Human Nature (Doctor Who)

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185a – "Human Nature"
Doctor Who episode
Past Doctors section.jpg
Smith shows Joan his Journal of Impossible Things, containing stories about Daleks, Cybermen and his previous selves.
Directed by Charles Palmer
Written by Paul Cornell
Script editor Lindsey Alford
Produced by Susie Liggat
Executive producer(s) Russell T Davies
Julie Gardner
Phil Collinson
Incidental music composer Murray Gold
Production code 3.8
Series Series 3
Length 1st of 2-part story, 45 minutes
Originally broadcast 26 May 2007
← Preceded by Followed by →
"42" "The Family of Blood"

"Human Nature" is the eighth episode of the third series of the revived British science fiction television series Doctor Who. It is the first episode of a two-part story written by Paul Cornell adapted from his 1995 Doctor Who novel Human Nature. Along with its continuation, "The Family of Blood", it was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form in 2008.[1]


The Doctor and Martha run to the TARDIS as an unseen enemy fires at them. The Doctor tells Martha that they are being pursued by the Family of Blood, who seek the Doctor's Time Lord life force to prevent themselves from dying. He tells Martha that he must transform into a human to escape the Family's detection until they die out, and gives her a list of instructions to follow. He uses a device called the "chameleon arch" to turn him into a human and transfer his Time Lord essence and memories into a fob watch that he asks Martha to guard.

They land on Earth in 1913. The Doctor takes the persona of John Smith, a teacher at Farringham School for boys, and Martha acts as a maid at the school. John is quiet and timid, but faint memories of the Doctor slip through in his dreams. He catalogues the dreams in a book he has titled A Journal of Impossible Things. John keeps the fob watch on his mantle, but a perception filter around it keeps him from being curious about it. John has also become infatuated with the school nurse, young widow Joan Redfern, and shares his journal with her. Martha is concerned, as the Doctor did not instruct her on what to do should he fall in love. She also struggles with her lowly position at the school, but her resentment at the arrogant public schoolboys is tempered by the knowledge that many of them will die in the upcoming World War I. Timothy Latimer, a young student at the school with ESP, discovers the fob watch and pockets it for himself.

The Family of Blood have tracked the Doctor to Earth, and cloak their ship in a nearby wood with an invisibility shield to keep it hidden. The Family seek out humans to possess, and take the bodies of several people including one of the schoolboys, Jeremy Baines. When Timothy briefly opens the fob watch and experiences portions of the Doctor's memories, the Family detects its presence at the school. They try to get information from Martha about the Doctor when she realises that the Family has found them and attempts to retrieve the watch but cannot find it. She talks to John and tries to awaken his Time Lord self, but instead causes him to become angry with her and fire her. John asks Nurse Redfern to accompany him to the village dance that night, and she accepts. At the dance, Martha again tries to persuade John to become the Doctor by showing him elements of his past such as his sonic screwdriver. Now aware that John Smith is the Doctor, the Family interrupt the dance and confront him. In a cliffhanger ending, they take Martha and Joan as hostages and give John a choice to either become a Time Lord again or watch his companions die.


Comparison with the novel[edit]

Both "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood" are based on Cornell's novel, Human Nature, written as part of the Virgin New Adventures series.[3] In the novel, the Seventh Doctor seeks to experience what it is like to be a human, and uses a device from a family of Aubertide shapeshifters to do so, unaware that the Aubertide are looking to acquire the Doctor's Time Lord essence that would be stored in the device after its use. The Doctor leaves his current companion, Bernice Summerfield posing as his niece, with a similar list of instructions of things to prevent him from doing, also omitting what to do if he should fall in love.

From here, many of the characters and plot elements are similar. In particular, both novel and episode occur near the Great War in a small English village that is home to a school for boys. Joan Redfern is the object of Smith's attention in both works, and Timothy (with the surname Dean in the novel) is the schoolboy that finds the object containing the Time Lord essence (a cricket ball in the novel, a fob watch in the episode), and experiences some mannerisms of the Time Lord personality. Smith writes a book that draws from his Time Lord personality - in the novel, this is a children's story borrowing terms like "Gallifrey" and "TARDIS", while this manifests as the "Journal of Impossible Things" within the episode. The Aubertides, like the Family of Blood, take on forms of the villagers, including a little girl with a balloon, though in the novel, the balloon is a sentient and deadly creature controlled by the Aubertide. Both resolve with Smith learning about the Doctor, and forced to take the Doctor's persona to end the threat to the village, and though as the Doctor tries to bond with Joan, she turns him away as it was the Smith persona that she fell in love with.

Historic and cultural references[edit]

  • Latimer is forced to translate Latin homework, poems of Catullus.
  • Smith gives a lesson on the Battle of Waterloo early in the episode.
  • A doorman takes up a charity collection for "veterans of the Crimea" (1854–56) outside the village hall.
  • The recent Second Boer War is referenced frequently in this episode and the following one: Hutchison's father writes that he may be posted there (in the letter which Latimer guesses), and Latimer's uncle had a posting in Johannesburg; Redfern's husband died at the battle of Spion Kop, hence her antipathy to the machine gun practice; the book Latimer is picking up from Smith is a copy of "Aitchison-Price's definitive account of Mafeking"; and in the following episode, the headteacher reveals that he served during the war.
  • "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood" explore prejudice, particularly of race, gender and class. Jenny mentions the Suffragettes. Redfern and the pupils refer negatively to Martha's race and class, and Redfern, Smith and the headteacher frequently reprimand Martha for being too bold and ready with advice for a servant.
  • In the extended message to Martha, the Doctor says he has to speak "without hesitation, deviation and whatever that other thing is, like that panel game on Channel 4". This refers to Just a Minute, a radio panel game show actually on BBC Radio 4.


