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Sunday, 27 May 2007 - Reviewed by Tim Lane

Wow. I have not reviewed any episodes before, although I read the reviews every week. I was so impressed last night that I felt moved to write in.

This episode contained everything an episode of Doctor Who should contain. All the suspense and the WTF moments, damn scary looking bad guys, great characters, great acting and a good plot that continues to thicken throughout.

I think this episode was closer to the classic series than anything the new lot have done so far, for one thing there were several references, e.g. the car that looked a little like Betsy. Also when the girl with the balloon first appeared the tune was the same as used for a very similar looking girl in 7th doctor episode Remembrance of the Daleks. Another similarity with that episode is that had people (school staff even) being changed into bad guys.

Also there were pictures of previous doctors in the book. I always wanted to see Paul McGann in the new series, I guess that's as close as I'll get. I think it is the first time they have shown old Doctors despite opportunities in Rose and Love and Monsters.

All of the acting was great, Tennant continues to extend his range, I enjoyed him going all Hugh Grant over Miss Redfern and falling down the stairs. Martha is looking a lot more settled here and continues to prove herself. All of the supporting cast are strong. I especially thought Tomas Sangster as Latimer was a stand out performance as well Jessica Hynes (who wouldn't fall in love with her).

For once the pacing was dead right on this, in fact they crammed so much in that It felt like a much longer episode, but didn't feel rushed at all, I think having the quite short flashbacks (and forwards) was a good device to achieve this.

So, romps down corridors are well and good but I'd rather have more like this please, In my humble opinion this is by far and away the best episode of series three and at least on a par and maybe better than my previous favourite Girl in The Fireplace out of all the new who.

I am now on tenterhooks for next week, only slightly dampened by the preview spoiling the cliff-hanger, mainly I want to see what Latimer's character has to do with everything and WTF is going on??

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Sunday, 27 May 2007 - Reviewed by Simon Fox

I have a sneaking suspicion the current makers of Doctor Who have a How To Make A Classic handbook and not only that, they've been following it step by step, and have read it backwards with a test afterwards to make sure it has really sunk in. Involving intriguing plot? check. Multiple engrossing subplots? check. Aliens signified by a glowing green light? Check. Asides for the fans, scary monsters and an accurate BBC-made period setting? Check, check and check.

The third series, so far, has been brimming with confidence with the way that even when it gets it wrong, it doesn't matter, like a dinner guest who misquotes Wilde but you forgive him because he's so entertaining. This is not only Doctor Who by numbers, but Doctor Who as it always should have - and on occasion - has been. They kind of story that justifies a fan's belief in the series.

The casting was just right from the scary high-cheekboned pupil overtaken by the aliens, the brilliant Jessica Stevenson as Joan Redfern and the psychic kid with the big eyes who is, as tradition would have it, bullied by his elders and lessers. Doctor Who is at its best when examining the endurance of Human Nature, as luck would have it, and this episode has it in bucketloads, proving that the show has long since transcended from a mere kids show into the stuff of cultural phenomenon that will never be forgotten. And quite right too.

It is here that I should mention the two leads, David Tennant and Freema Agyeman. DT revels in his change of role as the humanised John Smith, as does Freema in her anguish over losing the Doctor first as a Time Lord and secondly as he falls for Joan. In the climax, when the aliens figure out who the Doctor is, it is then his absence is most keenly felt and then that we realise how much we really do need the Doctor - after all these years - to still save the day. A lesson in our need for a hero, surely.

Ten out of ten. A sheer classic. Well done to all involved.

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Sunday, 27 May 2007 - Reviewed by Frank Collins

It's a pleasure to be able to say that with Paul Cornell's 'Human Nature' that Series Three has at last given us its benchmark episode despite the fact that we've got another five to go! This was a sublime piece of television drama and a brilliant synthesis of the original novel's theme and plot and the Russell T. Davies game-plan for the new series.

