TV Show Review: Doctor Who Episodes 3.08-3.09 “Human Nature” & “The Family of Blood”

Episodes 3.08 and 9 “Human Nature” & “The Family of Blood”
Written By: Paul Cornell
Originally Aired: May 26and June 2, 2007

Synopsis: “In order to hide from a family of murderous aliens who are following his scent across time, the Doctor disguises himself as a mild-mannered English schoolteacher in 1913, even rewriting his own memory to complete the charade. Only Martha holds the secret to his identity as the Doctor, with orders to not bring him back to himself until the time of danger has passed. But the Family of Blood appears sooner than expected, and the Martha realizes that she may have lost the Doctor for good this time…” (synopsis by me)

While undoubtedly an excellent story, it’s not exactly quintessential Doctor Who. It lacks most of the humor and optimism that the show usually strives for, and thus may not be the best introductory episode for a new viewer. But then, it was never intended to be an introductory episode. Rather, it explores an intriguing possibility that the Doctor Who universe makes possible, but doesn’t often investigate. What if your mild-mannered, bookish professor was secretly a time-traveling superheroic alien, and even he didn’t know it? How many other people with vague pasts scattered throughout history could be the Doctor disguising himself for months at a time? Smack in the middle of an intense season, “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood” build heavily on the emotional continuity that comes before. While the plot is self-contained and engaging by itself, the real reward of this two-parter is in seeing where it takes the Doctor and Martha in their respective arcs.

John Smith: Mankind doesn’t need warfare and bloodshed to prove itself. Everyday life can provide honour and valour. Let’s hope that from now on this country can find its heroes in smaller places. In the most ordinary of deeds.

We see, if we hadn’t noticed before, that Martha really does work harder than any other Companion. By sheer perseverance, loyalty, cleverness, and humility, she navigates the complex relationships and frustrating class-based (and race-based) hierarchies of the British boarding school system. She puts up with the Doctor ignoring her even more than usual in his guise as Professor John Smith. She resists opening the watch that holds his Time Lord identity, because he told her not to. She tolerates her heart breaking as he falls in love with Nurse Joan Redfern, an event he, as the Doctor, had not foreseen. She suffers, and waits, and works, and talks sense with force and energy when she hopes it’ll do any good. And, as before, she is generally overlooked and underappreciated by everyone around her. Even Joan, normally a very sensitive and perceptive woman, fails to really see or appreciate Martha.

The Doctor-as-John-Smith’s romance with Joan Redfern is very sweet and believable, making it that much more painful for Martha to watch. For seven episodes she has pined for the Doctor, hoping against hope that he might wake up to her. She knows he is capable of love because he himself still pines for Rose, but since she had never seen him with the object of his affections, the reality of it had never quite hit home. Now she watches him fall in love right before her eyes and sees him happy, attentive, and belonging slowly but steadily to someone else.

John shows Joan his diary of drawings, where he records his strange dreams of aliens and time travel...

As it happens, this is not only disastrous for Martha’s emotions but also to everyone’s safety. The less the Doctor-as-John-Smith trusts her, the harder it will be for her to bring back his Time Lord identity and fend off the murderous Family of Blood. And so the story’s power is magnified because the danger to Martha and the Doctor’s relationship runs parallel to the danger to their lives. Everything could be fixed if only the Doctor were back to himself! He’d at least acknowledge Martha as his important friend and deputy, he wouldn’t get sidetracked with domestic romance, and he most certainly would send those scarily mundane aliens packing! Such we viewers know, and thus it is more alarming how completely the Doctor has fallen into his own disguise. John Smith certainly has a few of the Doctor’s personality traits – a warm, energetic optimism that can quickly become grimly serious if the situation warrants it, for one – but he’s also strikingly different. When John begins to learn about the Doctor and to believe the Time Lord is real, he is horrified: who is this person who endangered the lives of everyone at the school on a whim (after all, he could have chosen any place in time and space to hide), who is permanently nomadic and alone, and who couldn’t even anticipate the possibility of falling in love?

Which brings me to what I think is the story’s most heartbreaking and fascinating element: the choice of John Smith to die and become the Doctor again. See, we always expect the Doctor to know what he’s doing. Even when he says he’s making things up on the fly, we generally feel that he knows the risks involved and what he’s prepared to do or not do. But here the Doctor miscalculated. When he uses the chameleon arch to become completely human for a few months, his memory and personality is completely subsumed into John Smith, a man who considers himself imaginative, but fairly practical when it comes to things like reality. He thinks Martha is crazy when she tries frantically to tell him that the aliens have arrived and that he must become the Doctor again. And when he’s later forced to accept the facts of things, he’s terrified. Martha demands that he change back so he can save them all, but John Smith doesn’t feel like the Doctor. He doesn’t know the Doctor. Even if the memories are fake, they are all John Smith knows. For him, becoming the Doctor again isn’t returning to himself, it’s ending himself completely.

Martha: All you have to do is open it and he’s back.
John Smith: You knew this all along, and yet you watched while Nurse Redfern and I—
Martha: I didn’t know how to stop you! He gave me a list of things to watch out for, but that wasn’t included.
John Smith: Falling in love, that didn’t even occur to him?
Martha: [beat] No.
John Smith: Then what sort of a man is that? …And now you expect me to die?!

A glimpse of a very pleasant, potential future...

Of course he makes the change, or else we wouldn’t have the rest of the show. And, while we’re immensely glad to see the Doctor again – and delightfully defeating the aliens in their own ship with virtually no effort at all – we’re also a little bit sad at seeing John Smith go. He was such a decent fellow, with such promise. The show doesn’t let our emotions off easy, either – it shows us the potential for John Smith’s life; happily married to Joan, with beautiful children, a pleasant career (possibly becoming an early sci-fi novelist, I presume), and not putting anyone’s life in danger. We know that he must change, because he isn’t truly John Smith, but while he’s in that guise John Smith is the only himself he knows. And so Joan’s final words to the Doctor sting all the more because there is some truth in them – though she may be too harsh on him because she doesn’t know the whole story, still there is much truth: many people died because the Doctor chose to hide at the school, and ultimately John Smith is braver than him because John Smith chose to die to save others.

It’s such a serious story, and while I don’t enjoy it as much as many other episodes (due to the rarity of humor and prevalence of deserved angst), I remain fascinated by its insights into the Doctor and Martha’s characters. The Doctor saves the day, but you’re not quite sure if he made the right choice. Hiding from the Family of Blood was intended to be an act of mercy from him, to give them a chance to escape the terrible punishment he had for them. Yet many people died because the Doctor chose to hide at the school, and a vulnerable widow’s heart was broken. And then the Doctor’s final punishment for the Family – is it too much? This terrible, poetic judgment – would execution have been more just? Questions worth asking. Good must punish evil, but the Doctor is not God. The show does seem a bit confused on that issue, though. It freely lets him be vulnerable and his actions questionable, but he is also called “ancient and forever…he burns at the centre of time and he can see the turn of the universe. And… he’s wonderful.”  Such phrases I would apply only to God.

He's not God and he's sometimes wrong...but he's still really really cool!

Author: David

I’m a young Christian American reader writer dreamer wanderer walker flier listener talker scholar adventurer musician word-magician romantic critic religious idealist optipessimist man.

56 thoughts on “TV Show Review: Doctor Who Episodes 3.08-3.09 “Human Nature” & “The Family of Blood””

  1. These were two of my favorite episodes, because of the the depth of the story and the character development! Like you, I protested the upping of the angst, but the story itself was so engrossing, that I ultimately let it slide.

    I personally thought that the punishments were fitting (except for maybe the little girl, though I thought the idea behind hers was really cool), and worked well with the Doctor’s resolution never to kill.

    1. And it does bring up the question, then, of whether or not some of the punishments he doles out are worse than death. Pacifism is never as simple or as just as it often pretends to be — in the case of the Family of Blood, execution would probably have been both more just and more merciful than trapping them in torturous stasis forever. The Doctor has many contradictions, some frustrating and some intriguing — what I’d really love to see, of course, is how a skilled Christian writer would tangle them out!

      1. Frank Peretti might stand a good chance of doing the Doctor justice – he’s proven (to me, at least) that he can do creepy, supernatural stories quite well. He also remembers to blend hope throughout his stories, which fits the Dr. Who series, tone-wise.

        I have found the Doctor’s strict pacifism irritating at times, because, as you say, it’s never as simple and just as it wants to be. At the same time, the inherent flaws in some of the Doctor’s ideologies keep him from being too godlike. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that he will solve everything (a theme that the writers explored in the latest season, much to my delight), so seeing him miscalculate and then rage about the consequences is a good reminder that he isn’t perfect and all-knowing.

  2. The thing that captured me most about these two episodes was David Tennant’s acting. How he took on a different personality as easily as putting on a different tie. There was something in that, that enthralled me!
    The story itself was emotional and left me on the edge of my seat because it’s one of those where The Doctor is not totally in control and since the outcome was not in his dependable hands, it was more compelling and scarier.

    1. Oh aye, Tennant did a fantastic job here. He resisted the temptation to fill John Smith with too many of the Doctor’s quirks, and yet you can kind of glimpse him beneath the surface. Martha’s the real hero of this episode, I think. She had to act on her own, without the Doctor giving her instructions, and be brave and clever against some pretty terrible odds.

  3. The confusion of the Doctor with God is one of the themes that irritates me. It isn’t irritating enough to ruin the show for me, but it is a bleak, sad thought.

    Sometimes this show does a wonderful job of laying out situations that are morally complex and questioning them, while at others, it seems to make assumptions about such choices as if they were not complex. That is one thing I appreciate about the new Battlestar Galactica. The writers acknowledge the complexity of the moral questions facing their characters as well as the human frailty with which the characters face those choices. Not that these two shows should be compared in general, as they are so different, but I do feel that Doctor Who sometimes fails to live up to its potential in exploring these questions.

    1. Aye, it’s sad that the show can’t manage the balance. I don’t mind a Time Lord being uniquely able to understand time and history and all that. But they’ve got to understand that it’s possible for them to make the Doctor a real hero without worshiping him. They tend to go to the extremes: the Doctor is irresponsible and indirectly causes tons of deaths because of his careless actions, but he’s also this amazing burning godlike thing we should be in awe of. The show is still rather unstable on that front.

      1. True. The show often cannot make up its mind as to whether or not he is a supreme being or not. The show’s creators/writers do not seem to understand the concept that the Doctor needs something Greater than he is watching over the universe, else all he does is in vain. I am happier with the show when I consider the Doctor part of a greater pattern. But then that may just be my world-view. 😉

        1. The feeling I get is that the show is written by atheists and/or agnostics who are unconsciously searching for Christ. We all NEED someone who is simultaneously good and dangerous (i.e., powerful). The universe needs a savior and that’s a big part of what makes the Doctor so irresistible to viewers. He’s an amazing character with very human flaws, who has also unintentionally become a Christ figure.

          But it’s his flaws that make him more easily relatable: it’s hard for us (me at least) to wrap our heads around Christ’s sacrifice, because He’s perfect. Such perfection is so – well, alien to us that His human-ness, and His suffering as a human, don’t seem as real. It’s a kind of a mental block that the Doctor – though imperfectly – gets around. The writers are exploring his divinity because they need God. But they can’t go too far, or he’ll lose his humanity and they’ll lose the emotional connection with the audience.

          It’s just another example of the tininess of our minds. We just can’t grasp that God could become man, and feel as deeply as we do.

          1. I do see what you mean, Bekind. I wish I had a pie for every song I have heard that is voicing an unrecognized desire for Christ.
            Your view, here, is an “out-of-universe” one, which is, I think, why I separate it from the show itself (not that I am right to do so). To me, that aspect of the show speaks of its creators, but does not resolve my sadness for that which is “in-universe.” Does

            What you say of the Doctor being a more human, fallible, comprehensible substitute makes sense.

