Diary of an old cheeser

Hi there! Like other blogs, this is my chance to wax lyrical (some might say talk utter cr*p) about a) what's happening in my life b) all of my pet obsessions in particular music, tv, movies, books and other generally connected things, quite often of the retro, old and "cheesy" variety. Hence the title of my blog. Feel free to leave a comment if the mood takes you. There's nothing like a good chinwag about one's favourite topics and besides I love to meet new people! Cheers, Simon

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Smith and Joan?

And here we are, cosmic dudes and interstellar divas...better late than never...but I have been a tad busy of late...

Episode: The Family of Blood

Writer: Paul Cornell

Plot: The Dr and Martha, on the run from a group of aliens known as the Family of Blood, are hiding out in 1900s England. The Dr has taken on the persona of a human schoolteacher, John Smith, with his Time Lord essence contained in a small pocket watch. However the Family succeed in tracking the Dr down, taking over the bodies of a number of humans. To complicate matters further, the Dr has fallen in love with a nurse, Joan Redfern, from the local school and has no memory of his life as a Time Lord. With the Family threatening all of humanity, it’s up to Martha and Joan to persuade “John” to change back to his Time Lord persona before it’s too late…

Story/themes: Well, I found this an excellent conclusion to the two parter, managing to tie up all loose ends and deal with outstanding issues. There wasn’t really a bad scene in the episode – just quality acting, performances and writing – that motored very satisfactorily towards its conclusion.

First off the battle with the Family – there were some good face-off scenes between the aliens and the Dr, teachers and schoolkids. I liked the setting up of a “front line” next tothe school and the exciting battle scenes that followed. The Family were all suitably determined and obviously intent on getting hold of the Dr. The only thing which I felt should have been explained slightly more was exactly why the aliens needed the blood of a Time Lord. We knew that they wanted to extend their limited life span, but why the Dr? Was it because of his longer shelf-life in comparison with humans – i.e. the fact that he has several incarnations left? Or perhaps I wasn’t watching / listening closely enough and missed somethng. And why were they called the Family of BLOOD – we never saw them consuming any….?

The Dr-Joan-Martha triangle was played to perfection, with an impending sense of doom for the Doc and Joaney – we knew their pairing wasn’t going to last, sadly (or not so sadly for the future of “Dr Who” the sci-fi show –“Smith and Joan” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, after all. Although it makes a good title for a post). And the Dr and Joan’s relationship was intrinsically linked to the alien threat – the Dr had to relinquish his involvement with Joan and his life as a human being, in order to defeat the Family. Not an easy decision to make, which lead to some dramatic and powerful scenes as “John Smith” agonises over his future. As Joan says to the “returned” Dr near the end, talking about “John”: “He was braver than you in the end, that ordinary man. You chose to change, he chose to die”.

I loved the “flash forward” to the alternative future “John” might have had, when he touches Joan’s hand – the snapshot scenes of him married with Joan and then with…gulp… children! The Dr as a Daddy, for gawd’s sakes!! Who would have thought it?

And we even got a scene with the John on his deathbed (with convincing aging make-up for once!). It was so interesting to see this vision of the ephemeral life the Dr might have had (neatly slotted into the narrative too – as I was speculating last week I was kind of wondering how they were going to explain the Dr getting married and having kids considering there was an alien menace that needed dealing with rather urgently…a sly bit of editing on the part of the Beeb there).

There was also a fair amount of anti-war comment which in my opinion can only be a good thing. Baines asked the Headmaster: “What do you know of 1914?” As an alien race who can time travel, the Family knew about the future and the imminent war, as well as the boys who would die: “Will they thank the men who taught them it was glorious?” Perhaps these aliens had ultimately malevolent intentions, but this was a fair point to raise, nonetheless…And the juxtaposition of “To Be A Pilgrim”– with the shots of the scarecrows getting gunned down whilst “John” looked uneasy made for powerful stuff. (By the way, I failed to mention this hymn being used in Part One as well and the irony of the lines “Let him in constancy, Follow the Master!” Is this a little “pointer” to the character John Simm will be playing in the season finale? Or mere coincidence? We can but speculate…) Oh yeah, and the Family using their spacecraft to bring down meteorites to destroy the local village kind of smacked of WW1 bombers…

On the slightly down side, I did think that the defeat of the Family happened a bit too quickly and easily (reminiscent of “Terror of Zygons” where the Dr sets their spaceship on self-destruct?) – and what happened to the Family’s weapons? But on the plus side this left room for some thoughtful, strong scenes at the end – the Dr’s method of punishment for each “Family” member, his final conversation with Joan, the farewell to Tim and the final (contemporary) scene with an elderly Tim at a war memorial service with the Dr and Martha watching close by.

