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May 26, 2007

And now for the moment you've all been waiting for...

Impeccable.  There's no other word for it.  Remember how we all felt after Daleks In Manhattan, so cautious not to stamp classic status onto something in case it all went wrong.  Despite the inclusion of more alien possession and armies (which I'm willing to relax about since they seem to be de-facto genre elements now), nothing and no one in this forty-five minutes that is Human Nature put a foot wrong and its sequel, The Family of Blood is going to have to be a real stinker for this not to be listed as one of the greatest television stories of all time.  When the only thing you can find wrong with an episode is a slightly dodgy bit CG scaffolding it's difficult not to simply list everyone who made it happen and drift off into sycophancy so I'll try not to.

Instead I'll attempt to look below the surface and try to find the key to its success.  I think it's that the episode managed to be both traditional and ground-breaking in the same breath, melding traditional expectations and storytelling with contemporary narrative techniques.  An array of characters greeting the threat from various angles before the Doctor becomes involved has been the series narrative stock in trade for decades and works much better here than in the Dalek story because that threat is as much of mystery to us as to Martha ranking up the tension.

"It's the expression of mental imagery from the Tardis console room to the trenches, elegantly showing rather than telling the audience what they need to know."

But within that there were flashes backwards and forwards initially to elegantly explain how The Doctor became John Smith then to articulate the extra perception of the boy with a gift.  Highlander-lite perhaps but its an innovation for this series and welcomed because it gives the show a much higher quality.  It's the expression of mental imagery from the Tardis console room to the trenches, elegantly showing rather than telling the audience what they need to know.  I've been guilty of slapping a cinematic label on some episodes but that was absolutely true here - there's nothing else that looks quite like this on British television right now.

It's a story that's also very aware of the history of the show, both in its new and old form.  Certainly with Paul Cornell writing and Russell T Davies tinkering there can't fail to be something that doesn't resonate with the old guard.  But unlike plonking the Macra in as a joke, the material here looked to the very DNA of the series, with the mention of its creators as literally the mother and father of John Smith and the following image, literally taking a page out of the show's history:

This could have been a picture of the Ninth Doctor only and in middle of everything else in John Smith's dream journal, which given that its filled with references to the new series that's exactly what you'd expect.  Except there's Bill, Sylv, the tops of what look like Pete and Pat's heads and right in the middle Paul.  It's the first time internally within an episode of the new series that the faces of those that came before have been acknowledged and strengthens the continuity and is an expression of the fact that despite the gaps it really is all one story.  This animation shows were the portraits came from (created by someone at Outpost Gallifrey.  Fans, eh?  Cuh).

A glimpse, then it's gone but at least it's there.  And like the re-emergence of Gallifrey at an opportune moment once again you wonder whether it's planting something for the future for the forty-fifth anniversary next year.  The appearance of McGann here once again suggests that if the apparent adversary for the end of the series is he who must be obeyed that his fate in San Francisco might even be referred to.  I know all of this is an over analysis of a single page in a prop artist's fantasy but it just demonstrates the integrity of the episode that such details can send this fan imagination into a spin.

"know all of this is an over analysis of a single page in a prop artist's fantasy but it just demonstrates the integrity of the episode that such details can send this fan imagination into a spin."

This is also the first story that really expresses Clive's warning to Rose about the implications of the Doctor and who he is.  Something that has bubbled under the surface throughout the history of the series is the extent to which the Doctor's appearance in breaking a status quo creates more harm than good, that he does in fact bring death.  Essentially what happens in this episode is that the Tardis deposits him in a place and time to hide him from some monsters who when they arrive vaporize or possess humans in order to get to him - in other words isn't he responsible for their deaths by bringing those monsters here?  Is his protection, his life worth more than theirs?

Questions for next time perhaps.  My feeling is that The Family of Blood will be revealed to be attack dogs for Mr Saxon, like the Headhunter from the BBC7 audios sent into space and time to track him down, a scent created by the phone calls that Martha made home in the previous episodes.  If that's the case it'll be a far more satisfying linking arc than either Bad Wolf or Torchwood ever were.  Actually, I've just had a horrifying thought.  What if Captain Jack is secretly working for Mr Saxon and the fighting hand was another way of homing in on the Doctor when he's in the right century - that he's not simply looking for a reunion with an old friend but following orders?  It'd put a whole new complexion on the past series of Torchwood if that was the case ...

Comments

Doctors 1 - 4 run in sequence anticlockwise from 3 o'clock, then 5 - 7 run clockwise from 5 o'clock with 8 in the middle.

I think its telling that the first 3 Doctors are less defined compared to the later ones from the classic series.

I'm going to do some actual work now.

What the hell happened to Troughton's head?

And why is "changing / different faces" scribbled all over the page 900 times?!

Rassilon:

Yes, a double-spiral.

As I say, it's your Seal of Rassilon!

IS IT CANON - Of course it is, go back and watch "The Chase" again. The Beatles are quite clearly Who-Canon.

clock/anti/rassilon - Well, isn't a Rassilonian Seal a stylized infinity symbol? And isn't an infinity symbol simply a clockwise circled stacked on an anti-clockwise symbol? You're both right. Let's not fight alright?

Changing/different faces: Well, both John Smith and the Tenth Doctor are complete raving nutters. That might have SOMETHING to do with it.

Troughton's head: I'm sure Troughton's wondered that as well.

poking with sticks: But people have graduated university on the basis of theses written about Doctor Who.

I must admit, after seeing the diary, I was looking for the Torchwood scribble / Bad Wolf... we didn't even have myself (The Master) in there - how dare they forger such things, but still put farting green blobs in there. Stupid slitheen!

McCoy is the best one. Of course, I would say that...

Colin has a fetching beard. And is that Troughton or a Monoid? :P

Still, as they say, squee.

I wonder if there was a likeness issue -- you have to pay to use the proper likeness so get something that's almost but not exactly like...

About likenesses.... let's not forget, maybe the Doctor's never bothered to take sketching classes before. For being drawn completely from memory of faces from dreams, I thought they were very good drawings.

Considering most people couldn't accurately sketch their OWN face from memory, I'd say..

Not only that, but that last time we saw the Doctor draw something, he was complete shite (Empty Child), that's pretty damned impressive.

He wasn't adverse to giving Turlough a hand though with his etchings.

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