Human NatureBookmark and Share

Sunday, 27 May 2007 - Reviewed by Will Valentino

I must first confess that I have never read Paul Cornell's original treatment of his novel Human Nature, so I am unable to comment on this story from this perspective. I will say that I was looking forward to this story with intense interest having read a little about it's origins and the basis of it's plot line. Any long time fan of Doctor Who would find some interest in a story such as this, and its execution did not fail to impress. More importantly, the episode skirted the fringes of the poetic and romantic DOCTOR WHO; better than any attempt has ever done so before. . There are things in the series that every fan regards deeper than the average entertaining adventure yarn. This, hard to describe intangible thing, we tend to refer to as the "magic" of Doctor Who. The "Magic" is woven into the framework of the series. Long time fans are more in touch with it because there are moments in the course of that 40 odd year journey when the fabric is exposed, torn away and we see the intangible, and it feeds the souls of the starving. In the case of this season, a few stories you would have expected to be satisfying have fallen a bit short and HUMAN NATURE seems to be the oasis in a season I feel sure is going to click into overdrive beginning with HUMAN NATURE. You can never keep a good Doctor down, and I must say, David Tennant is beginning to crystallize into a Doctor of extraordinary depth and HUMAN NATURE does much to further that belief.

HUMAN NATURE has some very strong elements used to support its story that are keystones of DOCTOR WHO canon. As such a tabernacle of such things, holding things revered in the heart of any DOCTOR WHO fan, it cannot and most certainly should not fail to be any short of memorable. As the story opens we see the Doctor and Martha running from unseen shadows that are chasing the duo through time and space. There seems to be some gap that exists between the close of "42' and the opening of "HUMAN NATURE". Suddenly we find the Doctor and Martha, back in the Edwardian days of a private boys school in England which brings to mind some classic BBC dramas set against the backdrop of the age of innocence just before the first World War. "All Creatures Great and Small" and "To Serve Them all my Days" come immediately to mind and you cannot help to think of David Powlett Jones when we first see David Tennant as the very lost John Smith, whose very soul is being kept in something so fragile and easily lost as a pocket watch. Once again, the watch, a symbol of time itself is an archetype of the Doctor, the timelords and the series itself. When the quizzical and clairvoyant Tim Latimer steals the watch,(played by the adorable Thomas Sangster) it immediately imperils the Doctor and alerts the mysterious "family" to the Doctor's presence. An unexpected surprise was seeing the "Journal of Impossible Things' the dreamy eyed Smith has constructed from his memories and "dreams". Just like the Doctor's diary seen in the days of Pat Troughton, we are allowed a brief passage back into the Doctor's world, a world that would make him a dreamer, an illusionist, or a total madman in early 20th century Edwardian Society. Ironically, it is the Doctor, a strangely attired Edwardian gentlemen who we first see in the junkyard in Totter's Lane in 1963 England that is immediately connected to this time and place in 1913 England. The episode once again is a lavish recreation of another time and place, and the story is as period realistic as any BBC period drama, even down to the storefront windows, John Smith's quarters and the encaustic tiles Martha and Jenny are seen scrubbing near the start of the episode. When we see Martha riding her bicycle back to the house where the Doctor has hidden the TARDIS we are briefly allowed to embrace the innocence of the time. She re-enters the time machine and we are home again in the TARDIS, to discover , through flashback, how the Doctor in becoming fully human , has hidden from his would be captors using the "Chameleon Arch" feature of the TARDIS.