I particularly liked the bits in which saw how the Dr dealt with the Family e.g. the Sister (the girl with the red balloon) trapped inside a mirror (this reminded me of an old Sapphire and Steel story which used a very similar idea); Baines suspended in time as a scarecrow, looking over the fields of England! Poetic justice indeed.

Period:Just as well done as in Part One! The war time accoutrements were all pretty good too.

Guest cast/supporting characters:All excellent as in Part One.

Jessica Hynes – excelled as Joan, emotional yet dignified, obviously going through a degree of inner torment yet also calm and controlled. The knowledge that John Smith as a person must cease to exist, in order for humanity to be saved, obviously didn’t sit well with Joan. At the same time, when she realizes that everyone might die, her presiding sense of duty and morals win through and she joins Martha in convincing John to “change back”. Ms Hynes did a marvellous job of portraying someone forced to reign in their personal desires in favour of the greater good, in a moving and believable way. Her refusal to join the Dr as a time traveller was understandable – after all the man she’d be journeying with just wouldn’t be the same man she’d known…

Harry Lloyd – still menacing as Baines, with his wide eyes, flaring nostrils and oh sooo posh diction. His performance was just on the right side of camp, even kinky and suggestive at time e.g. his comment to the Headmaster: “Headmaster sir, good evening, sir, come to give me a caning, sir, would you like that sir?” If only. I think Baines was a cracking good villain and despite his “imprisonment” at the end there’s definite potential for a return – it would have to be a good story though, with a decent script that served the character well – look how lame some of the later Master stories became. And hooray for Harry Lloyd! Only in his early twenties, but clearly a very accomplished actor.

Jenny – a good accomplice for Baines and spiteful and unpleasant with it! The part when she laughs in Martha’s face about taking Jenny’s body was particularly nasty! RIP poor, cuddly Jenny! Again an excellent performance from Rebekah Staton– a versatile actress (look how different she was as the “real” Jenny and the possessed alien version) and a talent to watch out for.

Thomas Sangster as Tim – as good as in Part One. He didn’t turn out to be psychic as I was thinking, just fortunate enough to pick up a watch infused with the power of a Time Lord, so allowing him to see into the future, amongst other things – very handy eh. I wish I could get one of those before they announce the lottery numbers. And most significant of all for Tim, thanks to the Mystic-Meg properties of the watch, he’s able to see a moment in the future when he and schoolmate Hutchinson are fighting on the front line and a bomb is about to drop on them. This was cleverly done as well as we see that he and Hutchinson get out of the way of the bomb just in time, whereas in the Part One version of the clip it looked as though the bomb actually killed them. But being able to predict the exact moment, Tim is able to escape death. Lucky, eh?

Pip Torrens as Headmaster – given a bigger role in this episode than “Human Nature” in which he only spoke a few lines, which was good to see! “In the name of the King we will stand against them!” Just the kind of upper class, stiff-upper-lip Headmaster you’d expect to get in a public school in that period.

The Little girl with balloon – Lauren Wilson. Ooooh what a horrid little girlie! Especially when she shot one of the school teachers. She looked kind of mournful when imprisoned in the mirror but I reckon she deserved it. Super Nanny wouldn’t have been able to do a thing with her.

Regular cast/characters:

The Dr / John Smith – it struck me how good David Tennant is when playing a different character! Oh dear. Not that he hasn’t grown on me as the Dr, but as John Smith it really has been a refreshing change seeing a different aspect to his persona and Tennant’s mature, more controlled performance worked wonders. It was almost a disappointment when he reverted to his usual tics and flippant behaviour toward the end – even if it was a relief to see the Dr “come back” to save the day. He also worked very well with Jessica Hynes, a great pairing.