          2. I do think that the Doctor having Christological elements is different from a figure in ancient mythology having such traits. Before the Incarnation, we can say that ancient mythologies were unconsciously looking forward to the revelation of Christ. But now, after the gospel is well known and has had its impact on our culture, when we see depictions of characters–specifically characters in the realm of the fantastic, like Superman and the Doctor–that clearly have Christological traits mixed with sinful traits, then it’s a moving away from the gospel instead of towards it. It breaks down peoples’ understanding of the truth, and flirts with blasphemy. That’s what makes me uncomfortable with the series’ treatment.

            To be clear again, a character sacrificing himself in order to save others, while Christlike, doesn’t fall under this category that I’m talking about. I’m concerned with the attributing of divine qualities and moral perfection to a character who clearly falls short and engages in sin.

            1. Well, I’m not saying it’s a good thing. It just is.

              I think Anne makes an important distinction between in-universe and out-of-universe. In-universe, you’re right – they are wrongfully creating a distorted image of Christ. Out-of-universe, I’m right; they just don’t know what they’re doing. They’ve already rejected Christ out-of-hand; they don’t realize they are actually seeking Him through the character of the Doctor, and therefore they don’t realize they are distorting His image by adding elements to the Doctor’s character purely for dramatic effect.

  4. That’s a great review; I’ve been waiting a long time for it, so I’m glad it didn’t disappoint. You touch on a lot of what I love about the story. I would argue that it’s essential, not in the sense that it’s a good introduction to the character, but in that it presents an invaluable insight into the character. Tons of episodes amp up the angst and play around with the idea of the Doctor’s whole godhood vs. fallibility thing. But most of them don’t do it nearly so well. I certainly agree that the overall tone in this story is more sober than some, but a lot of those episodes with lots of laughs are a bit more inconsistent in tone. This one is tinged with sadness through and through, whereas many episodes are a raucous good time, except for the bits that are unbelievably dark and angsty. By establishing a more elegiac tone from the start, the Human Nature storyline gives itself room to take itself seriously as a drama without sacrificing *all* the humor or contorting the audience with sudden spikes of OMGdidtheyreallydothat?

    There are a couple reasons why I think this one works better at exploring the Doctor’s problematic nature. One, it’s a period piece. The show doesn’t always maximize its time travel possibilities by exploring our own history, and I found this story to be particularly delightful, because it’s very British, and surprisingly compassionate about its own British past, while still being critical. It emphasizes how much of an old soul the Doctor is while still acknowledging his radical impulses. But it’s not a totally made-up setting. Placing the Doctor in a historical context — one in which the variables are known and the themes dictated by history — gives us a sense of how integral he is to our structure. It also ultimately highlights just how alien he is. In order to show us how much the Doctor is *not* like us, it first shows us how much he is. In the contemporary or far-flung-future episodes that dramatize the character of the Doctor, I typically find him to be simply alien or frustrating, but rarely empathetic or humanized. This is especially true of Tennant, which makes this story even more special to me.

    Two, there’s a love triangle. I hate to admit it, but I think Martha’s unrequited love arc, while not terribly feminist, is fully justified by the mere presence of this story, which is, for me, the apotheosis of it. Again, in more contemporary settings, with the “real” Doctor, him falling in love with a human just never made much sense. I liked Rose, but I never completely bought into the epic romance. It’s hard to do when you remember that the Doctor, for all his (sporadic) compassion and human-centric ways, still thinks of us as lesser beings who need protection and must be chaperoned if we are ever to progress as a people. In other words, he treats us as a species like the patriarchal figures of centuries past treated their wives and daughters. It’s a paternal, Henry Higgins kind of romance that has a certain ick factor for me. It makes sense that a human would fall in love with the Doctor, but not vice versa, so Rose’s story always felt more like wish fulfillment (probably on the Doctor’s side, too) while Martha’s felt more like “…and here’s how it really happened.” But once you thrown John Smith into the mix, a fully humanized Time Lord, well — he becomes attainable, and Joan Redfern attains him. But as you mention, just as the Doctor becomes the most attainable in theory, he becomes the least attainable in fact. Martha was never treated worse than in this episode. The gulf opened up between her and the Doctor was horrible, and it showcased her as a great companion while emphasizing simultaneously how great the Doctor can be with a companion (Redfern) and how awful he can be (Martha). Turning it into a love triangle juices that dynamic, because love is love, and it magnifies everything.

    Three, it’s really scary. Not “scary” in the looking over your shoulder at night kind of way “Blink” is, but scary in the more profound sense. I loved the Family of Blood as villains. Sure, they’re easily defeated, but pod people are always especially terrifying to me as villains. They always slither their way into respectable society, tearing it apart from the inside, compartmentalizing its heroes and toying with them. And very few Who villains use humans as chess pieces against the Doctor. Most of the time, the Doctor is the one using them, and usually, he’s trying to save them, because they’re the target. Few villains are actually hunting him specifically. Which is the other side of the story’s scariness. As you’ve mentioned, the Doctor’s pacifist tactics are brought into question, as is his sense of justice, which borders on cruel. This isn’t a case of danger and destruction coinciding with his arrival, as is usually the case; this is him knowingly bringing danger with him, rather than dealing with it as he should. He uses humanity as his buffer. When it backfires, he takes out his self-loathing on the villains. Even the Daleks have been treated more humanely (which is frustrating in itself, but whatever). One of the reasons I love the Doctor as a character is that he can be this terrifying. Finding loopholes in his loose, pacifist ideology is one of the things that makes the Seventh Doctor my favorite. I think the fate that he wreaks upon the Family is overkill, but not totally unwarranted. But it does give me a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. Then there’s the fact that all the Doctor’s bumbling and running away is sort of confirmed by this story (sadly not followed through in others) as a series of deliberate stall tactics and diversions meant to a.) give the Doctor an opening to strike, or b.) give his enemies a chance to repent on their own. Yet there is that reckless element that permeates his strategy. And of course, looming over this grand chess match is World War I, another thematic parallel in which millions were killed in the strategic battle between titanic forces. Another plus for this particular period setting is that it suggests that the victor may not have been “right” for going about his business as he did.

    Four, the Doctor is a jerk, but he’s worth loving. Pretty simple point, but it gets lost so often. John Smith is presented as the Doctor’s “better half,” so to speak, and while he still has flaws, his nobility, courage, and romantic sensitivity beat in one heart while his ruthlessness, arrogance, and fearless brilliance beat in the other. All told, I don’t really like the Tenth Doctor very much, but I loved him anyway. This story is a good example why.

    There are other reasons I love this episode of course, but those are some of the big ones why I think it stands apart from other, angsty ones about the problematic nature of the Doctor’s character. I tend to like episodes that are all about his limitations (as opposed to his shortsightedness or arrogance), like Midnight, and episodes about his awesomeness, like The Eleventh Hour. This one has it all. It shows the Doctor as his most vulnerable and likable, then it shows him at his most masterful and ruthless. (One of the reasons why I think series 6 is the best yet is because it’s a rare season that explores the Doctor’s frailties and strengths of character without making me stop *liking* him or finding him to be insufferable.) Anyway, I’m glad you liked the story overall. 🙂

    Whenever you get around to the classic series, I’ll do a review of Remembrance of the Daleks, which is a personal favorite. A lot of the themes you touch on here and relevant to that story.

    1. Truly outstanding discussion, Matt. I especially think that your gentle criticism of the Doctor’s romance with Rose is thought-provoking. It was very crowd-pleasing and satisfying, and I admit I enjoy it too. But it didn’t make much sense for the Doctor to fall in love with her that way. He’s 900, she’s an immature 19 — even as she grew up and matured, she could never become a true lifelong Companion for him — never a wife. In fact, of all the women on the show, the only one to show such a possibility to me is River Song…(no spoiling nothin’, okay? Remember, I still haven’t progressed beyond Series 4, and I’m doing my level best to keep everything afterwards a surprise.). Still, Nine’s romance with Rose still fills me with the warm fuzzies, and that’s mostly due to Eccleston’s acting. He sold the romance to me, without ever getting sappy (well, there is the “You need a doctor” line in his finale, but that was awesome, so it’s okay).

      1. Eccleston was great. So was Tennant. They’re all great. I just think that RTD’s conception of the Doctor is a quintessentially romantic one. As flawed as his Doctor is, there’s a certain level of infatuation that lets him project implausible relationships onto the Doctor in a way that the old series never did. A big part of that is that contemporary shows need a bit of a soapy, romantic center that carries through over arcs, and the old series never really bothered with those things. But RTD didn’t jettison the Doctor’s history; he just tried to fold it into his much more modern idea of the Doctor, and it creates a kind of frisson that often works and sometimes doesn’t. Moffat’s Doctor is also romantic, but I think he draws a clearer distinction between being in love with the Doctor and being in love with the *idea* of the Doctor. Of course, RTD’s writing is so infectious that, in the moment, you tend to forgive the things that don’t make sense. That “You need a Doctor” line is just so cool that, even if it’s a bit hinky, you know that it’s completely sincere, and I tend to be won over by earnestness a lot of the time.

  5. I thought this was a very good review of an episode which I have mixed feelings about. You managed put a few things in perspective, that I feel strongly about.

    Honestly: I lost what little respect I had for the Tenth Doctor after this episode, however I agree that David Tennant’s acting was flawless.

    I can’t agree that Family got what they deserved. The Family behaved according to their nature. What the Doctor did could be likened to the Mayor in Jaws who refused to close down the beaches, after he had been warned of a deadly threat.

    The Doctor hid from –his words– the best hunters in the universe, knowing that The Family were a predatory and desperate species. He did not hide because he couldn’t defeat them, but because he didn’t want to confront a species he might have to kill to stop. He choose, and I don‘t think it was on a whim, a vulnerable period in Earth’s past; a period where someone like Harriet Jones, or Jack’s Torchwood wouldn’t be there to defend the planet, when and if the Doctor failed to do so.

    People died.

    Martha/Freema Agyeman was brilliant. Ms Agyeman spoke in the DVD of the controversy of her role in the episode.

    As a viewer who had read Cornell’s novel, and who has researched Black British History of the period: It appears the only reason for the Doctor to coerce Martha to become HIS servant is because Doctor did not want to confront the ethnic and class prejudice personally. As Martha, as did the Doctor’s companion in the book, pretended to be a relative, the Doctor would have had to share some of the scorn, suspicion, and hostility that Martha was forced to endure alone.

    Historically: Pan African Conferences were held in the UK in 1900, 1909, and 1918. Although possibly less than ten, several British Women of African descent had completed degrees of medicine in England.
    Because the training allowed for a legitimate school of nursing, Florence Nightingale publicity was circumspect on the idea of female physician, but personally critical. Presented with well trained nurses who were also women of color, Nightingale refused each one, so Joan’s hostility would have made historical sense. However, this is the country where older soldiers still respected Mary Seacole. While the residents might have raised an eyebrow at John Smith’s dusky complexioned niece, the people– especially the ex-soldiers would have accepted and respected Martha the coloured nurse/Doctress.

    The Doctor’s (screenwriters) lack of historical knowledge could have been forgiven, had there been any attempt to suggest that although she was his servant and a woman of colour, John Smith was an enlightened enough individual to consider Martha his confidant, and if not his social equal, disserving of equal opportunity. Other good, well educated, fair skin British men and women felt this way and worked towards those ends. You would think that the Doctor would become a human of quiet enlightenment.

    However, the fact that The Doctor displays (Listen to his list: You’re have to improvise; can do nothing for you, Don‘t let me eat pears,) no compunction about allowing Martha to face emotional abuse alone, and in fact exploit’s the societies prejudice to his benefit (He gets a maid and caretaker) is sobering to the viewer. There is nothing to admire about the Doctor‘s treatment of Martha in this episode.

    Martha’s declaration of love after he treats her like a– well the “N” word- was unsettling. Her ability to forgive his blatant exploitation, not only of the stereotypes of the times, but of Martha’s faith and affections was convincing only in that it helps, at least this viewer, realize how enabling and destructive their relationship had become.

    There can be no suggestion of a love triangle in a story where viewers are given the implicit statement that because of Martha’s complexion and station, it would be inappropriate for the Doctor to feel, it seems even the barest of affection for her. John Smith’s “cultural differences” statement towards a woman he believes has been a servant in his parents home since she was a child, gives us no doubt that he not only finds her coloring unattractive, but a barrier to her intelligence and opportunities.

