Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Doctor Who: The Family Of Blood (2)


Doctor: "That's all I want to be. John Smith. With his life, and his job, and his love. Why can't I be John Smith? Isn't he a good man?"

The question that kept nagging me throughout most of this two-parter was: why didn't the Doctor just defeat The Family back in regular time? Why bother with all this turning himself into a human and losing himself in the past malarkey? Thankfully, Baines answered my question at the end. The Doctor was being kind.

How being wrapped in unbreakable chains, or being eternally trapped in the event horizon of a collapsing galaxy, or forever standing with a sack on your head and a stick up your bottom, equates with 'being kind' is perhaps a question for another time—but I can understand how being trapped in a mirror, with the possibility of redemption, might be preferable to death. At least the Doctor sparing the life of Daughter of Mine resulted in something potentially positive. But this really was full-on vengeful God stuff. Does a finite amount of evil behaviour ever truly warrant an eternity of punishment? Doesn't that fly in the face off all that's just? Whatever happened to an eye for an eye?

Mini-gripe aside, this was a powerful conclusion to last week's opener. With the Great War just a year away, the shootout in the barn felt like a dress rehearsal for the horror that would soon become the everyday reality of every man, woman and child in England. Yes, the foe was just straw men, but the threat was real—as were the children's tears. It was strange to see Smith leading the assault on the scarecrow army—his Gallifreyan other self is usually so anti-gun—although it didn't take much to turn him from fight back to flight. The look on the children's faces was enough to halt the aggression. They looked terrified. In Smith's estimation, it was better to run.

Maybe the Doctor and John Smith weren't so dissimilar after all. Smith was obviously somewhere inside the Doctor, so maybe the Doctor was inside Smith, too? But a diluted John Smith just wasn't enough for Joan Redfern. Bringing death and damnation to Farringham was something that her John would never have done, and it was something she couldn't forgive. So after losing her first husband at Spion Kop, she lost the softly spoken John Smith, too. In the end he put the needs of the world above the idyllic life promised by the fob watch, and transformed back into the Doctor.

But trading Joan and the life that he'd carved out for himself at Farrington, for the life of a lonely wanderer, seemed initially ludicrous to him. Why would he do that? It took Timothy extolling the Doctor's virtues, and the threat of war across the stars—an event which would eventually effect every child in the universe—to finally change his mind. Seeing Smith struggle with the terrible decision before him, allowed us to see an facet of Tennant acting that Doctor Who seldom utilises. The Doctor rarely goes to pieces, and when he does, it's never in the full-on, terrified, snotty nosed fashion that John Smith did. Tennant really sold those scenes.

Martha's 'I love him to bits' speech was predictable, and was largely greeted by the online community with groans. Admittedly, Martha has been a bit whiny this season—she spent the first half of the season grumbling about the Doctor's affection for Rose, and the bulk of this two-parter sulking over his relationship with Joan—but I don't fully understand all the hate. It's completely understandable that she'd have a crush on the Doctor, and if they continue to cast young women as companions, then it's going to happen again and again. I get that unrequited love is a bitch, and they could probably do with toning down Martha's mopeyness a couple of notches, but I'm fine with her pining after him a little.

Joan's decision not to join the Doctor didn't surprise me. She never wanted the Doctor's love, she wanted John's, and with John essentially dead, there was no reason to accept his offer. Plus, the Doctor couldn't guarantee that he'd grow to love Joan. 'Giving it a try' wasn't enough—she'd already done that and found love with John—why would she want to try again with a man who didn't love her back? So Martha and the Doctor left Joan behind, but not before a saying a final farewell to Timothy, and gifting him the Doctor's fob watch, which he later used to save the lives of Hutchinson and himself in the trenches!

I'm not sure how the watch knew the exact moment the bomb would fall—obviously it had some extra functionality that we weren't privy to—nor am I entirely certain that them jumping a couple of feet in another direction would have been enough to save them, but it set up a lovely moment at the war memorial. Seeing the Doctor and Martha turn up to pay their respects, at a ceremony attended by an aged Timothy, was the proverbial cherry on an already delicious cake. Why on earth did Paul Cornell never write another script for Doctor Who?

Other Thoughts:

 In the novel, the 7th Doctor states that he can't love Joan in the same way that John did. In this episode, the 10th Doctor seems pretty certain that he can do anything that John could.

—John Smith's said that his parents were called Sydney and Verity. Obviously this is a reference to original programme creators, Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman.

—In the novel Tim doesn't join the army, he instead joins the Red Cross and saves lives that way.

Quotes:

Martha: 'God, you're rubbish as a human.'

Martha: 'Scared and holding a gun's a good combination. Do you wanna risk it?'

John Smith: 'What am I then? Nothing. I'm just a story.'

Doctor: 'What exactly do you do for him. Why does he need you?'
Martha: 'Because he's lonely.'
Doctor: 'And that's what you want me to become?'

Latimer: 'I've seen him. And he's like fire and ice and rage. He's like the night and the storm and the heart of the sun.....he's ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time, and he can see the turn of the universe....and he's wonderful.'

Doctor: 'Falling in love. That didn't occur to him?'
Martha: 'No.'
Doctor: 'Then what sort of a man is that?'

Martha: 'People are dying out there.They need him and I need him.'

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