In becoming "human", The Doctor has sacrificed everything he is and ever was to try to outwit the still unseen plunders that have been chasing him through time. He seems awkwardly at home as John Smith, and seems trusting enough in his attempts to court Joan played on the sublime by Jessica Stevenson (Hynes), and to show her, boastfully, his "Journal Of Impossible Things". In his pursuit of Joan, he has left Martha little to defend herself with in the vague instructions the doctor has left her with. He tells her" Don't let me abandon you" but he seems ready to unknowingly do so in a heartbeat. Once again, we have to feel for Martha, who could be quite the educator in a school filled with zealous young men, yet she thinks of her love for the Doctor and how he has fallen in love with another human and it wasn't her. You genuinely feel the pain she must have, especially since she must act out her life as a servant girl in a time not particularly kind to women of color. In many way's she is the alien. Racism has been addressed in past episodes, but it seems to be annoying when presented in cruel ways and while the series makes it's point, it seems to double speak itself at times such as the reference to the "tribesmen of the dark continent" during the shooting range practice scenes. I just think the references become excessive in a series that has a beautiful lady of color in a leading role, to almost appear as unintentionally derogatory. In HUMAN NATURE, we see Martha almost as an independent, having to survive and function in the soft gaze of the doctor who is as docile and human as anyone who would live his life cloistered behind the stone walls of a private boys school .It is her strength that carries both of them through the whole ordeal of living back in 1913 as refugees out of time. Paul Cornell beautifully conceives the whole concept.

The episode is beautifully and believably directed by Charles Palmer who seems to understand the core essentials to an atmospherically brooding Doctor Who episode. In fact, the episode felt very much like a Phillip Hincliffe era Doctor Who episode, with the "family" roaming the hillsides in their newly found "shapes", while appearing a trifle clich? in a Sci Fi X-Files kind of way. This season's handling of witches and scarecrows almost seem like long overdue treatments left over from the Hincliffe era. You have to admire the shuffling sideways gait of the scarecrows, which add to their animated believability as "soldiers" in the Family's army. Palmer understands it's the little things that make a great Doctor Who story; the nod of a head. A sniffle, a little girl walking with a red balloon., all small elements that add to the composition. I expect a few surprises will be in store for the concluding" Family Of Blood" episode, to put more of a face on their sinister doings. One character's reference to the 'matrix" opens a Pandora's box to all kinds of speculation, but I suspect it is timelord technology here that is being used against the Doctor. A rather crude redress of the TARDIS set as the alien spaceship is intended to either suggest timelord technology, or awkwardly scream at budgetary restrictions for a series, which seems to be holding back and saving its big dollars and pounds for this years concluding episodes.

Hats off to Paul Cornell for another wonderfully written script. "Father's Day' proved that Cornell had a unique understanding of the Doctor's world and I am very pleased to see him doing the screenplay to his "Human Nature" novel. Mr. Cornell is definitely a fan of the series as evidenced by all the inside references to to the Doctor's past, the use of the John Smith character again, the "Journal Of Impossible Things" and most especially the reference to Gallifrey possibly being in Ireland, and of course the nod to the people who stood at the series' foundations, Sidney Newman and Verity Lambert! What a joyful moment indeed! Cornell is a fan's writer and has been named as a possible successor to Russell T. Davies, and from where I stand; I sincerely would love to see Mr. Cornell involved in the future of the series. One thing is certain with more scripts like "Father's Day" and Human Nature" we can be assured there is indeed a future for DOCTOR WHO, for what is past is prologue and "Human Nature" does more than just prove this. It shows us there is poetry to the music and a harmony to the ideals that stand at the center of the series. Like Rose wanting to believe there was more to life in PARTING OF THE WAYS than just waking, working eating chips and going to bed, Cornell gives us John Smith, who is a human whose imagination makes him that much more extraordinary because he is dreamer! Just like the rest of us.





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.

SPOILERS FOLLOW:

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.





Human NatureBookmark and Share

Sunday, 27 May 2007 - Reviewed by Paul Hayes

Three years ago, I sat in a caf? at the University of East Anglia with Paul Cornell, as he drank a cup of tea and we chatted about Doctor Who. I was at the time involved with the running of the university's student television station, Nexus UTV, and that year we were hosting the annual National Student Television Association Awards. Not just an excuse for a single booze-up but a whole three day shebang, we were tasked with putting on various events over the course of the conference. At my suggestion, we'd invited Cornell -- who'd already kindly agreed to judge the drama category that year -- down to the campus for an afternoon to give a talk about writing for television, which he was generous enough to also agree to. A very nice chap, I have to say.

