Human Nature / The Family of BloodBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 June 2007 - Reviewed by Neil Clarke

At this point in its history, Human Nature is pretty much as perfect a story as I think Doctor Who is capable of producing on TV. Even the arguable classics of the new series (themselves all too few and far between) haven't come anywhere close to this -- even Dalek, The Girl in the Fireplace, et al.

It just seems such a shame that, to my mind, the only real, true brilliance of what are destined to become 'the RTD years' is taken wholesale from the NAs. I love the New Adventures, but I don't see that that should be any barrier to appreciating the series in the way I do the 'classic' TV stories; but, quite simply, the new series simply hasn't even aimed at creating anything comparable to the complexity, originality and emotion of the best of those novels. Everything's straightforward and easy to grasp on one viewing; it's all very dumbed down and very Saturday night?

So, on the one hand I feel vindicated that the best story of the new run derives from those books, but it's a depressing proposition that no brand new story has been anywhere near as fully-formed or multilayered as this adaptation.

Even the way in which the narrative strayed outside of the given 'here and now': to Tim's glimpses of the future - the war, the memorial; to the flashbacks of past stories, which were effectively and economically used; down to the voiceover handling of the ending. Even the three-month time span -- a welcome exception to the adventures more usual seeming to take place over only a day or so. Sadly, I doubt any of these techniques would have been employed had the script not derived from a story from a 'broader' medium than television -- born out by the fact that no other story of the new series have been quite this audacious or wide-ranging. In this way, the story felt like a 'novel on film,' rather than a simply televisual creation.

Can anyone else even believe that this and Gridlock are the products of a common series? Perhaps if Russell T Davies weren't so monumentally arrogant about his own ability as a writer (or having his ego so fully and inexplicably stroked by seemingly everyone who works with him), he'd be cringing with mortified jealousy round about now.

It really seems as if the stakes were ramped up for this production, as if, because of its origins as a novel, people realised there was more behind it than the majority of stories. I've never even been that much of an admirer of Cornell -- it's always seemed to me he has the ideas, but they're let down by slightly pedestrian prose. Here, freed from those constraints, it was wonderful to see the plot refined, and imbued with a loving attention to detail.

The continuity references, for example were rather joyous, but not overplayed -- the music accompanying the sinister schoolgirl from Remembrance of the Daleks momentarily echoed for the Family's youngest sibling; the reference to the village's dust being 'fused into glass,' alluding to the sequence cut from the novel in which the school itself is turned to glass; and, most charmingly of all, the sketch of the Eighth Doctor in John Smith's journal. That warmed the old cockles -- wonderful how such a tiny thing (that'd be overlooked by the vast majority of the audience) could be so heartening; it's wonderful to see McGann's portrayal vindicated by the new series, even only so briefly.

The ending though came close to ruining things for me -- the Doctor devising elaborate punishments for the Family? Given that this sequence was narrated by one of their number, I immediately assumed that it was intended to appear unreliable -- it's just so jarringly? wrong. The Doctor doesn't do this sort of thing? it's just so off. Which, given Cornell's obvious understanding of Doctor Who and what it stands for, seems all the more bizarre.

I'm telling myself that perhaps that along with the Doctor's Runaway Bride callousness, this is leading somewhere. But, I'm not convinced -- like the Sixth Doctor's worst excessive which everyone gets so het up about, the problem for me was there wasn't even anyone to question his actions. Are we meant to suddenly accept the Doctor -- someone the episodes tried so hard to persuade us was worth fighting for -- is the kind of man to truss up his enemies and kick them into the centre of suns?? The whole sequence had a kind of unreal or storybook feel, so here's hoping there's something clever going on there. Even the NA Seventh Doctor at his most pitiless would never actively punish an adversary -- perhaps the worst would be to not save them from someone else, but even he (arguably the most godlike and terrible Doctor - until now, perhaps?!) -- never stooped to undeniable, deliberate sadism.

So it's sad to say that really struck me as a jarring moment in an otherwise note perfect story.

Although, it is kind of amusing -- or a bit depressing, depending -- that, in a wonderful but essentially Doctorless story, when he does reappears, he's being such an annoying tit.

Not that I dislike Tennant. But still, imagine that story with Sylvester? And Bernice come to that. I say that and I like Martha! It does just show though -- despite the strong script, complemented by great character moments, the backdrop of the oncoming war, and some very nice, non-'mainstream' directorial touches (the children's singing over the slow-mo shooting of the scarecrows, etc)? I still just crave the NAs. Because it makes me sad that, despite the highs the new series can evidently reach, a story this strong is definitely in the minority. (And the NAs might seem a defunct reference now, but, it a way, a story like this defies direct comparison to the classic series because then the idea of making fully emotional 'dramas' wasn't the concern; the NAs et al are much more the precursor to what seems, to a general audience, to be this 'brave new approach' to the series?)

However, this story really shows how much difference it makes when a story is written by someone with an abiding love and understanding of not just the series, but Doctor Who in a broader sense - as opposed to the kind of jobbing writer approach of School Reunion (compare and contrast these two stories set around a school, in which the Doctor takes the role of a teacher?), or 42 (a less developed Satan Pit rip-off).

I desperately want to love the new series, but it never quite delivers. Yes, I'm probably being harsh - but having a high-point like this almost makes it worse. Even if you're trying to be charitable about the 'average' episodes, you suddenly can't kid yourself about how vapid and hollow and unoriginal the majority of them really are?