, which is that I’m demented. And I keep living with this big, sprawling story in my head, and will probably have to write it down in my copious spare time.

It’s a sickness, I tell ya. A sickness.

Oh, and what were the Doctor and Martha up to when they met the Family in the first place? There’s more fanfic I need to write… *sigh*

I love Thomas Sangster: he plays the kid who’s a little bit psychic (he’s also very good in the very bad The Last Legion). And I love love love Harry Lloyd, who plays Baines, the older student who gets taken over by the aliens. “Shut up stop talking cease and desist there’s a good girl!” (Lloyd is even more memorably creepy in the next episode.) So I looked him up on the IMDB, wondering where else I could see him, and that’s where I discovered, to my stunned shock, that he’s also in the BBC series Robin Hood, as Will Scarlett. That he made so little impression on me there I put down to the much poorer writing of that other show; Will just isn’t a juicy part like Baines/alien Baines is.

Random thoughts on “Human Nature”:

• How chilling for the Doctor to casually grant permission for the older student to beat Latimer!

• When Smith kisses Joan, he starts to say, “I’ve never…” Never what?

• And oh, would I love for the Doctor to look at me the way Smith looks at Joan. Poor Martha: she feels the same way. “You had to go and fall in love with a human, and it wasn’t me…” *sniff*

• Who are all those other voices in the watch? The Doctor’s memories? Is it the Face of Bo who talks of “the last of the Time Lords”?

• Creepy scarecrows!

• Martha says hello to the TARDIS: even she senses it’s alive…

• “Sardines and jam”? Yum!

(next: Episode 9: “The Family of Blood”)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
posted in:
tv buzz
  • Will isn’t a standout part in Robin Hood – there are plenty of others chewing the scenery that we don’t need another – but Lloyd has some perfectly lovely, sincere moments in the show that do stand out. Plus, he’s the apparent love interest for tom boy, Jaq. Cool!

    “Human Nature” begins a run in this series of Who that is so spectacular it saves the first half from any ill will and really allows Tennant to finally get the Doctor so on the mark in a way he was never allowed to before. This episode is the first time he didn’t half annoy me and now I love him.

  • Katie

    I find that most of what I have to say about this episode needs to be saved till after ‘TFB’ (and oh my gods how much do I hate Sci-Fi for making me wait 2 weeks!…even if I just watched ‘TFB’? It’s cruel and unusual.)

    But I have to say these are two of the episodes that really make me miss Rose. I like Martha just fine but I LOVE Rose and can you just imagine how much more painful this would all be if Rose was still around (I’m projecting to ‘TFB’ mostly but…), it would be even more agony. It would also be very interesting to see if he actually fell in love with Joan or if even as a human he would recognize Rose. Guess that’s my own bit of fan fic I need to write. Teehee.

    Baines is seriously creepy, even more so next episode. Seriously seriously creepy…”“Shut up stop talking cease and desist there’s a good girl!”” LOVE that bit.

    “How chilling for the Doctor to casually grant permission for the older student to beat Latimer!”

    It really was. It’s one of those times that he’s very human and yet still, you can see The Doctor in him. It’s interesting to see bits of The Doctor’s personality in John Smith: another example – the absent mindedness of John Smith is the almost ADD hyperactivity of The Doctor.

    “When Smith kisses Joan, he starts to say, “I’ve never…” Never what?”

    Never what indeed…

  • Sharon

    I just found your site and am totally blown away by your Doctor Who blogging. I LOVED “Human Nature”! This has turned out to be my favorite episode so far. I have watched it three times so far. I’m going to watch it many more. Hate it that there’s a two week wait for the conclusion.

    I never watched Doctor Who in the past so I don’t know about the first eight Doctors. I liked Christopher Eccelston very much, but I have TOTALLY FALLEN IN LOVE with David Tennant. He adds a new dimension to the Doctor that Christopher didn’t portray. There’s a sadness for all that he’s lost that comes from David’s Doctor. He brings out the loneliness that the Doctor must feel. “Human Nature” showed another side to him. To see him human is a treat to watch. It’s so hard to see him not fall for Martha. If Rose were there I wonder if he’d fall fore her.

  • Katie

    Welcome Sharon! MaryAnn is absolutely fantastic, you’ll love it here.

    I maintain that as John Smith The Doctor would fall in love with Rose. I really think he would because he is just so in love with her. He’s still in love with her which is why he can’t fall for Martha, either as John Smith or The Doctor. Even as John Smith he recognizes that he can’t love this woman (Martha) because the people he loves always leaves. Joan has no connection to The Doctor and therefore only exists in John Smith’s world so there’s no emotional baggage there. But he’s still in agony over Rose, there’s now way he can love Martha. Oh how I want to see these episodes with Rose instead of Martha.

  • Dave

    I still can’t get over the way women have embraced new Who. When I were a lad it was the preserve of geeky adolescent boys of all ages, by and large. As Clive’s wife says in the first Eccleston episode: “She looked at a website about the Doctor and she’s a she?”

    Now I read comments like Katie’s, speculating on the Doctor’s finer feelings, and stumble upon David Tennant’s lovestruck global army of fans every time I surf YouTube.

    Russell T Davies has said that when he revived the show, he set out to attract women and young children in addition to the usual SF crowd. It’s wonderful that he’s added emotional depth to Doctor Who and created so many new fans in the process.

    So I’m not knocking how fandom has changed. Just boggling at the new demographic.

  • MaryAnn

    I still can’t get over the way women have embraced new Who. When I were a lad it was the preserve of geeky adolescent boys of all ages, by and large.