OK. Let's get the wonderful references sorted out. For me, it was a lovely mix of Delderfield's 'To Serve Them All My Days', Lindsay Anderson's 'If?' (particularly the machine-gun training) and Cameron-Menzies 'Invaders From Mars' (invasion by possession seen through the eyes of a young boy) and once again the production team here excelled with the period setting. There was a beautiful, and yet sombre, autumnal feel to the episode that evoked the mood of pre-war England. Like two of the references mentioned above, it thematically explored the nature of Englishness, to quote Michael Bracewell 'where the rebels in England's Arcadia are defending the values that they love, passionately, from what they recognise as abuse at the hands of self-serving tyrants and their occupying armies'. I'm reading H.G Wells' 'War Of The Worlds' at the moment and the parallels in this episode, in both evoking the period and playing out of themes, are also striking.

According to Bracewell, nostalgia is the very fulcrum of the English national and cultural psyche: nostalgia for some kind of lost 'idealised past' - an Arcadian wonderworld. As the Doctor hides out as 'John Smith' in the pastoral confines of that typical symbol of Englishness, the public school, he dreams of and makes notes about his other selves, that time-travelling rebel, that alternative life caught in nostalgic flashbacks and scrapbooks. And to add to this nostalgic riff, the episode name-checks Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert as John Smith's (and by extension the series) parents, Rose (again), and showcases that other English (and the Doctor's) obsession: cricket. That the episode could wind these references so delicately into the story without knocking over the whole house of cards is testament to the care that's gone into crafting this superb story.

The episode cleverly touched on the inevitable tragedy of the First World War, in essence the destruction of Arcadia, with Latimer's flash forwards and the 'great shadow falling across the land' as dialogue represented by the hugely symbolic scene of the piano falling into the street and about to literally crush one of the flowers of England. Fortunately, there was a good bowler nearby.

The three people in the 'marriage' at the heart of 'Human Nature': John Smith, Martha and Joan are all classic symbols of the triad, the three -- spirit, soul and flesh, Father, Mother and Child, purgative, illuminative and unitive. The John Smith/Doctor schism not only touches upon Christ's 'I am way, the truth, the life' but also the reverse of that symbolism in the consequences of the sin and lust of human nature. It's all very beautifully played by the three leads with Tennant managing to completely remove the ticks and affectations of his usual performance of the Doctor to give us a nervous, repressed English school master capable of handing out punishments to young Latimer; Agyeman providing a Martha of great depth, saying much about her feelings through expressions and reactions than through speech and certainly I hope finally silencing the naysayers; and Jessica Hynes' Joan as the perfect foil for John Smith, as a sympathetic, warm and completely 'human' human being. The romance between the two is finely played and doesn't descend into sentimentality.

They were supported quite wonderfully by Harry Lloyd, as Jeremy Baines, whose possession by the Family, (the anti-Father, Mother and Child in the story), was much determined by an eerie performance. For me, it was Thomas Sangster as Tim Latimer who sneaked in and stole the supporting honours. He managed to convey a young man, troubled by his growing abilities, wiser and older than he should be. In effect, he was a younger John Smith, hiding out in the school for fear of being discovered as one of the rebels defending Arcadia.

Charles Palmer, the director, is a real discovery. He captured an England in autumnal fugue with a David Lean touch, framing sterling performances from his cast in long shots of the countryside. And I do hope his first shot of the scarecrow moving its arm was an homage to 'The Singing Detective'. And a word of praise for Murray Gold's score with a stunning passage of music as Martha returns to the TARDIS and recalls the incidents that brought her to 1913 and tries to find some comfort in the Doctor's message. Very beautiful string sections kept underlying her growing fear and frustration in the scene.

Overall, the best episode so far this year and certainly on a par with 'The Empty Child' and 'The Girl In The Fireplace' and we have the second part yet to come. If 'Family Of Blood' is half as good as this then I can confidently say we've got another classic to add to the list.

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Sunday, 27 May 2007 - Reviewed by Eddy Wolverson

I am sure that I am misquoting somebody when I say that stories are never finished, they are abandoned. But not Paul Cornell's "Human Nature". Times and Doctors and formats may change, but stories as powerful as this one can evolve right along with them.

In the expanded universe of Doctor Who novels, "Human Nature" is the literary equivalent of a TV story like "The Caves of Androzani" or "The Talons of Weng-Chiang". Even those (like myself) who didn't consider it to be the absolute best generally accepted that it was there or thereabouts. But now, twelve years on from the novel's first publication, "Human Nature" hits Britain's television screens as a lavish two-part spectacular. And in doing so, "Human Nature" sets itself up amongst the very, very best of the Doctor's televised adventures to date.

