Saturday, July 04, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's 3x08: "Human Nature"

Written by Paul Cornell
Directed by Charles Palmer

Martha: “This is not you. This is 1913.”
The Doctor: “Good, 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 a 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 previous 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.”
Hutchinson: “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 luck?”

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 give me some warning, 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 Time Lord, 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.

Rating: 10 out of 10.

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