We will remember
All those episodes that fell
So this one might live.
The Family Of Blood
Attention blog readers! Is YOUR entire existence based on a lie? Are YOUR dreams ultimately petty and meaningless? Then stop writing to Jim'll Fix It. Dear Jim. Please can you fix it for me to be an important figure on the world stage. Signed, Archduke Ferdinand...
This is been a public service announcement on behalf of the Neurotic Gallifreyan Party.
How in the name of God is anybody going to top this any time soon? The whole world and David Blunkett's dog is aware by now that the source book is held up as a pinnacle of the New Adventures series, but it cannot be overstated; this is the first episode ever in the history of Doctor Who that views like a novel instead of a script. Even Genesis Of The Daleks has a whiff of Bluebottle reading his own stage directions. It's also utterly superior to a good ninety-odd percent of all book adaptations you will ever see on the screen in this day and age, because its heart and soul isn't being swamped by in-your-face special effects and pretty pictures that discourage the viewer from using his imagination; the whole point of reading a book in the first place. I said it last week, I'll say it again; if your series need to scrimp on its CGI budget, THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT.
And if you found the Doctor's torment painful to watch as John Smith's psyche falls apart while everything he holds as sacred is stripped away, be fucking glad the book wasn't Paul Cornell's Timewyrm: Revelation instead. You'd have pulled a Katarina before forty-five minutes were out.
I'm a bit late to the party and I'll be here for another week if I don't keep to the salient points, so here goes...
- A cliffhanger which the Doctor isn't immediately instrumental in resolving. FINALLY. Why did it take two and a half years? Life doesn't pause every time you nip down the shops, so why should most Doctor Who two-parters feel like two seperate chunks instead of one complete story with a decent bridge?
- Aliens who kill just for the fun of it, who at the end of the day, are rubbish. And not Slitheen-rubbish either. Daleks kill because they're conditioned to, Cybermen kill for the sake of efficiency. But neither derive any satisfaction from doing so; in fact very few Doctor Who enemies actually do, save the Master and Davros, which marks the Family out in the two-parter's great bait and switch. What's so special about the Family? Absolutely nothing. The Doctor runs and hides not because they're the threat we'd been led to believe, but because he simply can't be bothered to smite them with his own overwhelming dominance. Take the Family away from their stolen technology and they're helpless, a gang of cosmic bullies and nothing more. Audacious, yet utter brilliance.
- The Roahl Dahl punishments. As the great man would tell us through dozens of his own novels, kids absolutely love watching a bully get theirs with delicious irony. In Human Nature the book this is very Seventh Doctor, but as in The Runaway Bride it's also a key cold-hearted characteristic of the Tenth Doctor that he occasionally gets so fed up with it all that he drops right back into 'don't fuck with me' mode. Ultimately, this is the most human facet of all.
"Be fucking glad the book wasn't Paul Cornell's Timewyrm: Revelation instead. You'd have pulled a Katarina before forty-five minutes were out"
- The utterly pragmatic and ruthlessly logical worldview of death. The object isn't to die for your country, it's to make the other soldier die for his. The most shocking thing about the cottage isn't the inference that all the occupants are dead, it's how casually Nurse Redfern deduces and accepts the fact, since there's nothing she can do about it. There'll be time from emotion later if we survive this, and then there'll be some hefty responsibility to pay. And yet on one paradoxical level, the Doctor isn't responsible for the carnage this time at all. Just what was the TARDIS thinking, forcing him to aclimatise to a time period that flew in the face of the positive virtues of humanity that previous Doctors would extoll, but not so much that when faced with the choice he wouldn't wake up, go "Shit, what have I been doing for three months?", and then bugger off toot-suite?
- "He was a braver man than you." Yes, yes he was - because nobody was there who could administer the slap and tell him look, you've already died nine times before now.
- "You'll like this bit." This week, Latimer adopted the mantle of the audience's projected conciousness, his litany of praise to the Doctor echoeing that of every small boy across the land, and more than kept up the exemplary standards of the entire cast. It's the bit every child likes when the TARDIS dematerialises, because they know he'll back in another fantastic adventure; maybe next week, maybe next season, maybe, in little Tim Latimer's case, fifty years. But he'll always be back. Which leads to...
- The Remembrance Day punchline. And then, after bitchslapping us for thirty solid minutes that death is inevitable so you'd better get to it, suckers, Paul Cornell turns around and hits us with that. Yes, there is a point to it all after all. In a lesser writer's hands, the moment could so easily have been mawkish or manipulative instead of genuinely moving; but there's nothing hollow, cynical or condescending about it in the slightest. The perfect end to a beautiful episode.
2007 is really turning into a vintage year for Doctor Who, isn't it? None of your crap 1979 table wines or the cheap Krug at one of Jeffrey Archer's parties for this season. As fans, we're wont to suggest that Doctor Who is never better than when it draws upon it's past (without going 1980s overboard, that is), so how can you not adore a season that, as well as pushing all the right old-Who and new-Who buttons in equal measure, pays its own tribute to the wilderness years as well as the style of the old Doctor Who Monthly comic strips? Yeah, there have been a couple of right clunkers that are as much to do with personal taste as they are rank silliness, but the series is reaching highs this year we'd never have dared dreamed were possible back in March 2005.
Next week (oh just pretend): anyone got a pin the size of St Paul's?
The Bumper Book Of Made-Up Doctor Who Facts has this to say about The Family Of Blood: Christmas 1914, Germany 2, England 3. The winning goal in the trenches was scored by Latimer and the Germans have made us pay for it ever since.