    I did feel sorry for Joan– in the book, the Seventh Doctor’s companion, Bernice (who had masqueraded as his Niece), had to persuade him to talk to Joan. As a person of color watching this episode, I couldn’t get past the Doctor’s casual dismissal of Martha plight to give a flying fig if he really loved Joan or not. It turned my stomach knowing Martha was waiting with a hug and smile, to see him practically beg Joan to come with him.

    When Martha practically apologized for admitting she loved him, while he doesn’t bother to acknowledge her spiritual hardship and his abandonment of her, I wanted to give Martha a little shake.

    But that’s just me.

    1. Your commentary is as thought-provoking and sobering as ever, Hunter, and I greatly appreciate it. I like the idea that the Doctor runs in order to, as Matt said above, 1) stall until he can strike and 2) give his opponents an opportunity to repent or at least stop their current evil. But I’m struggling to find much else that is positive about the Doctor’s actions in this episode. He uses an especially vulnerable humanity as his buffer, providing nothing for their protection. He not only takes Martha to a place and time where she suffers from racism, but he fails to prepare her for it. (She’s practical and thick-skinned enough to handle it, for the most part, but he did squat to help her.)

      Given the time and place the Doctor chose, it makes sense for him to have Martha be his personal servant — after all, how else could she stay close to him and have such personal access to him? Still, it’s disturbing that he turned into a human who so ignored and ill-used her, primarily on the basis of her color and social status. John Smith can’t use a heart broken by Rose as an excuse. Fact is, he doesn’t even treat her as an old family servant, one he grew up being friends with, which is what I understood they were supposed to be. He excludes her from his confidences too easily.

      Now, I don’t know if the Doctor had any control over the kind of human he turned into — probably not. Maybe he couldn’t control the fact that John Smith wasn’t quite as enlightened as we would all hope. Yet the very fact that that’s the man he became is unsettling. It makes for tense, sometimes frustrating drama, but in a broader and deeper analysis of the Doctor’s character, it’s disappointing. I want him to be a better hero.

      Which goes right to your last point, asking what kind of Savior or God would treat his most faithful servant so shabbily? No a perfect one, certainly, nor even a believably omnipotent and good one. The Doctor doesn’t just fall short of perfection — he (morally) falls below even many humans. Which makes it all the more frustrating when the show suddenly, undeservedly, showers him with accolades usually reserved for a perfect and good God.

      1. Hi David: I hope that wasn’t sobering as in “KillJoy” 🙂 I have problems thinking that the Family with only a 3 months life span, could choose good or evil. They are predators looking for energy.

        Considering the times the Doctor actually had more options of how to keep Martha close to him than he had in 1969. Racial prejudice was prevelant, however this was the generation that celebrated Samuel Coleridge Taylor, and clamoured to see Victoria Davis, Queen Victoria’s African goddaughter. Had the Doctor announced that “This is Martha, my niece” or “This is my ward” people would have accepted his word and possibly thought or said that Smith, taking on the dual challenge of a ward and “Coloured” person was admirable. They would have felt the same racial prejudice, and actually Martha, (As Bernice Summerfield in the novel) would have been expected to behave with morals above the wife of Ceasar, but issue of race woild have been addressed to the person that IMO it should have been addressed to: The Doctor as John Smith. However, as the program is, I agree with you; John Smith did not treat Martha at all like a trusted family servant. It bothered me, because in the full version of the instructions, the Doctor says John Smith is someone he “invented”. The TARDIS choose the time, and changed his physiology–The Doctor created “John Smith”.
        The Doctor here is not only less God, he’s not a very good human friend. I’m an Anglophile and have always loved, since the original “Upstairs/Downstairs ‘ the less patronizing look at the relationships between serving and upper class. As you pointed out , the connection between Smith and Martha lack even that balance of trust, which makes one wonder if the Doctor “invented” Smith with a personality and station that allowed him to escape from Martha.

        1. Just to toss in another out-of-universe observation – with around 14 45-minute episodes per season, figuring in casting, set design, costume design, filming, editing and special effects, the writers don’t have much time for historical research or even for pausing to consider what XYZ actions say about the motives and morality of each character. We’re talking a matter of weeks or even days to write an episode – which means they’re thinking more about “this would be a cool setting that wouldn’t cost too much to build” and “this will add a touch more drama.” It’s not really fair to give a DW episode the same level of critique you’d give to a full-length film or novel.

          On the other hand, it is valuable practice in literary analysis – but for us to learn from, not to criticize the writers.

          1. As the episode was adapted by Paul Cornell from his full length, well researched, Seventh Docter novel Human Nature, it is more than fair to question the research. The DVD extras discuss the background and research. Also Mr. Cornell discussed the process of adapting his novel for the screen in the online copy of the novel.

  6. PS: Sorry for the typos in the previous post. I did notice Mister Davies struggle with portraying humans seemingly perceiving the Time Lord as a “Savior”. And it is tricky in the first three seasons to discern whether or not the Time Lord is a replacement for a Savior/God for humans. Although in Martha’s first outing, he does appear to sacrifice his life by giving his blood, he is “raised” from the dead because Martha,– seeing the danger and recognizing he is the only one with the knowledge to save them,– revives him with her last breath. In Human Nature, she willingly becomes his servant and caretaker, although this sacrifice leaves her vulnerable to abuse. And she, almost cheerful endures spiritual abuse by his lover, his peers. Finally she ridiculed (Cultural differences), abused, and rejected by the Doctor in this episode. Although Martha holds the knowledge in her head, heart, words, she willing steps aside so that Joan –who to moments before was completely ignorant even of opportunities available in her own time–can reason with the Doctor. Not giving a single thought to what it would mean to his Companion, the Doctor begs Joan to come with him. What type of Savior/god would treat his most faithful, worthy servant with such shabby disregard?

    1. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this story. I don’t understand, though, why you say, “There can be no suggestion of a love triangle in a story where viewers are given the implicit statement that because of Martha’s complexion and station, it would be inappropriate for the Doctor to feel, it seems even the barest of affection for her.” I think it’s clear that it’s not healthy for Martha to be so infatuated with the Doctor, but it seems to me that stories the world over are full of love triangles that are ridiculous or offensive in their nature. I think your diagnosis of Martha as essentially an abused, taken-for-granted wife makes a certain sense, but I’m not sure how that precludes the essential romantic structure of the story.

      1. II imagine it depends on how an individual perceives a romantic triangle. To me a “romantic” triangle would suggest that one of the persons,– in this case Smith– recognizes the worth of two potential suitors. It is apparent that Smith only sees Martha as a servant. We learn later that he considers Martha somewhat intellectually disabled because of her complexion. ( As Martha obviously is English and (Smith believes) was raised and worked in London, his “observation” that Martha has “cultural differences” can only refer to her complexion.) Joan, who in my opinion is less prejudiced than Smith, does recognize Martha as a potential rival. Joan recognizes Martha’s youth, beauty, and intelligence. She tells Smith that Martha is besotted with him, which Smith dismisses with a laugh. Smith feels that Martha is a delusional, violent servant. Rather than racist, Joan’s dismissal of Martha’s claim of studying medicine speaks of Joan’s assurance of entitlement. She does not doubt Martha’s abilities, but Martha’s opportunity. (Historically Joan is incorrect. There were a handful of African-British women who achieved medical degrees. I looked up the information on the BBC Black British website. It took about five minutes, so I am not convinced that that the BBC writers did not have the time or resources to for research., sorry. There was little if any effort to tie Martha historically to her culture and people, and I find it unfortunate.)
        I would not, for example, consider the Lady of Shallot was in a romantic triangle with Lancelot and Guinevere. The Lady of Shallot was simply an unfortunate victim of unrequited love. At least Lancelot noticed the Lady of Shallot’s beauty or acknowledged her femininity. The Doctor can’t be bothered– in the later omitted scene in the Lazarus Code–that she looks fine for the party, although he is generous with compliments for both Rose, and as we will see later, for Donna. Because of the Doctor’s blatant disinterest in Martha, there seemed to me no threat or hint of a romantic triangle.

        1. I didn’t know that an attraction being one-sided precluded a triangle. As you note, Joan perceives Martha’s apparent interest, though she doesn’t realize that it’s not John Smith Martha loves, but the Doctor. The fact that neither the Doctor nor John Smith have romantic feelings for Martha doesn’t negate the fact that she has those feelings for the Doctor. Martha recognizes both Rose (in absentia throughout the rest of the season) and Joan (in this story) as rivals. It doesn’t really matter if John/Doctor doesn’t recognize two possible love interests; those potential interests recognize each other, and he recognizes one of them.

          I’m not arguing that the Doctor isn’t a jerk or about the relative merits of the writer’s historical research. I just don’t see how you can dismiss Martha’s romantic attachment to the Doctor, especially since it’s a key, explicit element of both this story and her character arc. And since it’s apparent that Joan has feelings for Smith, the math is simple. There are three people involved, and there is a romantic aspect to their respective relationships: ergo, a love triangle.

  7. Did Martha see Rose as a rival? Martha recognized that Doctor refusal to move on beyond his loss of Rose. Like many people who are caught up he loss he can’t see what is right in front of him. Martha did try to understand what made Rose special. We know that Rose for instance couldn’t care less about stepping on a Butterfly if it meant getting what she wanted or to help someone she cares for–(Father’s Day, the Dimensional Canon…) whereas Martha would put her needs aside for others, whether they were loved one or strangers. It isn’t a matter of which attribute seems more worthy-execpt through the eyes of someone who loves a person. Nonetheless, Martha began feeling insecure, wondering what she lacked, why did the Doctor treat her as if she was invisible unless he needed something. She will come to understand that the Doctor doesn’t love Rose because of anyone attribute or action, but he simply loves Rose, flaws and all.

    I did not dismiss Martha’s romantic interest in the Doctor, although I thought the entire unrequited love angle for this particular companion was–ill conceived. However, Martha came into the Human Nature scenario loving the Doctor, but there was never a chance that the Doctor could or would love her back, and Human Nature makes that clear. Martha is the Lady of Shallot. We are going to have to agree to disagree on the term “love triangle”. Martha’s feelings for the Doctor are inconsequential to the Doctor and Joan. Neither could care less what Martha feels when it comes to what they want. Martha’s love has no effect what-so-ever on the decision John Smith makes to change back. He doesn’t change for Martha or Martha’s sake; he changes for Joan. He is not moved or convinced by Martha’s arguments and frankly I believe if Martha had not acted to save herself when Baines gave Smith a choice, Martha would be toast. Joan dismisses Martha with the child (Tim) and like a child, so she can talk to Smith. Of course for the viewers who like Martha, there is some sympathy for her, but Martha is not a part of Joan and John Smith’s dynamic– she is very much the spectator. Martha’s love for the Doctor is simply a narrative device in this tale, one that supposedly allows the us to view the Doctors actions with more sympathy as we see the Doctor’s actions through Martha’s loving eyes.

    1. Evidently, we do have different ideas of what a love triangle is. To you, it means that all three people must regard each other as equals, all recognize the fact that they’re in a love triangle, and one of them must be presented with a clear choice between returning one or the other two people that he/she loves. To me, that’s an extraordinarily myopic conception of what a love triangle is (or should/could be), and while it’s fine and good to say “we’ll have to agree to disagree,” I think that the way you’re defining your terms skews the story as it’s actually presented.

      I agree that Martha is treated mostly as a spectator, even though she takes decisive action that saves both the Doctor and the school. Her love might not have an impact on Smith’s decision to turn back, but that decision would not be an option were it not for her persistence — which is borne partly out of her love. And while I agree that the Doctor simply does not see Martha as a romantic option, the way he (and Joan) treat her only serves to make the Doctor look more like a jerk, rather than negate the romanticism of the story itself.

