"...Funny how dreams slip away but
I remember one thing, it all took place in the future.
In the year of Our Lord 2007..."
It's 1913 in England, and an ordinary schoolteacher called John Smith dreams of adventures in time and space and a mysterious blue box. But, when lights in the sky herald the arrival of something strange and terrible, Smith's maid, Martha
And for her it's the last straw.
With five SERIES 3 episode remaining, I'm doing so well at the moment. It has been difficult. A chore and a bit of a palaver.
Avoiding pre-episode trailers, fan-websites & forums, and even the official DOCTOR WHO website to ensure that I knew nothing or least very little about an episode. Why? Last year, I became disenchanted with the watching a new episode that I had seemingly knew back-to-front even before it had been completely broadcast such was the blanket coverage of trailers & spoilers.
With HUMAN NATURE everything was (virtually) new, fresh and absorbing - even the original novel had escaped me. And thank heavens it did.
In years to come, Paul Cornell's episode will be an iconic piece of storytelling amongst DOCTOR WHO fans as it writes a new chapter for the protagonist's character - or lack of it - which they attempt to rationalise what has happened him (and how the events that affect "John Smith" actually relate to the "the Doctor". If he has a sibling, will that offspring be a human or an Earth-Gallifrey-hybrid?). A Time Lord exorcised and living a self-imposed lie living as a human amongst other humans. For decades, viewers are witnessed the Doctor avoiding this cleansing and now we see him embracing the event in order to thwart (literally throwing them of his scent) the Family (of Blood). An interesting twist on the "doppelganger" format.
The script (and themes) is more (Jane) Austen or (Anthony) Trollope than DOCTOR WHO, and that made the production more rewarding than the usual offering. Characters are stereotypically rounded. Not a criticism but praise. There have been too many NEW SERIES episodes where characters are poorly written and lack conviction within the storyline but not within HUMAN NATURE . Viewers know who they are, what they do, and what will happen to them. Arrogant, stiff upper-lipped schoolboys will fall victim to the "baddies", the quiet & subjugated "fag" will be avenged, and those close to the Doctor/John Smith will be threatened and rescued.
However, HUMAN NATURE is Tennant's straight acting vehicle for the future, demonstrating a versatility that - within DOCTOR WHO history - only Patrick Troughton could exceed. From alien hero to awkward chaste schoolmaster to tender lover all within the space of 45 minutes, and we believe him. Memorisingly so. Our generation's John Gielgud? Unfortunately, the BBC is going to have a mission impossible when it comes to casting the Eleventh Doctor. Both his scenes with Maid Martha and Matron Joan are subtly charming and pitch perfect.
On the surface the episode is Doctor-heavy and Martha-lite however she is central to protecting the deceit, and Freema Agyeman, once again, assumes the role with confidence reassuring the viewer that all is not lost. Briefly, the story bravely touches upon the notions of racist and class (Time Lord and human relationship), with Martha at the forefront.
INT: Housemaids, Martha and Jenny are scrubbing the floor.
Hutchinson: Tell me then, Jones, with hands like those how you can tell when something's clean?
Hutchinson and Baines walk away laughing.
Martha: That's very funny, Sir.
Jenny: Don't answer back.
And later, Martha ponders - in a sideways fashion - the issue of class as she seems to have been abandoned, unwanted by the man she knew as the Doctor.
INT: TARDIS interior.
Martha (about the Doctor/Smith): You had to. Didn't you. Had to fall in love with a human. And it wasn't me.
At this point, after two-and-half series, I am beginning to dislike this persona of our Time Lord for he is forever "teasing" his companions (Rose and Martha, and to a lesser extent Sarah Jane Smith) into the belief that there will be more to their relationship other than just time/space travel. He either doesn't care about his traveling companions emotional needs or he takes a perverse pleasure in laying a trail of biscuit crumbs for them to follow only for them to find an empty wrapper at the trail's end. He's one mixed up alien; once reverted back to Time Lord will the Doctor recall any of his time as the human that tasted love & affection?
INT: Church Hall Annual Dance
Baines (to Doctor/Smith): Have you enjoyed it, Doctor? Being human? Has it taught you wonderful things? Are you better, richer, wiser? Then let's see you answer this. Maid or matron. You friend or your lover? Your choice!
Alongside the intelligent and period perfect dialogue, the production standard (direction, design/lighting, costume and music) is stunningly inspired and "timeless" that demonstrates that this NEW SERIES of DOCTOR WHO can meticulously generate environments both in the past and in the future whilst the CLASSIC SERIES managed to be adroit at the former and failed on the latter. Even the invisible spacecraft (homage to SHADA?) was visionary, in a fashion. However, perhaps, John Smith's study-room was poorly "grained" (the wooden paneled walls looked as they were used in an "am-dram" production of THE MOUSETRAP - the brush-strokes were too broad and brash) but that is a minor point - which proves how precise the episode (and I assume the next) was crafted.
Of course, one of most intriguing aspects within HUMAN NATURE was the use of the Chameleon Arch (and the "depository" fob watch) to wipe Time Lord biology, storing it within the timepiece for later retrieval. Glimpses of the past and the present are revealed as Timothy Latimer (who is he really?) opens the watch that could add nothing or something to SERIES 3. Distant voices, warning of death & doom:
Female Voice: Darkness is coming.
Doctor: Keep me a way from the false and empty man.
Male Voice: Last of the Time Lords. Last of their wise & ancient race.
Female Voice: The faces of men.
I am sure Derek Jacobi was heard as the "male Voice". Or perhaps I was just hoping.
However, HUMAN NATURE is merely a set-up for the conclusion next week and what a superfluous and rarely disappointing set-up that will be, like THE EMPTY CHILD and THE DOCTOR DANCES for decades to come.
A singular episode that is, seemingly, peerless.
Until THE FAMILY OF BLOOD?