Doctor Who 3.09 – Family of Blood

It’s the Doctor in a watch! The Doctor in a watch, girl!

What do you do if you’re held at gunpoint, knowing the man you love must choose to save either you or the woman he loves?  Well, if you’re Martha Jones, you turn ALL THE TABLES, snatch one villain’s gun to aim it at another baddie, and let the woman who’s a jerkwad to you run to the man you love.  Also?  You save EVERYONE.  Martha Jones, ladies and gentlemen!  *applauds wildly* 

Martha Jones, y’all!

The Family of Blood keep up their smirky sardonic commentary, saying Martha’s “almost brave” and “so much spirit!”  As she sadly realizes Jenny’s gone forever (now Mother of Mine), the Scarecrow Soldiers grab the gun.  Martha runs out only to urge Smith and Joan on.  “God, you’re rubbish as a human,” she complains as Smith stalls.  Haha!

Mother uses Jenny’s memories of Martha’s walks, sending Husband (take the “of Mine”s as implied, because sheesh, enough) west (i.e., TARDIS-bound).  “This is sport!” Son exclaims before sending Sister inside the school, (“you’re such a small little thing” ex-Baines coos, and does he always play Creepy Brothers?) to spy on the school’s defenses.

“You want me to fight, don’t you?” Smith asks Martha, calling for the boys to “Take arms!”  Yeaaahh, the Doctor would never want children fighting.  The Headmaster promises spankings all around, until Joan and Martha confirm Smith’s claim the school’s under siege.  “Control her,” the Headmaster advises Smith when Martha objects.  *whaps him upside the head* “I’ve got to find that watch,” Martha mutters, rushing away.

“Come to give me a caning, sir? Would you like that, sir?” ex-Baines calls as the Family of Blood arrives to demand Smith and “whatever he’s done with his Time Lord consciousness.” *pauses* So my spanking joke, not far off. All Baines’s smirking threats and “ever so good” mock-trumpeting of his achievements make me think he was an arse-kissing Head Boy filled with contempt.  Good Lord.  It’s like alien!Tom Riddle!

We like to head-tilt, yes we do! We like to head-tilt, HOW ‘BOUT YOU???

When ex-Baines mocks his “little tin soldiers” who in 1914 won’t thank the man “who taught them [war] was glorious,” The Headmaster pulls a YOU DON’T KNOW FROM WAR! Apparently he does, because he used his dead mates as sandbags and would do it all again!  Ugh.  “Etcetera, etcetera,” ex-Baines says (the 1913 equivalent of “Bored now!”) and vaporizes one of the masters.

Everyone runs inside, but upon learning the phone-line’s cut and they’re on their own, it’s all barricade, fortify, stand against the enemy!  Ex-Baines summons the Scarecrow Soldiers; Sister, however, psychically urges him to wait because “The Time Lord is playing some sort of trick.”

Upstairs, Martha watch-searches and explains Smith’s an alien.  “In this fairy tale, who are you?” Joan sniffs.  Martha explains she’s human, training to be a doctor.  Joan immediately takes the low road, calling Martha a “skivvy” and scoffing medical training for “one of your color”.  Martha shuts her up by naming the bones of the hand, awww, yeah!  Overwhelmed, Joan runs to help nurse the boys in the battle.

Joan runs to ask Smith about his childhood.  When he can only rattle off facts, he exclaims, “How can you think that I’m not real?” Awww!  Maybe she prefers the Doctor, “some romantic lost prince”, over him.  “Martha was right,” Joan interrupts (wait, let me savor this…okay): John Smith, never mind the Doctor, wouldn’t want boys to fight.  “What choice do I have?” Smith asks, and uh, yeah.  LOTS OF THEM.

Realizing he’s going to fight in the Great War, Latimer abandons his post for the more important duty of helping the Doctor.  “Beware,” the watch whispers when he’s inside, warning him of Sister.  When she menaces him, he psahws; he can take her because she’s a girl! *sighs* He opens the watch: she flees at the vision of the Doctor in an explosion.

