Human nature / The family of blood (2007)

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This two-parter was first broadcast on 26 May - 2 June 2007. A brief and somewhat spoiler-ish summary of the plot: God, in his mercy, becomes man. Man dies. God lives.

'Human nature' is a great 45 minutes of Doctor Who. In my original review I described it as "'Pyramids of Mars' for the 21st century', and after seeing it again that still sums it up for me. The episode's got great villains, lumbering scarecrows, great period detail, and excellent performances from, in particular, "John Smith" and his love interest nurse Redfern. 'The family of blood' has all the great qualities of its predecessor, but near the end the story goes off the rails and never quite finds its way back again.

What happens is this. (Spoilers ahead, obviously.)

At the start of 'Human nature' the Doctor has the Tardis turn him into a human as a last-resort means to escape 'the family of blood', a group of aliens who have been tracking him trough space and time. He ends up as a teacher in pre-WWI rural England who has no idea who he really is, though he occasionally dreams about being a time-travelling alien and Martha is there to snap him out of it when necessary.

The first "WTF?!" moment comes near the end of 'The family of blood', when the family have located the Doctor, in spite of him being human. The Doctor turns himself back into a Time Lord, seeks out the family in their own spaceship and effortlessly vanquishes them with nothing more than a bit of 'olfactory misdirection' and a couple of flipped switches, which renders everything that had gone before in both episodes completely unnecessary.

The second "WTF?!" moment arrives as the script attempts to explain away the first one. As we watch the Doctor mete out some surreal punishments to the family, a voiceover from one of them tells us that the Doctor hadn't been hiding out of fear, but out of mercy.
Though this seems to come out of the blue at the time, with hindsight the idea makes some level of sense. At the beginning of 'Human nature' the Doctor just appears to want to avoid a confrontation at all costs, and though we assume that this is because of the threat that the family poses to him there's nothing to actually indicate this. Also, the issue of the Doctor going too far in punishing his enemies had come up before in 'The runaway bride'.
The first problem is that, if the Doctor wanted to avoid unnecessary bloodshed and suffering, he's not doing a great job here. Several innocent people die, at one point the entire human race is in danger of being wiped out, and even a better-than-worst-case outcome might have left Martha stranded in an era where she didn't belong.
The other problem is that the idea of the Doctor as an omnipotent, god-like being completely changes the nature of the entire series. Action adventure stories lose all their tension when we know that the protagonist could end any threat whenever he wants and is never in any real danger. It also takes away much of the potential for character development for the Doctor, since people grow through conflict and adversity and gods usually don't encounter much of either.

My verdict:


Mostly great, too bad about the Whodolatry.

My original reviews of the two episodes:
On-site link, opens in this window07/05/28 Doctor Who: Human nature
On-site link, opens in this window07/06/16 Doctor Who: The family of blood

More about Doctor Who

An introduction:
On-site link, opens in this window Doctor Who reviews: introduction

More "nice!" Doctor Who:
On-site link, opens in this window Doctor Who reviews: nice!

More Doctor Who with David Tennant:
On-site link, opens in this window Doctor Who reviews: 2005 - now

Similar stories:
On-site link, opens in this window Doctor Who reviews: genre benders and history twisters

More about this two-parter

Episode guides:
Off-site link, opens in new window BBC Episode guide (Human nature, The family of blood)

Episode reviews:
Off-site link, opens in new window Behind the sofa (Human nature, The family of blood)
Off-site link, opens in new window Outpost Gallifrey (Human nature, The family of blood)

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