To be absolutely honest, I did not know what to expect of this episode. It has been a hell of a long time since I read the novel, and whilst I may have been sorely tempted over the last few weeks, I have somehow managed to resist the impulse to dust off my copy of "Human Nature" and get myself back up to speed. I wanted this episode to be a whole new experience and, from what I'd seen in the trailers -- Scarecrows, 'chameleon arches' etc --, I had a feeling it was going to be.

With his adaptation of the novel, Cornell has apparently gone back to basics. What we see on screen is the original story completely deconstructed, and then rebuilt with the new series and the different audience in mind. The basic tenets of the story are the same, but there are profound differences in the execution. As good as it was, the novel was catering for a very different audience and more fundamentally, it was a completely different medium. The reflective book dwelt much on Smith's humble existence and the simple pleasures that he took from his life. On TV, Cornell uses the odd scene to get the same ideas across much more economically. What we see come to life before our eyes is a fast-paced, exciting and spellbinding adventure. It's glossy. It's quick. And just like the novel, it's quite, quite brilliant.

"All the times I've wondered?"

From the explosive pre-title sequence, it was immediately evident that we were dealing with a very different animal. Amidst a tumult of weapons fire, the Doctor races into the TARDIS asking Martha if 'they' had seen their faces. When he realised that they had not, he knew that he had only one way out. He'd have to do it. He'd have to become human.

To avoid the Time Lord-hunting 'Family of Blood', the Doctor transforms himself both physically and mentally into a human being. He has one heart; a heart capable of loving in an entirely different way. Small-ly, as opposed to on a grand scale. One woman, as opposed to the whole Earth. This time around, Cornell wastes no time in introducing us to Joan, the kindly Matron who has her eye on 'John Smith' from the off. I was surprised at how different the dynamic was between the two characters on screen; of course the seventh Doctor was much older in appearance than the tenth, and so in print I'd imagined Joan to be a more mature lady. On TV though, Jessica Stevenson is a relatively young woman, presumably around the same age as David Tennant. So rather than wile away their evenings together playing chess and stroking cats, on TV Smith and Joan snog and go dancing. They fall down stairs and mend scarecrows. They save babies from pianos. Their romance is all a bit more explicit than I remember the book ever being, but on TV it works wonderfully.

Smith and Joan are both very likeable characters, yet neither is perfect. With Smith, there is an underlying Doctorishness that occasionally pervades into his life, but on the whole he is a completely different and separate entity -- a fact from which the whole tragedy of "Human Nature" stems. He does do the odd remarkable thing -- the piano stunt, for example -- but he is not perfect and he makes mistakes -- at times you're thinking "c'mon Doctor, you bloody sell-out, do something!" or cringing as he allows young Tim Latimer to be taken for a beating. And when Martha slaps him for being both patronising and even a bit racist towards her, you can't help but take her side.

Poor Martha really has a hard time of it in this episode. The culture of 1913 England is as alien to her as 1914 was to Benny in the novel. Martha is openly and cruelly mocked about the colour of her skin; she has her aptitude insulted by people who are undoubtedly far less intelligent than she is; she has her new best friend taken over by a malevolent alien entity; and, the final indignity, she has to watch as the 'man' she loves falls for another woman.

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

I'm not sure why this episode is set slightly earlier than the book, though admittedly there is a unique sense of romance intrinsic to the winter before the Great War. On Doctor Who Confidential they describe it as "a time of innocence", but I think that's too kind. If the characters of "Human Nature" are anything to go by, it was a time of ignorance. A time of apathy. A time when those like young Tim who have the courage to speak out against racism or imperialism find themselves the victim of institutionalised bullying. Hutchinson, for example, encapsulates all of these traits, and Tom Palmer has to be given a great deal of credit for making the character even more vile than he came across in print.

And as for Jeremy Baines, Harry Lloyd is absolutely incredible in the role both before and after the Aubertide possesses him. There is a cold rage behind those eyes; a truly frightening edge. Baines is unhinged, as are all the Family of Blood. Mr. Clark and 'Mother of Mine' Jenny are also both impressive, as is the young 'Daughter of Mine' character. Little girls are always chilling when used in science fiction -- look at "Fear Her", for example -- but this kid is off the page. The "Remembrance of the Daleks"-style music that accompanies her appearances only adds to the sense of unease.