“Time Lord!” ex-Baines exclaims.  “Inside the device!” Mother realizes.  Scarecrows charge, though the boys shoot them down.  When Sister approaches the cadets, the Headmaster refuses to believe she’s a threat.  As thanks, she vaporizes him, lickity split!

Thank heaven for little girls!

“I’ll not see this happen,” Smith bursts out, finally calling the children inside the school. And OF COURSE the Scarecrows reanimate. *shrieks*

After evacuating students, Smith, Joan, and Martha spy Father with the stolen TARDIS.  While the Family calls for Smith, Martha urgently asks if he remembers it. Joan won’t let him disavow it, when she knows he dreamt of it.  The strain from denying his connection to the Doctor breaks Smith; he cries out, “That’s all I want to be. John Smith, with his life, and his job, and his love. Why can’t I be John Smith? Isn’t he a good man?”

Gah, Tennant’s SO GOOD here!  “Why can’t I stay?” Smith pleads. He’s nothing, he realizes, “just a story.” *CLUTCHES HEART* It’s not just romantic love the Doctor didn’t account for in his plan, but the very human yearning to experience all stages of life for oneself.  If everyone’s the hero of his or her own story, how devastating for Smith to learn that story’s a falsehood! Only his end, his imminent death, is assured.

Joan guides them to Lucy’s (Sister’s) home to hide before asking Martha what she does to help the Doctor. Martha explains he needs her “because he’s lonely.” “And that’s what you want me to become?” Smith asks. It’s a terrible blow to him, but it’s the necessary dark side to the Doctor’s fond idealization of human life in eps like “Father’s Day” (1.08) (also written by Paul Cornell); he really is denied the pleasures of humanity.

Latimer arrives with the watch and confirms the terrible necessity of the Doctor.  What a gorgeous, perfect description: the Doctor’s “like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun…ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time and he can see the turn of the universe.” And?  “He’s wonderful.”  *swoons* Can Paul Cornell write all the episodes ever?  Because that would be good for me.

“This’ll flush him out. This’ll do it,” ex-Baines notes as the Family destroy the village.  “Super, super fun.”  Bet Baines used to light frogs on fire and burn ants with a magnifying glass. Smith, reaching for the watch, momentarily becomes the Doctor, merrily explaining Latimer’s telepathy in a quick burst of science terms.  “Is that how he talks?” Smith asks, askance.

Why didn’t Martha stop the Smith’s entanglement with Joan if she knew all this?  Well, it wasn’t on your list, bucko.  If falling in love didn’t occur to him, “what sort of a man is that?” Smith cries.  Is Martha just his executioner?  The people dying need him, Martha argues; she needs him.  “He’s just everything to me and he doesn’t even look at me, but I don’t care, because I love him to bits,” she bursts out.  AH, POOR MARTHA!!!!

When Smith fiercely declares he’ll give the aliens the watch, Joan intercedes. His journal shows if he lets these aliens win, it will be disaster for everyone, “war across the stars for every child.”  Alone with Smith, she tells him if she could do this for him, she would (not a Joan fan, but I found her dismissal of her own hopes very moving here).

“He won’t love you,” Smith pleads. “If he’s not you, then I don’t want him to,” Joan tells him.  She can’t hear anything from the “blasted” watch, but with his hands over hers and touching it, they together watch scenes from the life they could have had: marriage, their first-born child, walking with their family, his peaceful death-bed scene as an aged man.

UNBREAK MY HEART, DOCTOR WHO!

“The Time Lord has such adventures, but he could never have a life like that,” Joan says quietly.  “And yet I could,” Smith says.  But could he, really?  Would war across the stars allow him this beautiful human life?  Or is the Doctor, even as John Smith, always denied the path of humanity?  “What are you going to do?” Joan asks.