Anyway, we sat there chatting as we waited for all the various attendees to gather across at the venue where he was to talk, and we discussed the impending new series, about which he was of course allowed to say very little at the time. This was just about slap-bang in between the casting of the leads, when we knew Eccleston was to be the Doctor, but hadn't heard about Piper yet. So, early days.

We talked about what Doctor Who we liked, and what we didn't like, and needless to say the subject of the New Adventures came up. He enthused about the work of Kate Orman, and I had to rather sheepishly confess that, a few books aside, I hadn't really been a great fan of the range, seeing myself as rather too 'traditional' a fan to be part of the audience they were aiming at. He was perfectly nice about this and we swiftly moved on to other things, but it felt a rather difficult thing to confess to, because this was the man whose work had been so emblematic of that range of books. With Human Nature in particular, he had provided them with the gold standard by which other Doctor Who novels are so often judged.

I was never entirely swayed by those who spoke of the book as one of the greatest Doctor Who stories that had ever been written, but this time, in this new version, all these years after I basically and incredibly rudely told the man I wasn't that much of a fan? I have to admit that I was wrong. Because this was wonderful. Perhaps it's because the story has had time to mature and develop in Cornell's mind; perhaps because of Davies's magic touch; perhaps simply because of the different demands of a different medium, but Human Nature in its television form took the very best of the story and substance and heart of the novel, combined it with the freshness and vigour of the new television series, and created something very special indeed.

Let us start with the visual. Director Charles Palmer was praised by many for his work on the first two episodes of series three, so it was no surprise to see that once again he created a dynamic, involving look to the episode. It also stood out, though, because it had such a rural setting. Somehow, alien spaceships and laser beams in the heart of the English countryside have a very nostalgic quality to them. It's strange, in that I cannot off the top of my head think of a specific series whose style this evokes, but the tone seemed to evoke memories of British science-fiction and fantasy series of old. That immediately gave it a different feel to the often urban and gritty episodes of the new series, ever since the beginning of series one, and helped to identify the first instalment of this two-parter as something unique.

It's becoming almost needless to say that the BBC always create period settings very well, and we are in danger sometimes of taking it for granted. But the truth is that they do. It's no longer true, at least not quite so true, what Andrew Cartmel is always saying about BBC designers being far happier in the past than in the future, but all the same the history of Britain does bring out the best in them. Sets, costumes, and all other departments combined to make it look like a proper period drama, and not just the token effort that fantasy shows usually give on shoddy backdrops when they slide back into the past. This was sumptuous.

The performances matched the direction and the design. I can't imagine that anybody who has read the book will have any problems identifying Jessica Hynes's portrayal of Joan with the character as presented originally on the printed page. She has the same passions and angers, the same drives and emotions, and it was pleasing to see that while making the perfect match for John Smith, the perhaps less positive aspects of the character were also retained. In the book, Joan makes an off-the-cuff joke about the Irish at one point, and some of this survived in her apparent relief that John was not an Irishman. Similarly, her dismissal of Martha -- which could, I suppose, have come dangerously close to the schoolboy's racism nearer the start of the episode, but didn't -- is very like her general antipathy towards Bernice in the novel, although as the story went on that was more fuelled by the dreadful fear of what Bernice was going to take away from her.

Thomas Sangster as Tim had less to deal with than the book version of the character, as the bullying he received seemed positively tame by comparison, but nonetheless he seems to be headed the same way as his literary counterpart. Oddly, I thought he seemed a touch too young for the part, but that might just be compared to the older boys we saw elsewhere in the school. One of whom was Baines -- a wonderfully creepy performance by Harry Lloyd once he'd been taken over by 'the Family'.

