A First-Timer Watches Doctor Who: “Human Nature”
I’ve only seen the first half of this two-parter, but already it’s up there with my favourite Doctor Who stories. For those whose memories might be failing them, here’s a jog: after being pursued by the Family of Blood—a clan of formless aliens who were looking to inhabit the Time Lord’s body—the Doctor changes himself into a human named John Smith to escape their pursuit. Since the Family’s life span is only three months, his plan is to switch back to himself once they’ve died out at the end of that period. In the meantime, Martha just needs to stay put in 1913. Which is all well and good for the Doctor—he’s got himself a decent job and a girlfriend—but Martha’s stuck being a maid.
What’s so special about this episode is watching a completely different incarnation of the Doctor: gentler, less ambitious, more romantically inclined. I wonder if the TARDIS has reprogrammed him from scratch, or if this is a manifestation of the human side of the Doctor that already exists within his Time Lord psyche. I enjoyed watching David Tennant inhabit a new character—and actually act on his feelings for a girl. Although I was just as frustrated as Martha when he chose Joan, the kind matron at the school where they all work, instead of her. How is someone as rad as Martha always coming up second best?
That said, it was interesting to see a more empathetic side of the Doctor during his conversations with Joan, who lost her husband years before. When Joan confides in the Doctor about being a widow, he responds by kissing her—and soon they’re fully making out. It’s a spontaneous show of physical affection—and attraction—that the real Doctor would never have mustered. (He’d probably have said something like “nahhhh” then run down a long hallway.) So while Martha seems to consider Joan’s relationship with the Doctor illegitimate since she’s not smooching the “real” Doctor, it has to be acknowledged that the real Doctor would ever have gotten himself into a romance like this in the first place. Martha has a crush on the Doctor—and John Smith is a very different guy.
In terms of this episode’s alien content, the animated scarecrows might also be the creepiest monsters I’ve seen on the show so far. This could be considered a bold statement, considering how many metallic and/or gooey aliens we’ve seen, but I’d rather encounter a Cyberman than a humanoid bag of hay. The alien conflict has only started to be sketched out—so more on that in next episode’s recap!
I think I also liked this episode because it had a genuine sense mystery. As a viewer, you’re dislodged from the outset. Why is the Doctor human? Why don’t he and Martha seem to know about the TARDIS? Or know each other? It was fun to watch all the layers of the story slowly peel away. In most episodes of Doctor Who, the Doctor provides all the answers pretty much upfront. So it was cool to have an episode where he—and his encyclopedic knowledge of the universe—are absent. And we’re left in the dark.