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6 February 2015

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

Day 767: The Family of Blood

Dear diary,

I’ve not really spent much time discussing David Tennant’s performance in the last couple of weeks, but it’s only right that I bring it up today, because I think The Family of Blood features not only his best performance in the series to date, but also some of the best we’ve had of any Doctor throughout the programme. It’s perhaps typically Doctor Who that this should come during scenes where he’s not even playing the Doctor, but rather John Smith.

I think he’s absolutely at the top of his game from the moment he sees the TARDIS outside the school, right through to the moment he sits alone with Joan and tries to decide what he has to do. It’s simply pitch-perfect on every line, every action… the whole thing really holds together and just works for me. The scene where he sits with the woman he loves and sees flashes of their potential future is beautifully done, but I’d somehow forgotten just how wonderful that earlier bit was. And yet, as soon as we cut to that shot of the Family around the TARDIS, I could remember posting a clip of that scene on Facebook the night this episode aired, and proclaiming it to be the finest three minutes of Doctor Who I’d ever seen. I don’t think - even after watching for 700-something days - I’m far out with that declaration.

Not only in those scenes does Tennant get to shine, though; it’s almost as though this episode is specifically crafted to showcase his range as an actor - and as a Doctor. We’ve had flashes of this incarnation’s darker side since right back at the beginning, where he set up Harriet Jones’ downfall during The Christmas Invasion, but it’s here where we perhaps see it most clearly for the first time. We watch as he traps the family for all eternity - in black holes, and mirrors, ensuring that they receive the immortality they so desperately courted. Remember back in The Five Doctors, when the Doctors were all slightly stunned and fearful of Rassilon’s gift of immortality? This is taking that same idea and stretching it to the very extremes.

But those brief scenes aren’t the cruellest that we get to see the Doctor in this episode - that comes afterwards, when he goes back to visit Joan, and insensitively asks her to travel with him. Specifically, it’s this moment;

JOAN

Could you change back?

DOCTOR

Yes.

JOAN

Will you?

DOCTOR

No.

It’s a really cruel inversion of the decision John Smith has spent the last fifteen minutes wrestling with - and yet the Doctor doesn’t even have to consider it for a second. It serves to really highlight how different the two men are (and I’d never noticed it before, but it’s a play on the Doctor and Rose’s little conversation about changing back in the 2005 Children in Need episode - only here it’s far more assured and definite). 

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