Speaking of which, I was worried that the vile nature of the aliens might be toned down somewhat for this version, but a lot of their attitudes were still intact. All the business in the ship with their disembodied voices before they took Baines over was suitably sinister, and a new invention for television of their scarecrow servants was terrific. There was more than a passing nod to The Singing Detective, I think, when the scarecrow first appeared to move, but in an episode full of nods and allusions -- as the series as a whole so often is -- that can only add to the fun. The Family has been streamlined a little from the novel, though, and there was sadly not much of the creepiest element of all from the book, the girl with the balloon. At least she's there, though, and I hope she gets up to more of her gruesome tricks next week.

David Tennant discussed on the Doctor Who Confidential episode accompanying Human Nature how he approached Smith as a completely new character, and he certainly seems very different and yet in some ways very similar to the Tenth Doctor. I was worried that the character taking on a human aspect would not be noticeable given how very human he already is, but Cornell confounded my expectations by using the less desirable aspects of humanity to highlight Smith's human nature. His attitude during the Officer Training Corps sequence, for example, extolling the virtues of the gun practice and allowing Tim to be punished, was shocking for those used to the Doctor's heroism and sense of right and justice, and showed us effectively just how different a man he is. True, this is also in the book, but somehow the contrast with the Tenth Doctor is greater than it was with the darker, more manipulative Seventh. Tennant was terrific all the way through, from this ruthlessness right through to his touching romance with Joan.

Also impressive was Freema Agyeman as Martha, and her character's presence in early 20th century England was also well-handled. The racial issue was dealt with but never overplayed, and her concern for the Doctor and dismay at being in this situation was all very good.

Martha had at least had a little time to get used to the situation -- the audience were pretty much flung into it. Indeed, for the vast majority of casual viewers unfamiliar with the book it must have been even more surprising and mysterious an episode than it was for those of us who do know the story, and I envy them in a way. Consider, after all, that until the moment when Martha goes back to the TARDIS for the first time, there's absolutely no indication that the Doctor isn't actually a creation of Smith's imagination. It certainly must have had some people guessing.

Smith's journal, another element taken from the book but expanded on somewhat here, provided the first of several little touches that must have gladdened the hearts of fans everywhere when it once and for all stuck the final nail in the coffin of any of those still clinging to a 'Paul McGann doesn't count' mantra. He's right there in black and white, sketched by the Doctor alongside his other incarnations. Another heartening touch, added by Davies, was the names of the Doctor's parents -- as soon as we heard the first, I think we all knew at once what the second was going to be, didn't we? Some might see it as over-indulgent, perhaps, but then again Lambert herself did a similar thing back in The Rescue ('Sydney Wilson'), so there's an excuse if any were needed. Which it wasn't!

And as if this episode needed anything else to confirm that it's one of the finest of the run, we get an honest-too-goodness old-fashioned cliffhanger, with the music sting crashing in perfectly and making me wish it was next Saturday right now. Some might fear that after such a great first half whatever comes next can only be a disappointment, but I have great confidence in any team that can produce something this wonderful. And if next week's is only half as good as this, it'll still have been a powerful and gripping story.

One thing's for sure -- if I ever happen to meet that Paul Cornell again, I'll make sure I buy him something stronger than tea as a thank you for gracing the series with this.





Human NatureBookmark and Share

Sunday, 27 May 2007 - Reviewed by Joe Ford

Quite simply spellbinding. My favourite episode of Doctor Who since it returned to our screens and screaming pure quality from every second of its precious celluloid.

