Back in the 1990s, I was an avid reader of the Virgin New Adventures range of Doctor Who novels. Yet somehow, Human Nature passed me by. I’m a big fan of Paul Cornell’s earlier No Future – a novel that isn’t as half as popular, so work that one out.
So I came to the television version of Human Nature almost completely unaware of what the story entailed, its setting, and how it pans out. All I knew about it was it involved the Doctor believing he was a human teacher…
From an action packed opening sequence through a gentle, serene rendition of 1913 – Human Nature singlehandedly rewrote what nuWho actually is. Nevermind that it managed to tell its way into a future Kasterborous "Shape of Doctor Who" article with it’s teasing journal which included the Eighth Doctor’s second television appearance; the Doctor’s favourite moniker of Dr John Smith also played up to fans, and no doubt brought a smile to regular newer viewers faces; and of course who can forget that pocket watch…?
Writing these reviews as often as we do on Kasterborous does leave the writer open to self-parody; phrases such as "sublime performance", "excellent supporting cast" and "Tennant is wonderful as ever" begin to roll of the tongue with astonishing ease. But the thing is, Series 3 has been that good. Even when it hasn’t quite hit the mark, it has still had an advantage of Series 2 in the shape of Freema Agyeman. Throw you copy of The Sun in the bin, organise mass burnings, or use it as the toilet paper that it is – Freema has been great throughout this series, and in Human Nature was thrust to the fore of the narrative on the very same day that aforementioned gutter newspaper heavily implied that the BBC weren’t impressed with Freema’s ability.
The acting did the talking however, and despite the heavy responsibility of David Tennant playing a completely different character it was Freema who shone, carrying the action, leading the narrative and wearing a maid’s outfit.
As for the "excellent supporting cast" – well how about young Harry Lloyd, turning in a nostril-flaring performance far superior to anything he managed in Robin Hood? Or Jessica Hynes (previously Stevenson) as the lovely Matron Joan Redfern? Her rapport with John Smith was excellent, a wonderful touch that finished off the painting of the 1913 public school in Paul Cornell’s lavish story.
There are plenty of questions left unanswered – who exactly are the Family, how does the Doctor get all of his memories in that fob watch, and how are they going to get out of that cliffhanger? – but most of all, I want to know who is that young boy, and what is his purpose to the story? Latimer was played by Thomas Sangster, veteran of playing widower Liam Neeson’s stepson in Love Actually. Playing a psychic who pockets teachers’ watches in Doctor Who is a far cry from playing a lovesick teenager running through an airport, however, and like the other cast members (the girl who played Martha’s maid friend was also good) he fitted in seamlessly.
Minimal CGI too, enhanced the story rather than overwhelmed it, and it was also good to see something new in the TARDIS for the first time in literally ages.
The Family of Blood is the concluding part of this adventure, one that I fancy we will remember for years to come. Personally I can’t wait, and if the rest of Series 3 is going to be as good as Human Nature then Series 4 will have a lot to live up to.
It’s really easy to enthuse and gush about new episodes of Doctor Who, but Human Nature has so much to commend it. It sits alongside Series 1’s The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, Cornell’s own Father’s Day and Steven Moffat’s other effort to date, The Girl in the Fireplace.
If you missed it, catch up before Saturday.