Martha: You had to, didn’t you? Had to go and fall in love with a human. And it wasn’t me.
Production Code: 3.8.
Doctor Who Season: S29 (Ep8).
Story Number: 185a.
Was all of Doctor Who before now just a dream?
So begins a run of six episodes that’s amongst the greatest half-season runs of the programme’s five-decade history…
Like the story Dalek of RTD’s first season, this is television shaped from the pick of the “best of” Doctor Who that existed in other media when the television programme was off air, with the writer of the original asked to pen a new version. (Rob Shearman’s Big Finish audio Jubilee for the Dalek story, and Paul Cornell’s New Adventure novel Human Nature for this two-parter.)
Dalek only really shares some core concepts with Jubilee, while this story is a much more straightforward adaptation – still with some significant differences though to the novel (the guiding hand of RTD?)
There’s a wonderfully kinetic start, as the Family are chasing the Doctor and Martha across time and space – that’s not in the book. Neither is the watch. (In the book it’s a cricket-ball-shaped pod).
“The watch, Martha – The watch is”
Cleverly, we don’t find out what the watch IS until halfway through the episode.
David Tennant plays John Smith so wonderfully, there’s the ambiguity that the past 28 seasons of Doctor Who could really be the imaginative dreams of this schoolteacher of 1913.
The chase and “the watch Martha”; John Smith telling Martha his dreams, it’s a superb pre-credits. The first post-credits image is of the Union Flag of the United Kingdom.
“Now, the TARDIS will take care of everything. Invent a life story for me, find me a setting and integrate me”
It’s notable that the TARDIS didn’t choose Los Angeles or Lanzarote and the Eighth Doctor’s realisation of the TV Movie – “He’s British”, “I suppose I am,” – is something the TARDIS realises too it seems.
The time-period too, seems apt. The Edwardian era and the decades to either side seem very Doctor Who; HG Wells’s The Time Machine, the iconic Pyramids of Mars.
The choice, though to set the novel just before WWI was so the novel could talk about pacifist ideals of Doctor Who. Again the television version is slightly different. There’s not much of the war angle in this episode except for the scene of the machinegun-training for the schoolboys.
That Union Flag that was the first image of the exterior of the school – it’s a time of Empire, and John Smith is a product of that time. Schoolboys of schools of this kind trained in the use of machineguns, and the teacher allowing an instructive beating of Latimer at Hutchinson’s request.
So this is an imperfect and flawed human Doctor, condoning beatings and being – yes – a little bit racist.
“Cultural differences – this is what we call a story” he patronises Martha.
Martha has realised the aliens have caught up with them and she’s trying to warn the Doctor, who’s refusing to believe her, now he’s wrapped up in a love affair with Joan.
Hynes and Tennant give such nuanced and touching performances as the couple we’re sympathetic to them even with both of their characters being rather rude to Martha.
Freema has a lot to convey, her anxiety at the Doctor being possibly found, but also her disappointment that he hasn’t chosen Martha, but Joan instead – and it’s a great performance. The character has a chance to shine.
The four of the alien Family are all very good though in particular Harry Lloyd as the student Jeremy Baines – in just one episode he manages with a few extraordinary line readings to elevate Baines to all-time classic Doctor Who villain.
So all in all a superb episode one, with everything building to that cliffhanger.