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May 23, 2007

The original, you might say

I first read Human Nature many years ago. Not when it first came out, though. I was never much of a fan of Paul Cornell’s work when the New Adventures were at their peak, I have to admit. I was a Doctor Who fan in my early teens at the time and I preferred the less experimental and more ‘Doctor Who-like’ (as I saw it, anyway) books of the likes of Lance Parkin. I’m not sure whether I made a conscious decision not to buy this particular book – I didn’t buy all the New Adventures anyway – but whatever the case it was a novel that passed me by.

I’m not sure whether I made a conscious decision not to buy this particular book – I didn’t buy all the New Adventures anyway – but whatever the case it was a novel that passed me by.

Then, around three or four years later, when the book had gathered quite the reputation for being one of the best Doctor Who novels ever written, I gave it a go, ordering a copy from my local library. (And by sod’s law subsequently got hold of my own copy for 50p in a charity shop, too). I don’t remember all the specifics of what I thought at the time. I do remember thinking the plot was quite clever and interesting, but that I wasn’t too keen on the idea of the Doctor experimenting with being human.

I had to make a quick visit back home to Sussex a couple of weekends ago, to clear out the remaining stuff that used to be in ‘my room’ and shove it up in the attic to turn the place into another spare room. Whilst down there I took the chance to grab my copy of Human Nature, and spent most of the long and diverted train journey back to Norwich on the Sunday re-reading the book.

Out of all that gloom, Cornell as so often pulls some hope and optimism with the suggestion that people can change and improve, with the right influences and environment.

However, there was and remains much to like about the novel. Cornell evokes the slightly clichéd pre-First World War period excellently throughout the book, and the air of a genteel, almost picturebook English country village being slightly subverted by the oncoming clouds of war is a good one. He’s at his best though with the school scenes – I hated them the first time around because they made me so angry, but reading them again now they have a feeling to them that seems depressingly realistic. And yet out of all that gloom, Cornell as so often pulls some hope and optimism with the suggestion that people can change and improve, with the right influences and environment.

The villains of the piece are a fantastic creation, and they’re going to have to be toned down somewhat for television I suspect. The Aubertides are a creepy and sadistic race who also have some real character to them, not simply as a group but also as individuals, which is all to rare a commodity amongst the monsters and villains of Doctor Who in any medium. They’re also downright weird – there’s no real reason given for why one of them resembles a little girl, but Cornell knows that this works simply because it’s bloody creepy, and that’s enough.

This works simply because it’s bloody creepy, and that’s enough.

Bernice Summerfield is the companion here, a strong and forthright character who again I never liked so much back in the 1990s, but who these days I found more appealing and likeable. She’s very different from Martha Jones, a little more stubborn and older of course, and also during this book she’s recovering from traumatic events that befell her in the preceding novel, so I suspect that the companion’s characterisation, of not her role, will change a great deal in the television version.

But the crux of the matter is the schoolteacher, John Smith, once known to us as The Doctor. The Doctor, as far as I was concerned, should always be aloof and alien and unknowable, and even though this was very clearly just a one-off, let’s face it, I wasn’t too happy about the idea of him messing around with girls. I do have to hold my hands up here and admit that at the point I’d read the book I had never see The Aztecs which, for all the occasionally revisionist posturing of some of the New Adventures, Human Nature’s romance between Smith and Joan is not a million miles away from.

I had never see The Aztecs which, for all the occasionally revisionist posturing of some of the New Adventures, Human Nature’s romance between Smith and Joan is not a million miles away from.

Reading the novel again all these years later it seems almost a little odd to have such objections, given all that we have seen and heard since and the new directions Doctor Who has gone in. Which actually makes it all the odder that Russell T Davies decided to call Paul Cornell up to adapt his novel for the screen now. I can’t quite see how it’s going to have the same impact; much of the effect of Human Nature comes from the shock of seeing the Doctor transformed into a human being, something almost unimaginable beforehand.

Now, though, we have the Tenth Doctor, who is possibly the most human and humane we have ever seen. He’s even already had his own story about falling in love with a human woman, The Girl in the Fireplace, written by the very man who makes a cameo appearance as the school bursar in this book. How is Human Nature 2007-style going to stand out against the chorus of stories which already tell us how passionate and full of love the Tenth Doctor is? He’s certainly no completely alien Fourth, for whom the story would perhaps have had the most impact of all.

In the book, the Seventh Doctor at one point muses how he could only love the big, sweeping things, and never the small details. A race but not a person, a cause but not one fight. There is a tragic and rather moving love story at the heart of Human Nature that will make for an interesting television adaptation I have no doubt, but now that the Doctor, in this incarnation at least, is such a lover of the ‘small, beautiful things,’ it remains to be seen whether some of its essence will be lost.

Comments

No offense, but is this perhaps a slightly dodgy thing to review four days before the episode without a spoiler alert? After all we don't know if there will be any major changes between book and telly. I had to stop myself from browsing as soon as I realised what had been posted.

I don't think so - the opening paragraph makes it very obvious what's being reviewed without including any spoilers.

ehhh....I'm with Paul. Barely. The whole "becoming human" thing is an infamous, pretty-hard-to-have-missed fact about the book, and we've seen some choice bits from the trailers already.

One thing I'm sad about, and continue to be: No Benny Summerfield. She's my third-favorite Who character (besides Braxiatel and Godfather Morlock of the Faction Paradox), and the story just won't seem the same without her. Still, I'm hoping as long as she doesn't show up on her own, there's a chance in the future for a guest spot story with the whole Braxiatel Collection crew..