      I don’t know that Martha’s view of the Doctor makes his actions more sympathetic. I think it makes her a more pitiable figure, since, at this point in the season, she still doesn’t quite understand him. And despite the fact that John Smith isn’t nearly as “enlightened” as you seem to want him to be, I don’t think the persona of John Smith is fundamentally reprehensible for his prejudices. As progressive as many of that time period may have been, it’s reasonable to expect that even the most likable white middle-upper-crusters would still be prejudiced. And I think that the way the story is structured, the fundamental prejudice at work is class, as opposed to race, though that is certainly a factor. The prejudice (whatever its nature) is reprehensible, but John Smith is essentially a good man.

      However, it *does* speak badly of the Doctor that the best human version of himself would still possess those class/race prejudices, not to mention that he would treat his companion so horribly. Martha eventually decides to leave the Doctor on her own, and I think it’s this kind of thing that leads her to understand and accept that what she thinks she loves about the Doctor is not the Doctor himself. In the end, I think she does love the Doctor, warts and all, but she’s not *in* love with the real Doctor. For me, that’s part of what makes this story work so well: it’s a significant milestone in her relationship to (as opposed to relationship *with*) the Doctor. Inasmuch as her presence is a “device” in this tale, I think the fact that she serves a structural purpose doesn’t necessarily negate the emotional burden she endures.

      I agree with you in several respects, though. I do think the unrequited love angle for Martha was ill-conceived, though I think it worked about as well as you could expect. And I ended up loving Martha as a companion, in large part because she did contrast with Rose in the ways you describe: she’s a little more empathetic, a little more selfless, and a little more capable in general. More than that, the way her arc ends leads her to find her own path apart from the Doctor, whereas Rose’s identity is always tied to him. Despite her sad willingness to put up with his crap, I think Martha grows a lot more as a person than Rose did. Part of the reason I’m a Martha fan is that the Doctor was so unappreciative of her; if he won’t recognize her strengths, someone should.

      I also agree that the Tenth Doctor is a world-class jerk. Of the three new Doctors, he’s easily the most unlikable and inconsistent. I like it when the Doctor is sketchy and unreliable, but my biggest problem with Ten is that, as I think I’ve mentioned earlier, RTD never exposed Ten’s hypocrisies for what they were. He seemed to find them lovable (or tragic) flaws and endorse them as part of the package, and if there’s an underlying discomfort with the Doctor’s relationship to Martha, I think it stems from the showrunner’s lack of objectivity when it comes to how problematic the Doctor is as a heroic figure. That’s another reason I love this particular story. I think the way he deals with the Family is terrifying, and the fact that he used humanity as his shields, and the way he treated Martha, and the way Joan ends up as emotional collateral — all of this complicates the idea of the Doctor as a hero. Smith’s sacrifice is noble, and I think the montage where he sees the life he might have had is quite poignant; at the same time, the Doctor is the one who put Smith in that position, and he should have known better. So this whole thing is just more fuel for the self-loathing fire.

      1. I don’t think I would go as far as to define someone opposing perception ‘myopic’. A love triangle bare bones definition is a situation where two people love the same person, so on that score you are correct. However, that defintion seems too broad to describe a dramatic, love triangle. People fall in love with people they haven’t met. My model would be Cathy, Heathcliff, and what’s his name– Cathy’s husband, or the Phantom, Christine, and Rauol. There is a connection there.
        The Role of the Doctor’s companion is to serve as narrator– hence the new intoduction. Mister Cornell said that he wanted to put Martha in the position of having to act alone, from the difficult position of a servant. But Martha cannot convince the Doctor to change or act. This is another difference from the novel and an unfortuante one; as Bernice cannot convince Smith to change, but he recognizes a trusted companion in Bernice and agrees to work with her, and John Smith truly sacrifices his life to rescue Joan.

        You should pass on your opinion of the “unrequited love angle” to Davies, because even he has been quoted as regretting it. I do like the final image of Martha as rising above her dissapointment and going on with her life as an adult. As Freema was quoted as saying, all that pining was getting tired. Still, Martha had the most triumphant exits of the NuWho. So on that score, we do agree.

        I think if the racial aspect of the Doctor’s rejection had not creeped in (And remember, the Doctor has told Martha that HE invented John Smith), through Smith, I would find the premise easier to swallow, but who wants to think of their hero as a closet racist? The Doctors prefers blondes and gingers, great. Altough a woman of color, I’m a bottle auburn myself. But through Smith’s actions we suspect that like Smith, the Doctor considers romantic entanglements with women of color is inappropriate. And other than Mickey, who grows, POC don’t fair well. That’s uncomfortable.

        When it comes to the protrayal of race and history I am not as generous as you to writers, especially when the writers use blanket assumptions to define an entire culture, and in this case I mean the blanket assuption of the entire population of fair complexioned Brtions.

        The assuption and acceptance that the reason that Smith is prejudice is because he’s white, British, and this is 1913, appears to me far more racist than the behavior of the characters. Not racist as in hateful, but racist as in allowing prejudice to define a culture.

        History matters, especially historical fiction. Historically, the London papers of November 10 and several days after carried the story of the election of John Archer,(Father was African Brition, mother Irish Catholic) as mayof Battersea London. Not all the papers were filled with praise, and some tried to say rather than of African/Irish descent, Archer was from Calcutta. He was exceptional but so is Shakespeare or Queen Victorial or Vincent Van Gogh. Since when has Doctor Who shied away from telling stories of exceptional humans?

        Historically, as Martha/John Smith would have gravitated towards intellectuals, artist, and scientist,Martha would have more likely met at least one young teacher who was a member of the Liberal/Labour Party of the UK. John Smith as a liberal or labor party member would have been the complete opposite of what we see, although in Cornell’s novel, the Seventh Doctor as John Smith very much reflects the idealism of this new group of English thinkers. The Family were searching for a Time liberal/Labour party idealism of 1913. So does Tim and to a point when it came to pacifism, Joan. The Family after all is hunting a Time Lord, not a progressive thinking human or they would have captured Tim immediately.

        I am not certain why Cornell choose to change that part of John Smith’s personality from his original novel, but the Tenth Doctor’s John Smith is not as evolved as the Seventh Doctor is in Cornell’s novel, which surprised and dissapointed me. Joan in the novel uses the “N” word and John Smith is distrurbed by the use of the word, forcing the well educated Joan (She is a fellow teacher in the novel) to use her “country manners” as an excuse. There were other changes: Smith in the novel produces a bunny slipper when the older boys ask if they can beat Tim. He and Joan debate about war and pacifism in the face of true tyranny. Cornell address some of the loss of his ideals in the novel to the constraits of adaptation.

  8. I’m not sure I buy wholesale the idea that the Doctor is a closet racist. I think it may be fair to fault the filmmakers for not finding a more agreeable, more politically correct way to handle the Doctor’s treatment of Martha, but as I said, I think the way the part was written was more to emphasize the class difference or status difference. Broadly speaking, this story emphasizes how the Doctor treats Martha more like a factotum than a true companion, and that is consistent with his behavior toward companions from the earliest days of the show — to greater or lesser degrees, of course. The idea that Martha is invisible to the Doctor being presented in an upstairs/downstairs trope makes a lot more sense, considering the overall structure and thrust of the story than her being unappealing because she’s black. Again, I don’t think the racial component can be dismissed, and it’s certainly fair to call the writers on that, but the Doctor being a tool isn’t necessarily a symptom of him being a closet racist so much as him being a Time Lord and arrogant, self-absorbed elitist.

    I also don’t think that it’s fair to say that the writers paint all fair-complexioned Britons as prejudiced — and that this makes them reverse racists (or something). And even if they did, I don’t think that it would be entirely unfair for the writers to assume that, in 1913, even the most liberal English might be considered prejudiced in the eyes of a 21st century viewer. All I have to do is read the work of some self-identified “progressives” of the early 20th century, and even with the best of intentions, they still bandy about derogatory terms and stereotypes. They were products of their age, and while I certainly would not advocate accepting those modes of thought and behavior as morally correct, I don’t think it’s fair to judge them according to the standards of the early 21st century. This doesn’t necessarily define the entire culture in terms of prejudice, but it does acknowledge that it’s there.

    I haven’t read the original novel, so I don’t bring to the TV adaptation any of the insight or consideration that you do. It’s one I intend to read at some point. And I Doctor Who has not shied away from telling great stories about great people — it’s one of the awesome things about the show. But that’s not the story we have in front of us. What I think the Family of Blood story tried to illustrate was how complicated the Doctor is as a protagonist, and that not everything about him is super-amazing, even though some parts definitely are. In essence, I think this story is about slapping the rose-tinted glasses off Martha’s (and the viewer’s) face, while at the same time offering a very sympathetic glimpse of his essential loneliness. One that is largely self-imposed, of course, but ineradicable nonetheless.

    As I said, I ended up not much liking the Tenth Doctor. This episode treads a very thin line, and because it happened to work for me, I think it’s one of his very best, but that’s because it’s not one of the uncritically adoring stories that we usually get from the RTD era, even if it is one of the most empathetic. I hated how series three ended, and I hated how the Tenth Doctor’s waffling and pathological commitment to his own loneliness were presented so romantically up through the remainder of his era. I can only imagine how much better this particular story would have been if it hadn’t been done under the RTD’s aegis. In retrospect, I’m kind of amazed I love it as much as I do.

    1. David, you must feel we’ve hijacked your blog! 0-0

      The moment the Doctor looked at Joan and declared that his English maid’s Martha’s perceived inability to discern reality from fiction came from ‘cultural differences’, it was clear that John Smith was very aware of the racial differences and that John Smith considered Martha’s heritage a handicap. And as he stated, the Doctor created John Smith. As David pointed out, I wouldn’t expect that reaction from: t a slave owner of a faithful servant. I don’t believe that the character of the Doctor is a closet racist, however I would agree with you that the writer’s approach to the story does leave the audience with idea that Doctor has reservations. I do have an advantage having read the novel and it gives one a different perspective of the story telling. The novel suggests that even as a human the Doctor’s basic perception of humanity –good and bad– remains the source of John Smith’s decency and his trust and affection of his companion. In this script, the Doctor designs Smith. The TARDIS makes him human, the Doctor designed Smith’s personality. He designs Smith to allow Martha into his memory, but she is an inherited servant, who inexplicably leaves her London home to follow him. He has no particular affection for her, nor does he appear to have any sense of responsibility to or for her well- being. From the Headmaster’s words, Smith must have given her some recommendation so the school would hire her.
      If we are to believe that Smith’s treatment of Martha is due to his indoctrination of the times and that he could not have a more liberal point of view and not be thought alien from other white, male humans, then reverse racism is exactly what we see.
      This is where I believe the writers underestimated their audience. In the novel, Bernice masquerades as the Doctor’s niece. Historically the most visible or notable British POC –Mayor John Archer, footballer and later army officer Walter Tull, composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor,- were of blended African/European descent. They had white parents, relatives, guardians, friends and supporters. These people could not stop racism, but they could share the burden with their darker complexion neighbors. The Doctor showing up with a dark complexioned niece would have caused some chatter, but nothing more than rude curiosity. No one is suggesting that the Doctor would not have encountered racism towards him and his niece. Of course he would have. So? He can’t deal with that?
      I am concerned that the writers may have edited the story to spare the audience’s trepidation about the Doctor—as opposed to Martha– encountering racism. The attitude that it is alright for Martha to encounter racism because as a black woman she is used to it is unacceptable insensitivity. Basically, this dismissal of Martha’s spiritual well-being makes the Doctor appear callous in his treatment of Martha. If the writers did indeed compose the script with premise that “as, Martha is black, she’s used to abuse”, it implies that writers believe that Martha, a female character of color is not worthy of the meanest concern from the Doctor for her spiritual well- being. The Doctor is permitted to throw her to the wolves. He comes off to viewers of Color as either too cowardly or just uncaring of Martha to stand at her side as a true friend to defend, support, or if nothing else comfort her. We don’t expect him to change minds; we expect him to be a true friend and he is not. He appears an opportunistic user, willing to exploit the prejudice of the time for his comfort and benefit, and his companion’s comfort, safety, and well- being be damned. Give her a hug, a pat on the head, and she’ll go out and work to pay the rent on their next outing.
      In the novel the Doctor chose to become human not in spite of Bernice, but to help her through her grief. They were not fleeing anyone, but an enemy of the Time Lords discovered the Doctor’s vulnerability. In the end, when Bernice approaches John Smith, although he is not willing to turn back, he is more than willing to work with his niece—Smith and Summerfield. When Joan sent Martha outside, my heart plummeted; I would have loved to hear John Smith say, that matters were mad, but he was ready to face things with his family servant: Smith and Jones. The only thing that was more disappointing was not seeing Percy Weasley reunite with Fred before Fred is killed by Death Eaters.
      As well as the novel, you might want to read about Walter Tull, and John Archer, the first Pan African Conferences 1900-1919 which were held in London. Two of the attendees of the conferences were African-British female physician who trained at Edinburgh in the early 1900s. The British Anti-Caste Society founded in the late 19th century was one of the first human rights groups of the industrial age. Because in the late 19th century and early 20th century, a considerable number white complexioned Britons, often of working class or modest backgrounds willing to put their careers and reputations on the line to defend their darker complexioned fellow Britons, the ‘excuse” of the times seems almost an insult to their heritage and work. As to the depiction of notables: Please name those notable artist, scientist, statesmen of Asian, African, or Middle Eastern descent featured on Doctor Who (Obama in the end of Time doesn’t count). In the UK Doctor Who is considered children’s programing. Originally time travel was used to look at history and science. The only thing any non-ethnic European child would have gathered about their heritage after watching Doctor Who, especially Season Three is that the 15th century British Slave trade appears to be a myth, that there existed no greater danger to a woman of African descent in 1599 after Elizabeth I ordered all the mayor of London to help her expel all such persons from England than sensitivity to politically incorrect terms, and all their ancestors managed to achieve were positions as servants.

