Friday, July 17, 2015

Alter The Doctor; “Human Nature” Introduces A Big Conceit To Make The Episode Work!

The Good: Good on-screen chemistry between David Tennant and guest star Jessica Hynes, Some pretty awesome special effects, Decent acting, Good tension/mood
The Bad: The conceit is a bit much to buy considering other threats The Doctor has faced . . .
The Basics: “Human Nature” allows The Doctor to become human and he is forced to rely upon Martha Jones while they hide in Earth’s past from alien hunters.

Doctor Who is a television show that becomes much more limited by budget than by the imagination of the writers and executive producers involved in it. The best of science fiction either has a solid concept or is given the freedom to explore. Doctor Who strives to explore, but for all the supposed-greatness and imagination of the series, the show is very much a homo sapiens-centered television show. The adventures in time and space in Doctor Who are frequently focused on Earth and the fantastic elements are remarkably limited. As a result, Doctor Who has a tendency to be rather formulaic. When the show treads away from its somewhat narrow formula, it usually requires the introduction of a pretty serious MacGuffin. “Human Nature” is a big MacGuffin-containing episode.

“Human Nature” introduces a pretty huge MacGuffin in the form of the Chameleon Arch. The Chameleon Arch is a device that has, apparently, just been hanging around the TARDIS which has the ability to completely disguise people by entirely reworking their physiology and DNA. As the name of the episode implies, this is an episode where The Doctor is transformed into a human being. “Human Nature” is an episode that leads powerfully into the final arc of the season and also affords The Doctor a rare love story. Fortunately, “Human Nature” has guest stars that allow the romance to play out well and it mixes a credible relationship with the burgeoning romantic feelings Martha Jones has been developing for The Doctor.

Opening with the TARDIS under attack and The Doctor putting his complete faith in Martha, giving her an important artifact – a watch. Mr. Smith awakens in 1913, a teacher, where Martha Jones is a maid at the boarding school at which he teaches. Mr. Smith tells Martha of his fantastic dreams of being in the year 2007 with her as his Companion, but he is reassured when she gives him the newspaper and he gets along with his daily routine. John Smith runs into the school’s nurse, Joan Redfern, who flirts with him and, after Smith falls down and goes to her infirmary, Martha witnesses the two flirting. Martha is clearly protective of The Doctor in his persona of Mr. Smith. One night while Martha is out working, Redfern witnesses what appears to be a meteor and while Smith escorts her back to her living quarters, Martha tries to find where the “meteor” came down.

One of the students at the school, Baines, discovers the downed spaceship and the inhabitants appear to take him over. Martha reflects upon how The Doctor decided to hide from the interstellar hunters by using the Chameleon Arch to become fully human. One of Smith’s students, though, discovers The Doctor’s pocketwatch which houses his consciousness, and when he opens it, Baines checks in with the Hunters. Soon, the school and the surrounding villages are being attacked by scarecrow creatures. As Smith’s student Tim Latimer has flashes of The Doctor’s true nature, the aliens who were hunting The Doctor and Martha possess locals. Martha has to protect The Doctor from the alien infiltrators while they close in on him!

It is a very rare thing for Doctor Who to have a space battle and the one in “Human Nature” is more implied than shown. The TARDIS is under attack at the outset of the episode and that sets a tone of danger that takes a surprisingly long time to get back to in the episode. Instead, “Human Nature” works hard to illustrate how The Doctor lives as an ordinary human of the time before the mechanism of the conceit is simply revealed. That works well for the overall episode, creating a good mood and allowing for enough time for John Smith and Joan Redfern to actually develop the beginnings of a romantic relationship. Even so, the beginning feels incongruent to the love story and the creepy direction the episode goes in; this is not an episode filled with overt conflict.

The time spent setting up the mood and setting affords viewers the chance to accept that The Doctor’s new life is not simply an illusion or altered reality; this is the new state of being for The Doctor. The Doctor is usually the character with all the answers and in “Human Nature,” Martha Jones has more control of the situation. It is unfortunate, then, that she is forced to rely upon a recorded message from The Doctor which does not actually contain all the information she needs in order to survive.

“Human Nature” works exceptionally well because the acting in the episode is incredible. While Harry Lloyd’s performance as Baines foreshadows well his role on the first season of Game Of Thrones (reviewed here!), the role demands very little subtlety. Instead, Lloyd becomes creepy by making his physical performance inhuman; jerking his head to the side and staring intensely at the camera. The contrast of Baines at the beginning of the episode versus after his possession is made explicit through the performance.

Freema Agyeman rules “Human Nature.” While David Tennant and Jessica Hynes have great on-screen chemistry that makes their banter fun to watch, Agyeman proves that Martha Jones has all the qualities necessary to be the equal of The Doctor. While Jones gets frustrated at the lack of information left by The Doctor, Agyeman never makes her seem helpless or whiny. Instead, she seems frustrated by her inability to prepare and Agyeman gets through the emotional moments and the jargon with equal credibility.

“Human Nature” climaxes in a way that sets up a second part and there is some relief to this being merely the first part of a larger story. The irksome conceit (if the Daleks are hunting The Doctor, him not being a Time Lord would have been an excellent way to avoid them) of making The Doctor human works better when it seems like the conflict truly is a huge one. The menace in “Human Nature” is significant enough that The Doctor’s vulnerable position cannot be taken lightly by Martha Jones or the viewer and that helps sell the episode!

For other works with Thomas Brodie-Sangster, please visit my reviews of:
Game Of Thrones - Season 4
The Maze Runner
Game Of Thrones - Season 3
Love, Actually

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the second season of the Tenth Doctor here!


For other Doctor Who episode and season reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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