Martha – proved herself to gutsy and took the initiative right at the start of the episode by grabbing the aliens’ gun from “Jenny” and threatening to shoot “Baines”. I also liked the scene when she stood up for herself against Joan, proving that women, not to mention black women, can be doctors by listing all the bones in the hand. Good on yer girl! As I’ve mentioned several times before, the pining-after-the-Dr thing has been kind of relentless and annoying and once again Martha couldn’t help but declare her undying love for the Doc. But she was generally on form in this episode.

Dialogue:Some choice lines in this episode!

For example:

Martha to the Dr: “God you’re rubbish as a human”. (But knock out as a Time Lord?)

Baines' aforementioned lines.

Joan to Martha: “That’s certainly is nonsense, women might train to be Drs but hardly a skivy and hardly one of your colour”. (Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat??!)

Joan: Could you change back?

Dr: Yes.

Joan: Will you?

Dr: No. (Concise and to the point, eh?)

Joan: If the Dr had never visited us, if he’d never chosen this place on a whim, would anyone have died? (This I thought a very interesting point and mirrors what Elton said about the Dr in Love and Monsters, as well as the recent anti-Dr propaganda that Mr Saxon's associates have been spreading...that wherever the Dr goes, there's always death and destruction. It can't be denied. As Joan surmised, if the Dr hadn't chosen England 1913 as a hiding place, the Family never would have followed him and lives wouldn't have been lost. One to consider).

Visuals and special effects:

Lots of beautifully shot scenes – the battle scenes in front of the school, the “poetic” scenes showing the Dr’s alternative future as John Smith, the bits where the Family were punished e.g. Jenny falling out of the TARDIS doors into the collapsed star…And the final scene next to the war memorial with an elderly Tim and the Dr and Martha watching close by, was lovingly done.

And we also got a massive army of scarecrows in this episode! But I couldn’t help wondering – how can men made out of straw die from bullets?

To conclude, this was a birrova masterpiece of a story for me. And paired with “Human Nature”, I’d say that “Family of Blood” was definitely the best of the season so far, if not one of the BEST since Dr Who returned to our screens in 2005. And I think many other fans will probably agree.

Mmm. Now, have you noticed how my attempts to shorten my reviews seem already to have, erm, failed? Didn't take long, did it...?! Oh well…I am a Gay Whovian and proud of it. I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses...


  • At 11:16 pm , Blogger Minge said...

    Your reviews are always delicious and this was no exception.

    Well done!

    Lots of eye candy, especially The Headmaster and Baines. I wouldn't mind a spitroasting by them two... Oops! Did I really say that?

    Lots of teasers, too. I liked the "...follow the master..." part, too, and was upset so few people spotted it. But YOU did!

    But what of Tim? Too many seeds were sewn for him to simply dry up. And he bumped into Martha in the present day... He has to come back.

    I wondered if he was The Master, but I think not.

    I wonder what clues lie in Utopia?

    I also wonder if The Doctor has now entered some kind of time loop. Is Derek Jacobi William Hartnell? Is Utopia Gallifrey?


  • At 3:08 am , Blogger TimeWarden said...

    Tim was "just fortunate enough to pick up a watch infused with the power of a Time Lord" because anyone with more sense wouldn't have left it lying around so, I'm sorry Simon, I don't think you're going to be fortunate enough to discover a similar timepiece! As I've mentioned before, numerous times across the internet, for me the story falls apart because of the blessed watch!! Maybe it would've been better kept as a cricket ball as in the original novel!!!

    Martha's carelessness through not taking better care of the watch, after specifically being told of its importance by the Doctor in the teaser, directly leads to the Doctor having to choose between his friend and lover at the climax of "Human Nature". Had Martha kept it about her person, Tim wouldn't have picked it up, opened it, and led the Family of Blood to the dancehall.

    Paul Cornell should've found another way to reach the same cliff-hanger such as losing the watch. As it stands, it makes Martha look stupid when she must be anything but, considering her medical training! The negligence over something so vital is contradictory to her character and therefore poor writing. The plot collapses because of it, despite the subtext remaining intact. Remember how important it was to retain the time ring in "Genesis"!!

