Human Nature has just overtaken Prisoner of the Daleks as my favourite Doctor Who book. The Eighth Doctor has turned himself human and is teaching at an English boarding school in 1913. Sound familiar? That’s because this is the book that inspired the excellent series 3 (2007) TV episodes Human Nature/Family of Blood with the Tenth Doctor and Martha, which I already love, and yet somehow this book was even more beautiful and moving.
For one thing, there are many more characters than in the TV adaptation, and there was much more time to properly explore them all. One of my favourite scenes was the humanisation of the until-then awful headmaster. The Family itself was also a lot more fleshed out in both character and motive, having more to them than just the desire for immortality, such as the fact that their race mindlessly conquers due to their otherwise empty existences. The futility and idiocy of war is nicely paralleled with this fact about their species.
A lot more happens in the book as well. There’s 8 hours of material in the audiobook, as opposed to the hour and a half we get on-screen. I still love the condensed form of the story, as it is a lot pithier, and there were certainly some unnecessary parts of the book, especially at the start, as it was being tied over from the previous story in the series. However, there was a much better sense of scale with all the extra scenes. The book gives more of a picture of how John Smith and Bernice have built up lives in this community and the romance between John and Joan is given the appropriate time to blossom, though the scene with the cat at their dinner date was highly strange and unnecessary…
One of the things I loved about this book in comparison to its TV counterpart was that Timothy was not just a little psychic, but quite manic, affected by the pod (the fob watch of the book) so that he became otherworldly and almost Gallifreyan himself.
This was my first encounter with extended-universe companion Bernice (Benny for short) and I absolutely loved her. She was intelligent, sarcastic and very capable. I listened to this as an audiobook and Lisa Bowerman’s performance brought her very much to life for me and I wish she were a companion for the TV series. Lisa Bowerman was also brilliant with all the other characters. Often the narrator can be a bit hit and miss with Doctor Who audiobooks, but she perfectly acted every single character and not once was I confused about who was talking. I even sometimes forgot it was a cast of one, as Lisa Bowerman’s voices for each of the characters were so individual.
I also liked the hints to Benny’s sexuality. I looked it up and apparently ‘ambisexuality’ (or omnisexuality) was the norm in her culture. It was fairly subtly referenced and could easily go over the heads of some readers, but she seemed to be quite enjoying a woman’s advances on her and immediately jumped to the conclusion that this woman was gay, though she rejected the advances due to the recent death of her former lover. Not only this, but later on in the story it became evident that another couple of characters were not straight, which was still subtle for most of the book, but became explicit by the end.
This was all part of a larger theme of romantic love in the book, which forms a large part of the Doctor’s motive for becoming human, rather than him already being on the run as on TV. Other themes it explored were race (in reference to one of the school boys), feminism (including the suffragette movement and other restrictions on women), politics (the story had a strong socialist leaning), the stiff upper lip mentality of the time, including the masculinity expected of all the men, and war.
The story was also a lot darker than the TV episodes, with much more death and a lot more focus on some of the moral issues involved in a war, including examining the choice not to fight and the idea of being a conscientious objector.
A really excellent book and I would especially recommend it in its audiobook format.
P.S. No scarecrows! They were an easy shortcut for the TV episodes, but it was a surprise that one of the most iconic elements of that story wasn’t even in the original book.