« A Most Uncommon Man | Main | Human Behaviour »

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

"It's twins, my love! We'll call them Pip and Jane!"

I'm surprised no one has spotted that one of the characters is called Jeremy Bent, which is only a ham away from being another reference.

Jeremy BAINES, surely (you'll need to forgive me if your tongue was in your cheek with that one).

Loved last night's, first in a long time I felt I wanted to see again. Found young Bentham's cringeing demise unaccountably upsetting, thought the pace of the story was perfect, and loved the fan pleasing touches. Great stuff, and riven with fury at the prospect of being out next week and having to wait until Sunday to find out what happens next.

The first time I saw it I thought it was Bent too (I even giggled) so you are not alone there, Stu. But then again I was also hoping that the three boys the Doctor administers were called Pemberton, Gatiss and Shearsmith...

Checks Wikipedia. Yes, BAINES. That's a shame. I enjoyed that giggle too. It reminded me of the moment when someone in a David Fury written episode '24' name checked Jane Espenson. Oh well.

What an absolute corker of an episode.

Who'd have thought the chick from Spaced had some decent acting chops?

The only horrible feeling I have is turning Star Trekian in part 2. John Smith finds the watch as an old man, becomes a Time Lord again and everything resets itself or something along those lines. Oh, and I hope Mr Saxon doesn't turn out to be the grandson of John Smith or some such tosh.

"Oh, and I hope Mr Saxon doesn't turn out to be the grandson of John Smith or some such tosh." Oh, urgh I hadn't thought of that. No no no no no no that would be bad..

I've actually admired Jessica Hynes nee Stevenson for some time, although she seems to be one of those actors you see more in bit parts and cameos than pulling thier own show. Well, except for "According to Bex", but we won't discuss that. She also seems to be one of those fortunate people that loses a great deal of weight after having had multiple children. Good on her.

She also seems to be one of the few people to get married and use her married name in the acting business.

"What if Captain Jack is secretly working for Mr Saxon... It'd put a whole new complexion on the past series of Torchwood if that was the case ..."

Yeah, but Torchwood would still suck.

No no no I think you're missing the point. If Jack was working for Mister Saxon this whole time, then Torchwood was just a game that Jack was playing on these innocent(ahem), helpless fools, trying to get to the Doctor again.

Hence explaining why Torchwood 1 was well-funded and staffed with competent professionals, and Torchwood 3 ordered pizzas in their own name and used their work gadgets for going on the pull.

Very quick screen grab from the updated BBC homepage.

All 10 of them. MAXIMUM SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v215/rassilon/DRWho/Journal2.jpg

Anyone got a cloth?

Oh my. That IS all 10 of them. Well, I guess that picture lays to rest all question of which Doctors are canon - and which one was in the lower left hand corner..

erhm. On second glance, did anyone notice the little arrows going between successive Doctors? Might those represent regenerations?

I'm sure some people are already commencing lengthy theses on the exact meaning and significance of the arrows and the relative positioning of the various incarnations.

These people should be poked with sticks.

As I noted before, the eight Doctors are sketched out in sequence in a double-spiral Seal of Rassilon.

Ouch.

Is this extended picture really from the same Production Design team?

3, 4, and 5 look strange.

Actually, 3 and 4 look very strange.

And 2 looks beyond strange, like a floating Beatles Wig.

BUT IS IT CANON?

(Joke.)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Categories
Doctor Who: Series One
Doctor Who: Series Two
Doctor Who: Series Three
Torchwood: Series One
Torchwood: Series Two
The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series One
The Eighth Doctor BBC7 Audios
The Eighth Doctor Novels
The Tenth Doctor Novels
Stripped Down Series 1
Stripped Down Series 2
Stripped Down Series 3
Stripped Down Series 4
Stripped Down Series 5
Stripped Down Series 6