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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.

FILTER: - Series 3/29 - Tenth Doctor - Television