“I sometimes think how magical life would be if stories like this were true”
“Why can’t I be John Smith? Isn’t he a good man?”
Single-episode characters in Doctor Who are, for the most part, useless cannon fodder. They can be amusing or relatable, but they generally function as benign narrative devices with sappy ‘wave-goodbye’ endings, or sketched-out victims for the threat of the week to murder or harm. Human Nature and The Family Of Blood defy that rule.
This two-part script stands as one of DW’s best stories. Good though they may be, the show struggles to keep its plot beats going steadily for more than an hour, so two-parters are usually a tad watered-down or have one half that’s much better than the other. This typically manifests as the first half building up to a cliffhanger, whereas all the fireworks and thematic statements occur in the better second half. But this duo is an elegantly-paced arc set in Elizabethan times, complete with an unusually elaborate and moving antiwar statement.
Like a later entry in this series, Human Nature and The Family Of Blood get their engine from juxtaposing the Doctor’s eccentric nomad ways with the patterns and needs of everyday human life. Humankind is vitally important to the Doctor, as is preserving life in general. The power of pacifism and decency over violence and animosity is the foundation of this show’s identity. With his tremendous knowledge and strict moral fortitude, the Doctor is like a British Superman, only smart instead of strong.
There are certainly some uncomfortable racial and gender issues going on here with Martha’s side plot, but the show leans into them matter-of-factly, showing a robust and sympathetic black character being dropped into perhaps the most oppressive circumstances possible for her and rebelling against it to the extent that she can. The script wisely doesn’t belabor or explore the morality of this B-plot more than it needs to, since the star of the show is Mr. Smith.
Due to mysterious circumstances, the Doctor becomes mortal for this adventure, and has to reckon with what that means. He finds love that matters to him in the long term, recognizes the flaws and belligerence of mankind, and has to make a devastating choice about whether he even wants his existence as a Time Lord. Behind the Doctor’s bluster hides a damaged and haunted individual. Ten handled this side of the performance better than most, and reconciling those human and extraordinary impulses here may make for his finest work.