Spoilers for "Doctor Who" coming up just as soon as I dig up some beer...
The "Doctor Who" fans who have already seen the entire season have been pimping the "Human Nature" / "The Family of Blood" two-parter as the Alpha and the Omega, the bestest "Who" thing ever, or close enough to it. I have to assume that a large part of that enthusiasm comes from the "Family of Blood" half of things and the way it builds on what's already happened. "Human Nature" is a very strong episode, but it didn't blow me away on a level that, say, any of the Steven Moffat-penned episodes have.
The premise -- the Doctor, on the run from powerful aliens with stolen Time Lord tech, has to hide from them by becoming human, blotting out all knowledge of his true identity and leaving Martha as his escape hatch -- is a strong one, but not unprecedented in TV sci-fi. A lot of the episode, in fact, evokes two of the best "Star Trek" episodes ever: "The Inner Light" from Next Generation and "The Visitor" from Deep Space Nine. Maybe it's more groundbreaking from a pure "Doctor Who" fan perspective, as the guy's spent 40-plus years acting the aloof god (save the Paul Cornell-written novel that inspired Cornell's script for these episodes), but the basic idea didn't floor me.
But again, that doesn't mean it's not a great episode. David Tennant's been accused of overacting in the part, of making the Doctor just a bundle of tics and shouting. I don't necessarily agree with that, but there's no mistaking his fine performance here, as he finds a way to seem completely human and yet with enough of a trace of Ten that I said, "Yeah, that's what Ten would be like if he was a regular person." And given the set-up, I imagine he's going to have even better material to play in part two, once the Doctor inevitably returns to godhood and has to reflect on what he's gained and lost in the process.
That said, what makes "Human Nature" really fly is Martha. This is, what, her eighth episode to date, yet she doesn't seem half as established -- both as a person and as the Doctor's partner -- as Rose did by her eighth episode. (The great "Father's Day," also written by Cornell.) Whether by design or coincidence, too many episodes this year have spent significant portions of time with the Doctor and Martha split up, and those moments when they're together tend to be largely about the Doctor defining his relationship to her in comparison to his friendship with Rose. But she saved the day last week and the Doctor gives her the ultimate trust this week, and she in turn trusts him not to get her stuck as a maid in 1913 England. Martha really handles herself well here, even when she's doubting herself and running back to the TARDIS to seek guidance from the Doctor's living will recording.
Meanwhile, Martha finally says aloud what's been obvious for a while: that she loves the Doctor, and not in the undying friendship way that Rose had with Nine (and possibly with Ten), but in a "Okay, if he has two hearts, what else does he have two of?" way. If the writers keep pairing the Doctor with attractive young women, sooner or later the matter of a companion falling for the guy is going to have to come up; what better time than when he's become (temporarily) human?
I wasn't floored by "Human Nature," but my hopes remain high for the conclusion in two weeks (razza frazza Labor Day weekend scheduling). What did everybody else think?