Monday, July 27, 2015

Martha Jones’s Chance To Excel Is Co-Opted By “The Family Of Blood!”

The Good: David Tennant’s performance, Character development, Plot progression
The Bad: Focus on secondary characters, Neglects the significance of Martha Jones for most of the episode.
The Basics: “The Family Of Blood” completes the story begun in “Human Nature,” but it does not do so in a particularly satisfying way.

In science fiction television, there is arguably no greater mixed bag than the two-part episode. Two-parters are more often about the tease than telling a longer, compelling story that could not simply be told in the time limits of a single episode. Instead, so many two-part episodes of science fiction television are about getting the characters to the worst possible place they can get and trying to intrigue viewers into tuning in the next week. In Doctor Who, there are very few actual two-part episodes and the one that seems like it does have a decent story to tell that is more drawn out is the two-parter that begins with “Human Nature” and concludes with “The Family Of Blood.” Unfortunately for fans of Doctor Who, to bring a climax to the episode “Human Nature,” “The Family Of Blood” begins in an unfortunately lame position.

Picking up immediately where “Human Nature” (reviewed here!) ended, “The Family Of Blood” makes Martha Jones into a compelling and complete hero. It’s a rare thing when a show allows the main protagonist to be replaced by the lead supporting character. “The Family Of Blood” allows Martha Jones to become the legitimate hero of Doctor Who, even if only for an episode. But “Human Nature” reached a peak where The Doctor had to make a choice and for all the intensity of that moment, how the subsequent episode goes it cannot be honestly dragging that decision out. The result is the feeling that “The Family Of Blood” opens at an artificially cheap point. “The Family Of Blood” is further hampered by the fact that the conflict is not significant-enough to carry the entire episode, so it turns into a somewhat maudlin tribute to the loss of youth brought about by World War I.

With The Doctor given the painful choice of having to sacrifice either Martha or Joan, Martha Jones leaps into action. Threatening The Family with their own weapons, Jones is able to create a distraction long enough for most of the people at the dance to get to safety. While Martha goes in search of the pocket watch that houses The Doctor’s consciousness, the headmaster meets with The Family. The school is suddenly under siege as The Family’s army of animated scarecrows descend upon it.

After a conversation with Martha Jones, Joan Redfern begins to suspect that Jones might be right about Smith’s true identity as The Doctor. With his TARDIS discovered and The Family closing in on the school, Tim figures out the nature of the pocket watch. Forced to retreat into the school, The Doctor acts as general to lead the students and help them survive the terrible night and the hideous creatures who menace them all!

Throughout “The Family Of Blood,” John Smith’s student, Tim Latimer, is hunted by the alien family that is searching for The Doctor. Tim is in possession of the (essentially) magical pocket watch that houses The Doctor’s true consciousness and will rewrite his DNA when it is open. Latimer opens the watch several times without fully unleashing The Doctor, which is not satisfactorily addressed in “The Family Of Blood.” The focus on Tim Latimer and his seemingly psychic ability to see the future (namely the day of his death in the forthcoming war) diminishes some from the focus on Martha Jones.

At its best moments, “The Family Of Blood” makes Martha Jones into a legitimate defender of The Doctor and the only real force that can stand in opposition to the villainous aliens who are attacking the boarding school. Jones is compellingly portrayed by Freema Agyeman when she is given enough of a part to play. Unfortunately for her chances of being the hero of the episode, “The Family Of Blood” often refocuses on Latimer or The Doctor.

“The Family Of Blood” affords a great chance for David Tennant to shine. Throughout the episode, John Smith is tormented by partial knowledge of his true nature. That leads to wonderful tortured moments when David Tennant plays Smith as regretful of being The Doctor. Tennant commits to the part and he is agonizing to watch in the moments where he plays Smith as lost and hurt by all he will have to give up if The Doctor is to live.

The initial concept of “The Family Of Blood” seemed to justify the two-part episode by creating a threat that immediately endangers The Doctor and Martha Jones. The full scope of the nature of that threat is not revealed in “Human Nature,” but does come out in “The Family Of Blood.” Unfortunately, that transforms The Family into another somewhat generic alien race that is an Alien Of The Week. While there is the potential of The Family to spread throughout the galaxy, that seems unlikely given that there are only four left and they only seem to be a real threat because they stole a temporal vortex manipulator.

The end result is a second part that is comparatively unsatisfying, like so many second parts of two-part episodes; “The Family Of Blood” completes the story set-up in “Human Nature,” but it does not make for a great resolution.

[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 episodes of television where identity of a character is compromised, check out my reviews of:
“The Paradise Syndrome” - Star Trek
“Who Are You, Really?” - True Blood
“Yes Men” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.


For other Doctor Who episode and season reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page where the reviews are organized from best to worst!

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