Inside their ship, the Family of Blood delights in the assault they’ve launched.  Smith stumbles in; an explosion rocks the ship, and he lams into a column of controls.  “Still human,” Mother sniffs.  If they only stop the bombardment, he’ll do what they want.  “I can’t pretend to understand,” he says, running his hand over switches; he’s innocent in all this.  “He didn’t just make himself human; he made himself an idiot,” Mother observes.

“You can have him,” Smith cries, surrendering the watch.  They greedily open it.  Uh, it’s empty.  Ho ho, ventriloquism of the nose, the Doctor explains (lovely. I’m determined to ignore that he could have fooled their noses FROM THE START). Hmm, he doesn’t like the looks of their hydroconometer he says, adding: “you shouldn’t have let me press all those buttons.”  Bit of friendly advice: “Run.”

“He never raised his voice,” Baines voice tells us as he explains the fury of the Time Lords.  Seems the Doctor was never running from them; rather, he was being kind.  No longer: the Doctor wraps Father in unbreakable chains and leaves him in a train tunnel; he tricks Mother into the prison of a black hole; he trapped Sister in every mirror ever (go ahead and try not to think of that as you see something out of the corner of your reflection).

As for Baines, the Doctor changed him into a Scarecrow forcing him to stand guard as England’s protector.  “We wanted to live forever, so the Doctor made sure that we did,” Baines finishes, and HOLY. CRIPES.  It’s an absolutely vicious revenge; they experience their punishment perpetually as a curse of immortality.

Though we know from Latimer the Time Lord is already “like fire and ice and rage,” part of why Nine enthralled me was how he let humanity, mostly through Rose, influence him for the better.  By contrast, I think Ten’s rage here isn’t only his burden as a Time Lord; it’s an angry reaction to his loss of humanity, manifesting as a fantastic cruelty toward his enemies.

In a way it shows us exactly how precious humanity is to the Doctor in this incarnation: his rage from mourning his humanity is devastating, in all senses of the word.  Though it’s terrible for him and painful to witness, I welcome having this complexity of character in Ten’s story.  Never until this arc have I been as convinced that Ten has his own incredibly transformative internal journey to make as his adventures continue.

Where’s John Smith? “He’s in here somewhere,” the Doctor tells Joan.  “Like a story,” she replies.  And ugh, though I understand Smith IS part of the Doctor (he must feel it if he invites Joan to travel with him), isn’t this also the story of every alien who has taken over a human host?  If Smith is “in here somewhere”, it seems to me an echo of memory, a trace of the man he once was, rather than the seeds of who he is.  Wow.

Can he change back, Joan asks?  Yes.  Will he?  No.  She declares John Smith braver than the Doctor: “You chose to change. He chose to die.”  Even when the Doctor urges her to start again with him, arguing that everything John Smith was, he’s capable of becoming, she refuses: “John Smith is dead, and you look like him.”

It’s proof of how much the Doctor’s been affected by his humanity, by Joan, when he pleads with Joan to see John Smith in his eyes.  But Joan has a last question for him:  “If the Doctor had never visited us, if he’d never chosen this place on a whim, would anybody here have died?”  He doesn’t answer, but we know Joan’s hit upon the awful truth about the Doctor: he saves people at the same time brings death and destruction with him.  “You can go,” she tells him.

This? Killed me. It’s not just that Martha’s feeling exposed at having confessed her feelings. Having undergone months of difficulty, derogatory remarks and demeaning work, Martha’s got no way to process what she’s been subjected to — how can she, in the face of the Doctor’s immense loss?

“Time we moved on,” the Doctor repeats when Martha offers to go speak to Joan.  Seriously amazing: Martha, head-over-heels in love with the Doctor, would immediately intercede for him if it would make him happy.  And hey, all that loving him to bits thing, pffttt.  She only said it to get him to change!  He agrees readily.  Crazy cakes, both of them.  Latimer bids them goodbye and watches the TARDIS dematerialize.