      1. Again, I think you’re projecting more into the script and its creation than is there. I don’t think it’s clear that the writers thought, “Martha’s black but strong; she can take it!” And I don’t think that the “reverse racism” you allege of the writers toward white Britons is particularly racist (that is to say, irrationally prejudiced) when it’s rooted in firm historical reality. Sure, there were a lot of enlightened white people, as well as a lot of non-whites who had the courage and strength to break barriers and change minds. You’re clearly far, far more knowledgeable about specific examples than I am. But those are ultraspecific examples, not necessarily representative samples. What it seems that you would have liked would be for the writers to use the show to repudiate the latent racism in Martha’s status in that time period. That would have been nice. But it wasn’t the point of the story, and I don’t think it’s terribly fair to the show to knock it simply for not being something you would have personally preferred. As I said earlier, this isn’t to say that your concerns and preferences are entirely invalid, but it seems that since dealing with those themes was not the focus of the episode — whereas it seems to be your focus as a critic — you’re dealing with a lot of material that is extrinsic to what is in front of us. So my perception is that what you say in terms of the Doctor’s (or the writers’) potential racism is more or less valid, but rather beside the point.

        The main point is one that you articulated incredibly well when you said, “Basically, this dismissal of Martha’s spiritual well-being makes the Doctor appear callous in his treatment of Martha. If the writers did indeed compose the script with premise that “as, Martha is black, she’s used to abuse”, it implies that writers believe that Martha, a female character of color is not worthy of the meanest concern from the Doctor for her spiritual well- being. The Doctor is permitted to throw her to the wolves. He comes off to viewers of Color as either too cowardly or just uncaring of Martha to stand at her side as a true friend to defend, support, or if nothing else comfort her.”

        The thing is, I don’t think the Doctor thinks of Martha as “a person of color.” To him, she’s just another human. She’s the one who, in The Shakespeare Code, has to remind *him* that she looks different front everyone else. And he, being the insensitive Time Lord that he is, nods to a passing pair of women — clearly a lady and her maidservant — saying that the people of that time aren’t all that different. The implication being, of course, that to him skin color makes no difference, but the clear difference in *class status* is also taken for granted. This overlaps perfectly with the fact that when he constructs Smith and Jones, he makes her his servant. He probably wasn’t thinking about her color at all, but it also never occurred to him that a companion wouldn’t feel too keen about being a servant. That’s why I think he seems Martha more as a factotum than a friend at this point.

        And I think you’re bang-on when you call the Doctor cowardly and uncaring. He is. Because he’s a jerk. An arrogant alien who, despite his vast knowledge and experience, despite his many wonderful qualities, fails to grasp some basic things about human character and dignity. Fundamentally, I think your instincts about the Tenth Doctor are ones with which I am in accord, but I disagree with your assessment of the racial politics in this particular story because, frankly, you’re bringing way more into the discussion than is evidenced by the tale itself.

        When you challenge me to “name one notable” of non-white descent, you’re clearly broadening the discussion to include the whole of Who’s representation of non-white characters. That’s only germane to the Family of Blood story in the most general, theoretical way. Again, however, I don’t think your concern is invalid. The few episodes in Who that have been directly concerned with historical incidents and figures have been focused on dead white folks. It would be nice if the writers broadened their perspective. I don’t think it would fix things to go for tokenism — which would certainly be a sort of racism — but then, I don’t think Who has really carried the banner of educating children about history and science very assiduously at any point in its entire run. The Daleks showed up in the second story of the very first season, propelling Who irretrievably into sci-fi adventure territory, and while the show has been very political at times, and while it certainly advocates a rationalist, materialist worldview, it is, at its heart, a fantasy. Should shows for children consider it an imperative to educate youngsters on the undertold history of those who have been historically oppressed or excluded from the mainstream annals? Maybe. That’s a whole other debate.

        The fact that Doctor Who has not, in general, taken up this ideological cause is not necessarily evidence that the writers are racist or that they think Martha can take the abuse because she’s black and she’s used to it. At best, I think this discussion and what you bring to it are a good entry point for considering how TV shows in general whitewash history, sweep the ugly bits under the rug, or fail to highlight shining examples of human progress in times when there wasn’t a lot to celebrate in terms of our enlightenment as a species. That’s valuable, and I’ve learned a lot throughout this discussion (which I have enjoyed, coincidentally).

        What I still don’t see, though, is any hard evidence how this story — primarily concerned with dramatizing the best and worst of the Doctor’s persona and the deeply unhealthy ways he relates to his companion — did, could or should have dealt satisfactorily with racial politics. I hated the way the Doctor treated Martha, and I think she should have kicked him in the yarbles. She didn’t. In terms of her character arc, she just wasn’t there yet. When she left the TARDIS at the end of the season, I think the impact of her decision on the Doctor sent the message clear enough. In my view, he ultimately realized what a mistake he’d made in consistently taking Martha for granted. It’s not as good as a kick in the yarbles, but at least she left on her own terms.

        I do think that the way this story was written attempted to elide race as an issue because it would have required way too much to deal with it, and since that wasn’t the focus of the story, they just tried to pretend that it didn’t exist. The fact that the Doctor can be such a raging knob made that easier, and it only ends up making him look worse. Did the writers wuss out or shirk responsibility? That’s where I think I agree with you. But the impact of that on the story, as it exists, does not ruin it for me, because there is so much good stuff packed into it that I don’t feel that it’s fruitful to rue the stuff that they didn’t manage to cover.

        1. The episode remains difficult for me to watch, but it is because the episode so thoroughly destroyed any affection I might have had for the Tenth Doctor.

          Criticism is not censorship. And exploration of the plot is not condemnation. Davis and Moffat have long been aware of how POC reacted to some elements of the show, especially Human Nature, thanks to blogs like The Angry Black Woman, and at Conventions (I was informed by a convention attendee in Australia that Paul Cornell, sometime after his well-deserved acclaim for Human Nature, did sit in on a discussion of minorities in science fiction.) Rather than defensive and or apologetic, the reaction from writers has been proactive and positive.

          As I came to understand that Davies wanted the audience to understand why Martha would choose to walk away from the Doctor to “save “herself”, I did understand ‘the why’ to a point. But I think Davies did not realize until too late how reprehensible the Doctor’s treatment of Martha would seem, especially to women of color of any age.

          Racism does not, in a broad sense, mean only hatred and discrimination. Neglect, insensitivity, and dismissal are included in the definition. The latter three, from a longtime activist, are the most difficult to address. People are too quick to jump on terminology rather that behavior and treatment of an individual. In both instances where Doctor Who address race, specifically Martha’s complexion, (The Shakespeare’s Code and Human Nature), we see elements of this casual racism.

          In the DVD comments and in the Confidential for the episode, what little was said about Martha’s predicament was that ‘Martha was strong enough to rise above it’. There is no acknowledge in the DVD comments, in Cornell’s notes that Martha should not have been put into a situation where she had to endure and “rise above it” alone. The key word here is ‘alone’.

          If the intention was– as was said by the writer, director, and producers—for Martha to encounter both racial and class discrimination and “rise above it”, then the writers have unwittingly given in to the stereotype of the ‘strong black woman” who can endure and rise above adversity, and who does require or deserve any support from a friend, lover, or relative. That approach very much does say: “This is the times. Martha is black, she’s strong, she’s used to or expects racism, she’ll deal…” There is no effort to explore the character as an individual, but a “type”: Martha becomes the Strong Black Woman who can endure a little hard work, a lot of personal discrimination—something no companion before or sense is forced to endure “alone’. But historically, (If one’s husband, son, father wasn’t carried off by night riders) we did support, and often from our fairer complexioned fellow citizens. The language might not have been politically correct, or reactions color blind but the efforts to insure equitable treatment was sincere. The script does show Martha with a friend in Jenny and later Tim, but nothing from Smith—not even the kind of trust and support one would expect an employer to give a respected family servant.

          There is nothing I can do to change Human Nature, and I don’t want to. However, as I would like to see more positive and sensitive portrayals of POC on the program in the future, it would be remiss of me not to speak out. Part of that would be to actually look into the individual lives of POC of that time, just as Mister Cornell and the Doctor Who creative researched and looked carefully into the lives of white Britons of the Pre-WWI era to make this impressive adaptation of his novel into a two part story. Martha is part of the story, and they dismiss her character by making her a servant as the most obvious choice. There were other choices. Mister Cornell explored Joan Redfern’s character in the novel, and gleaned quite a bit about the difficulties of a female studying science in that era. A little more page turning and he would discovered the admittedly handful of women of color at Universtiy among the handful of females, studying medicine and science. I maintain that Martha’s character deserved that extra turn of the page, because Martha is in the story, and she the recipient of treatment Because of not in spite of her complexion. That alone indicates that the writers DID think about the racial implications of a white male and brown complexioned female traveling together in 1913.

          I remain concerned that Mister Cornell may have elected to have Martha in his adaptation take on the role of Smith’s maid-servant as opposed to his niece/ward because Martha is black. It is an adaptation, and in the original, in order to keep his mature (Bernice is around thirty) companion close but protected, he programs John Smith to believe his companion is his brother’s son. In the novel Bernice and Joan did not get along, Joan held racist beliefs; Bernice’s best friend (the Jenny Character) was a suffragette. Joan was a fellow teacher and originally gleaned on to Smith because Rocastle was pursuing her in a time where she couldn’t claim sexual harassment. In 1913, the British Suffragettes and the Anti-Caste societies, as well as Pan African societies worked together as one. Other than the Tenth Doctor’s attitude towards Martha, and his awareness of how ‘good people’ can often be neglectful of others. This was a major theme of the novel.
          Having the WOC become the maid – rather than allowing the Doctor as John Smith encounter and face racism alongside his companion – seems an uncomfortably easy and exploitive solution to writers. The only person who has to deal with racial issues is Martha. The audience is cued to view her complexion as barrier between Martha and the Doctor. On one hand, if we are speaking of Martha’s extraordinary courage—Human Nature she is allowed to shine. She can will, and does stand alone. The Doctor needs her—she doesn’t necessarily need him for anything but a ride home.
          On the downside, the Doctor becomes more than a hero with clay feet in this episode. The Doctor doesn’t have to be “aware” of any difference in the ethnicity of a person to exploit the situation to his benefit. He needs to have Martha close, he needs to be cared for, but he has already told her he has no intention of looking after her, other than he may have to be reminded not to “abandon” her.
          He abandons her, however, the moment he becomes John Smith. Her comfort, her safety, her spiritual wellbeing are no longer his concern. He has even put himself in a position where it would seem inappropriate for him to become too intimate a friend.
          In defense of the script, Cornell emphasizes Martha’s loneliness and need for support by having her turn to the TARDIS.