Human Nature was Paul Cornell's fifth original novel, all having been Doctor Who stories for Virgin Publishing, and the thirty-eighth New Adventure. The plot was developed with fellow New Adventure novelist Kate Orman and the book was well received on its publication in 1995. Several years later, the revived Doctor Who television series included several people who had worked on the New Adventures. For his second story for the television series, Cornell adapted his novel. Although most praise for the script was directed at Cornell, a great deal of the episode had in fact been rewritten by executive producer Russell T Davies.[4]

Despite Julie Gardner's position as executive producer since "Rose", this episode marks the first time since Verity Lambert's 1965 swansong, "Mission to the Unknown", that a woman was the credited producer of an episode of Doctor Who. However, it is not producer Susie Liggat's first production job in the Doctor Who universe: in 2006, she produced Invasion of the Bane, the first episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures. Thus, only she and John Nathan-Turner have produced episodes from two different programmes set in the Doctor Who universe.

The physical prop of John Smith's journal notebook was created by artist Kellyanne Walker, and incorporates text provided by writer Paul Cornell.[5] Much of the episode was filmed at St Fagans National History Museum, an open-air museum near Cardiff,[6] and Treberfydd, the Victorian Gothic mansion which served as Farringham School, located near Llangorse Lake in south Wales.[7] Other interior locations were filmed at Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff.[8]

The Doctor's list of 23 directives, much of which is sped through in the episode, is presented at normal speed in a deleted scene released on the BBC DVD. In place of the nonexistent unheard requests, David Tennant breaks the fourth wall to speak humorously about a love for The Housemartins and also spout gibberish to pad out the time before returning to character for the 23rd and final directive. Another instruction, about not letting Smith eat pears, appears in both the deleted scene and in the novel Human Nature.[2][9]

Radio Times credits David Tennant as John Smith for "Human Nature" and as The Doctor for "The Family of Blood". On-screen credits read The Doctor/Smith for "Human Nature" and The Doctor for "The Family of Blood".


Along with "The Family of Blood", "Human Nature" was nominated for the 2008 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.[1] David Tennant won the Constellation Award for Best Male Performance in a 2007 Science Fiction Television Episode for the two-part story.[10]

The episode also received a favourable review from The Stage with reviewer Mark Wright commenting that the episode "is unlike any Doctor Who story you'll ever see", and that there was "nothing duff" about the episode. Wright singles out the performances of Agyeman and Tennant for considerable praise and he concludes by describing the episode as "BAFTA worthy Drama".[11] IGN's Travis Fickett gave "Human Nature" a rating of 9.1 out of 10, writing that it "has some of the highest caliber of writing the series has seen". He particularly praised the performances of Stevenson and Sangster and the episode's "more deliberate pace". While he noted that the Family with Baines in particular were creepy, he felt that the scarecrows "might seem a little silly" to older viewers.[12]

In 2009, Doctor Who Magazine readers voted "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood" as the sixth best Doctor Who story of all time.[13] In a 2014 poll, Doctor Who Magazine readers voted the episodes as the ninth best.[14] Matt Wales of IGN named the two-part story the best episode of Tennant's tenure as the Doctor, describing it as "stunningly produced" and praising Tennant's performance.[15] In 2008, The Daily Telegraph named it the seventh best Doctor Who episode in the show's history.[16]


  1. ^ a b "2008 Hugo Nomination List". Denvention 3: The 66th World Science Fiction Convention. World Science Fiction Society. 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  2. ^ a b c Ware, Peter. "Doctor Who - Fact File - Human Nature". BBC. Retrieved 2011-08-15. 
  3. ^ Cornell, Paul. "eBooks - Human Nature - Adaptation". Doctor Who - the Classic Series. BBC. Archived from the original on 1 July 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-07. 
  4. ^ "Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook interview". Unreality SF archive. Retrieved 2011-08-15. 
  5. ^ Doctor Who - Fact File - The Family of Blood
  6. ^ "Walesarts, St Fagans Natural History Museum, Cardiff". BBC. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  7. ^ "Human Nature" podcast
  8. ^ "Walesarts, Llandaff village, Cardiff". BBC. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  9. ^ Cornell, Paul (1995). Human Nature (PDF). BBC eBooks. p. 68. ISBN 0-426-20443-3. 
  10. ^ "2008 Constellation Awards". Constellation Awards website. 2008-07-15. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  11. ^ Wright, Mark (2007-05-28). "Doctor Who 3.8: Human Nature". The Stage. Retrieved 2011-08-15. 
  12. ^ Fickett, Travis (2007-08-28). "Doctor Who: "Human Nature" Review". IGN. Retrieved 2012-04-30. 
  13. ^ Haines, Lester (2009-09-17). "Doctor Who fans name best episode ever". The Register. Retrieved 2011-08-15. 
  14. ^ "The Top 10 Doctor Who stories of all time". Doctor Who Magazine. 21 June 2014. Retrieved 21 August 2014. 
  15. ^ Wales, Matt (2010-01-05). "Top 10 Tennant Doctor Who Stories". IGN. Retrieved 2012-04-29. 
  16. ^ "The 10 greatest episodes of Doctor Who ever". The Daily Telegraph. 2008-07-02. Retrieved 2012-04-29. 

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