Saturday, August 25, 2007

Doctor Who: I'm only human on the inside

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?


dark tyler said...

This episode blew me away for a number of reasons. First and foremost, up to this point this had been an wildly uneven season. This was the point where I remembered why I was still watching the show. (OK, to be fair, "42" was awesome too, but not in a way that makes you love a show. It was too standalone, I think.)

Up to this point I was ambivalent about Martha. I understood what the writers were saying, but I wondered if they knew where they were going with this...? Well, they did. Martha really came onto her own in this 2-parter.

Also, David Tennant. It took the better part of two seasons, but he finally gave me a flawless performance. Till now, even at his best moments I was always wondering how would Eccleston have done this? Here, Nine was nowhere in my mind, for the first time.

Anyway, this had a great idea, perfect execution, fantastic change of pace, and a few surprises regarding the main characters (always welcome when a show is in its third season). Plus, it kicks off what is probably the best 4-episode run of the series to date.

(By the way, I happened to read Paul Cornell's amazing "Wisdom" series for Marvel Comics, like, two days after I saw this episode. The guy knows what he's doing.)

Anonymous said...

The episode that will floor you, if you are a Who fan, is the one after Family of Blood.

This is good, but its based on great source material. They should pull from the book more often.

Unknown said...

"The Inner Light" is exactly what I was thinking about through these, though the respective moccasin-walkings served different purposes. (I'm unfamiliar with the DS9 episode.)

If forced to rank things, I'd definitely agree that "Blink">this two-parter, and would put pt. 1>pt. 2... Though there's definitely a lot of food for thought at the end of the next ep, and I've been looking forward to that discussion for some time.

The positives here are basically what you and Tyler mentioned. This was the first episode I found engaging since "Smith and Jones," and in the Land of the Blind blah blah blah. But also: Tennant's fantastic, Martha's fantastic (and her race is acknowledged, thank freaking lord), that sneering dude is all kinds of awesome, scarecrows are just a good, archetyepal bit of awesome. What's more, in a geeky dose of awesome, these eps finally acknowledge the old series in a concrete way. Also, the big jump forward after the frantic intro sequence worked really well for me, plotting-wise.

The whole concept of the Doctor's "godhood" was not something that was flaunted before the new series, and it's one of the biggest problems I have with Davies' take. That, and Rose's Chosen One status, and the harping on the Rose-Doctor love interest... I liked Billie Piper, too, but come on. Martha was introduced as a strong character in "S&J," then reduced to a pining ninny for too much of this series.

J said...

these eps finally acknowledge the old series in a concrete way

I forgot about the Sarah Jane Smith/K-9 ep. But still, it's nice to have recurring stuff.

Anonymous said...

that sneering dude is all kinds of awesome

If you mean the nasty older student: that's Harry Lloyd, who, it turns out, is Will Scarlett in the BBC Robin Hood which is finishing up its rerun tomorrow night (8/26) on BBCA. And, it also turns out, one of the other guys in Robin Hood is Sam Troughton, grandson of the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton. AND Sam T. is also in the second season of Hex.

According to IMBD, Harry Lloyd is not related to the comedian Harold Lloyd, but is a great-great-etc-grandson of Charles Dickens. Who was in Doctor Who! See, it all comes together.

Nicole said...

I had liked Martha as a companion from the first episode, but this one also made me realize her strength of character, to so implicitly trust the Doctor with his "plan" and place herself in an environment that was definitely not accepting of one of her race and modern attitudes. Not only is she on her own, so to speak, but she has to deal with the Doctor who has no idea who she is, and then there is the whole crush thing, and he falls not for her, but for the Jessica Hynes character. I felt bad for her because Rose has been on this pedestal since the beginning of the season, and yet I don't think Rose could have pulled this off, especially dealing with "the Doctor not falling for her" part with such grace.

Anyway, Tennant is great in this episode too, but he will tear you apart in the next one. I don't want to build it up too much, but these episodes had better be nominated for a BAFTA (since I know that the Emmys ignore sci-fi and that is a hopeless cause).

And I also agree with everything that Dark Tyler said.

Dani In NC said...

I haven't seen David Tennant in anything outside Doctor Who. I enjoy his take on the Doctor, but it was a nice change of pace to see him playing the calmer John Smith persona.

I agree with J that they seem to be harping on Rose a bit too much. I like the way they acknowledged her in "The Runaway Bride" but it became tiresome after the first episode with Martha.

dark tyler said...

Nicole, now that you mentioned the BAFTAs: the Huge Awards are supposed to be in something like a week? I think they're always on at the beginning of each season. I wonder who's gonna win it this year, between three "Who" stories and the best BSG episode from season 2 ("Downloaded").

Also, can't wait for next year's inevitable Clash of the Who Titans, with Moffat's "Blink" versus Cornell's 2-parter.

(It's so good to have awards where instead of Clint Eastwood and Paul Haggis you get Joss Whedon, Ron Moore and Steven Moffat. Just sayin'. :P)

Taleena said...

Part One has a bigger impact after pt.2, and yes, Martha really comes into her own this episode. Not to denigrate Rose, I loved Rose, but Martha is so much stronger than Rose. Rose rested in the powerfulness of the Doctor and flipped out at the possibility of losing him. Martha is brave enough to make do without the Doctor's power and the knowledge that she has lost him to another woman.

Anonymous said...

I've found this season to be a bit of a letdown, but this episode has made it worthwhile -- I like Tennant as Ten, but the show hasn't had the emotional resonance of "Doomsday," "Father's Day" or "The Doctor Dances" in awhile. Tennant is really terrific in this, as is Freema Agyeman, although the line about him not falling in love with her was a bit clunky.

The sacrifices she makes in this episode for him, though, are really just heartbreaking, as are the choices he'll have to make in the future.

Also, if you don't want to wait two weeks, someone's posted "Family of Blood" on YouTube. It's not ideal viewing, but both of these are definitely episode worth seeing again.

Dan said...

Indeed, part 2 is where all the pay-off comes and cements this episode as the best of the revived series.