          1. I understand that it must suck to think about this episode and realize that you can’t care about the Tenth Doctor anymore. It sucks for me to think about most of his episodes and realize that he’s just plain not likable most of the time. Specifically regarding the racial issues, though, I think at this point we’re just covering the same ground. In my view, you’re privileging the racial elements the story was not about because you felt that those elements deserved more attention, and as a consequence, I don’t think you’re doing justice to the thematic thrust of the story or to the series’ character arc for Martha; in your view (if I understand correctly), you must think that I’m ignoring the relevant contextual information, just as the writers did, that could have easily added nuance and depth to the show, not to mention redeemed the central protagonist from his apparent latent bigotry. My own bias tends to be toward prioritizing judgment based on the material inherent in a text, so while I do generally see merit in your discussion of minority representation and the show’s lack of interest in less-covered historical figures and events, I don’t see these things as fundamentally flaws in the story itself, so much a missed opportunity to do more than they did.

            A couple other things, though. I don’t believe that I said that you condemned the show in total, and I certainly never intimated that I felt you were trying to censor anything. I have no idea where those comments came from. Nor did I (to my knowledge) make the argument that the writers have been or should have been defensive or apologetic. My main interest has been to emphasize the overt themes the show explored and to interrogate your premises and conclusions that are connected with those aspects. I’m not sure if there has been some lack of clarity on my part with regards to that, and if so, I’m sorry for being unclear. By the same token, please don’t proceed from the premise that I’m accusing your of censorship or wanton, wholesale condemnation just because I’m countering your viewpoint on this particular story.

            Regarding what racism is or what constitutes it, that’s a big, sprawling debate on which I’m not totally settled in my own opinion. My impression from the way you present it — “Racism does not, in a broad sense, mean only hatred and discrimination. Neglect, insensitivity, and dismissal are included in the definition. The latter three, from a longtime activist, are the most difficult to address. People are too quick to jump on terminology rather that behavior and treatment of an individual.” — is that U.S. and U.K. attitudes, at least on the part of activists, are similar. I think it’s problematic (though not totally wrong) to include “neglect” and “dismissal” in the definition. The problem is that “neglect” and “dismissal” are such broad terms that they can apply to anything that the advocate says they do. In my view, what we have been primarily talking about is historical context, story structure, and the behavior of the Doctor toward Martha. Though I have taken some issue with the term, I have taken pains to qualify my problems with it in light of the behavior and treatment of the individual, just as you suggest. While I have concurred throughout that the show inadequately addressed the difficulties of Martha being a visitor in time periods where she would encounter racism, I don’t think it’s accurate (for the many reasons I offered above) to describe the show as latently racist, and even if the Doctor’s John Smith persona for that time period *is*, I don’t think it follows that it’s evidence of the Doctor himself being particularly racist so much as generally being an insensitive jerk. Again, according to your definition, being insensitive and dismissive *does* constitute racism, but I would remind you that the Doctor is insensitive, dismissive, and neglectful of pretty much every companion he’s ever had.

            Martha is not a special case, although — as I’ve said before — it would have been nice if the writers could have done a better job of addressing the racial concerns with the Doctor’s treatment of her. The bone I’m picking with you on this issue stems from the fact that, by your definition, the Doctor is racist because he’s a jackass, whereas I don’t see him as a racist because he’s *always* been a jackass. A more interesting (and, in my view, accurate) take on his character is that he’s racist in a more speciesist vein — since he treats all non-Time Lords (and even those, too) with neglect, insensitivity, and dismissal, you could make a very easy case that he’s “racist” in a cosmic sense. But I don’t think he’s racist in the Earth-specific sense of viewing human people of color as inferior. If that aspect of the Doctor’s personality — the part that sees everyone who is not him as naturally inferior — was translated by the TARDIS into the terms of the time period in which this story takes place, then, yes, it would make sense for the human version of the Doctor to exhibit casual racism. But that’s because it’s extrapolated from his supreme arrogance and egocentricity, not from a deeply submerged antipathy toward people of color. To make that case (and you could), you would have to read his behavior throughout the entirety of the series (from the 60s onward) as a coded form of racism. That would make more sense to me than isolating this one story and laying racism at his feet because of how he treats Martha. Start building your case with Ian and Barbara, and you might be onto something.

            1. I think the fundamental difference in our thinking is that you appear to assume that a more sensitive portrayal of Martha’s situation would divert the story line to racial issues. However, the fact is that comments towards Martha’s complexion and “cultural differences” indicate that racial issues are a part of the fabric of the story. My concern is that the writers exploited generalized beliefs about the mentality. This concern comes from statements from the crew and from fans that they truly believes that, because of the conditioning of the time, John Smith could not have been anything but what he was.
              In the novel, Human Nature a young Lieutenant asks if he can beat Tim’s counterpart for his pacifist view. The Doctor produces a bunny slipper as a paddle. A similar incident occurs in the television adaption. The Tenth Doctor’s reaction suggests that approves of the practice. Rather than a diversion from the plot, Smith conservative racial ideology an extension of the kind of change Mister Davies felt was necessary to accurately portray the change in character the Doctor, post Rose.
              John Smith is not a representative of all of the attitudes of 1913—he is representation of an embattled conservative element in the society, and their attitudes remain strong to this day. However, In London, change in attitude towards class, gender, and race is very evident in the rise of the Liberal and Labour parties. We can watch the same arguments today on C-span. However, to portray John Smith’s as the only attitude possible for a white male of the time is at best misleading.
              In discussing the adaptation, Mister Cornell makes a point of saying that the original purpose of the Doctor becoming human was his concern for his Companion. Bernice was grieving, he didn’t know how to help her, so he became human hoping this would help him understand. His sincere, but awkward affection for his companions is exactly how I recall the Classic Doctors, except Six. Ten is a great deal like Six.
              John Smith’s dismissal of Martha’s intelligence and humanity occurs because Davies envisioned the Tenth Doctor as dismissive of Martha. Tennant says the Doctor never quite accepts Martha. I don’t believe the Doctor’s dismissive attitude is due to prejudice. However, I also don’t buy that he is unaware of the challenge Martha will face because of her complexion, because his previous incarnations of did not shy away from the existence of human racism. He did not try to change it, but encouraged his companions to make things better through their own choices, and not (Ace) meet hatred and prejudice with violence and hatred.
              Martha faces racism in her own time. She would have been aware of what her ancestor face because they would have shared this with her, but these stories would have included testimony about those fair skinned people stood with them, opposing racism. Due to a change in the Doctor’s character –which many viewers were not aware of- we are faced with a Doctor who, without a qualm of conscience exploits the isolation of Farringham. He enjoys comfort the time period will allow a white male of a certain class and erudition. He enjoys friendship, respect, and love, while his companion is isolated even from him.
              The difference in our opinion is that you feel that John Smith couldn’t have been written differently,–or that the Doctor could not have possessed a more liberal attitude (can’t imagine the producers going as far as making John Smith a closet Labour party member but proud Liberal. However John Smith is very much the liberal thinker in novel—he and Tim share views.
              Also, Cornell originally wrote that the Doctor picked up Martha 1913—he thought Human Nature was to be Martha’s first episode. She was to have family there to visit and I have the feeling they envisioned her as a young woman who had ambitions to move up through education and worldly experiences. He also opened the script with John and Joan in bed, already married and Martha as their maid. Davies sent him back to the drawing board. I rather like Cornell’s idea, because it reflects the Classic Doctor’s pattern of behavior—he meets a young man or woman who desires a better opportunity, and also shows courage and a love of adventure and takes them along.
              The slap in the face for me comes at the end—after the Doctor begs Joan to accompany him, he returns hangdog to the TARDIS, and craftily allows Martha to stumble through an apology for admitting her feelings, then thanks her for taking care of him. At no time, does he acknowledge what she has sacrificed for him—in fact he appears to assume that he is owed this. However, because Davies planned to severe Martha from the Doctor, Ten has to remain uncaring but opportunistic when it comes to Martha’s feelings.

            2. It also seems odd to compare the behavior of the First Doctor towards Ian and Barbara to the Tenth Doctor’s treatment of Martha Jones. Don’t you believe the Doctor grew in those years? I confess I haven’t seen those episodes except for clips since they first aired in the sixties. But what I recall was that First Doctor was a recent refuge, stranded, perhaps even exiled on a primitive planet. He was very alien and his interactions with humans was limited until he met Susan’s tutors. Humanity grew on him, and the Doctor grew as well, coming to love and cherish his companions. Oh he was irritated by Harry’s stoginess, and loved to tease Sarah Jane, and the first meeting with Jo –well the woman destroyed his experiment, but he had grown by the Third Doctor in his assessment of humanity from that prickly, somewhat xenophobic alien Ian and Barbara met in the Junk Yard. He was no more arrogant with humans than he was with his own people, and lets face it he was forced out of his Second Form because he had grown to love humanity to the point that his protection cross the line of interference. I would expect Ten’s behavior to reflect the growth we see in all of the Doctors after the First one.

  9. Hunter and Matt: No worries! I’ve been reading your conversation with great interest and satisfaction. While I probably won’t contribute any more to this one, I am very honored to have it take place on my blog. Raises the intellectual quality and prestige of the place, I think, even if only in my mind. +) The major reason I started a blog was in the hope of fostering this kind of engagement with stories. I encourage you — and everyone who visits my blog — to discuss such issues to your satisfaction.

  10. New comment thread because the slimline version was really hard to read. 🙂

    I don’t think dealing more explicitly with Martha’s race would have entirely diverted the storyline to racial issues, but since the story is not primarily concerned with racial issues, it doesn’t bother me inordinately that those issues are not dealt with as adequately as they could have. I hope that makes sense. It’s the short version, and I’m too tired to type the long version right now.

    I am almost entirely unfamiliar with the production history of these episodes, and the opening that Cornell apparently envisioned early on sounds like it would have been a much more interesting scenario. From what you say, RTD is almost entirely to blame for the trajectory it ended up taking. Since I’ve been pretty vocal about my general qualms with his vision of the Doctor, I won’t reiterate them here, but it seems to me that if Human Nature would have been the first story and presented as Cornell had initially hoped, perhaps this whole discussion might not have taken place.

    Re: the Doctor’s development over the course of the series… The Doctor did sort of grow over time. The individual Doctors went through some changes. The First certainly warmed up over time, and most of them have had, at times, paternal relationships with their companions. But don’t forget that the Third Doctor had to die because of his arrogance, or that the Second used Jamie as a chess piece in Evil of the Daleks, or that the Seventh freakin’ blew up Skaro. The Fourth habitually insulted and denigrated his companions. Six was Six. Five was undoubtedly the nicest of the bunch (well, maybe Eight), but he also tended to taken his companions for granted. I think when RTD reintroduced his audience to the Doctor, he wanted to retain a lot of the Doctor’s old “edginess” while still bathing him in adoration. The result was the Tenth Doctor. Nine had a gruffness to him, but his callousness fit more snugly with his romantic attachment to Rose and his essential alien-ness. Ten seemed designed specifically to be more engaging and “likable,” even as he was more lonely and unstable. In sum, I think Tennant’s natural effusiveness meant that, in his more conventionally “likable” moments, the way he held nothing back made him seem much more in keeping with the modern audience’s notion of a proper hero. Then there were those moments when he was not likable, or, rather, the moments in which the writing tried to hearken back to his more problematic characteristics, but between Tennant’s charisma and RTD’s largely uncritical Doctor worship, instead of being obviously sketchy as a character, the show itself adopted some uncomfortable or hypocritical postures. The one thing the classic series did well that I don’t think the new series has done quite as well (at least, until Moffat took over) was emphasize that however exciting and entertaining the Doctor might be, he’s not always reliable, and his meddling might have less to do with his desire to put things right than his unconquerable urge to prove himself the smartest guy in the room — if only to himself.