Adaptations are strange beasts. It all depends on your opinion of the original as to how you receive the altered version. With Dalek, BBC TVs adaptation of Big Finish's Jubilee, I felt Rob Shearman had missed a trick. He captured the drama and stunning dialogue of the original play but forgot one of the things that made the story so distinct, its sadistic and very funny black humour. Human Nature, in my opinion is an overrated New Adventure. Its good and it has a brilliant central idea but ive never been that fond of Paul Cornell's over-egged prose. Fortunately, Cornell has the incredible luck of wiping away the (frustrating) seventh Doctor and using the far more likable tenth, the added strength of Martha Jones and gets to turn the whole story into a hunt, which adds far more tension to the proceedings. All the important features are there?the romance with Joan, the fact that he embraces humanity; the incredible atmosphere of the Boy's school and the result is a TV adaptation that is vastly superior to its novelisation. An extremely rare feat.

Performances in the new series of Doctor Who are generally very good but occasionally a cast is assembled that is outstanding. The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit is a good example and Human Nature is another. The three central performances sell the story so convincingly you are dragged against your will into their lives and feel a real connection with them. David Tennant outdoes himself in the central role of Dr Smith. It is enviable to any actor to be able to, in the middle of a series, play a completely different character. Usually science-fiction deals the alternative universe card to achieve this and the regulars ham it up but Human Nature depends on this being our Doctor and our Martha. Its frightening watching Tennant play John Smith, almost as though this is role he has been playing for a season and a half, such is the confidence and the realism in the part. I love his stiff upper-lippedness mixed with a great deal of intelligent charm and a streak of pure eccentricity. You can see precisely why Joan is attracted to him from the off.

What's this? A romance in Doctor Who?for the Doctor? I wouldn't imagine Jessica Stevenson as the woman who would capture the Doctor's heart but that's only because of her phenomenal success with Spaced and the lazy character she plays. I have never been more pleased to be wrong; she's superb as Joan, the most successful celebrity guest spot yet. There's so much truth to Joan and Stevenson convinces entirely as the love struck widow, she's quite a serious character (behaving with proper manners as was appropriate at the time) but there are glimpses of humour that make her very charming. The brief admission, "It's been ages since I've been to a dance but no-one's asked me" could sound desperate but from Stevenson's lips it breaks your heart. Think back to School Reunion last year and Rose and Sarah-Jane bickering over the Doctor, the animosity between Joan and Martha (who must desperately try and stand in the way of this romance) is far more gentle. Had Joan been played by a lesser actress this could have been a real nasty character but there is such depth to her that we see a subtle understanding between Martha and matron.

I do hope the rumours about Freema Agyeman are untrue. I love Martha. I have since Smith and Jones. She's a far more intelligent and independent character than Rose, she compliments the Doctor in the same way that Emma Peel complimented John Steed. Even better, Freema is a fresh young face for the series and it is clear that the show has challenged her and driven some fine performances. Human Nature is as much Martha's story as it is the Doctor's and she is inflicted with more indignity than any companion has for a while. The racial comment about her hands made me gasp, it's almost as bad as the assumption that as a maid she should not be familiar with her master and use the side entrance. Watching Martha tip toe around the Doctor is fascinating, trying to cope her best with this hastily improvised situation. The sequence where she returns to the TARDIS is beautiful, like she is coming home. The music during that sequence was particularly good.

Suzie Liggat's first stint as producer is a huge success. The resources she has made possible have resulted in a high-class production with some atmospheric location filming and some authentic sets. The feels of the episode is elegance from the relaxed pace to the depth of characterisation through to the special effects and camerawork. Doctor Who's production values are astonishing these days, truly beautiful and it is pleasing that they can make last weeks dirty, roasting spaceship as classy as this weeks upper class boys school. Certain shots in this episode took my breath away: the light scanning through the field, the scarecrow bursting from the field to attack the little girl with the red balloon, the moody shots of John Smith and Joan walking through the fields.

Harry Lloyd is the spitting image of a young Captain Jack Harkness; should they need to cast the role he would be superb. He gives an interesting performance here, really up himself as Baines but completely chilling (with possibly the scariest alien eyes I have ever seen) as a member of the Family of Blood. He makes a great foil for David Tennant's straight acting John Smith and their confrontation in the final set piece is a quality moment. Many people playing possessed characters use the excuse to ham it up but Lloyd stays on the right side of silliness with his psychotic grin and glinting eyes.