    I discovered DW in my early teens, and I was instantly hooked. And I do mean hooked: I would suffer withdrawal if I missed an episode. (This was before my family had a VCR.)

    But the demo of “fans who write fan fiction” has always been overwhelmingly female. Like 99 percent female. That may be a small percentage of fandom overall, but still…

  • ‘I still can’t get over the way women have embraced new Who. When I were a lad it was the preserve of geeky adolescent boys of all ages, by and large.”

    i think you, like most adolescent boys of all ages, probably just didn’t realize how females respond to the idea of a male like the Doctor. i discovered DW with Tom Baker when i was already an (ostensible) adult and instantly saw the attraction of his charater. and instantly took to writing fan fiction. i had a male (adult) friend who had been a DW fan for years, and he said he thought women were attracted to the Doctor because of his “paternal” attributes. i can assure you… NOT SO. and the new DW is just so overwhelming that i, too, raise my fist to the television and say, “Curse you, Russell Davies!” because, just when i thought i was out — the new DW pulled me back in.

  • MaryAnn

    “Paternal” attributes?!

    Ha!

    I just wanna fuck the Doctor. All. The. Time.

  • MaryAnn

    Any of the Doctors, I mean. At least the ones since (and including) Jon Pertwee.

  • Dave

    What, even Sylvester?

    Just out of interest, MaryAnn, who was the first Doctor you watched? (No pun intended.)

  • “Paternal” attributes?!
    Ha!
    I just wanna fuck the Doctor. All. The. Time.

    *******************

    what she said. seriously.

    and yes, even sylvester mccoy, who had a sweet charm and a bit more dangerous glint behind them than you might think.

  • MaryAnn

    Oh, absolutely even Sylvester! He was adorable!

    My first Doctor was Tom Baker, but I was madly in love with Peter Davison’s the most until David Tennant’s came along.

  • Katie

    “Paternal” attributes?!
    Ha!
    I just wanna fuck the Doctor. All. The. Time.”

    Oh I am so on board with that.

    Ummm yeah, nothing paternal about this. No way. No how.

  • I can’t speak for fans of the doctor before the late ’70s, but by the time Tom Baker was The Doctor, there were lots and lots of female Dr. Who fans, at least in science fiction fandom. Granted, we didn’t lust after Baker quite the same way we’ve been lusting after Tennant and Eccleston, but…

    I haven’t been loving this year’s episodes as much as the previous two years. I enjoy Martha. The first Martha episode, most of the Shakespeare episode and 42 were pretty good. But there have been too many monster of the week episodes. And those bug me.

    I had very high hopes for Human Nature/Family of Blood. Landing in Britain just before WWI at a boys’ school was a nice touch. The somewhat-psychic little boy worked well. Baines was creepy. The nurse was wonderful, and the relationship with John Smith was lovely.

    However…

    The basic problem with this two parter is that there was enough plot for about 1 1/2 episodes. The other half episode turned into an illogical mess and monster of the week. And it was very frustrating, because when this two-parter was good, it was very good. And when it was bad…*groan*

    Also, while the little “gift of our life together” that The Doctor and the nurse share near the end of the episode was very nice, it was very much like a compression of one of my favorite ST: TNG episodes The Inner Light.

    I would like to have seen a little more between the nurse and The Doctor, and a little more with the psychic kid rather than more around by scarecrows.

  • Poly

    Laurie, are you from the US? I am asking because my understanding is that in the US the show is watched by a mostly adult scifi loving audience. But in the UK, Doctor Who is watched by young children among others, as young as three and four year olds. Around 20% of the UK audience is younger than 15, and 4% of all the audience is younger than 6. Largely Doctor Who is made with such young children in mind. In an episode like Human Nature, the scarecrows are important for keeping that audience enganged.
    (On a side note, one of the great pleasures of being a Doctor Who fan in the UK now is seeing children responsing to it. I know of a 5 year old boy that made his parents buy him a suit and all star converses and insisted going to school with a tie, because that’s what the Doctor wears).

  • MaryAnn

    Laurie is American, and yes, here in the U.S., DW is considered a show for adults. The new show had been airing at 9pm on Fridays, though recently it moved to 8pm.

  • Poly, good point. I never saw Dr. Who until I was in my early 20s and Tom Baker was the Doctor.

    However, even something that looks like a “monster of the week” can turn out to be something else. “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” is the exception that proves the rule.

  • “…Granted, we didn’t lust after Baker quite the same way we’ve been lusting after Tennant and Eccleston, but…”

    oh… wrong. so wrong. just seeing TB’s grin can still make my knees wobble. though DT makes *everything* wobble.

  • Bonnie, could be an age thing. Tom Baker is almost as old as my Dad, so he came off as somewhat avanuncular. But David and Chris…they’re both younger than me… ;->

  • but laurie, please remember, when TB started playing the Doctor, he was only in his late 30s/early 40s… a very attractive age, i always think. and i always had a thing for tall, rather odd looking men(jeff goldblum, anyone?).

    david tennant is only 4 years younger than TB was when he became the doctor. or are you talking about *your* age? tom baker is the same age as my dad, but when TB’s DW was playing here, i was a full grownup already.

    i think the “avanuncular” attitude of the TB Doctor was more the way it was directed — the BBC and the directors, especially john nathan turner, seemed terrified of any hint that the Doctor might be an actual *male*. john pertwee got to play a much more macho doctor… and sarah jane smith started off as a grown up, and then got consistently more infantalized as the TB years went on… until she wound up in andy pandy coveralls and carrying a stuffed owl in her exit from the TARDIS.. now, with my current crush on DT, i guess i could be bordering on the older woman/younger man syndrome.

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