A First-Timer Watches Doctor Who: “The Family Of Blood”
The Doctor turns human for three months, and everything gets all sappy. “The Family of Blood” concludes the two-part story that began with “Human Nature” and features hands down the most emotional expression we’ve seen from the Doctor so far. Only thing is, he’s not the Doctor. He’s a humanized version of himself called John Smith.
The Doctor’s human form sheds light on all of his alien shortcomings. In fact, John Smith is basically disgusted with everything he learns about the Doctor: that he is lonely, that he is scary, that the concept of romantic love couldn’t even occur to him before he turned human. It really was painful watching the what-could-have-been montage of his life with Joan. Getting married, having children, growing old with another person—these are all experiences out of reach for the Doctor, despite his access to the whole space-time continuum.
While the last two seasons highlighted the Doctor’s heroism, it’s been interesting to watch this season explore his weaknesses. After he turns back into the Doctor, Joan tells him: “[John Smith] was braver than you… You chose to change. He chose to die.” It seems the Doctor’s cowardice here is not necessarily linked to a fear of death—which he faces pretty much every episode—but to a fear of love and intimacy. It is his tragic flaw this while he can—and certainly does—feel loneliness, he can’t seem to feel the emotions necessary to make that loneliness go away. So John Smith kisses Joan, while the Doctor gives Martha a bear hug and an unsatisfying pat on the back.
This episode also had one of the strongest historical reinterpretations I’ve seen on the show so far. A year before World War I, the young boys at John Smith’s school must form their own frontline and shoot down an army of animated scarecrows. And while most of the lads cry through the whole ordeal, they all still shoot. Although the battle recalls the premature loss of innocence suffered by WWI soldiers, this scene also gut-wrenchingly demonstrates how vulnerability and brutality can co-exist in the same person. And we certainly see these two conflicting attributes simultaneously brought to life within John Smith/the Doctor, as well.
It’s hard to imagine anything could be the same between Martha and the Doctor after everything they’ve been through over the last two episodes. After watching him fall for another woman, will Martha get over her crush? And will the Doctor take any of John Smith’s characteristics into the future (or whatever time period they’re going next)?