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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.

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