Human Nature

Region 1
box set

Region 2
box set
Region 2
plain 3-episode volume
(Doctor Who Story No. 189, starring David Tennant)
  • written by Paul Cornell
  • directed by Charles Palmer
  • produced by Susie Liggat
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 2 episodes @ 45 minutes each:
    1. Human Nature
    2. The Family of Blood
Story: In 1913, public school teacher John Smith (David Tennant) dreams of being a galactic wanderer having fantastic alien adventures, but becomes even more interested in school nurse Joan Redfern. Complications abound when several of the townspeople become murderously possessed, and scarecrows begin to walk. What secrets is Smith's maid Martha keeping? And why does one gifted student feel compelled to hide Smith's pocket watch?

DVD Extras (box sets only) include:

  • Episode One audio commentary by writer Paul Cornell, director Charles Palmer, and composer Murray Gold.
  • Episode Two audio commentary by producer Susie Liggat, art director Arwel Wyn-Jones, and production manager Tracie Simpson.
  • Doctor Who Confidential featurette: Alter Ego (12 min.) with Cornell, Palmer, David Tennant (The Doctor), Jessica Hynes (Joan Redfern),
    Harry Lloyd (Baines), and executive producer Russell T. Davies.
  • Doctor Who Confidential featurette: Bad Blood (12 min.) with Cornell, Palmer, Liggat, Simpson, Tennant, Lloyd, Davies,
    Freema Agyeman (Martha), Rebekah Staton (Jenny), 1st assistant director Richard Harris,
    special effects supervisors Paul Kelly & Danny Hargreaves, and prosthetics designer Neill Gorton.
  • David Tennant's Video Diaries (5 min.) with Tennant, Lloyd, and Lauren Wilson (Lucy Cartwright).
  • Deleted & Extended Scenes
  • Out-Takes & Bloopers

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

It is with great pleasure that I celebrate Paul Cornell's massive improvement on his previous attempt to write for Doctor Who. This time, his story flows much more freely from characters and their choices, and with help from a few unusual sci-fi devices, Cornell manages to create something very unique for a show that might have been said to have already done it all. It is no exaggeration to say that this story is the emotional heart of Season 29.

The opening hook of the story is not a great selling point, however, as it achieves a rather corny air of fan-fantasy that could so easily lead into a very cheesy adventure. Also, considering the other stories that surround this one in the season, it builds early hopes of a story that might be set across unknown portions of the galaxy - which is still badly needed at this point, only to collapse once more to the overly-familiar territory of Earth-bound English history. In the end though, if only one story of the season actually deserved to be set on Earth, this is the one.

And the excellence begins to shine through once past the mandatory hook. Our protagonist Mr. Smith has a very excellent and well-paced character scene with Miss Joan Redfern early on, with actors David Tennant and Jessica Hynes exhibiting an infectiously fun chemistry. After that, scene after scene of fascinating character depth and intriguing plot elements continue, demonstrating excellent writing and pulled off with the kind of audio-visual success that classic stories are made of. Beautiful stuff.

The antagonist forces are shrouded in complete mystery as the story opens, and enjoy several high-quality story beats of being investigated by the curious.

Our protagonists also get great introductions for both of their personas, and the TARDIS gets a fantastic introductory sequence during an early return to the vehicle, clearly establishing the interior/exterior relationship. Subsequent returns to the vehicle continue to include the kind of brief but important establishing shots that put many original 1980's story edits to shame. Nice job.

Murray Gold creates a tour-de-force of gentler romantic cues and pieces for the dramatic turns in the story, offered as probably the most celebrated set of his Doctor Who music on CD yet. Both Murray's preferred whistled version of "Only Martha Knows" on CD and the no-whistling one that Davies and Collinson insisted on for the TV soundtrack have their merits, and the variety is welcome. It is also noteworthy that the choir-vocal version of "The Doctor Forever" that opens the CD track makes its debut here. Great stuff.
Music by Murray Gold
"Mr. Smith and Joan", "Only Martha Knows",
"Smith's Choice", "Just Scarecrows to War",
"Miss Joan Redfern", "The Doctor Forever",
"The Dream of a Normal Death", and
"All the Strange, Strange Creatures"
are available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who:
Original Music from "Series 3"

More info & buying options

The scarecrows are a particularly excellent addition to the story - "Human Nature" racks up more points for their inclusion.

The antagonists themselves seem to deserve a lot more investigation than they receive when all is said and done. More info would have been great for added depth of culture and character, but isn't terribly necessary as we still get interesting, disturbing characters that can hold our attention well.

The Nature Stratagems

The middle portions of the story offer a successful and satisfying set of escalating stratagems between opposing forces that we are invested in, yet they seem to work best merely on the surface, threatening to expose more unanswered questions if looked into with greater depth. And of course I'll save my go at that for the In-depth Analysis version of this review. Come back and have a good read after you've seen the story. Meanwhile, suffice it to say that the protagonists' goals are less rooted in idealistic strategies and more in character complications, an approach which also has its merits.

The biggest character questions are for the Doctor himself, and seem to harken back to the Sylvester McCoy era which probably still reigned in people's minds when Cornell wrote the original book upon which this story is based. And it brings up a nagging question that undermines much of the action, preventing full investment in the stratagems of the middle act.

"On a Whim"

You may not notice the Doctor's motivational plot-hole the first time through the middle act, but one of the characters is very sharp and eloquent in pointing it out in a key emotional concluding scene, making it more obvious on subsequent viewing.

While the bulk of the scenes making up the conclusion work wonderfully and deal with the most pressing issues and plots of the story, particularly the final confrontation between hero and villain, there are a few moments that I think don't serve the story as well as one could hope for. This tale also wades deep into issues of war and sacrifice, without really reaching beyond a few assumptions that its makers seem to have taken for granted, until the ending has you scratching your head wondering why they suddenly changed direction at the last minute, or what it was that they really wanted to say all along.

Sadly unenlightened, says my intellect, but very nicely dealt with on the emotional level by the characters. I'm deliberately being very vague to avoid spoilers; there's much, much more in the In-depth Analysis version of this review.

"Travel With Me"

Several other lasting impressions are important to note here. Perhaps most important to look at is the great job the cast and crew do in this story of selling the Doctor's great and wonderful character to the audience, building anticipation of his eventual return. And this is typically the place where I think back over what we've seen of him in season 29 so far, and where I have to pick Russell T. Davies' superior grand exposition of Tennant's Doctor's character from "Smith and Jones" (story no. 183) as the better narrative to rely on to deliver what "Human Nature" has just sold me on. "Human Nature" is to some purposes a Doctor-less story, although not quite because John Smith is a part of the Doctor, and David Tennant is on hand to play him excellently. But in the end, as excellent as "Human Nature" is, it will only achieve second place in my rankings behind "Smith and Jones", with neither tale really able to compete with last year's big classic epics. "Human Nature" remains exceedingly unique and fascinating though, and a much welcome addition to the spectrum of the 30-year show's best offerings.

This story has become available on DVD.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

DVD NTSC Region 1
14-episode boxed set
for the North American market:

DVD PAL Region 2
14-episode boxed set
for the U.K.
DVD PAL Region 2
plain 3-episode volume
U.K. format only

Note: The full season sets contain commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and other extras. The smaller volumes only feature the plain episodes.

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "Blink"

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