Okay, that was absolutely magnificent. It’s times like these that I’m left in complete awe of the sheer quality of television that Doctor Who is producing. Everything about this story was absolutely perfect. More than that, it was just an astounding work of art: some of the most creative and inspired writing this show has ever seen. It had a positively riveting story, peerless quality of acting, superlative visual production, and I’m just finding it difficult to do justice to this work in my words.
The inspired conceit at the heart of this story was the transformation of the Doctor into a human. Which Doctor better with which to conduct this experiment than the Tenth, the most human of all the Doctors? We gained a privileged glimpse into the Doctor’s nature by way of this experiment. If I’m right in having understood that John Smith was a “persona” of the Doctor, a constellation of aspects of his personality, stripped of his Time Lord consciousness, then this story presented us with a fascinating vision of what the Doctor would be like as a human. John Smith was a sweet, gentle man, thoughtful, and astonishingly brave. John Smith was a romantic, a man of passion, who savoured the keen tease of love. He would, if he could have, contentedly made himself a life with Joan Redfern, a whole new, human life. He would have settled down and lived out the rest of his human days in loving, contented bliss with a woman he loves, so very unlike the Doctor we know. Moreover, he displayed extraordinary bravery when he sacrificed it all, and all he was, to be the Doctor again. This is all the Doctor. It’s a side to the Doctor we never see because it’s buried deep inside him, perhaps as part of his subconscious, but this is who the Doctor would be if he were a human.
The Family of Blood were a suitably chilling adversary. They displayed a frightening villainy that truly disturbed, even more so because of their taking ordinary human forms: the jarring incongruity was disquieting enough on its own. Jeremy Baines, played superlatively by Harry Lloyd, was the most delightfully creepy of the lot, a slimy, unhinged public schoolboy whose discordant speech and his unearthly, ravenous gaze sets the hair on end. Lloyd is to be congratulated for a profoundly unsettling, villainous performance. A word of praise should also be given to Jessica Hynes, whose performance as Joan Redfern was entrancingly delicate and nuanced and perfect. Her portrayal of Joan’s suppressed heartbreak and sorrow at the loss of John Smith was touching, almost tearful. Hynes carried her script more than admirably, and I’m really in awe of her talents here.
Martha was fantastic, and Agyeman carried the all-important lead role exceptionally. Thrust reluctantly into the role of keeping herself and the Doctor safe until the threat of the Family had gone, Martha acquitted herself laudably and bravely. She endured committing herself to particularly undesirable work, racial prejudice, and loneliness, for the Doctor’s sake, and for that deserves high commendation. Martha continues to prove herself a more than capable companion, in this story more so than any yet. She’s particularly to be praised for telling the bigoted attitudes of the time to go f*ck themselves. As an aside, Doctor Who, usually engaging in disingenuous whitewashing of historical race relations (black courtiers at the Palace of Versailles anyone?), was uncharacteristically forthright about the less than commendable historical racial attitudes in this story—and for that is to be commended.
The spectre of war was a prominent theme in this story, one explored with sobering effect. There was no particular reason, it seemed, to set the story in 1913, but it created an opportunity to gain insights about England on the eve of war. A nation that had not been involved in major warfare for a century, it romanticised and gloried in war and the warlike ethic. It brought its proudest sons up to exult in the cause of King and Country, in killing and conquering for the military glory of the nation. How naive it all was, and how cruelly those romantic notions were shattered, in the “war to end all wars”. The tears and clenched teeth of the boys as they believed themselves to be mowing down human lives was profoundly disquieting, representing the moment those boys’ romantic ideas about war were horrifically shattered, an exceptionally powerful moment.
While in John Smith we saw one hidden side of the Doctor, in the Doctor’s retribution against the Family we saw another, less endearing side. “The Fury of the Time Lord” is truly a terrible sight to behold—yet another manifestation of the Tenth Doctor’s usually repressed “dark side” that I’ve written about before. Tennant’s acting throughout this story, by the way, was absolutely peerless. He’s gone above and beyond everything he’s done before and delivered a breathtaking, astounding performance, positively ripping into the equally astounding writing. Tennant is well past the shaky start and the nervous inconsistency of Series 2. I’ll give the last word to the talented Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Tim Latimer, who delivered a more than competent performance for his age. It’s easy to see here how he went on to his high-profile role in Game of Thrones…
In sum, a masterpiece. Unarguably one of the best things Doctor Who has ever produced.