Story 185


Series 3 – Episodes 8 & 9

“I have to stop being a Time Lord. I’m going to become human” – the Doctor

The Doctor and Martha are on the run from voracious aliens known as the Family of Blood, who are desperate to consume a Time Lord to extend their lifespan. Containing his Gallifreyan essence within a fob-watch, the Doctor disguises himself as a human – a teacher at an English public school in 1913. For two months, Martha watches over “John Smith” as a housemaid, as he starts to fall in love with school matron Joan Redfern, while being beset with dreams about his forgotten past. The Family of Blood are on their scent, though, concealing themselves within the bodies of locals and animating scarecrows to storm the school.

First UK transmissions
Saturday 26 May 2007
Saturday 2 June 2007

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November 2006–February 2007. Main locations: Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff. Treberfydd House in Brecon. Tredegar House in Newport. St Fagans National History Museum in Cardiff. Cwm Ifor Farm in Caerphilly. Studio: Upper Boat Studios, Treforest, Pontypridd.

The Doctor/John Smith – David Tennant
Martha Jones – Freema Agyeman
Joan Redfern – Jessica Hynes
Jenny/Mother of Mine – Rebekah Staton
Tim Latimer – Thomas Sangster
Jeremy Baines/Son of Mine – Harry Lloyd
Hutchinson – Tom Palmer
Clark/Father of Mine – Gerard Horan
Lucy Cartwright/Daughter of Mine – Lor Wilson
Rocastle – Pip Torrens
Phillips – Matthew White
Doorman – Derek Smith
Mr Chambers – Peter Bourke
Vicar – Sophie Turner
Old Tim Latimer – Huw Rees (uncredited)

Writer – Paul Cornell
Director – Charles Palmer
Designer – Edward Thomas
Incidental music – Murray Gold
Producer – Susie Liggat
Executive Producers – Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner and Phil Collinson

RT review by Mark Braxton (published 26 May 2022)
There are occasions when our favourite programme slips its sci-fi moorings and wanders freely around the broader realm of drama – and this immaculately judged two-parter does just that.

Remember when Rose begged the Doctor to take her on a sentimental journey in Father’s Day? Well, Human Nature and The Family of Blood are nothing like that... but the story is by the same writer, and it puts us though the emotional Moulinex in a similar way.

A mystery within a history, where romance tangles with horror, it teases and tantalises, makes us think and entreats us to see our hero in different lights – not all of them flattering. And if that sounds ambitious, it’s to Paul Cornell’s enormous credit that he pulls it off.

It’s 1913 and the prospect of war hangs like a pall over an English private school where the Doctor – now a human being with no memory of his Time Lordship – is a teacher and Martha a maid. Attitudes to class and colour should be viewed with modern eyes, and Cornell does not fail us.

Not knowing what on earth is going on is a good reason to continue watching. In more recent times that imposition on the audience has been stretched to breaking point but here, Cornell’s crumbs of explanation keep us nourished.

Seeing the Doctor “be ordinary”, fall in love and mistreat the fellow traveller he no longer knows could all crumble in the hands of a less gifted actor, but this is Tennant, and it doesn’t.

Our hero has acted “out of character” before, of course. Memorably, he was power-crazed and unkind to his companion in The Invasion of Time (1978), and was very unkind to his companion in The Twin Dilemma (1984) – and the least said about that throttling incident, the better.

While chaos reigns in pre-war England, spurned Martha looks on helplessly as the Doctor’s attentions fall elsewhere, and thanks to Freema Agyeman such a plight is heartbreaking: “You had to go and fall in love with a human – and it wasn’t me.”

One bravura sequence involving a cricket ball and a pram reassures fans that his gallant impulse hasn’t been entirely buried, however, and the thrust of the story arrives at just the right point…

It’s apt that the key to the Doctor’s reinstatement is an antique timepiece, which by the way is a beautiful prop. As is the exquisite Journal of Impossible Things – if in another dimension I had worked on the show, that’s the one thing I would have wanted as a souvenir!

In a story of strengths the alien clan that has forced the Doctor into human hiding appears to be a weak link – with all that sniffing and head cocking and generally “large” acting, they’re like the Addams Family with a cold. And their instruments of straw-ture do rather strain credibility. Yet both pave the way to shocking outcomes and potent symbolism.

When the school comes under attack from the scarecrows, we see an awful shadow of things to come. Pupils aim weapons too big for them, the headteacher urges them to “find the biting point” and one schoolboy in giant close-up wipes away tears of terror. Backed by the hymn To Be a Pilgrim, it is genuinely one of the most startling marriages of music and image in the show’s history. On a practical level, this cannon-fodder sequence is also a canny way of presenting mass slaughter in a teatime slot.

There’s more than one sting in the tale. When the Doctor’s true colours emerge, Joan Redfern’s disappointment that John Smith is no more comes through loud and clear: “He was braver than you, in the end, that ordinary man.”

The look of love has left his eyes, and even though he asks Joan to join him on his travels, he doesn’t seem to mean it. The writing here is powerful, measured, unfancy… “John Smith is dead – and he looks like you.”

As the Doctor once more, he has a job to do, and he dispatches each member of the Family like a flint-eyed assassin, and in a manner that is shocking to us, with Roald Dahlian levels of cruelty/poetic justice.

As the adventure accelerates towards its end, with complex riches upon riches (what the Doctor’s human life would have looked like, an icing-on-the-cake coda, the unignorable truth of our hero bringing death to a small community), Human/Blood almost redefines the show. And where once I might have considered Marco Polo to be an epic, I now think of this story in such terms.

In summary, those who dismiss Who as lightweight fluff need escorting towards this complex, resonant outing. It’s a beautifully mature work, with performances to match from a best-ever Tennant as Smith/the Doctor, Jessica Hynes as Smith’s sweetheart, and Freema Agyeman as the exasperated, lovelorn Martha, plus perfect support from the always-great Pip Torrens as headmaster Rocastle, and Thomas “Love Actually” Sangster as boy-soldier-to-be Tim Latimer.

Overflowing with moral dilemmas and memory-searing moments, it also contains the neatest description of the Doctor we’ve ever heard on the show. Exhaustingly brilliant.


Radio Times Archive


In 2007, RT introduced the Scarecrows and spoke to writer Paul Cornell and guest star Jessica Hynes.