Doctor Who: The Family of Blood

Doctor: "That's all I want to be. John Smith. With his life, and his job, and his love. Why can't I be John Smith? Isn't he a good man?"

This episode touched on the core tragedy of the Doctor's existence. He is a lonely, isolated, unique and wonderful being. He can't have a life and a job and a family. And truly, it's hard to tell if that was even what he would have wanted.

I tried to imagine what this two-parter would have been like if the Doctor's companion had been Rose instead of Martha. Almost certainly not as moving. Martha loved the lonely god in the Doctor, while Joan loved the man; neither of them were loved in return. I even thought at first that Joan would die somehow, but in a way, it was a lot more tragic (and made a lot more sense) that she just wouldn't want the real Doctor. She said that she must look small to him. Unimportant. Like Martha.

Joan took the moral high ground. Not intentionally, not to hold it over him, but because she was right; people did die, and the Doctor's compassion for the Family was misplaced. At least one thing did change, though: because of the Doctor, Tim and Hutchinson survived the shell that was going to kill them. I just loved that scene at the war memorial, where a much older Tim saw the Doctor and Martha acknowledging his life and accomplishments. Just wonderful.

The siege of the school was quite good, because it was so obviously dress rehearsal for the coming war. I was genuinely moved by the sight of the boys firing guns with tears in their eyes. Interesting that the Family saw the reality and horror of war more clearly than the human headmaster, who had actually fought in one but still glorified it. And just to give the story extra added pathos, the Doctor was hiding in the first place in order to be kind. Those scenes where he imprisoned the Family for eternity were very god-like, very Doctor-like. A deliberate, extreme contrast to John Smith.

If I have a complaint, it's that John Smith should have given himself up for the sake of the boys and the people of the town long before he did. His agonizing over whether or not to open the watch went on a bit long for me. Although to be fair, he was contemplating giving up everything. Nonexistence isn't exactly an easy decision to make.

I loved this two-parter. It brought me to tears several times. It was the best story so far in the series, no question about it. Paul said it was based on a Doctor Who novel. I think the producers should immediately start looking at other novels for material.

Bits and pieces:

-- The cliffhanger had us wondering whose life John Smith would choose: Joan's or Martha's. I'm sort of glad they didn't go there. Martha didn't need more rejection.

-- When John and Joan held the watch together, they saw a brief flash of the life they would have had together. A wedding. Children. A normal life. Old age and death. Very nicely done.

-- Joan was a regular woman of her time with all of the associated attitudes and prejudices. Yet, in the end, she did listen to Martha. Maybe it was that recital of the bones in the hand. I can imagine that would impress a nurse.

-- The scarecrows all looked the same. The people in that area must have bought them at the same scarecrow store. Yes, I'm kidding.

-- Gold acting stars for David Tennant. He must have loved doing this episode. I loved watching him in it. Everyone was good, in fact. The actor who played Baines was excellent.

Paul Kelly says...

The question that kept nagging at me throughout most of this two-parter was, why didn't the Doctor just defeat The Family back in normal time? Why bother with all this turning himself into a human and losing himself in the past malarkey? Thankfully, Baines answered my question at the end. The Doctor was being kind. He wasn't afraid of them, he just knew that stopping them would result in awful repercussions for the Family. In the end he was left with no choice.

Despite Martha being responsible for keeping the whole 1913 train on track, her ability to do so was severely hampered again by her lack of social standing. In her own time, a medical student would be treated with due respect. In 1913, she had little, if any, authority at all. Which made the task of overseeing the plan all the more tricky. Lovely speech too from Martha ("I love him to bits"). I guess her feelings for the Doctor are now well and truly out in the open.

In fairness, John Smith had a point. Why would he exchange the life he had for that of the lonely Doctor? The Doctor's conversation with Joan highlighted beautifully the chasm between himself and gentle John. And although the Doctor offered to take Joan with them, she was clearly unimpressed with him. In her eyes, he was the one responsible for taking her John away and bringing death and suffering to their town. And although the Doctor tried to be gentle with her, his refusal to change back into John came too quickly. He gave too little thought to both the possibility of returning to John's form and to Joan's feelings -- which clearly hurt her. When John told her that The Doctor would never love her, her reply that “if he's not you, then I don't want him to”, summed up perfectly her feelings. She doesn't love the Doctor. She loves John. And the Doctor, for all his wonderful qualities, is no John.

And, if it wasn't bad enough her losing one husband at Spion Kop, she then, after thinking she'd found happiness again, had to cope with the loss of John, too. She's right. Life's not fair.

Quotes:

Martha: "Don't just stand there, move! God, you're rubbish as a human."

Headmaster: "Mr. Smith, it seems your favorite servant is giving me advice. You will control her, sir." Arghhh!

Baines: "What do you know of history, sir? What do you know of next year?"

Tim: "He's like fire and ice and rage. He's like the night and the storm and the heart of the sun."
Doctor: "Stop it."
Tim: "He's ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time, and he can see the turn of the universe.
Doctor: "Stop it. I said, stop it."
Tim: "And... he's wonderful."

Doctor: "You're this Doctor's companion. Can't you help? What exactly do you do for him? Why does he need you?"
Martha: "Because he's lonely."
Doctor: "And that's what you want me to become?"

Martha: "He is everything. He's just everything to me, and he doesn't even look at me, but I don't care. Because I love him to bits. And I hope to God he won't remember me saying this."

Baines: "We wanted to live forever. So the Doctor made sure that we did."

Joan: "Answer me this. Just one question, that's all. If the Doctor had never visited us, never chosen this place on a whim, would anyone here have died? (The Doctor doesn't answer.) You can go."
---
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

4 comments:

shawnlunn2002 said...

Like you Billie, I loved this story to bits. I found this episode a little better than Human Nature but watching them both back to back certainly enriches the who story.

Joan's attitude towards Martha was very much of a time but still something frustrating to watch as well.

The Family were terrific and the punishment definitely showed that the Doctor does have a dark side that's best not stirring.

I have to give praise to Murray Gold for the music in this episode too. Absolutely breathtaking.

I'm sure David Tennant did enjoy making these episodes. They're certainly the ones with his best performances in them as well.

Michael Colvin said...

Gold acting stars all around. Especially Harry Lloyd (that sneer!) and to Thomas Sangster. Not easy roles to play - truly bravo.

Billie - I'm surprised. A psychic. Gothic homes. John Smith. Flashes. No Dead Zone reference?

Quite enjoyable!

Kenneth Serenyi said...

I don't really buy the "because he was being nice" excuse. Even though his reasons for becoming human were different than Superman in "Superman 2" they were also somewhat selfish. Superman's reason for turning human and John Smith's reason for not giving up being human were both for the love of a human woman. The villains caused a lot of death and destruction that could have been avoided if the heroes had kept their powers.

On another note, I thought most of the compelling part of the story occurred in the first episode and had to be dragged on a little too much to fill a second episode. Otherwise great!

sunbunny said...

The exchange between Son of Mine and the Headmaster ("Will they thank you?") reminds me of the last lines of that Wilfred Owen poem "My friend, you would not tell with such high zest / To children ardent for some desperate glory, / The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est / Pro patria mori."