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precarious since 1997 | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “The Family of Blood”

(intro to my Who blogging, please read before commenting / previous: Episode 8: “Human Nature”)

It’s like Tim says:

I’ve seen him, and he’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time and he can see the turn of the universe. And… he’s wonderful.

It fascinates me that as this new Doctor Who has made the Doctor more accessibly “real” than he ever was before, as it makes him more believable a flesh-and-blood man than he ever was before, it also makes him more inscrutably alien than we’ve ever seen him, too. What the Doctor does to the Family at the end of this episode has got to be the most chilling thing I’ve ever seen from this show, even in the new incarnation. Could the Doctor have somehow arranged things, even after all the horrors the Family committed, so that they would die natural deaths at the ends of their normal (short) lifespans? Or was his only option imprisoning them, undying, forever? “The Doctor was being kind” suggests that, perhaps, that both the Family and the Doctor would have known before he went into hiding that the Doctor’s options for dealing with the Family after they began to chase him would necessarily be more drastic and more limited than those available to him before. But still, the gist of what Not-Baines tells us in his voiceover seems to be that the Doctor does what he does not out of outright necessity but out of some terrible sense of ironic justice. It’s a terribleness the likes of which we’ve never seen in the Doctor before.
Is this prompted, perhaps, by the Doctor’s own new loss (yet another in a long line of recent losses), the “death” of John Smith? How much of what John was is a reflection of the Doctor’s own desires: does he really, actually want a simple life of family and children and work? I suspect not, for when Joan asks him if the Doctor could change back (echoing Rose’s question after he regenerated), he says he can but won’t. Still, is he envious of John? Is the Doctor haunted by that glimpse of John and Joan’s happy life, by the fact that it never even occurred to the Doctor that his camouflage character might fall in love, by the fact that John could be very happy with a life so uncomplicated and ordinary? Might the Doctor, though he doesn’t want that, want to want that…?

And still, and still, and still: he says please. “Please come with me.” Please is not a word he uses a lot. And she tells him, coldly, “You can go.” She dismisses him. Ugh. Nobody dismisses the Doctor. And he takes it, like a punch in the gut. Like, perhaps, the punishment he thinks he deserves for being such a rotten excuse for a sentient being. Now, I don’t think that, but I think the Doctor is thinking that of himself these days — this is part of the something dark and disturbing in the Doctor that, well, fanfic writers (the good ones, at least) always knew was there but that went completely glossed over on the old show. I don’t think the Doctor likes himself very much anymore, and as I’ve mentioned before, I think he has something of a death wish. He’s a little more suicidally inclined than he once was.

And still, and still, and still: he hasn’t killed himself yet. He’s not ready to give up what he is, I think, even if it means living the lonely life of the outsider. I think some of what makes this episode so powerful for really big dorks like, um, me is that it touches on the flipsides of nonconformity, how being a big ol’ weirdo can be a thing of pride, and yet it still hurts to be picked last for the kickball team. Maybe the hurt is why the outsiderness becomes a thing of pride — if I can’t be normal, then let me be confident in my weirdohood.

Speaking of being a dork, and reminded by Joan and her strength — which I would not share, faced with the choice of traveling with the Doctor, or not: I’d go in a shot… I’m writing new stories in my own fan fiction universe, in which the Doctor, Eccleston and Tennant variety, begins to regularly visit a former human companion, Ayren, with whom he’d been in love, as she was with him. (Their original relationship was the subject of the fanfic I wrote in the late 80s and early 90s, which I will get around to posting here sometime soon.) And it’s all very selfish on the Doctor’s part, which he acknowledges to himself and hates himself for, because even though traveling with him drove her a little insane — okay, more than a little, but she’s better now, more than ten years after having left him — he’s so desperately lonely, especially after Rose is gone, that he begs her to travel with him again. Which she refuses to do, because even though she still loves him madly, and knows he loves her passionately, she also knows she’d finally go round the bend permanently if she were to live that life again. (This is what I can point to when people accuse me of writing a Mary Sue. Are you nuts? I can say. She’s an idiot for not going with him!) And she also knows that he’d go crazy staying still in one spot for very long, so there’s no way for them to be together. It’s a crazy doomed star-crossed romance, I tell ya. I’ve only written these stories in my head, at the moment, but I can’t see how I’m going to get away with keeping my sanity if I don’t actually write them out for real.

On David Tennant: “Oh, you look the same,” Joan tells the Doctor after John Smith is “dead,” but he doesn’t look the same at all. Tennant’s John is completely different from his Doctor, from how he carries himself to how he speaks: that moment when the Doctor busts out briefly to explain why Tim can hear the watch, and the instant switch back to John… it really is like flipping a switch. Tennant is brilliant, and I’m almost as madly in love with him and his talent as a I am with the Doctor.

Random thoughts on “The Family of Blood”:

• Some great lines in this episode: “God, you’re rubbish as a human!” “I’m ever so good at science, sir.” “This Doctor sounds like some romantic lost prince.”

• John never fires his gun in the battle scene. I was sure, the first time I saw this, that he would shoot the “little girl” and that that would be the beginning of his remembering who he is. And on every subsequent viewing, I think, “Okay, this time he will shoot her,” and he never does.

• School as a theme keeps showing up on the new DW: the regimentation, the enforced conformity… I’m guessing Russell Davies didn’t have the best and most wonderful childhood ever.

• That ending gets me every time, the Doctor and Martha popping in on Tim’s life near its end. It’s something that was rarely touched on in the old show: all the ordinary people who have been impacted by the Doctor. (Would anyone have died?, Joan asks… but people are saved too.)

(next: Episode 10: “Blink”)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

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