3x08 “Human Nature”
He's like fire and ice and rage. He's like the night, and the storm in the heart of the sun. He's ancient and forever... He burns at the center of time and he can see the turn of the universe... And... he's wonderful.
I love these two episodes. They are two of my favorite episodes of all of Doctor Who, due in no small part to David Tennant’s incredible acting. He really becomes a different person as John Smith, and makes you care about John Smith so that you join him on his emotional journey and mourn his loss when he must become the Doctor once more. So let’s start talking about this episode, shall we?
Setting the story in 1913 was an absolutely brilliant choice. Nineteen thirteen is still the Victorian Era in so many ways.
Rocastle: You need to be better than the best. Those targets are tribesmen from the dark continent.
Tim Latimer: That's exactly the problem, sir. They only have spears.
Rocastle: Oh dear me. Latimer takes it upon himself to make us realize how wrong we all are. I hope, Latimer, that one day you may have a just and proper war in which to prove yourself.
This idea of war as a noble and manly thing is a hold over from the Victoria nEra, but these ideals are about to come crashing down. There are rumblings in Europe. Europe is on the edge of WWI and the Modern Era. And you really feel that tension in this episode. Being set in a military school, these boys are going to be going to the war. Many of them will die. This is the Lost Generation.
And you know, the Family of Blood are excellent villains. The way that Son of Mine tilts his head with that crooked smile on his face is just so wonderfully creepy. Daughter of Mine with her red balloon is that fantastic trope of an evil child. Even their names "Son of Mine" etc, lend this episode a sense of the mythic. And those animated scarecrows are just perfectly scary. The plot of this episode is not incredibly complex, but as a character piece, these episodes are almost unrivaled.
In spite of my quibbles with how Martha’s character arc was handled (as I discussed in my recap of “42”), I really do have a lot of admiration for the way Martha handled her situation in this story. I am not known for being patient or long-suffering. I would never have been able to suffer through this with as much grace as she did. And I love the way that she tests Jenny to see if she’s human after she suspects that something is off. The was super clever.
The one minor thing that bothers me with Martha in this episode is that bit when she’s back in the Tardis and slips into self-pitying Martha mode.
Martha Jones: You had to, didn’t you? You had to go and fall in love with a human… and it wasn’t me.
The line would have been so much better if it had ended after “You had to go and fall in love with a human.” And then just let Freema’s acting sell the rest. Actually saying, “and it wasn’t me” pushes it a bit too far towards Martha just feeling sorry for herself and I HATE that aspect of her storyline. But really that’s my only quibble with these two episodes. Even the bit in the next episode doesn’t bug me for some reason. Maybe because it just felt like “desperate times call for desperate measures”.
But in spite of that scene, Martha really is brilliant in this episode, especially in the scene at the dance that continues into the next episode. And the way that she is there for the Doctor at the end of the next episode, offering to go talk to Joan is lovely.
John Smith is a wonderful character. He has this sweet boyish awkwardness and eagerness about him. He’s an ordinary man thrust into an impossible situation.
John Smith: Mankind doesn't need warfare and bloodshed to prove itself. Everyday life can provide honor and valor. Let's hope that from now on this country can find its heroes in smaller places. In the most ordinary of deeds.
That quote encapsulates one of my favorite things about John Smith and RTD-era Who. It is all about showing how ordinary people can be heroes. And this time around John Smith is one of those ordinary people. (Also, it’s completely cute that after he saves the day with the cricket ball, high on the excitement of it all, he asks Joan to the dance.)
John Smith, this ordinary man, has greatness conferred upon him. And that’s terrifying. That look of fear on his face when he sees the sonic screwdriver tugs at my heart strings. It’s impossible. The thing from his dreams. But those dreams are impossible. He is John Smith. A teacher. He doesn’t know what is happening to him. It’s this wonderful blend of fear, self-doubt, and confusion.
I also love Joan Redfern (and Jessica Hynes who plays her- she’s brilliant in Spaced). She’s kind and caring, but there is so much more to her than just that. She’s experienced loss and she knows first hand the true cost of war. Don’t get me wrong, in her treatment of Martha she is very much a woman of her time period and station in life, but I do think she is a sweet and compassionate woman with a quiet strength about her.
Seeing Joan and John fall in love is just so sweet. The way that she gently hints about the village dance is too cute.
Joan Redfern: Do you think you’ll go?
John Smith: I… uh… I hadn’t thought about it.
Joan Redfern: It’s been ages since I’ve been to a dance. Only, no one’s asked me.
John Smith: Well, I should imagine that you’d be… um… I mean… uh… I-I never thought you’d be one for- I mean, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t- If you do, you may not, um- I probably won’t. But even if I did, then I couldn’t. I mean, I wouldn’t to-
Joan Redfern: [interrupting] -the stairs.