"Activate the soldiers!"

Oddly, the one element of the novel that I singled out for criticism were the Aubertides. From what I understand, after his epic novel "No Future", Cornell didn't want another big supervillain like Mortimus -- he just wanted a little gang of rogues; a nasty little group that would cause some trouble, but not detract from the book's more central theme of the Doctor's character and in fairness, that is exactly what he wrote. However, because "Human Nature" was such a contemplative piece, particularly in the first half I found that I couldn't really care less about the baddies and that I just wanted to read about Smith. Now on TV, the balance has been corrected. The whole emphasis of the story has changed; these Aubertides, 'Family of Blood' or whatever you want to call them are the whole reason for the Doctor's becoming human -- they are a bona fide and legitimate threat, backed up with an army of shit-scary scarecrows. I mean, how good was that? Scarecrows? Genius! I only hope that the balance remains the same through "The Family of Blood" and that we are treated to the same kind of action that the novel eventually delivered towards the end. That's if they can get away with having schoolboys fighting aliens with machine guns at 7.10pm on a Saturday night?

"The Doctor is the man you'd like to be,

doing impossible things with cricket balls."

However, as this 'Family of Blood' have become more integral to the story, unfortunately something has been lost. Ever since his first Doctor Who story -- the 1991 New Adventure "Timewyrm: Revelation" -- Cornell has skilfully explored the Doctor's thoughts and feelings in a way that no one before him ever had. In "Timewyrm: Revelation" he literally had Ace take a stroll inside the Doctor's psyche, and then in the original "Human Nature" novel, he once again looked at the Doctor's anguish, but from a different angle. When the seventh Doctor made himself human, it wasn't to shroud himself from some mad aliens who wanted to become Time Lords. It was because he'd been through so much grief and pain and he was sick to death of it all. He wanted to leave it all behind for a little while. He wanted to be human for a few months. To experience human life and human emotions. To have himself a quiet life. To conform.

"Have you enjoyed it, Doctor? Being human?

Has it taught you wonderful things? Are you better? Richer? Wiser?

Then let us see you answer this -- which one of them do you want us to kill? Your friend or your lover? Your choice."

And personally, after what the tenth Doctor has recently been through (the Time War; losing Rose; fifteen years as a Postman etc.) I thought that Cornell would use the same device again here, possibly even more effectively than the first time around. From what I remember, much of the drama in what will be next week's episode stems from the conflict within Smith -- if you're a happy man living a quiet life with your new lover, would you want to sacrifice yourself so that a cold and calculating alien adventurer might live? And I guess that's where it all falls down; what may have prompted the shift in emphasis. The tenth Doctor may be brutal to his enemies, but he's not the ruthless manipulator that his seventh self was. And if we're honest, no one really knows what goes on inside the Doctor's head. Maybe he could have escaped the Family of Blood by some other means. Maybe he did actually want to become fully human, just as his seventh self did. Or maybe not.

On the whole, "Human Nature" is an absolute phenom of an episode and, unlike most two-parters, I firmly expect the second instalment to be even better than the first. Without exception the performances are awesome - David Tennant; Jessica Stevenson; Harry Lloyd; Thomas Sangster; and especially Freema Agyeman, who this week has suffered a cruel introduction to the media circus that now surrounds the show --; the visuals are first-rate; and the story is every bit as good as it has always been, if not better. There's even a few loving nods to the show's long history -- 'Sydney', 'Verity' and a handful of past Doctors. And finally, as a huge fan of many of the Doctor Who novels, I'd just like to say that I only hope that this two-parter is not the last adaptation that we will ever see. If the current production team can not only recognise the quality of stories like "Human Nature", but also bring them to life this brilliantly, then the sky really is the limit.

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Sunday, 27 May 2007 - Reviewed by Claire Fulmer

"Which one of them do you want us to kill, Doctor? Your Friend..... or your lover? Your choice."

I was Practically gasping for air when this episode ended.

I think I loved this episode for the same reasons I loved 'The Empty Child'. It's probably because they both had humor, wit, romance, and marvelous Classic-series-worthy-cliffhangers!

