I'll say it quickly: HUMAN NATURE/THE FAMILY OF BLOOD and BLINK are three of the best DOCTOR WHO episodes you are likely to see. Bottom line. I'd even go so far as to say that if Actively Disliking Science-Fiction was the mainstay of my life, I'd still buy this - just to have something really brilliant to rail against. And why not? Makes sense to me, it's that good. No, it's better even than that.
Adapted by PAUL CORNELL from his own novel, 'Human Nature' (originally featuring Sylvester McCoy's seventh Doctor), it's a story about Time Lord energy and the relentless pursuit of it across time and space by The Family of Blood: a ruthless alien clan, devoid of compassion, ready to spread like cancer throughout the galaxy. Either that, or die out. If The Doctor can only avoid detection for three months, their brief lifespans will see to the rest - hence the need to find him quickly and drain his energy. But it soon becomes clear that, in order to drop off the radar completely, The Doctor needs to temporarily relinquish being a Time Lord and become human. With the aid of TARDIS technology, the result of that decision is one JOHN SMITH, senior teacher at a Boys' Public School in 1913, on the eve of The Great War. And MARTHA JONES is his maid, with prior instructions to 'look after' him until the danger has passed. She can then 'restore' The Doctor via a fobwatch containing his otherworldly essence. However, as a human, John Smith is completely unaware of his real self. And that's where the problems begin...
Oh, boy. Did I mention that, despite The Doctor's emergency measures, the Family of Blood have traced him to the local vicinity, taken over the bodies of appropriate inhabitants and begun 'sniffing' out their quarry?
Normally I tend not to get bogged down in story summary but this is a very deserving exception; there are issues dealt with here that transcend the lightweight nature of other episodes, such as the inevitability of war, bravery in the face of the enemy, race and social standing, identity, love...
That these elements are all neatly tied-up, with a genuinely uplifting and simultaneously heartbreaking coda which made me shed more than one tear (dammit, not again!), is testament to storytelling and production of the highest order. Watched as a whole you will inevitably find yourself going back to scenes or specific moments again and again: the gunning down of the army of scarecrows; the standoff in the school courtyard between the alien-absorbed Baines and the Headmaster, Mr Rocastle, "You speak with someone else's voice, Baines"; "The Fury of the Time Lord"; John Smith terrified that he's "just a story"; Martha telling TIM LATTIMER that he doesn't have to fight and the young boy, having attained an insight into what's to come, replying "I think we must"...and so much more.
The acting, as you would imagine, is also magnificent. DAVID TENNANT is allowed here to go way beyond his 'Doctor' persona and delivers by pushing the human John Smith character through the emotional wringer. It's a revelation - and never less than convincing. The rest of the cast, without exception, also rise to the occasion, but I must single out HARRY LLOYD - his JEREMY BAINES is one of the most sensational alien-posessed nasties I have seen on the show in a long time.
FREEMA AGYEMAN continues to demonstrate what an asset to Doctor Who she is. Not just any old companion, Martha Jones is one of the best companions to date - no over-the-top histrionics, no cloying or smug behaviour, no reduction to cypher in order to explain the plot - she's as 3-dimensional as we're going to get and we're very lucky to have her, especially considering what she's had to put up with. I mean it's surprising that she sticks around at all because The Doctor sure ain't paying her any attention. This is one unrequited emotional dynamic that needs to be resolved. And soon.
So, to sum up: A beautiful story over two virtually perfect episodes. And let's be honest, when quality of this standard is achieved, nitpicks are a pretty pointless exercise. Perhaps I might need them for the next release, Who knows?
BLINK is this season's budget, 'Doctor-Lite', episode. Really? It is also one of the most unusual and original pieces of science-fiction television in many years. Demonic statues that attack in the blink of an eye. Stare at them and you're safe, but the moment you look away...well, there goes the rest of your life, the weeping buggers steal the remaining years and send you back in time to another era as a thank-you. How rude.
Unfortunately, The Doctor and Martha have been caught out and are stuck in 1969 without a paddle, much less a TARDIS. However, they've been leaving messages in a spooky house for a certain SALLY SPARROW to save them, making her both focus and catalyst for what is to come. Writer STEPHEN MOFFATT is an absolute genius at this left-field type of storytelling and his use of hidden DVD 'Easter Eggs' as a means of contacting the right person (geeky film-nut, in this case) is a stroke of genius - in a script packed with similar touches - and will guarantee him Serious Credibility at sci-fi conventions the world over. Yet another Scotsman at the top of his game.
The ending is clever and logical (despite the paradoxes) and the production is kept relatively claustropobic to suit the mood. Yes, there are several laugh-out-loud moments along the way but, damn, those statues are scary - if I had seen this as an eight-year old, I may have needed a change of pyjama bottoms.
Okay, this is my longest review to date - and if you've stuck with it, thank you - but my intention is simply to convey just how special the above truly is. And it's my honest opinion that we should own these episodes not just because doing so helps towards the lifespan of the series as a whole, but also because quality writing - anything that allows for the creation of more examples like this, pushing the bar of excellence ever higher - is a worthy cause.
If you don't believe in those lofty aims, however, then just have something really brilliant to rail against...you'll feel much better for it.