Its another great cliffhanger in a series that seems to have remembered how they work. This one is especially goof because I don't think it is something the series has ever tried before in its fourty year plus history. Such a simple, brilliant conceit?have the Doctor fall in love in an episode and lose faith in his companion and then risk their lives together in the finale. Who does he save? So simple and so effective.

Human Nature deserves the praise that has already been lavished on it, from the papers to the fan reaction. It is as close to an adult drama as the series is going to get without feeling like another series. For one episode the Doctor gets to fall in love, live as a human and lead a normal life. The drama and the potency of that idea are captured beautifully.

After such an amazing opening can I pray that the conclusion isn't a disappointment.





Human NatureBookmark and Share

Sunday, 27 May 2007 - Reviewed by Billy Higgins

The name's Smith. John Smith.

Back in time again for the third adventure in this memorable season, and a quite-sublime opening instalment of Paul Cornell's two-part adaptation of his acclaimed Doctor Who novel, Human Nature.

Fom the very first explosive scene, this was an absolute treat and, if the concluding episode fulfills the promise on offer here, we could be hailing the finest Doctor Who story of the modern era.

Ironically, that grab-the-audience-by-the-throat opening scene - The Doctor and Martha rushing into the TARDIS pursued by an unfriendly laser beam - while typical of the super-high-octane nature of 2007 Who, was totally atypical of much of the rest of the episode. It was a gentler-paced tale than anything else since the series returned (although Martha kept up her running quotient!). But it was never slow - and totally gripping throughout.

Under threat of death from a race who want to absorb a Time Lord's life span to prolong their own existence, The Doctor could see only one escape route - changing his biological structure for a time until they lose his scent. Using the Chameleon Arch in the TARDIS for the first time, The Doctor became public schoolmaster John Smith in 1913 England, with no memory of who he really was - save for dreams in which he recalled some of his adventures.

Martha is also in 1913, and working undercover at the schoolhouse as a maid. Before undergoing his metamorphosis, The Doctor told her she must instruct him to open a fob watch, which will trigger his memories, and revive the Time Lord within him, if she senses danger, or when three months have elapsed.

Martha realises that the alien family have taken over the body of a maid with whom she had been working, but is horrified to find out the watch is missing - and she has no way of bringing back The Doctor. She's also dismayed to find out that John Smith has fallen in love with a human, the matron Joan.

Meanwhile, schoolboy Timothy Latimer, who pocketed Mr Smith's watch, opens the device, and his mind is filled with images of frightening future events. Another pupil, Jeremy Baines, has been taken aboard the spaceship of the alien family pursuing The Doctor, and his body has also been taken over, along with other members of the village, after being kidnapped by terrifying living scarecrows which are, in fact, soldiers for the aliens.

The possessed villagers track down The Doctor to the local dance and, despite his protestations that he doesn't know what they're talking about, they demand he changes back to a Time Lord - or they'll kill either Joan or Martha.

Even scribbling all that down has one nodding in satisfaction at a beautifully-structured episode, packed with interesting and well-realised ideas.

The living scarecrows were genuinely frightening. We have seen a scarecrow come to life in Doctor Who before, but that was one of The Master's umpteen "I am the master of disguises" in the classic series - The Mark Of The Rani, coincidentally set in a similar time period. The 2007 version - like all monsters in the new series, properly choreographed, were designed to lollop rather than gallop towards their victims, and this was an effective manoeuvre.

Talking of scary, there was a deliciously-malevolent performance from Harry Lloyd as the possessed Baines. Easy to take it into "ham" territory, but Lloyd pitched it right, with the "sniffing" out of his prey liable to send chills a-multiplying through many a viewer.