I've discovered that David Tennent, slipping into the role of the Doctor, is seamless. He's one of those actors that can make you feel that he's been there forever, while only two Seasons in. To see someone so excited, so fond of the series, an actual fan playing the Doctor, hopping on board the TARDIS, so to speak, is truly a blessing to everyone. I've heard some say that he's to young, or not right for the role, but what actor can you really point to and say, 'He IS the doctor.'? The role, all the way back to Hartnell's era to present day, has been changing, growing, evolving, and is it really fair to judge someone for a role that doesn't have much of a criteria? Now looking at this episode, He's practically playing a whole new character here- and he pulls it off marvelously!

First of all, a credit to Louise Page (bless her soul) for the absolutely brilliant Costumes! Who, I ask you, did not squeal with delight when Martha came in in her adorable little maid outfit? Or when we saw Joan's (Jessica Hynes) Gorgeous Titanic era Dance-Dress? Well, maybe people with very little taste, but I sure noticed them.

Mr.Smith, right off the bat, was a very likable character, one with whom the audience immediately connected with, a man who had flaws, yet was a hero. Even though he wasn't the Timelord we'd come to love and know, he was an admirable person, obviously kind and gentle. His falling in love with Joan was something that could be seen a mile off, but you still sympathized with both him, and Martha, and of course, Joan.

It was touching when Martha rushed to the TARDIS after seeing the Doctor kissing Joan, and re-watched the recording the Doctor had left for her, and being frustrated with The Doctor for not mentioning what to do if he started to fall in love. Obviously it hadn't occurred to him at the time, because he hadn't been human then.

In this episode, to me, Martha stands out stronger in performance than the Doctor's character did.

I tended to sympathize with Martha more often than with the Doctor in this episode, because for the moment she WAS the Doctor, taking his place, making the decisions, taking control, coping with being a house servant, dealing with being taunted about her color, befriending people she probably would never see again, watching her friend fall in love with someone else, and in general, surviving. Martha is truly outstandingly amazing here.

I also find Joan's character very interesting, too. She's kind to maid Martha up to a point. She knows that Martha knows something, and treats her with the dignity she deserves, while still acknowledging that Martha's only a servant. I have a feeling I'm going to feel very sorry for Joan in the next episode, according to the trailer for next week.

Oh, and the baddies! My, what a lot! Is this Doctor Who, or the Wizard of Oz? No, really, loved the scarecrows! And, Oooo, "We are the family of blood!"! Harry Lloyd (Baines) is truly terrifying here, along with "Mother of Mine" Rebekah Staton, and The Sinister Little Girl...Creepy! Perfect! Not quite as scary as 'The Empty Child', but I'm sure Steven Moffat will follow through faithfully in 'Blink'.

Just one more mention of an outstanding actor's performance in this episode is Thomas Sangster, or 'Tim Latimer'. In the scene where he opens the watch and a bit of the Doctor goes into his deep, pooling eyes, to me at least, he seemed to become the Doctor right then and there. Amazing job, Tom!

To wrap this review up, I just want to say how pleased I was with this episode. This season just hadn't been impressing me, and the episodes just seemed kinda stale- I had hoped things were looking up when I saw 42, and guess what? I was right. This might not only be the best episode in the season so far, but the whole new series. It felt like a classic Who in plot, style and design. It was touching, warm, and just plain funny.

"Would you like some tea? I could put some gravy in the pot, or a nice bit of mutton? Or sardines and jam, how bout that?"

I found it very hard to criticize this episode, I just hope the 2nd half, 'The Family of Blood' will live up to it.

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

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Sunday, 27 May 2007 - Reviewed by Tony Leith

The best of the season so far easily in my view. Not that the rest have been bad -- even the episodes I would count as outright failures, namely the Dalek two parter, have been honourable ones, failing through an excess of ambition rather than a lack of it. I didn't read Paul Cornell's source novel, so the material was new to me. It's the first story this season which has had anything like the impact of 'The Girl in the Fireplace', say, which while managing to stay true to the spirit of the show took genuine risks with its storytelling and pushed the format envelope. My general observation of this season is that while it has generally been more consistent than Tennant's first, in that none of the episodes have been actually boring (sorry, but wasn't anybody else stifling yawns through fillers like 'The Idiot's Lantern' and -- worse even than that -- 'Fear her'), it's lacked the standouts like 'Dalek', Steven Moffat's two stories, or 'The Impossible Planet' two parter from the first two series. Here's hoping the second part doesn't degenerate into much shrieking, running, and blasting with ray guns. The Russell T Davies template for upping the ante in terms of dramatic tension does seem to rely heavily on subjecting the actors to bursts of aerobic exercise, and Russell, it isn't actually intrinsically much more interesting if they're being required to scamper up and down ladders as opposed to running along corridors. I am hopeful that the story won't fall into that particular pit.