    The narrative is also carelessly undermined at the end of "The Family of Blood" when Tim reminds Hutchinson, in the trenches, of the promise he made "all those years ago"! This scene is set in 1914, reaffirmed immediately afterwards by the Producer in "Confidential", while the bulk of the story takes place the previous year!! Now, if Tim had said "all those months ago"… but it just doesn't have the same dramatic punch!!!

    I think the resolution of the cliff-hanger is poorly directed and the dispatching of the Family ridiculous. Why has the Doctor never disposed of the Master or the Rani behind a mirror when it is obviously so easy to do? It's the same as suddenly being able to destroy a Cyberman with a gun, in "Attack of the Cybermen", when the Cybermen were previously shown, in "The Invasion", to be impervious to firearms.

    The Doctor could've dispensed with Margaret Slitheen within his magical mystery mirror! Maybe even Captain Jack, releasing him on the odd occasion for a quick snog!! Obviously, anything goes and no plot point is of any consequence!!! I'm of the firm opinion that this story is no better or worse than any other this season.

  • At 5:55 am , Blogger matty said...

    I wanna see this show!

    When o when will I ever get to see it?!!?!?

  • At 7:04 am , Blogger Steve said...

    I must admit I'm kicking myself for missing the "To Be A Pilgrim" hymn... obviously a deliberate choice. As you said, Baines was absolutely excellent and I would have liked to see a lot more of his character on screen. He made the most of the dialogue he was given and deserved more.

  • At 1:18 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Minge - bless you, pet! Appreciate it.

    Perhaps if you were a pupil at Farringham School for Boys you could get the spit-roasting you desire. You'd have to misbehave a bit though, only bad boys get punished. Still I'm sure that wouldn't be difficult for you. Thinking about it more though, it would probably be more of a pleasurable than painful thing for you, wouldn't it?

    Maybe we'll see Tim again in the future. I was a bit disappointed that he didn't turn out to be a mini Time Lord or something similar.The bumping into Martha in the present day thing wasn't so much him actually being there - the watch just enabled him to see who she really was and where she came from.

    I am very much looking forward to Utopia - according to the Radio Times the episode is a bit of a clunker but apparently there's a brilliant ending - can't wait! And even if the story isn't great we also have the return of Captain Jack and a guest appearance by RSC luvvie Sir Derek Jacobi to console us!

    I don't think Utopia is Gallifrey cos the latter was destroyed! At least I think so...

    Timewarden - Yes, it can't be denied having the watch left lying around like that made things remarkably easy and helped to open up the rest of the plot. They should have constructed a storyline in which Tim did eventually get hold of the watch but in a not-so-easy way!

    I can see the validity of your other criticisms too - my, I thought I was the most critical Dr Who fan of all - obviously not!! (But probably like me cos you're a fan of the show you tend to be more exacting in what you expect from the show). That's a good point about the Dr's method of dispatching the villains - he could have done this on many other occasions. Unfortunately this is the type of inconsistency we get in a long-running programme like Dr Who, when authors come up with their own ideas and are not aware of those of others, thus leading to contradictions and omissions. Perhaps they should set up some kind of Dr Who database or Dr Who list of rules, so that when new writers come on board they are aware of all concepts and ideas that have been used before and have something to cross reference. Mmmm a tall order eh? As I said in a show which has gone on as long as DW it's kind of hard.

    It sounds like the negatives outweigh the positives for you with this story, which is a shame as I (and many others I think) regard it as one of the best in a long time. For me there was a higher calibre of writing, characterisation and acting in this than other recent DW stories.

    Matty - Do they not show DW on cable? And what happened to the DVD you ordered - Runaway Bride? Haven't you got it yet?

    Steve - I agree, maybe we'll see more of him in future. But as I said, it would have to be a decent second outing.

  • At 11:21 pm , Blogger Trashbinder said...

    I'm so with Minge on the spitroasting. Pip Torrens is so my type, I'd have his children in a second.

    Oh, hang on, I can't conceive. Well, I'd let him inseminate me regardless. Yum!

    Can't find anything about him on t'internet though. Does he have a wife?


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