Almost a given that Jessica Hynes would be a delight as Joan, as she's a superb actress who never disappoints. And more good work from Freema Agyeman who had several interesting exchanges, touching on racism, sexism and classism, all prevalent in the early 20th century. Nothing too heavy, but nicely structured to make the viewer consider the issues.

Star of the show was the star of the show, though. Effectively playing another role - that of John Smith (and for which he was doubly credited) - David Tennant clearly relished the opportunity to show us his range. And, although he seeded in a few Tenth Doctorisms into Smith, this was a delightful and charming portrayal of a 1913 schoolmaster. Tennant's a high-quality operator, and his acting class shone through here, particularly in Smith's warm scenes with Hynes, and his bafflement at Martha's revelation that his dreams were reality.

The BBC are always terrific at period pieces - and really took us back into time with them. Having visited Shakespearean era and 40s New York as well this season, they've been busy bunnies. And Murray Gold proved he can do "restrained"!

I haven't read Cornell's book, but it will be fascinating to compare the original to the TV screenplay. Cornell's basic story is refreshingly different to anything seen in the rest of the series, and it's hard to pick faults with the script. So I won't. Great job.

Nice touch from Russell T Davies, too, naming Mr Smith's parents as Sydney and Verity - respectful acknowledgements to two key figures in the 1963 version of the show of which RTD is so fond, namely one of the programme's creators, Sydney Newman, and producer Verity Lambert.

Nine out of 10, and comfortably the best of an excellent season, which just keeps getting better.





Human NatureBookmark and Share

Sunday, 27 May 2007 - Reviewed by A.D. Morrison

In any other era this story would have been seen as as controversial as The Deadly Assassin (which revealed more about the Doctor's background than ever before, and also, by placing him tangibly among his own kind, portrayed him for the first time as vulnerable, out of his depth and thus more mortal) was in its day, in its radical take on the nature of the Doctor and the Timelord makeup. But in a revamped series already littered with romantic lapses on the main protagonist's part, the radical departure of this episode has had its way softened. Nevertheless, finding the Doctor living as a literal 'human' school teacher in 1913 England, enamoured to the school matron, is still quite disorientating, albeit in a well-articulated and quite moving way.

Before commenting on this highly promising opener to the latest - and most anticipated - two parter of this season, I'd just like to say that I do think the convenient 'chameleon device' the Doctor uses to turn his actual physiology human is a really hard concept to swallow: it seems impossible in theory, as in, how can it actually turn his two hearts into one (which it does of course, as witnessed in the scene when Redfurn checks his heartbeat(s)? Plus, why hasn't he ever used it before? Like when he was fleeing the Black Guardian for instance? This idea really does stretch us from the outset in terms of credibility. However, when an episode is generally as impressive and beautifully made as this, I'm almost beyond caring about the logistics. (One might also now use the concept of this device to argue that the clumsy revelation in the 1996 movie about the Doctor being half-human could be explained by him altering his bio-makeup in order to try and avoid detection from the Master in said story - though clearly in that case he half-botched it...)

This is one of the most filmic episodes done so far and the opening shot of the school to the choiring of 'Yee who would most valiant be' was inspired and reminded me of the classic TV series To Serve Them All My Days. Indeed, Tenant's teacher, Dr John Smith, could quite easily fit the part of said series' cheif protagonist, David Powlett-Jones. 21st century hairstyle aside (they could have gelled it down for this episode really couldn't they?), Tenant very much resembles and acts the part of his disguise, though one of course he has necessarily forgotten to be a disguise, truly believing himself to be the earthling teacher, who is disturbed by strange dreams of time travelling adventures.