John Smith: What about the stairs?
Joan Redfern: They’re right behind you!
Seriously! How cute are they?
And then he shows her the Journal of Impossible Things whch I absolutely adore. Back when this episode first came out people capped this scene and transcribed the writing and it really is wonderful. And of course since I am a Ten/Rose shipper, I’m going to take this little moment to talk about Rose’s page.
It’s full of phrases like “perfect Rose” and “In my dreams I keep asking a girl where to find one, and she is dressed in the most extraordinarily immodest way.” “She will not answer me, and she keeps walking away.” Even when the Time Lord is locked away deep inside of this human body, the Doctor is still searching for Rose.
Joan Redfern: Quite an eye for the pretty girls.
John Smith: Oh, no. She’s just an invention. This character. Rose, I call her, Rose- seems to disappear later on.
But just the look of happiness on his face as he shares this part of his life with Joan is so heartwarming. He’s just so eager. These two are entirely too sweet together.
Joan Redfern [looking at the drawing John Smith has done of her]: You’ve made me far too beautiful.
John Smith: Well, that’s how I see you.
Joan Redern: Widows aren’t supposed to be beautiful. I think the world would rather we stopped. Is that fair? That we stop?
John Smith: That’s not fair at all.
Their kiss is wonderfully shy and uncertain at first. Joan is a widow who probably thought that she’d never find love again, and John is a bookish school teacher who has never had a relationship with a woman before. But they’ve found each other and they’ve found love. Unfortunately this is Doctor Who, so by the end of the episode it is already starting to go to crap.
3x09 “The Family of Blood”
My love for this story continues into the second episode. I think that the exploration of John, Joan and the Doctor is brilliantly done, and I love the fairytale feel to the Family of Blood's end.
That scene where the school boys are mowing down the scarecrows is brilliant because this is exactly what these boys will be doing in a few years time, hiding in the trenches and firing at the enemy. The look of horror on John’s Smith’s face as he realizes what he’s doing, getting these boys involved just gets to me. All of that paired with the choral music in the background makes for an incredibly moving and emotional scene that really goes towards setting the tone for later events in the episode.
Ok, now to move onto all the wonderful character exploration in this episode. I’m going to start with Joan because I love her. She is so strong when it matters.
John Smith: How can you think I'm not real? When I kissed you, was that a lie?
Joan Redfern: No, it wasn't, no
John Smith: But this 'Doctor' sounds like some, some romantic lost prince. Would you rather that? Am I not enough?
Joan Redfern: No, that's not true, never.
John Smith: I've got to go.
Joan Redfern: Martha was right about one thing though; those boys, they're children. John Smith wouldn't want them to fight, never mind the Doctor. The John Smith I was getting to know... he knows it's wrong, doesn't he?
John Smith: What choice do I have?
Oh Joan. I love that she points out how insane it is to have those poor boys fight. I love that she cares about that instead of just accepting it. And I love that she knows that John Smith wouldn’t like it either if he stopped to think. She knows that John Smith is a good man, and she loves him. To me that makes her actions later in the episode so very brave. She doesn’t like it, but Joan knows what has to be done. She knows that she has to be the strong one because John can’t do it on his own. So she asks for some privacy and even though it is hard for her, she tells John that he has to become the Doctor again.
And I must say, I love this bit at the end.
Joan Redfern: He was braver than you, in the end- that ordinary man. You chose to change. He chose to die.
When the Doctor asks Joan to go along with him, she can’t. The Doctor isn’t the same man that she fell in love with. And she knows that Death is his constant companion. But in some respects the Doctor wants so badly to be able to be John Smith, so he convinces himself that he could make a go of it with Joan because there is a part of John Smith still inside of him. But he was right when he told Rose back on Bad Wolf Bay, that she is there “living a life, day after day. The one adventure I could never have.” The universe needs the Doctor to be extraordinary. He can’t be ordinary, and Joan can’t go with him.
The Doctor: Travel with me.
Joan Redfern: As what?
The Doctor: My companion.
Joan Redfern: But that's not fair. What must I look like to you, Doctor? I must seem so very small.
The Doctor: No! We could start again- I'd like that. You and me- we could try, at least. Cause everything that John Smith is and was, I'm capable of that too.
Joan Redfern: I can't.
The Doctor: Please come with me.
Joan Redfern: I can't.
The Doctor: Why not?
Joan Redfern: John Smith is dead and you look like him.
The Doctor [as he walks closer to Joan]: But he's here, inside. If you look in my eyes-
Joan Redfern [refusing to meet the Doctor's eyes]: Answer me this - just one question, that's all. If the Doctor had never visited us, if he'd never chosen this place... on a whim... would anybody here have died?
[the Doctor does not answer]
Joan Redfern: You can go now.
