Doctor Who #763: The Family of Blood

"What am I, then? Nothing. I'm just a story."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.2 2007.

IN THIS ONE... The Last Temptation of the Doctor and the death of John Smith.

REVIEW: Martha says it all when she calls the Doctor rubbish as a human. The personality he's created doesn't have the ability (and can't if his mental blocks are to stay in place) to even accept the strange goings-on around him, so it's up to two women and one boy to do all the Doctoring until he can accept the watch and his destiny. Writer Paul Cornell focuses on what the Doctor ISN'T and John Smith IS to bring his personal tragedy to the forefront. John Smith would sacrifice his entire existence, and pleads for it. It's touching if not exactly noble. But part of his plea is criticism of what being the Doctor means - loneliness, not even considering love as a factor, that's what he stands to lose, the ordinary life the Doctor admires from afar, secretly longs for, but ultimately can never give himself to. John Smith and Joan Redfern are given a vision of the entire life they would have had together, which is at once last temptation, comfort and cheat, and the Doctor will remember it. In the end, it's her strength that pushes him to sacrifice. That the Doctor could become John Smith again but refuses to speaks as much to the preciousness of one's identity as to the unspoken burden of being the last of the Time Lords. It would be genocide, and I for one am happy to see the death wish element phased out at last.

The turn from John Smith to the Doctor is excellently played. Instead of showing us the Doctor opening the watch, we led to believe Smith himself surrenders to the Family of Blood, in exchange for sparing the village. But it's the Doctor fooling them with feigned clumsiness and terror, finally revealing himself in all his fury and cutting them off from their ship. That after empathizing so strongly with John Smith, the audience still wants to punch the air when the Doctor is back is a tribute to the power of Doc10's kickassery. What follows, the first of four epilogues (what is this, Lord of the Rings?), is very New Adventures, as each member of the Family is put into some insane trap to keep them suspended in time somewhere. The fate of each is epic and poetic, if a little unnecessary. But damn, this is serious Time Lord business.

The drama wouldn't work nearly as well without Jessica Stevenson-Hynes as Nurse Redfern. She's quite wonderful. Believable as a woman of her era, strong and clever and a mother figure as much as a wife for the virginal John Smith. It's her awkwardness when Smith is replaced by the Time Lord, however, that's the stand-out. She can't bear to look at him, not just because he reminds her of her lost love, but because the Doctor is effectively monstrous in her eyes. This is a story where he definitely left death in his wake. Not everyone that died was, like the scarecrows, literal cannon fodder. Surprisingly, he asks her to become a companion and is open to a relationship with her. Not surprisingly, she refuses, but it's an avenue worth leaving to the imagination. Martha seems to have supported the idea as well, as ever in the role of the trusted friend with hidden feelings (laughing off her love declaration as a lie to manipulate Smith, of course) who must endure the object of her affection asking for advice about other relationships and so on. We've all been there. This is also the Martha that elbows aliens in the gut and participates in Mexican stand-offs, so it's not all wet feelings. Speaking of wet feelings, it's hard not to get one last lump in your throat when the TARDISeers visit an aged Tim Latimer, wearing poppies at a Remembrance Day ceremony. I don't know why, maybe it's a release from all the emotions the story wrings you through, a piece of of the every day that brings that reminds of of real people lost, as opposed to fictions, of real time lines, weddings and families aborted by war. Though Young Tim calls himself a coward (using dialog that evokes the Doctor's), he shows valor on the battlefield and saves his compatriot, formerly his bully. With Tim as surrogate Time Lord thanks to the watch, it's a scene that seems to evoke the Master's return, and an alternate, happier ending to Last of the Time Lords.

My original review, The Inhuman(e) Doctor, discusses the religious undertones of the story as God becomes Man and back again, among other things.

VERSIONS: I talked about the original novel yesterday. As for the deleted scenes on the DVD, they feature a scene in which John Smith accuses Martha of being in league with the Family, and another in which Tim makes his decision to seek out the Doctor in the presence of a terrified Hutchison.

- Tennant has probably never been better, in this dual role. A tragic, memorable story.


Bill Doughty said...

I remember the first time watching the ending of this episode and wondering if the Valeyard wasn't so much a possibility as an inevitability, because the punishments the Doctor doles out to the Family are about as cold as I could imagine. Well-earned, mind you, but cold.

CiB said...

The part of this that really reinforces the "it's a 7th Doctor story" is that from the very beginning this was really a trap that the Family of Blood fell into. Leading them here where nothing but pain and misery is left for them is not unlike letting the Daleks capture the hand of Omega and pleading with Davros not to use it.

Anonymous said...

Bill -- not sure I agree about "well-earned". Sure, they killed a lot of people, but as was pointed out, the Doctor led them to their victims, so the Doctor deserved a lot of the blame for what they did. If it had started out as a merciful alternative to killing them, it certainly stopped being merciful by the end.

What I'm saying is, the Doctor really dropped the ball on this one. But that said, he's allowed to get it wrong once in a while too.

Anonymous said...

Every episode of new "Doctor Who" is actually fanfiction by Tim of "Spaced". This two-parter was written during a period when Tim's normally repressed romantic feelings towards Daisy were relatively near the surface, and he was thinking about the other life that could have been. Also, Jack Harkness is a stand-in for Mike.


Matt Celis said...

C'mon, do more Outsiders! Doctor Who, blah.

Siskoid said...

Matt: I've giving you a dose of both every day! Simply ignore the daily post you don't care about. (Yeah, like I'm going to stop my Who pilgrimage when I'm in the last stretch.)

Matt Celis said...

Can't get enough of your tough love sessions with Mike Barr's Outsiders!

De said...

This is, without a doubt, my very favorite Doctor Who story. At some point, I'll read Cornell's novel.


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