Doctor Who: Human Nature

Martha: "You had to go and fall in love with a human. And it wasn't me."

This was exactly my cup of tea. Prime character development for the Doctor, and about time. (Pun intended.) Romantic, too, and there's never enough of that for me.

David Tennant did a lovely job. He played Smith just right, with underlying brilliance as well as confusion, with a sort of secret, unacknowledged joy of someone who is getting his heart's desire without truly realizing it. The Doctor was still a remarkable man even when he wasn't himself. And touchingly unprepared for romance: Joan asked him out, and he backed away and literally fell down the stairs. The Doctor dances. Let's all remember what that's a metaphor for, shall we?

I also liked that the backdrop of this story wasn't just a static, unexciting hiding place. War is right around the corner, and all those boys and young men learning to fight will soon be trapped in a horror in which many will die. Like psychic Timothy Latimer, who saw his own future death. A reminder that getting what you long for can end tragically, and that being a normal human isn't exactly a walk in the park.

Like poor Martha, who was the tragic figure in all of this. Her despair quite got to me. While the Doctor was having the time of his life playing Mister Chips, Martha spent two months scrubbing floors and enduring racist comments just so she could watch over him. The TARDIS didn't even create a cover for her, like she had no value, while she was the all-important caretaker of not only the TARDIS but the essence of the Doctor himself. I thought it was particularly interesting that the Doctor instructed Martha not to let him abandon her, as if he knew he didn't care enough for her and it was likely to happen. The cliffhanger, where the Doctor/John Smith had to choose between Joan and Martha, just made me think -- he'll take Joan, won't he? Will Martha have to endure the unfairness of that, too?

Wonderful part one. Here's hoping for an equally wonderful part two.

Bits and pieces:

-- I liked the invisible ship. And when we saw inside of it, it looked like a green, perverted TARDIS. I wonder if they repurposed the TARDIS set?

-- I also liked the "Journal of Impossible Things." Had to get Rose in there somehow to make Martha feel bad, didn't they? Was there a future monster or two in there, too?

-- Poor Baines. A rather overdone moral lesson: that'll teach him to hide beer in the woods. The other three victims of the Family hardly deserved it, either.

-- The balloon the little girl was carrying seemed like an anachronism. Were there toy balloons in 1913?

-- The scarecrows were pretty creepy. I particularly liked the crisscrossed twine where the mouth was supposed to be. A simple monster, not over the top, no tentacles, and see how well it worked?

-- Why didn't Martha just hide the watch in the TARDIS where it would be safe?

Paul Kelly says...

The best two-parter of the season. John Smith is the antithesis of the Doctor. He's awkward, uncertain of himself, reserved, clumsy (both in speech and movement)... in short, he's absolutely adorable. Yet, despite wearing the Doctor's face, he's nothing like the Doctor. Which is testament indeed to Tennant's superlative acting. What a cracking performance!

This episode felt like a satisfying meld of old and new. It had a distinctly Classic Who feel to it (the script being an adaptation of Paul Cornell's novel “Human Nature”), but it also had the modern-day bells and whistles we've come to expect from Nu-Who. It's just odd that such a great episode should feature so little of the Doctor himself.

What a great episode for Martha. As well as having the weighty responsibility of babysitting our favourite, albeit de-memoried, Time Lord, she also had to navigate the murky waters of racism and class snobbery. And although I loved Joan Redfern, she did treat Martha rather shabbily. But, as in "The Shakespeare Code", they didn't shy away from the race issues. I thought they were about to initially -- Jenny's quip about Martha being a Londoner was clearly a misdirection -- but the racial taunts then became more in-your-face and thus more upsetting.

Thankfully, after the blip which was "Daleks in Manhattan", Martha was back to her bright, intelligent self this week. She sussed immediately there was something wrong with Jenny, and managed to outfox her by offering up a brew of sardines, jam, gravy and mutton. Smart girl, Martha.

And it goes without saying, a brilliant a performance from Jessica Hynes. I've only seen her in Spaced, and as Cheryl in The Royle Family, and although she was terrific in both, her performance tonight, IMO, eclipsed both. Admittedly she was spoiled with the character of Joan Redfern, but it still takes talent to bring a character to life so convincingly. John and Joan were perfect for each other, and their clumsy courtship was both endearing and sorrowful -- a real throwback to the days of yore, when the simplicity of personal relationships seemed hampered by the hardness of the times.

Quotes:

Martha: "It's Monday, November tenth, 1913, and you're completely human, sir. As human as they come."
Doctor: "That's me. Completely human."

Joan: "It's all becoming clear, now. The Doctor is the man you'd like to be, doing impossible things with cricket balls."

Joan: "Where did you learn to draw?"
Doctor: "Gallifrey."
Joan: "Is that in Ireland?"

Veteran: "Staff entrance, I think, miss!"
Martha: "Yeah. Well, think again, mate."
---
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

3 comments:

Mark Greig said...

Without a doubt my favourite story of the entire season and a marked improvement over the last few episodes. Paul Cornell does a great job adapting his own novel managing to capture the pre-war period, warts and all, perfectly. Great performances from both David Tennant and Jessica Hays as John and Joan (hmm, sounds like a sitcom). You know their romance is doomed but you still can’t help routing from them.

For me the standout moment was a simple one, when Smith, rather offhandedly, gave permission for the other boys to beat Latimer. That was the moment you knew defiantly that this wasn’t the Doctor. Did think it was a bit stupid of Martha to just leave the watch laying around for anyone to walk off with. That bit felt artificial, simply there to add some extra tension to the story.

I loved all the little references to the previous Doctors (think its obvious who Smith get his cricket skills from) and the mention of the John Smith’s parents, Sydney and Verity, was great tribute to the show’s actually mummy and daddy.

shawnlunn2002 said...

If ever there was a story on Doctor Who that might be flawless, I think this would be the very story.

The writer, Paul Cornell did this first as a Seventh Doctor/Benny book called Human Nature but changed various things for the TV two-parter.

David Tennant really knows how to sell the goods. He's utterly convincing as Smith and the courtship of Joan is hard not to like.

Martha gets a rotten time of it, doesn't she? I so wanted her to what Hutchinson with that bucket. I guess her slapping Smith made up for it.

The Family are by far one of the most inventive and chilling monsters we've had on the series. Love the Scarecrows and Timothy Latimer as well. In fact this two part story is just mesmerising.

So looking forward to the next review.

Michael Colvin said...

I quite enjoyed. I actually caught the "mis-direct" about Martha being a Londoner as a racial issue right away. What I didn't catch was that she was pretending the whole time while the Doctor was actually transformed. Good for her, indeed! Nice twist of writing.

Joan is a true companion and equal for John . Very excited to see Part II.