Another Great War flash:  Latimer uses the Doctor’s watch to save himself and another former classmate.  Years later, Latimer, now an aged veteran, listens to an Armistice Day reading of Laurence Binyon’s “For The Fallen.”  He glances over to see the Doctor and Martha respectfully observing the proceedings, wearing poppies to commemorate the dead.  It’s a marvelous tying together of all this episode’s many textured threads.

*passes out handkerchiefs*

Whoo aaaeeeee wooooooahoooo!  WOW!  Absolutely excellent arc; these two episodes are without question my favorites of this series so far.  Honestly, they’re competing hard against some of my favorite eps of all time (“The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”)!  Oh my god, all I want to do is write more about this episode, but I’ll hold myself back!  Tell me what you think in comments!

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  • Fabrisse

    I lived in Europe for years, and I don’t know how to explain the way The Great War permeated everything. The music in this episode clutches at my heart, and the public school tradition of teaching soldiery so they’ll be good officers wipes me out.

    When you began recapping, you noted the ways Martha had to deal with racism in Shakespeare’s time, and there were other ways race, class, and gender issues came through in other episodes. This two-parter crystallizes it all.

    Joan is basically a good person blinded by her times where Martha’s concerned. But she still helps John Smith choose the right path. She’s an indicator of the better path ahead — for women and people of color — which will come through the war to come and the war after that.

    There are some really remarkable supporting performances in this. Everything centers on the Doctor and Tennant’s performance. Without him, none of it would hold.

    • I love how flawed everyone is in this two-parter is! Joan Redfern and John Smith are both ordinary people capable of prejudice and petty reactions, even as they aspire to, and transcend to, better versions of themselves.

      I absolutely agree about Joan helping John Smith choose. She shines at that moment. Even then, though, there’s a wonderful and torturous complexity in her reaction. I quite like that she seems convinced of what he should do — until they witness the life they might have together. If she’s even slightly less confident about what must be done at that point, who can blame her? The normal life they might share is absolutely enticing for a woman who has experienced great loss already and a man who yearns for relationships and connections.

      That Smith is eventually able to choose to give it up shows what amazing things that human was capable of; that Joan obviously supported him even as it dashed all her hopes shows how noble she can be.

      Thank you so much for your thoughts on these episodes! I appreciate hearing your impressions of how immensely the Great War still influences so much throughout Europe.

  • Lia

    *more squeeing* :D

    I love this two-parter, there is so much development of Ten. Even as John Smith, the ‘character’ the Doctor created tells you so much about the Doctor himself.

    For the Fallen always makes me teary, and the final scene here really tugs on the heartstrings.

    And Martha is just awesomesauce

    • There really is! I was incredibly pleased to get this two-parter; it felt like a gift of Ten complexity, something I’d wished for a long while.

      I’m glad I got out the handkerchiefs then! :D Truly, though, it’s so moving. And unlike some other times when there’s a quick return to a minor human character that feels like “tie the loose ends together”, this moment felt so organic and integral to the episode’s most significant themes.

      YAY MARTHA! :DDDDD

  • Ellie

    Best episodes ever, I rate them slightly above The Doctor Dances as my second favourites :P

    Even passing aside the incredibly heartbreaking story, the great evil aliens, the questions of morality and humanity and the sacrifices made by all three of the main characters in a layered, interesting and moving plot, I’ll focus on one more thing before I start to ramble.

    Tennant’s acting is flawless.

    These episodes made me realize for the first time how awesome he actually is. He becomes John Smith. You can see his history, his mannerisms, his story. You can tell when he’s Smith and when he’s the Doctor, and the moment when he switches between them to show himself as a Time Lord again is fantastic. Considering that I can think of several actors around now who play the same character in multiple movies, his ability to play two complex characters in the same episode is impressive.

    Amazing.

    • Tennant is quite wonderful here, I agree! I love seeing his range here, and I think everyone is so well directed in this episode that it adds up to something seriously fantastic. Both of these eps were just a joy to watch and ponder!