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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.

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

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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

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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.

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

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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??

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

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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.

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

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Sunday, 27 May 2007 - Reviewed by Angus Gulliver

Last week I mentioned the series perhaps being stuck in fourth gear. This week, maybe, we shifted into top. If next week's "Family Of Blood" worthily wraps up this two-parter then we will have the most successful adventure of 2007 for the good Doctor.

As we all know, this story is based upon the 1995 novel by Paul Cornell. I was generously lent a copy of this by the friend we watched "Smith & Jones" with (Hi Chris!). Only after reading this did I seek out reviews, and I generally agree with those who feel there's a good story in there but the book concentrates too much on the Aubertides without making them particularly interesting characters.

Thankfully the premise seems to have been changed somewhat for the TV version. The Doctor must change physically and mentally into a human because he's being chased, and as a Time Lord could easily be tracked.

So we have John Smith, English public schoolteacher in 1913, as the clouds of war are forming. Cornell and director Charles Palmer skillfully get us into the story quickly, indeed I felt this episode established a lot of essential facts and packed in a lot of action quickly but without leaving the viewer feeling rushed. The marks, I believe, of a good writer and director.

The Doctor has "hidden" his real persona inside a pocket watch, which is found and briefly opened by one of his pupils, leading the alien Family of Blood (no mention of Aubertides) to locate him, The Family posess an (excellent CGI) mostly invisible spaceship complete with forcefield that is activated when anybody touches the ship. And they use spooky scarecrows as soldiers, these deserve a special mention for their design is truly un-nerving!

The Doctor (or should I say John Smith) begins to fall for Joan, and eventually invites her to a local dance where the aliens finally locate him...cue "scream" and the cliffhanger.

Regular readers will know I was not overly impressed with Cornell's "Father's Day" from 2005. I felt it was great dramatic television but had nothing much to do with Doctor Who. However, despite the main character being effectively absent "Human Nature" works much better. Like "Father's Day" it gives us a chance to focus on the companion, but with the Doctor still very much being the central character and crucial to the plot.

As the first of a two-parter, this does its job in an excellent manner. It was entertaining, I didn't catch myself clockwatching. It was scary in places, it was well written with observations on racism and sexism gently woven into a script that was correctly more concerned with telling a story. Roll on next week!


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