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5 February 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 766: Human Nature

Dear diary,

Let’s start off with a confession, shall we? I’ve never been a big fan of the New Adventures novels. There’s some lovely ideas in there, and I love the fact that when Doctor Who finally gets taken off television (seemingly for good), it simply shifts over to another medium and continues to thrive there (am I right in saying that, taking into account the New Adventures, Missing Adventures, Eighth Doctor Adventures, Past Doctor Adventures, and the modern series tie-in novels, the Doctor Who book holds the record for most books officially published about a single character? Sure I read that somewhere…). The start of the New Adventures really is the start of Doctor Who becoming invincible - there was no way it was simply going to fade away quietly, simply because it wasn’t in active production any more. But despite that admiration, the stories themselves largely aren’t for me. It’s just not a style of Who that I can get properly invested in. But when they announced that Human Nature was to be adapted for the TV series, even I could appreciate what a big deal it was. Human Nature was probably (and still is, thanks in no small part to this adaptation) to most famous of all the New Adventures, and the central premise - the Doctor turns human - is such a good one, that it was automatically something to be excited about.

And speaking of things that you can be ‘automatically excited about’, am I alone in thinking that this episode might have the best pre-titles sequence in all of Doctor Who? Oh, it hits the ground running. Bang! There’s explosions, and laser bolts fired (inside the TARDIS, of all places - our safe haven). The Doctor and Martha are running - scrambling for their lives. There’s shouts, and screams, and pressure, and adrenalin. The Doctor is actively worried, and Martha (who’s shown herself to be so good at remaining calm and composed on the whole) is struggling to keep up with him. Then there’s a plan forming and the watch, and the statement that the watch is…

…before we wake up in a study. On Earth. In the past. The Doctor isn’t the Doctor, and Martha is his maid, and the Time Lord claims to be completely human. I come to this episode knowing that the main hook is ‘the Doctor turns himself human’, but it’s still so exciting. How must this feel to people who don’t know the basic premise? Talk about grabbing your audience’s attention!

Yet for all that madness, and rushing around, and blood pumping, Human Nature is a very measured episode. Oh, it’s slow. It’s possibly the slowest-moving episode we’ve had since the show came back. It ceases the running and panic once the titles have played out and opts instead to spend time setting up the world, introducing the characters, and evolving their relationships. We only get to find out the real nature of the watch and answer some questions about that opening scene in drips and drabs as the story progresses - only bringing things to light when the time is right and the narrative demands it. Actually, I’m not sure ‘slow’ is the way to describe this one - it’s ‘crafted’, and it’s done beautifully.

This is one of those occasions - and it’s been a little while since we last had one - where I have very little to actually say about an episode, because I’ve simply spent the time enjoying it. My notes are littered with things I’ve liked (ranging from lines of dialogue, to specific shots - mentions that the TARDIS looks beautiful here, both in the way it’s shot from the outside, and the way it’s been lit as ‘emergency power’ on the inside - and references to the Journal of Impossible Things*), but I don’t actually have much to write about them, because it would simply turn into a list of things from the episode, and I’d rather avoid that if I can. So for now I’ll just bask in the fact that we’re into a ‘golden’ period for the programme, and I’ll worry about trying to describe things like that tomorrow…

*Actually, no, I can’t not mention the Journal, can I? Doesn’t it seem strange - in a post-Night of the Doctor world - to think that there were debates as to the canonicity of the Paul McGann Doctor right up until about the point that this episode aired, and his face was front and centre among the other incarnations in the Journal? I still remember the reaction to that, with some people cheering because, of course, he’d always counted as a Doctor, while others complained that he shouldn’t really be there. Even at the time, I found the concept that he somehow ‘didn’t count’ bizarre, so it was nice to have some sort of official decree!

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