The Family of Blood
Tim Latimer: He’s like the night, and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever.
Production Code: 3.9.
Doctor Who Season: S29 (Ep9).
Story Number: 185b.
Behold the man…
After Martha skilfully turns the tables on the Family and allows the occupants of the hall to escape, the story almost – almost – transforms into a traditional “base under siege”, with the school as the “base”.
The theme of this being “Britain on the verge of War” is brought to the fore – the Son of the Family taunts the headmaster as he brings a soldier-army of scarecrows:
“War is coming. In foreign fields, war of the whole wide world, with all your boys falling down in the mud. Do you think they will thank the man who taught them it was glorious?”
John Smith’s instinct is to wring the alarm-bell, to muster the “troops” of the boys though Joan says
“John Smith wouldn’t want them to fight, never mind the Doctor. The John Smith I was getting to know–he knows it’s wrong, doesn’t he?”
We are left with no illusions that war is glorious with the slow-motion scenes of the straw men falling under the hail from the boys – later the actual battlefields of WWI will be shown briefly, but this is a way of showing the senseless slaughter indirectly on a Saturday prime-time TV show.
Ultimately John Smith decides discretion is the better part of valour and an escape to a cottage means the core question of the story can be asked.
“Why can’t I be John Smith? Isn’t he a good man?”
The Christian theme of the story is now centre-stage, specifically the (perhaps obscure to the Saturday general audience) of “Kenosis”, more often found in theological textbooks. In Christian lore, Kenosis tries to explain what God gives ups in order to incarnate on Earth. (In this story the Doctor gives up his Time Lord essence to live a human life on Earth.)
Tim Latimer, having partaken of this essence, rapturously describes the Doctor to John Smith – “He burns at the center of time and he can see the turn of the universe… And… he’s wonderful” which really points up the idea of the Doctor as more than an alien from another planet, he’s a cosmic god.
The focus of this story though is really John Smith giving up his human life, in much the same way that some tellings of the Christ story – such as the novel The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis, filmed by Martin Scorsese. In that film, and this story, we see a glimpse of the human life they could have, (Christ, John Smith) if they were to refuse the choice of sacrificing themself.
“He’s in here somewhere.”
“Like a story. Could you change back?”
“I see. Well then. He was braver that you, in the end. That ordinary man. You chose to change. He chose to die.”
That exchange of lines really underscores the Christ parallels, with the choice, and the idea that they’re the same being but no longer walking the Earth as a man.
The “final fates” for the Family really emphasise the alien (as in not-human rather than spaceman) nature of the Doctor, and give a ghostly aura of myth and fairytale to the proceedings.
The tension of the futile awfulness of war already seen onscreen and the conversation between Martha and Tim – “You don’t have to fight”, “I think we do” – is not immediately explained when that line is said, but the story shows what Tim means.
What does Timothy Latimer mean? (This is another subtle change from the book, in the book that character doesn’t join the army but rather the Red Cross.)
He’s seen the future, the chance to save Hutchinson. To stand together through the tumult of history, helping each other, rather than jumping at the chance of war, that’s what he perhaps believes he has to do. Forgiving Hutchinson who was so cruel to him on the play-battlefields of the school.
In 2007, when this story was originally broadcast, there were still British survivors of the World War I trenches. Now, they have all passed away. “The Last Tommy”, Harry Patch, died at the age of 111 in 2009.
This story stands as a tribute and remembrance to those of the trenches without celebrating war, just as the poppies of Remembrance Day do each year.
As a Doctor Who story, it really is one the greatest stories ever told.
Rating: 5/5 for this episode,
for the whole two-parter, 5/5.