This premise is one of the most superb ever thought up for Doctor Who (I know, it's based on Cornell's 90s novel), and in terms of developing the Doctor in a very new way, a truly unique scenario in the entire series' history (a sort of Superman III/Last Temptation of Christ outing for the Timelord). It is handled with great delicacy and feeling here: the romance with Nurse Redfurn is believable, gentle and actually moving, helped by Murray Gold's most/only accomplished music so far, which captures - for once - the mood of the episode. There is none of the adolescent sloppiness of the Doctor/de Pompadour liaissons of the otherwise well-realised Girl in the Fireplace of last year. This is a rather awkward, innocent and abstract love affair (bar one kiss this episode, which too was done believably), perfectly fitting the more sexually restrained Earth period. And for once the Doctor seems to be attracted to someone whom one could conceivably understand him liking: a kind, intelligent woman who oozes humility. The shots of the very convincing and detailed notes and pictures of Smith's time travels are beautifully choreographed, enriching this immaculately realised episode with extra poetic leaven.

The mysterious schoolboy is excellently portrayed, a real Little Father Time (re Jude the Obscure) - if only they'd though to nickname him that, so appropriate too - if I ever I saw one, harrowed-eyed and silently knowing, surely either an alien, a young Timelord, or some sort of younger version of the Doctor? We'll find out next week...

This apparently trapped 'alien' English schoolboy of course is very reminiscent of Turlough in Mawdryn Undead, a story also set in a public school. But what is even more challenging about this episode - and too in common with Mawdryn - is the focus on what might be described as 'the Doctor having a nervous breakdown', as opposed to the Brigadier's literally alluded-to crisis in said Davison story (another case of amnesia). Brilliant treatment of Tenant here.

The elder, Flashman-esque prefect is also an engrossing portrayal, even if he goes a bit too far with some of his lines, overdoing his RP. But he really is a menacing-looking young actor, with his goggling eyes and resonant voice to match. Some shots of him are truly disturbing.

Not so impressive are his two fellow 'family' members and one can't help feeling RTD had a hand in casting them in these roles, echoing his rather childish preoccupation with portly villains (see, well, maybe don't see, Aliens of London). At one point I seriously worried they might have written in those interminable Slitheens into this - that would truly wreck the story.

The scarcecrows! Well, these have to rank as one of the most evocative and creepy monsters ever done in the show (old or New), alongside the baroque clockwork robots in Girl in the Fireplace. Indeed, these scarecrows actually move like clockwork, lurching clumsily forwards with their heads lolling to the sides, a macabre posture duplicated eerily in the humanised 'family'. The shot of the first scarecrow moving its hand on the top of the field is a classic series shot - as are the subsequent rampages. Excellently realised creatures - one wonders why the old series never used such a potent disguise for aliens (the nearest they got was the Master stuffed with straw in Mark of the Rani).

Human Nature does of course have its clumsy lapses (as do all the stories of new Who so far, even the best ones; ie, Dalek (the Doctor with the gun), Impossible Planet (the Doctor's hugging session) and so on): tenuous humanisation plot device aside, we also have aliens firing rather wieldy and cartoon-like ray guns, and a pointless scene in which Martha moans to herself about why the Doctor had to fall in love with a human woman who wasn't her. If this is going to be the extent to Martha's characterisation, I rather hope the recent rumours of her being axed from the series come true (sorry Freema).

But slight quibbles aside, this is a beautifully shot, acted and written episode, and will in time I am certain be regarded as one of the all-time classics in the entire cannon of Doctor Who (though still not quite on a par with Deadly Assassin, Caves of Androzani, Genesis of the Daleks, Pyramids of Mars, Seeds of Doom or Kinda, in my view). But this of course depends very much so on how it pans out and concludes next week! One has grown quite accustomed now to striking first episodes and flatter finales, but I think and hope that with the emotional depth and uniqueness of Cornell's highly ambitious plot, we shouldn't be let down this time.

This season keeps getting better (bar the ok but rather empty filler 42). Human Nature is the best episode of the series so far (and up against strong competition such as Gridlock, Daleks in Manhattan and Lazarus), and arguably of new Who altogether. But as I say, how it concludes next week will very much determine its potentially great status as a complete story. Still, at least we have one episode so far which already achieves greatness in itself.

9.8/10