Paul Cornell’s “Human Nature” is regarded in “Doctor Who” fan circles as one of, if not the, best New Adventure novel published. I read it back in the day and I have to admit–I really liked it. But then again, I’m biased as I loved all of Cornell’s seventh Doctor stories published under the New Adventures banner.
The novel of “Human Nature” followed the mission statement for the NA’s–stories that pushed the format of “Doctor Who” beyond what would be achieved on the small-screen.
Because of that, I was a bit wary when I heard Cornell was adapting the novel for the current series of “Doctor Who.”
On the other hand, as a huge fan of the original, I couldn’t wait to see how it would come to life on the small-screen.
So, heading into this week’s installment of “Doctor Who” I was both wary and excited. I desparately wanted this episode to live up to my memories of the novel and wary that no matter how good it was, the book would be better.
Thankfully, the story not only lived up to my memories of the novel, the first episode of this two-part story was compelling, entertaining, interesting and a complete delight.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this episode is the best thing the new series has done since “Dalek” (which given that “Dalek is my favorite episode of the new series is high praise). But let me add this–a lot of that hinges on how part two comes out.
The highest praise I can give this episode is that despite my foreknowledge of how the story unfolds, it was still edge of your seat riveting.
In order to hide from a group of aliens called the Family, the Doctor gives up all of his Time Lord aspects, becoming fully human. His Time Lord essence is stored in a pocket-watch that can be re-opened when the time is right and restore him. The Doctor becomes Dr. John Smith, a professor at a boy’s school in 1913 England. Martha is a servant who retains her memories of what has happened and knows where the TARDIS is hidden so she can keep her eye on the Doctor. When the time is right, Martha will open the watch and bring the Doctor back.
Smith has memories of his days as the Doctor, most of which come to him in dreams. He has a journal detailing his previous adventures but he dismisses them as flights of imagination and nothing more. He’s also met and beginnng to fall in love with the school’s matron, a set of events that upsets Martha.
The Family arrives on Earth and begins hunting the Doctor. But since they’ve never seen his face, they have to track him down based on his Time Lord signature. Since he’s no longer a Time Lord, they can’t find him. They know he’s there because a student has stolen the Doctor’s watch and opened it a few times, alerting the Family he’s in the area. The Family wants to collect him for some nefarious purpose.
Based on the first installment of this two-part story, “Human Nature” has the chance to be a defining story for the tenth Doctor’s era and the series as a whole. One of the things that impresses me most about this story is how Cornell has been able to adapt a story originally written for the seventh Doctor and the NA companion Benny to the tenth Doctor and Martha. While Benny was never “in love” with the Doctor as Martha is (despite snogging the 8th Doctor in “The Dying Days”), the sub-text of Martha’s feelings for the Doctor and her jealousy is well used here. As is Martha’s frustration at the Doctor’s instructions he left her –none of which cover him falling in love with a human and when she should return him to his Time Lord self. Also of interest is how the script addresses Martha’s racial background in the context of the story. This creates a new set of obstacles for Martha to overcome as she tries to stay close to the Doctor.
Once again, the performances of David Tennant and Freema Angyeman are superb. Tennant’s is especially great since he creating a whole new character in John Smith. He puts just enough of the Doctor into his new character to remind the audience of who the character really is.
The script is filled with small, delightful references for fans to catch–from Smith’s saying his parents are named “Syndey” and “Verity” to the drawings in Smith’s notebook that feature all nine previous Doctors.
And the series finally delivers a new cliffhanger for the show. Forget “Heroes” and saying “dammit” at the end of each episode there. I was rivetted as the cliffhanger built up and cursed a bit when the familiar stinger began to end part one. This is one “Doctor Who” fan who is counting down the hours until part two hours…and, in case you forgot, I’ve read the novel and know how it all ends.
Yes, it was that good.
I’m hesitant to use the words “instant classic” on this one–if only becuase part two has yet to air. But even it’s only half as good, it will be a real treat.
Is it Saturday night yet?