    While Hartnell’s Doctor warmed up considerably over time, he was usually supremely arrogant and dismissive, and just as apt to screw up and need help as to bail out his companions. The Second Doctor, as awesome as he is, had the same penchant. In Tomb of the Cybermen, he clearly manipulates everyone to uncover the “tomb,” but when the Cybermen awake, the only way to get them back in is to use those around him — and pretty desperately, too. By the time McCoy took over, the Doctor had grown in some ways, yes. He certainly seemed to care about Ace, but look what he put her through. The entire last season is organized around him forcing her to confront old traumas, ostensibly for her own good… but who is he to decide that? Despite his paternal attentions, he treats her sort of like a pet project that will play into a larger game of his devising. To be a wee bit hyperbolic, the only difference between the First Doctor and the Seventh is that the Doctor grew into a much better gamesman over time. He’s more personable, but also more cruel and manipulative. To me, that makes him a more interesting character and antihero, but there’s no question that the writers were deliberately highlighting how sketchy he is. Let’s also not forget that the main antagonist of Trial of a Time Lord was the Valeyard — the personification of all the Doctor’s darkest aspects.

    As much as the Doctor grew over the years, the writers did tend to keep in mind that he was originally supposed to be someone you were a little unsure about. My understanding is that even Ace abandoned the Doctor in the books because she got sick of his games, which is how he ended up traveling with Bernice instead. In other words, I think there’s a very clear pattern of behavior that has been mostly consistent in the way the Doctor deals with his companions. Not every relationship is exactly the same, but for all his good qualities, there are a lot of bad ones, too. Martha is just one in a long line of companions that have, at times, been very ill-used by the Doctor.

    1. From Martha’s POV the script did deal specifically with her race, and that is the problem. Race is introduced as Martha’s problem, almost Martha’s fault, and therein lies the insensitivity. Was Human Nature designed as some type of charactor development device for the character? Besides the Doctor taking every opportunity to inform Martha that her best was not half as good Rose’s, did Martha truly deserve further humbing and humiliation of becoming his chamber maid, only useful for picking pears out of his fruit bowl and emptieing his chamber pot? And empting his chamber pot is not the same as caring for a truly sick patient, and the response that , as a med student she’s ‘used to it’, completely misses the mark. What doesn’t Martha know about prejudice? And, unfortunately, the plot that the Doctor became human to better understand his companion’s grief was thrown out and replaced by the disturbing scenario of the Doctor choosing to (To show mercy) lead the Family on a chase through time, hoping they would die out. That he choose this particularly vulnerble time (And blamed it on the TARDIS!) doesn’t make him look much better. Except for a couple of episodes, I haven’t seen much of the Classic show since it went off PBS snd CBC, but I don’t recall the Doctor seeming any more manipulitve than the rest of the BBC heroes, and a few of the American heroes of the period. He was no less a user than say a Professor Higgins. Actually the Second Doctor was forced out his body for helping humanity. He felt that the Time Lord non-interference policcy was flawed because they expected him to stand by and allow the humans to deal with attackers on their own, when he knew the humans could not defeat them. He broke the survival of the fitest rule, which the Time Lords freely broke if the species in question violated their sense of aethestics. He was arrogant in making himself our soul champion–and well that hasn’t ended, has it. Of course there was Four’s patronizing attitude towards his little Savage, but that also was a reflection of what had become a popular image in not so subtle backlash against female empowerment; the empowered, strong, warrior women were savage dusky skinned savages, still giving the white civilized male a source of power over them–he had to civilized her. Now cynically I could compare Ten and Martha to Four and Leila, as in Ten meets this accomplished, intelligent, brunette woman who challenges his self-perscribed title, and he comes back to invite her along, concealing his true intent: to humble her, by letting her know that with all her accomplishments and her obvious beauty, she can’t touch the glory of his little blonde, and then he puts the little upstart in her proper place, fluffing his pillows, and working to pay his rent. As to the Doctor’s personality: This is the nation that gave us James Bond. But even Tennant voiced concerns and some regret about the the manner which the Doctor treated Martha, saying very much what I believe, we have not seen him that un-generous towards a companion.

      1. I think it’s a bit disingenuous to ask rhetorically, “Was Human Nature designed as some type of charactor development device for the character?” when you know it originated as a book and that Cornell’s initial development of it was apparently very different than what it eventually became. I’m not sure that, from Martha’s POV, the story did deal with her race. At least, not primarily. Again, the raw, direct reading of the story from her perspective is that the Doctor is a jackass who takes her for granted; race is a factor, but it’s not “about” it in the primary sense. As far as the story being a device for developing the character… well, yeah, of course. In theory, every story is a device for developing characters. I don’t know that these particular questions or assertions particularly lend support the argument that there’s a (perhaps unintentional, but still extant) racist subtext, and even if they do, again: I’m not sure that it crowds out the *primary* thematic arc of the story.

        The fact that there are other, contemporary manipulative or jerky heroes/antiheroes (Higgins, Bond, etc.) doesn’t really negate the fact of the Doctor’s jerkiness or manipulative nature. The fact that you selected out those specific examples actually sort of lends support to my point. Higgins was specifically invented by Shaw to showcase snobby, chauvinist paternalism; Ian Fleming may have lionized Bond, but the tradeoff is that he exemplified some very terrifying traits, and the cultural perception of his earlier (and even contemporary) incarnations is certainly very skeptical of his misogyny, his capacity for cruelty and violence, and his position as an agent of the Establishment. In short, Higgins and Bond are shady, problematic characters. We may *generally* like them (or not); we may find them fascinating (or not); we may love watching movies/reading stories about them (or not). But in the end, there’s no mistake that they are incredibly problematic. I think the Doctor is similar, both as a product of his time(s), and in the intended concept for what he is and what he does.

        I think it’s worth speculating that perhaps Tennant felt bad about the Doctor’s treatment of Martha, in part, because, like RTD, his essential grasp of the Doctor is that the Doctor is a more traditionally romantic, heroic figure. His interpretation would certainly bear that out; my read of the last couple seasons of RTD’s tenure is that the Doctor is presented as a tragic hero, with all the attendant sympathy and valorization that comes with it. I’d also submit that perhaps Tennant, being a 21st century performer, is more conscious of his role’s capacity to influence and represent contemporary attitudes about women, people of color, and the power dynamics of society in general, in a way that previous players may not have been. I actually think your comparison to Leela is fantastic, and very well illustrates what I’ve been trying to say all along — that the Doctor’s natural disposition as an arrogant control freak has tended to exhibit itself from the beginning, to greater or lesser degrees, and often in forms that are now (and should have been back then) socially unacceptable.

        Coincidentally, io9 just did a list of “10 Times the Doctor Acted Like a Total Bastard.” Link:

        It’s by no means comprehensive, but it does a decent job summing up the case that the Doctor has the capacity to do far worse than what he did to Martha. I’d actually forgotten about “The Invasion of Time.” That was a doozy. Yes, let’s put Gallifrey up for collateral so you can figure out what those mysterious, obviously no-good-niks are *really* up to, Doctor. What could possibly go wrong?

        1. That Martha has been placed in servitude because of her complexion is discussed the DVD. Freema talks about the controversy of the plot and the situation, as does Mister Cornell. The rhetorical question is necessary simply to illustrate how the use of racial issue by the writers was exploitative, rather than informative when it came to placing Martha into this situation. Again the original novel’s theme dealt with the Doctor becoming human to better understand his companion’s grief. As the Doctor is not romantically interested in Martha, her emotions are not a concern of his. However, normally in science fiction it is the “alien” protagonist who is confronted with an element of his in this case, human counterpart life- so that we the audience through his or her experiences him can empathsize and understand. Please understand the blanket acceptance of John Smith’s behavior towards Martha as acceptable or appropriate for the times by fans was sobering for we fans of color. It is a mainstay of our Western Heritage that along with massive resistance, oppression, and discrimination, we also knew support from our fair skinned brothers and sistes–during those times. Although she would go on to issue a number of decrees to expell Africans from London–one in 1599 in fact-Queen Elizabeth I was one of the first to protest the brutality of the British Slave Trade. We don’t get the opportunity in Human Nature to have theDoctor confront racism with Martha– in fact he subjects her to one of the more disheartening, and continuing myths–that melenin affects intelligence and perception of reality. One of the more powerful scenes in the book is the Doctor’s realization that his efforts to help Bernice ended up endangering her and humanity, and that he subjected Joan to renewal of her greif as John Smith literally is killed in the Novel. So on one hand we do have Martha realizing that the doctor is a user, but she or we can’t miss that he is not above using racism of others to exploit the feelings and services of companions and I can’t agree that this is part of the Doctor’s personality. That he knows enough about racism to exploit it and Martha, goes beyond the Doctor’s usual manipulation. Also, allow me to clarify something about expectations of writers dealing with racial issues. Presenting it as it was in the final Human Nature plot was flat out dismissal. It was simply, things were hard for blacks, and most white people weren’t very nice to servants and people of color, and Martha like her ancestors is strong enough to rise aboe it. Her situation doesn’t deserve any further investigation, looking at this script. (Later, in Utopia, Jack suggest the Doctor’s Blonde female get preferrable treatment–the Doctor is flustered, but he doesn’t deny it.) It would not have changed the focus of the script, if John Smith would have been skeptical of Martha’s story, but trusting her judgement in spite what his peers and Joan felt about her class and complexion. Again, this was Davies edits, and it was clear he did want to drive as great a wedge as he could between the Doctor and Martha.

          1. #So on one hand we do have Martha realizing that the doctor is a user, but she or we can’t miss that he is not above using racism of others to exploit the feelings and services of companions and I can’t agree that this is part of the Doctor’s personality. That he knows enough about racism to exploit it and Martha, goes beyond the Doctor’s usual manipulation. #

            Then I don’t know what else to say. I would agree that it goes beyond his usual manipulation, and it’s not like *everything* he does is craven manipulation, but he is clearly insensitive and capricious enough to do the wrong thing from time to time. Nothing you’ve said persuades me that his dismissal of racial concerns is different from his usual dismissal of his companions’ concerns — most especially Martha’s concerns, since, of all the contemporary companions, he takes her the most for granted.

            #It would not have changed the focus of the script, if John Smith would have been skeptical of Martha’s story, but trusting her judgement in spite what his peers and Joan felt about her class and complexion. Again, this was Davies edits, and it was clear he did want to drive as great a wedge as he could between the Doctor and Martha.#

            Trusting Martha’s judgment is exactly the kind of thing the Doctor would neglect to program his human alter-ego to do. At this point, I’m not clear what exactly you wanted the focus of the script to be, as opposed to what it is. Clearly, Davies wanted the Doctor to be a total jerk to Martha, and to have her recognize that and move on, and the series succeeded in articulating that arc. It makes sense to me that the Doctor would be insensitive to Martha’s status as a person of color at that time and in that place, especially if he programmed his human counterpart to conform to the established prejudices of the day. You seem to be arguing that the casual dismissal of racial concerns within the context of the show is an indictment of the Doctor’s personality; I am arguing that the casual dismissal of racial concerns within the context of the show is consistent with the Doctor’s personality. I get that you wish the show had projected a more clear-cut, progressive message in the guise of a more clean-cut, progressive protagonist. But that’s not what the Doctor is, and it’s Davies’ insistence on preserving his aura of the clean-cut, progressive protagonist — all evidence to the contrary — that, to me, provides the problem here, rather than the actual structure and thematic trajectory of the actual story.

