In the ninth episode of the third series of Doctor Who, John Smith faces a terrible decision: does he save the world by “dying” and becoming the Doctor again, or does he remain a human and live out a full life with Joan? If you’re intrigued, then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
It’s no surprise to me to learn that this episode, along with the previous part of the story, were nominated for Hugo Awards. It’s weird, because one of the first things this whole two-parter makes me think is how much I really wish that Doctor Who was a bit more consistent. I think the fact that so many writers handle the scripts is exciting. We get new perspectives, experimental scripts, and fascinating stories that a single writer might not be able to pull off. That being said, there is a part of me that wishes that every episode of Doctor Who was this grand, intense, and emotional.
I think that “The Family of Blood” is actually better than “Human Nature,” and that’s a lofty claim to make, especially since I loved that episode so much. But this episode doesn’t fail to ramp up the tension, the creepiness, and the UTTER HEARTBREAK that was created in the first part.
Paul Cornell and Russell T Davies don’t hesitate to say a lot of uncomfortable, frightening things in this episode and I believe that’s why I grew to love it so much. It started off a bit rocky, as I found myself not really caring about the dilemma John Smith was forced into anymore. I mean that in the sense of…well, it was a great way to end the last episode. As I said before, both sides will lose because neither fully understands the other one. But starting this episode off with that standoff? Well, obviously it’s going to be resolved since there are 44 MINUTES REMAINING, so it doesn’t hold the same power. I don’t know if I consider this a legit complaint since the writers have to deal with this.
Anyway, from this point on, everything is GRIM AS HELL. As the Family of Blood descend on the school, having followed John Smith there, Baines continues to be the most over-the-top, terrifying villain of EVERYTHING EVER. Yes, it is ridiculous that he talks like that and his eyes are always wide open, and I don’t care. Harry Lloyd, you are fantastic. But he really sends me off into Nightmare Land after the boys prepare to launch an attack on the oncoming scarecrow soldiers. Up until this moment, I think most of these people believed they were dealing with humans trying to harm them, but when the little girl with the red balloon shows up, the boys and the staff members have to face the reality of the situation: these are not humans. And they are not going to win.
How about the best line ever?
“War is coming. In foreign fields, war of the whole wide world, with all your boys falling down in the mud. Do you think they will thank the man who taught them it was glorious?”
AKJDFDASFLJKASDF I SERIOUSLY WANTED TO CURL UP FOREVER. The delivery was everything for this line, and it was haunting. The look in the headmaster’s eyes? WILL NOT UNSEE FOREVER.
As if it was even remotely possible at this point, this episode continues to get better, as Martha, Joan, and John Smith head to the Cartwright home to hide. When Tim shows up with the watch that Martha had been looking for, it’s clear that John Smith faces a drastic decision. Having seen the TARDIS earlier in the episode, Joan is now convinced herself that the stories in A Journal of Impossible Things cannot possibly be stories. They are the memories of the Doctor. John Smith is merely an invention.
I cannot even recall many episodes of television that I have seen in my life that are as heartbreaking as what happens here. I finally get to see where that infamous GIF of David Tennant crying with a bow tie comes from and I’d be happier about it if it wasn’t from THE MOST DEPRESSING SCENE EVER. Watching John Smith beg to keep his own life, to keep his own experiences, his identity, the good and the bad, to keep it as his and no one else’s…christ. It’s hard to even think about it.
Of course, much of the praise must also be shared with David Tennant, who came to portray John Smith so genuinely that you stopped thinking he was the Doctor. Here was a man who had finally fallen in love with someone he cared for and respected. And he was going to give all of that up, including his memories of those events, in order to save the world. Joan excuses Martha and Tim to have a final moment alone with John Smith. It’s then that the two of them hold the watch, which shows them images and memories of what their life would become if he stayed. Marriage. Two children. A life in the countryside. His death, with Joan alongside at the end.
It’s a life a Time Lord could never have.
The episode abruptly cuts to John Smith stumbling onto the ship of the Family of Blood. We watch, in horror, as John Smith hands over the watch. He has chosen to stay behind, to give up his life as a Time Lord, and to become human with Joan. Except that the watch is empty and, for the first time in the episode, we hear that familiar inflection from the Doctor, as he joyously explains that his “clumsiness” was a way for him to press just the right buttons to send the ship into overload.
The Doctor is back.
He never raised his voice. That was the worst thing–the fury of the Time Lord–and then we discovered why. Why this Doctor, who had fought with gods and demons, why he had run away from us and hidden. He was being kind. He wrapped my father in unbreakable chains forged in the heart of a dwarf star. He tricked my mother into the event horizon of a collapsing galaxy to be imprisoned there, forever. He still visits my sister, once a year, every year. I wonder if one day he might forgive her, but there she is. Can you see? He trapped her inside a mirror. Every mirror. If ever you look at your reflection and see something move behind you just for a second, that’s her. That’s always her. As for me, I was suspended in time and the Doctor put me to work standing over the fields of England, as their protector. We wanted to live forever. So the Doctor made sure we did.
SIMPLY FLAWLESS. One of the best expository monologues I have ever seen on television.
The Doctor visits Joan one last time, and surprisingly offers her to be his companion. She refuses, thankfully; she could never love the Doctor like she loved John Smith. To her, they are not the same person and they will never be. Before the Doctor leaves, she asks him a damning question:
Answer me this–just one question, that’s all. If the Doctor had never visited us, if he’d never chosen this place…on a whim…would anybody here have died?
The Doctor’s silence is an answer in itself.
The episode ends by focusing on Tim Lattimer, who saw his future when he held the watch. The following year, he’d be helping Hutchinson in the foxholes of World War I, and a shell would fall on them. This entire story-arc suggested that Tim would die on that battlefield and he seemed to resolve himself to this fate. However, we’re finally shown the whole scene and he manages to pull Hutchinson aside to save his life. Many decades later, as Tim attends a ceremony for Rememberance Sunday, he notices two familiar faces watching from a distance: it’s the Doctor and Martha, who haven’t aged a year. And it’s a moment of validation for Tim, whose life was technically saved by his introduction to the Doctor.
“The Family of Blood” reminds us that the Doctor’s effects are never wholly positive on people. He changed Joan’s life forever and we’re left to imagine how she survived without John Smith. But he did save the world that night in 1913, and he saved that boy’s life from a falling shell.
Nothing is black and white.
- “He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time and can see the turn of the universe. And…he’s wonderful.” TIM <333333
- “Latimer, you filthy coward!” “Oh, yes, sir!” Every time!” MORE TIM <3333
- “I’m John Smith, 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? Why can’t I stay?” AS;LDKFDASD;J MY CREYS
- “You’re the Doctor’s companion, can you help? What exactly do you do for him? Why does he need you?” “Because he’s lonely.” OMG MARTHA. I didn’t comment on it up above, but SHIT. She deals with SO MUCH in this episode and that particular line was SO PAINFUL TO WATCH. Ugh, I feel so bad for her.
- Seriously, fucking amazing amazing episode. Bravo.