I've been thinking the same thing ever since the episode was rumoured. What possible impact can it have to turn the Doctor into a human, when the Doctor as Time Lord is now capable of all the things that make people human? He's no more alien now than any human superhero - he has powers and abilities beyond normal people, but he's a man like all men all the same.

Perhaps, though, the transformation will do the opposite - make him recognise and relish the things that set him apart from humans, and I don't mean his "last of his kind" tragedy or his I'll outlive any human I ever love angst; I mean the otherness that he's lost since 2005.

From the trailers, though, I think it's more likely it'll just be a catalyst for his relationship with Martha, and possibly an unecessary one at that.

As usual, I'm very slow on the uptake...I'd heard about this book before, heard that it was a good one, but had forgotten about it over time. I only found out last weekend that Saturday's episode was called Human Nature, and didn't think of putting two and two together about it.

Actually, seeing as how BBC "supposedly" cribbed from Spare Parts for Age of Steel, Human Nature may have nothing to do with the Doctor turning Human(aside from it happening).

Alright let me explain (and start a new policy of referring to two-parters by the cooler episode title), but seeing as how this Doctor has quite the tendency of showing love for and appreciation of all things human (something the seventh doctor, whom Human Nature originally happened to, wasn't prone to), maybe this is more of an amnesia tack than a humanity tack.

After all, BBC Books was quite fond of their "Amnesiac Eighth Doctor" storylines, and the last two Doctors haven't lost their memories, at least that we've witnessed. Maybe it's about time to remind the Doctor who he is by forcing him to forget? And speaking of forgetting, this one's got a lot that he'd like to forget, I'm sure...

A couple of things spring to mind...

Mr Sanders - far from this being a dodgy idea, it's a bloody good idea. Especially as we are discussing a DW TV episode that seems to have its roots more firmly in another DW medium than ever before and, besides that, the opening para was pretty much a warning to the unwary to be, well, wary.

Looking at the previews, it seems likely that the Doc is tricking/hypnotising himself into thinking he is human in order to thwart something or other. I don't know how this fits in with the book plot for the simple resaon that I've not read it!

I imagine the non-human themes that will be touched on here will be mortality and not being alone - ie being A human and not THE last of the time lords.

Anyway, I hope this week s3 kicks into gear as - apart from Gridlock - I haven't found it anything like as engaging as S2. Still better than most stuff around, but S2 had a kind of dynamic by this point which I'm still waiting for this time round.

I don't think you need to put the "supposedly" in quotes there, Salem - Marc Platt got a credit on the episode, after all, and Tom MacRae talked about it in his DWM interview.

Salem: "and start a new policy of referring to two-parters by the cooler episode title"
A new policy? I've been doing that since day one. I thought everyone else was being awkwardly pedantic when they'd pair both titles together via a slash for example- "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances" c'mon it's "The Empty Child", isn't it?

Well, it's a new policy for me at least. I've noticed a lot of people still typing The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances or The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit instead of Parting of the Ways or Doomsday.

I'm still torn on whether to call it Aliens of London, World War 3, or A Bit Shite, though.

And I say "supposedly" because after having watched Age of Steel, my mind was screaming "Genesis of the Daleks" instead of "Spare Parts." Sure there was the bit about Cybermen having emotional meltdowns, but the physically crippled creator, the creation of the units as life support for future needs, etc. The only thing missing was a Time Lord in a dodgy cloak and war going on outside.

That and I'm not entirely convinced that Human Nature the episode's going to focus on the same aspects of the story that Human Nature the book did.

And Professor Bernice Summerfield. Dammit.

Snap! I recently re-read Human Nature on a train journey to and from Leicester and really enjoyed it. The first half's better than the second, but that's pretty common to Who novels as a whole.

And for my two penneth, I reckon the next two Saturdays are gonna be superb (possibly even rivalling GITF as episode of new Who I've taken most to my heart). As soon as I heard around Christmas time that Cornell's entry this year was to be an adaptation of this seminal novel my heart skipped a beat.

And to think that 'Blink' follows straight on from this - make that THREE weeks of superb Who...

And Paul Cornell, dammit! Paul Cornell!

Sorry, I'm just excited..

Salem: I refer to The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances as simply The Empty Child, because that is the main plot, while the dancing is a sub plot. I use the title The Satan Pit for both episodes because it is a better description of what the story is about, "Satan", or The Beast.

And of course there's "That naff one with those green things". Aliens of London is better, because World War 3 didn't actually take place, and even if it did it would have been a war between countries, not planets.

Then there's Rise of the Cybermen and Daleks in Manhattan, because I feel they better describe the stories, although Evolution of the Daleks is a pretty apt description, and fits into Classic pattern.

As for the next two, it'll be decided by which seems more important, the Doctor being (or pretending to be) human, or Mr and Mrs Blood.

Also, I wonder if it was a conscious decision by RTD to do three episodes written by Paul Cornell then Steven Moffat in exactly the same position in the series as in 2005.

It's probably safe to assume that the TV version will differ quite substantially from the book, if only because the book didn't actually contain any animated scarecrows as far as I recall.

I also reread the book when it became known it was being adapted. I'd actually given up on the New Adventures well before it came out, but picked it up from a second-hand bookstall soon after it was published - curiously, the copy was signed by Paul (presumably Cornell) 'To Kate, thanks for everything'.

Cornell was, I reckon, easily the best of the NA writers, but I didn't think this was actually his best - I enjoyed 'No Future' a lot more. Still, very much looking forward to Saturday, even though I found 'Father's Day' a tad underwhelming.

It's just a shame they've already blown the (at the time, rather startling) image of the Doctor as a school teacher with the decidedly inferior 'School Reunion'.

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