            Again, though, I’m basing my judgment on the story as it is presented in the two episodes of the show. What you’re bringing to bear is your preference for the source material, your preference for what you want your protagonist to be, the production history and expressed opinions of the creative team, and a vast assortment of British history that exemplifies your priorities. I’m trying not to say that my privileging of the show as primary text is better or worse than your privileging of all that other material, but we’re spending a lot of time talking at cross-purposes as a result. My primary argument is that, going explicitly by the content and form of the episodes of the story as presented in the television program, whatever racial subtext exists is not as material to the goals of the story, and therefore does not constitute a substantial obstacle to appreciating what the story does accomplish. I have also agreed that, if you go by the wealth of extraneous material and concerns that you bring to the show, then a lot of interesting avenues of discussion are opened up, and are worth pursuing, especially if it complicates or problematizes Doctor Who as a show and as a protagonist. But it seems to me that you’re arguing that there is some intrinsic racism to that story, and that this trumps all else.

            1. The Episode was difficult to watch in places, but in the long run, the Doctor’s behavior, including his manipulation of the “times” to justify his dismissal of Martha supports Martha’s decision to leave. It opens her eyes to the fact that the Doctor not only doesn’t see her–he is very influnced by a segment of society that has conditioned him that he doesn’t have to show Martha the same consideration that he shows others. There are other hints: Jack’s crack about blondes, the Master’s crack about demographics and the girly and the Freak. Davies was aware of the picture he painted of the Doctor, and had a little more conjones about than some of the writers on his team, in that through these scenes he seems to say,” yes Martha complexion is part of his indifference towards her”. It takes Jack throwing it in his face, (the Blonde comment) for him to realize it. And he admit shame –to Donna.

              And as you pointed out, those of us who did not rate the companion’s worthiness by the Doctor’s sexual desire for her, stood with Martha when she told the Doctor that he made her feel second best, and had the courage to speak of her love for him as something she had to let go, but not something she had to apologize for.

              Would I have liked the episode better had Davies allowed the Doctor to maintain his non-romantic care and affection for his companion that is apparent in the Novel? Yes. One of the more frustrating thing about Season Three for me was reading the companion BBC books, where, although the Doctor is far from romantic with Martha, but he is also much less dismissive of Martha as a companion as he is on screen.

              There are several fn discussions about Davies view of the Doctor/Hero as pure Git who demands attention, admiration, worship even, and then throws it back in his Companion’s face. However, I’ve read that Davies one Virgin Novel was one of the more controversial because of the dark themes.

              Tennant said the Doctor’s treatment of Martha added a darker wrinkle to the Doctor’s personality, so there I agree with you. But on a personal note, this is family programming, and imagine the reaction of young people with ebony to olive complexions watching the Doctor behavior towards people who look like them, yet they are being asked to consider him a hero.

              The Sarah Jane Adventures, also created by Davies, is far more generous to characters of color.

              In the commentary for Martha’s return in Season Four Davies repeates that he wants Martha to have as miserable contact with the Doctor as possible, simply because he inexplicably thinks a beautiful, accomplished woman with a loving family needs a Reason, to turn down travel with the Doctor.

              As to the racial issues, that is a creative issue and an ongoing discussion in not only the BBC community but media as a whole. My comments are not directed towards changing a particular script, but examining and improving the image of characters of color period.

              As I pointed out to someone else in another discussion–she had cirticized Martha becoming a Damsel in Distress in Season four–you will hear fewer complaints from the stand point of that segment of the society who have never seen women who look like them depicted as damsels or ladies worthy of caring attention and rescue, about sexism in the Damsel image. It was affirming to see Martha wrapped in the Doctor’s nine sizes too big coat.

        2. Just as you arthe other uncomfortable comparing the Doctor’s heroism to that of the others of the era, I am not quite comfortable with the notion of dimissing the Doctor’ behavior towards Martha by pointing out that he strangled Peri, or was skittish in his behavior towards the first humans he had intimate contact with. The character did grow-not less Time Lord, but more empathetic towards humans. And he is very different with individuals. He strangled Peri because he was poisoned and that was an odd group of writers who seemed to like a hero who treated the female lead abusively. Reading too many Harlequins, I imagine. He was Loving and protective, although teasing with Sarah Jane and Jo, respected the Brig, but always rude and impatient with poor Harry The first Idiot). He acknowledges, for example that abandoning Jack was wrong, and I don’t want to reveal too much before David discusses Season Four, but he admits shame for his treatment of Martha. It wasn’t malicious, tennant swear, but after Sarah Jane, after Jo, after Ace, after Donna, the runnaway Bride, and after Jackie slapped some sense into him, he was aware he had behaved badly, even for a non-human.
          And Image very much matters to an audience, especially when you see negative attributes associated with a group of people: Men of Color throughout Davies run are cowardly, mean spirited, selfish, or presented as the something the female settles for (Donna with Shaun is just ‘making do’).
          I also believe Davies did deliberately imply that contact with a certain group of humans did influcence his views of culture and ethnicity, and maybe not for the best. We find Ace teaching him certain attitudes are wrong, and although he inexplicablly denies the existance of slavery in the Shakespeare Code, he discusses slavery with Donna and Rose. (That’s a whole other discussion about lack of cojones in present day writers. The Seventh Doctor;s discussion of sugar and the slave trade in his last episode is brief, but it is done beautifully in that he listens to the man of color speak about his ancestor’s experience–he is not judgemental or preachy, simply acknowledges that this horrible thing happened, and people overcame it.)

          The Virgin novels are known for being darker than the show and geared towards an adult audience, especially the one Virgin novel penned by none other than Russell T. Davis. I think that Cornell, or maybe it is the author of Lungbarrow –considered Who Canon– credits Stephen Moffat as a consultant. Ace and Bernice have their own series of adventures.

          1. I have not dismissed the Doctor’s behavior toward Martha by pointing out his behavior toward Peri or Ian and Barbara. In fact, my intent was the exact opposite: I’m emphasizing that his behavior toward Martha exists in continuity with his behavior toward previous companions. As opposed to dismissing his behavior toward Martha, I’m waving my arms and shouting at the top of my lungs that he treated her abominably, and that her treatment at his hands *does not constitute a special case*! That’s not dismissal, that’s just basic recognition. (And the Doctor wasn’t just “skittish” toward the first humans; he outright kidnapped them and shoved them into danger at whim.) The Doctor did develop caring and compassion toward his companions. But his care and compassion did not always trump or blunt his rudeness, insensitivity, or occasional cruelty.

            Even some of his actions that, by his lights, were caring and compassionate, could easily be constituted as cruelty by others. He abandoned Susan on an Earth decimated by Daleks on the assumption that she would find a loving and worthy partner in a human freedom fighter that she barely knew. From one perspective, a poignant and heartfelt goodbye; from another perspective, a capricious move born of an innate, insensitive paternalism. And that’s just the First Doctor. Numerous other examples can be found throughout the series. And yes, there is development over the years. He’s a complicated character, and they always seemed to find a way to keep the mystery alive. Yet there’s a lot of darkness, too, and it shouldn’t be at all surprising to anyone who has watched the classic series that the Doctor could be such a jerk to Martha.

            I think you may have a point about men of color throughout RTD’s run. I also would agree that a lot of contemporary writers lack cojones. As I said, I think you make a sterling case that the avoidance of dealing with race in Human Nature was sad, because it could have been dealt with succinctly and effectively, had they chosen to apply their energies towards it. None of this, however, changes the fact that the Doctor has always had a penchant for being a grade-A jackass, despite his many noble and heroic qualities. It’s no wonder that the Doctor would be such a knob to Martha while still seeing everything through Rose-tinted glasses.

            1. The Doctor has always been, as you say, a Jackass– but don’t you thing this is because he is alien to our culture, even though he looks and talks like us? He isn’t human, he doesn’t share our values or emotions. He has to ability to see the present, past, and future, and it affects his behavior, although we learn with Romana, he’s considered a bit of jerk in his own culture. But at the end of the day, thought not a nice man, the Doctor does stand for decency, justice, and equitable treatment, so we can forgive him. Adding the wrinkle of melanin based insensitivity( and because of certain elements in the scripts this perception appears to be deliberate) might have been realistic, considering a portion of audience,(the reaction of some (Mostly British, but some American, fans to the idea of Freema’s complexion was shocking–lets just say the nicest comments were complaints about PC casting) but it was distasteful. And it was interesting to me that although there were suspicions of a “gay agenda” from critics of Davies tenure, fan reaction to Jack’s affection for the Doctor was met with less hostility than Martha’s affection for the Doctor.

            2. Odd, that you mention the Doctor’s lack of trust of Martha as typical, since, his intial instructions to her involved just that. He asks her “Do you trust me?” He gives her a list, (that has nothing to do with useful things like how recognize the Family, or how to protect herself from them)detailing how she is to take care of him, and he does trust that Martha will, at the risk of her own well being and lifer–Take care of Him. What is explicit in his behavior is not any distrust of Martha– but the reality that he has no intention of looking out for Martha which is at odds with his attitude in Gridlock and 42–where he feel an equal responsiblity to look after her, make certain she’s sfe. He’s remorseful that she is endangered because he was careless and showing off. But in Human Nature his attitude changes from careless little statements–comparing her to Rose, staving off a compliment with talk of Jefferson.(In both instances where Rose and Donna ask about their appearance the Doctor generously compliment them. Well he does like Martha’s shoes. 🙂 ) This is the last I’m going to say about this, but Human Nature deal with race–as an impediment to the Doctor’s and Martha’s time traveling working relationship rather than exploring how the varying racial attitudes of her fellow Britons affect Martha’s reality–or the reality of any individual person of color living in that time. The Doctor is FORCED to makes up Freedonia and sooth Martha about Political Incorrect language. (The woman is a child of the Rap age!) What stands out is that in 1850, the Ninth Doctor stops Rose from going out in public in jeans- in the year that women were defiantly wearing trousers to declare their equality. However,-in 1599 a woman wearing trousers could end up imprison and in stocks or in Bedlam if she insisted in wearing pants.) In Human Nature Martha is told by Smith that because of ‘cultural difference” he feels she’s incapable of rational thought, (She’s English; what cultural difference?), and told she couldn’t pursue her vocation. (Historical inaccuracy, but heck, the Doctor tells Martha to walk around likes she owns the place in the London in 1599, the year Queen Elizabeth I issue her second order to deport all peoples of color from her realm–go figure.) Davies later revisits this situation with Jack and Tosh in Torchwood–Jack is having a good time in 1945, but Tosh is terrified, as is Martha–and she had good reason to be concerned in 1599. However, Tosh is allowed to point out the reality of her situation and relate her ancestors experience, after which Jack vows to protect her, and confronts racism with her. He doesn’t change minds, but it is clear they will have to go through him to hurt her.) Martha is English; she has heritage in tthat nation. I didn’t want the script to turn into a Black British history lesson, But the script doesn’t treat Martha like an English woman who has the opportunity to explore her heritage, but like a person with social flaw. The adaptation “dealt” with Martha’s complexion as if her reality was an inconvenience that could be solved by throwing the character into a maid’s outfit and have the characters say demeaning things to her.

    2. Ace didn’t abandon the Doctor. Time War remember. He dropped her off on Gallifrey after he nominated her for the Time Lord Academy. She didn’t want to go to school and became Time Vigilante with a space hopper that looks like a motor cycle. She fought in the Time War.

      1. Cool. My knowledge of non-canonical Who dates back to a perusal of a Wikipedia article about four years ago. Which is to say, I know practically nothing, except that, at some point, I really should read those Seventh Doctor novels, because they’re probably awesome.

    1. Yes, I will! Sorry it’s taking so long. Ages and ages and ages. But I will continue these reviews. Next up is “Blink,” an episode I’ve seen a few times by now.

          1. Also, just wondering if you’ll continue your Robin Hood review eventually as well. I really enjoy those too especially the “Obligatory Marian Rants”

            1. Thanks! I probably will continue the Robin Hood reviews, though I admit my motivation has dropped for those. The episodes were beginning to feel very repetitive and I can barely tell them apart. It becomes harder to find new things to say about them. When I do continue, I’ll probably only cover the first season. I’ve heard the second and third seasons aren’t really worth it.

              I also plan to continue the Highlander reviews. My readers don’t seem to pay much attention to those, but that show still really interests me.

              1. In my opinion the second season is better than the first, but I can see how a lot of people would disagree with me on that. Season 3, however, nearly ruined the show for me.

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