John’s struggle as he comes to term with being just a fiction is absolutely heart breaking. He doesn’t want to die, but he knows that he has to. Those people died because of him, because of the Doctor. And in order to stop the killing, John Smith himself must die so that the Doctor can return and save them. But watching John wrestle with it and rage at death is just absolutely tear jerking.
Joan Redfern: I'm Sorry, John. But you wrote about it. The Blue Box. You dreamt of a blue box.
John Smith: I'm not...
John Smith: I'm John Smith, that's all I want to be, John Smith. With his life... and his job... and his love. Why can't I be John Smith? Isn't he a good man? Why can't I stay?
Martha Jones: But we need the Doctor.
John Smith: Who am I then? Nothing...? I'm just a story?
That moment where Joan is telling John that he needs to become the Doctor just hurts.
Joan Redfern: If I could do this instead of you, then I would. … I’d hoped- but my hopes aren’t important.
John Smith: He won’t love you.
Johan Redfern: If he’s not you, then I don’t want him too. I had one husband and he died, and I never thought… ever again, and then you…
And then they hold the watch and see the life that they might have had, and damnit if I’m not crying.
Joan Redfern: The Time Lord has such adventures, but he could never have a life like that.
John Smith: And yet I could.
John Smith, this man that Joan has come to love and who I, as a viewer, have come to love has to die in order to save the world. And it’s not fair, but that’s the way it is. He has to become the Doctor once more, but before that, he gets to see a glimpse of the life that he might have had. It’s like the Tantalus myth, he is able to see this happy and normal existence, but he will never be able to have it.
The Doctor in this episode… oh the Doctor. Who would want to become the Doctor? He might have adventures and save the world, but he is a profoundly lonely man.
John Smith: You're this doctor's companion, can't you help? What exactly do you do for him? Why does he need you?
Martha Jones: Because he's lonely.
John Smith: ...And that's what you want me to become?
There is a reason that John Smith doesn’t want to become the Doctor. On the surface, the Doctor’s life seems appealing, but there is so much tragedy there and so much loss and loneliness.
John Smith: You knew this all along and yet you watched while Nurse Redfern and I...
Martha Jones: I didn't know how to stop you. He gave me a list of things to watch out for, but that wasn't included.
John Smith: Falling in love? That didn't even occur to him?
Martha Jones: No.
John Smith: Then what sort of man is that? And now you expect me to die?
And yes, the Doctor is the sort of man that would never consider falling in love a possibility. That’s part of the reason that I love the Doctor/Rose story so much. It wasn’t something he could have expected or predicted, but there it was. And after losing her, he doesn’t see it as something that could happen again. It’s not something he would think to give Martha instructions about.
Joan Redfern: Where is he... John Smith?
The Doctor: He's in here somewhere.
Joan Redfern: Like a story... could you change back?
The Doctor: Yes.
Joan Redfern: Will you?
The Doctor: No.
(A brief aside: This echoes the language the Rose used after Nine regenerated.) In spite of the fact that the Doctor won’t change back, I think the Doctor feels guilty for what he did. He came into this woman’s life because he was hiding from The Family of Blood and in the end he broke her heart. He didn’t think of the effect that using the chameleon arch might have on other people. I think the Doctor feels like he’s behaved badly which is why he offers her a chance to try and make a go of it with Joan. It’s why in End of Time, Part II he goes to see Verity Newman and to confirm that Joan lived a happy life. He doesn’t want to feel too guilty.
Son of Mine: He never raised his voice. That was the worst thing - the fury of the Time Lord - and then we discovered why. Why this Doctor, who had fought with gods and demons, why he had run away from us and hidden. He was being kind. He wrapped my father in unbreakable chains forged in the heart of a dwarf star. He tricked my mother into the event horizon of a collapsing galaxy to be imprisoned there, forever. He still visits my sister, once a year, every year. I wonder if one day he might forgive her, but there she is. Can you see? He trapped her inside a mirror. Every mirror. If ever you look at your reflection and see something move behind you just for a second, that's her. That's always her. As for me, I was suspended in time and the Doctor put me to work standing over the fields of England, as their protector. We wanted to live forever. So the Doctor made sure we did.
What a wonderful end to a fairytale of a story. It’s so perfectly creepy and a bit horrific. Why does the Doctor punish the Family of Blood so harshly? The Doctor is angry. This is what happens when the Doctor is angry. He’s angry that the Family of Blood killed those innocent people. He’s angry that he felt like he was forced to hide, and he’s angry that in doing so he broke Joan’s heart.
These two episodes are just some brilliant pieces of television. David Tennant and Jessica Hynes are just magnificent in their roles. Paul Cornell's story and writing is Doctor Who at its finest- exploring character and telling stories that grip your heart. These episodes might not be as frightening as "Blink", but they pack and emotional wallop that few other episodes are capable of.