I personally don't mind that we're suddenly introduced to a previously unmentioned and entirely unexplained piece of Gallifreyan kit as the central 'McGuffin' of the story. The later iterations of 'Star Trek' got more insufferable the more pains they took to detail the pseudoscience behind their plot contortions; I for one am willing to grant that if you can swallow the time travelling police box and regenerating protagonist, cavilling at the 'Cameleon Arch' is bit pointless. It serves to put the story, and the Doctor, into a very interesting place dramatically, experiencing the 'one adventure I can never have -- living an ordinary life, day after day'. Of course, John Smith isn't really the Doctor, and this episode has really allowed David Tennant to show off (but not in any ostentatious showboating sense) what a fine actor he really is. John Smith does come across as a distinct personality from the Doctor, with his own charm as well as more diffidence and reticence, and odd patches of abstraction where it is evident he's aware that there's something crucial missing. Tennant looks like he's enjoying himself ( 'Permission to beat him, sir?', pause and then an indifferent and somewhat distracted 'Yes'), not least in the beautifully underplayed and very English romantic scenes with Jessica Hynes.

Freema Ageyman also does some sterling and unselfish work in terms of carrying the narrative burden of the story -- she's the audience's eyes and ears, she's the lynchpin from the familiar (early 21st century Earth, the Tardis, gambolling merrily through time and space) to the truly alien (Edwardian England). If some 'source' at the BBC has been shooting their mouth off about Ms. Ageyman's future -- 'lovely girl, but not quite right for Doctor Who' (why? Too 'urban'?) -- I hope a) this is bollocks and b) a hefty boot is applied firmly to his/her arse at the earliest opportunity. Martha has the potential to be a much more interesting companion than Rose, as long as the writing doesn't shove her in the direction of 'unrequited lurve'. For god's sake, she's hanging out with a 900 year old alien who can take her anywhere in time and space, don't trivialize her or the situation by turning it into an adolescent crush. The X files has a lot to answer for, if you ask me?unresolved sexual tension has its place, but not all powerful attractions are sexual.

Other strengths of the episode -- the aforementioned Jessica Hynes, who in quite limited screen time managed to create a very well realised portrayal of a woman of that era, but knowing what she wants and the terms on which she wants to get it (Mr. Smith never stood a chance..). The evocation of time and place was also very well judged, the schoolboy machine gun crew a chilling reminder of what was about to befall that generation. It would be interesting to see this production team tackle a genuine historical piece i.e sans disembodied gibbering beasties, werewolves, time travelling andriods etc. etc. They've been able to smuggle a surprising amount of actual historical information in via period detail, but having the drama turning on engagement with a given historical situation or character would be something new for this generation of viewers. Granted this would be a risk, but risk taking should be what this show is all about. Our antagonists were also satisfyingly creepy, and refreshingly ready to shoot first and ask questions afterward without offering a preliminary explanation of their dastardly plot. Scarecrows seemed a bit redundant, but I can see the playground potential of imitating their ungainly lollop.

All in all, the episode was quintessentially what Doctor Who should be about -- demanding a bit more of its audience than the general run of mass enterainment television, but offering a bit more in return. What I just said about risk is central to the appeal of the show for me. Your average episode of something like 'Casualty' for example, well made though it might be, operates within pretty well defined parameters. By and large, I think that's probably how the viewing public like it -- you know what you can expect. Dr Who isn't -- or shouldn't -- be like that. The original producers of the show initially took viewers from the comforting familiarity of a fog bound London to a Paleolithic moorland, and from there to a petrified forest on an alien planet. It's not likely that this would elicit a shrug, a lunge for the off button maybe, but not a shrug. I hope the production team continue to be willing to take chances of the same order. Sometimes they won't pay off, but when they do, they'll create stories that will live in the imagination of a generation. More important, they'll enlarge the imagination of a generation. Now, that's public service broadcasting.