Human NatureBookmark and Share

Sunday, 27 May 2007 - Reviewed by William Cox

"Take this watch, my life depends on it. This watch Martha, this watch?"

I was cautiously optimistic when I learned that the BBC were planning an adaptation of Paul Cornell's 1995 novel "Human Nature" for series 3. The prospect intrigued me: after all, this was one of the most highly regarded books to ever come out under the Doctor Who banner, and was voted best New Adventure in DWM. A TV adaptation certainly had a lot to live up to. In addition, having read it over a decade ago, I had only pictured Sylvester McCoy in the role of John Smith, since it was originally written with the character of the 7th Doctor in mind. There was also the fan reaction to consider. Would die hard fans accept a remake of one of their favorite Who stories? That is a debate that is best left for another time and place. My focus is solely on the merits of "Human Nature" as a television production, and in that regard it truly shines.


Pursued by evil aliens who want to acquire his time lord abilities, the Doctor embarks on a daring plan: he will transform himself into a human in order to evade his enemies, and Martha must look after the vessel that contains his true genetic makeup (in this case a pocket watch). After using a device called a chameleon arch to undergo the agonizing process of being remade, the Doctor becomes John Smith, a teacher at a Boys School in 1913. He has no memory of who he once was, although he still has dreams about his previous existence. Martha acts as his maid and his guardian, in case the Doctor's plan goes wrong. And, as anyone who has seen the episode or read the book upon which it is based knows, it does.

The production is a beauty to behold. The BBC are second to none when it comes to period dramas, and this episode is not exception. 1913 has been lovingly recreated and we are readily immersed into the reality presented to us. The acting and direction are also top notch. David Tennant continues to impress as the Doctor, and here he is given a new dimension to work with. He successfully creates an entirely new character while still retaining characteristics of the old. Not an easy task. Freema Agyeman likewise gets a chance to expand Martha's character to great effect. No longer is she just a companion and an assistant. Here, she carries a lot of weight in the episode as she has to deal with the burden the Doctor has been forced to place on her. That the Doctor would entrust something so monumentally important to her and that she would accept the challenge without question shows love and trust on both their parts. The supporting cast are equally effective, particularly Jessica Hynes, who plays Joan Redfern, the love interest for John Smith.

The villains of the story, simply referred to here as "The Family", are chilling in their actions and their mannerisms, but even more frightening are their scarecrow servants, which they are able to animate. The phrase "behind the sofa" immediately comes to mind, and no doubt countless children in Britain got a good scare with this one.

This episode is one of those rare events in which everything comes together so perfectly. Season 3 has finally produced it's first classic, one that will be remembered for years to come. I dare say that next year this episode will definitely be a contender for the Hugo.