Last week, I stated that depending on how the second half of the “Human Nature/Family of Blood” storyline turned out, that “Doctor Who” could have another instant classic story on its hands.
Well, I’m here to tell you–the new series has another instant classic on its hands.
“The Family of Blood” is a solid, entertaining and worthy second-half to “Human Nature.” It’s a story that not only delivers on the promise of part one, but it clears the high bar set by a mile. This is classic “Doctor Who” in every sense of the word.
The thing is–it doesn’t follow the usual pattern of a classic “Doctor Who” story.
At it’s core, this story is about exploring exactly who is the Doctor. It’s a story about trying to answer the central question of the show–“Who is the Doctor?”
And in the course of these 90 minutes, we learn a lot about the Doctor.
In “Human Nature” we saw that while Smith is completely human, some aspect of the Doctor still exists in him. This was most notably seen in the scene with the piano, where the Doctor uses a cricket ball in to set in motion a sequence of events to save a baby carriage from a falling piano. We get a similiar scene in “The Family of Blood” but it’s a bit more nuanced. Smith and company have retreated to the school to defend against the Family of Blood and their scarecrow army. As the boys dig in for battle, Smith is given a rifle. When the scarecrows burst into the courtyard, battle commenses and we cut from the scarecrows being gunned down to Smith, pointing the gun but unable to fire. This scene is fundamentally important to the character of Smith/The Doctor. Deep down, we can see that he’s a man who is unable to use guns to solve problems, instead wanting to rely on other methods such as his wits.
But while the Doctor and Smith share that trait, there are differences. Smith is frightened by what’s coming for him and overwhelmed by it. He also has a strong will to live and finds it fundamentally unfair that in order to save everyone he has to give up his identity and be killed by the Doctor. Even when the Family of Blood starts bombing the town, something that would bring the Doctor out of hiding if only to prevent the loss of innocent lives, Smith is unsure of the decision to make. And despite knowing the universe needs the Doctor, he is still willing to surrender the Time Lord essense of the Doctor to the family so he can have a life with Joan. Even when told of the monsterious consequences of allowing the Family to have the powers of a Time Lord, he tries to bargain, wanting to live.
The decision is made even more heart-rending when Smith and Joan touch the watch together and see flashes of a life together–including marriage, children and death at an old age.
And yet, we all know deep down that the universe needs the Doctor…and the Doctor needs the universe.
It all leads to a moment on the Family’s ship when Smith comes on board to surrender the watch to them, begging them to leave. For one bleak moment, you think Smith has won and surrendered the Doctor to the Family….only to find out that the Doctor restored himself and has one final trick for the Family–he gives them the immortality they so desparately want, but it’s not what they thought. In this scene, we see why the Doctor can’t be alone (as he explained all the way back in “The Runaway Bride”) and that his dark nature is still there.
But the moment when the Doctor shifts from the Smith persona to the Doctor is still one of the best moments the series has yet produced. It’s hard not to pump your fist in the air and go, “Yes!” at the return of the Doctor.
The euphoria won’t last long. The ending where the Doctor must deal with the consequences of his decision to become human is some of the most heartbreaking stuff the show has done. Joan’s rejection of him and her point that he’s been selfish are superbly done. And the ending where its revealed how the Doctor’s presense saved the lives of two young men is a nice coda and counterpoint to Joan’s dilemma that the man she loves is gone, but his countenance lives on.
Simply put, this is “Doctor Who” at its absolute best. It’s a story that’s entertaining, edge of your seat and full of authentic emotion. It examines the fundamental nature of who the Doctor is and its heart-breaking to see that by reverting from Smith to the Doctor, he will save the world but condemn himself to a life of loneliness. I can see threads of what Davies is trying to do this season for a theme–the consequences of being the last of his kind in the universe and the hope there may be another Time Lord out there. It’s a lot more subtle than the Saxon references and it may be the best on-going thread the new series has done. (Of course, my thought on that could change based on the next few episodes…but I have faith in the production team).
So, we’ve got a new classic on our hands here… and that’s saying a lot. It’s easily in my top ten of all-time “Doctor Who” episodes and it’s easily the best story for the 10th Doctor we’ve had to date.
It’s energized me about being a “Doctor Who” fan and I can’t wait for the rest of series three to unfold.
Next up: Well, it’s by Stephen Moffatt and it’s the cost cutting episode for this year. Moffatt has written two great stories in the past, but we know going in this one will be lighter on the Doctor…so we’ll see what happens. I am catiously optimistic. (All this is to say–I saw the preview and I have no idea…).