Human Nature (novel)

Roots: Victor Gollanz's Something More and British Summertime. There are lots of quotes all over the place. There's a brief appearance from a man called Mr Moffat who bears some resemblance to writer Steven Moffat, who would go on to be the Doctor Who showrunner.

Goofs: If Benny's had the portable history unit since she was on Heaven, does that mean that she just happened to have it on her when she was swept out of the TARDIS in Blood Heat? If not, then how come it's not in the Doctor's original TARDIS rather than the alternate one she and the Doctor are currently using?

This story is set in April 1914. The Cat and Mouse Act, allowing hunger-striking Suffragettes to be let out of prison to feed up, before being recaptured, was passed in 1913. So how was Constance first let out of jail eighteen months ago? [The Whoniverse version of the act was passed earlier.]

Constance claims that Churchill (then 1st Lord of the Admiralty) was starting to dismantle the Navy and that the Germans were doing the same. But at that time the naval arms race between the two powers was still going on.

The writing on the front of the TARDIS is wrong. [It's deliberately changed its appearance for Timothy's benefit].

Smith gets the Lord's Prayer wrong, missing 'lead us not into temptation'. [Not being a religious man, he doesn't actually know it.]

How does using the Pod restore the Doctor's little finger?

Technobabble: The Doctor reverses the polarity of the communications coil. A molecular redistributer can melt through walls.

Dialogue Disasters: Greeneye's justification for megalomania: 'Don't knock it, it's something to do.'

Richard Hadleman: 'I believe in dialectical materialism, the force of history, and the revolution. Two ideas collide, form a new idea, a synthesis, and that idea is naturally revolutionary

Dialogue Triumphs: Benny: 'Pain is always forgotten. That's what allows us to have babies.'

Benny describes herself as: Professor Bernice Summerfield, FRAS (fairly rotten at Scrabble), current occupier of the Proxima University Chair Of Archaeology (it's in my room, by the begonias), holder of the Martian Gallantry Medal (I found one and thought I thoroughly deserved it).

Benny: 'As regular readers of my diary (if that's you, Doctor, put it down now) know ...'

Benny: 'This adventure was going to require a serious frock.'

Hutchinson: 'Murder is never justified.'
Doctor Smith: 'What about the Boer War?'
Hutchinson: 'That was different. That's war.'

Benny: They're a backward lot, the natives of Gallifrey. Idiots with no dress sense.'

Doctor Smith: 'There's no soldiers here. Nothing special about the town at all, except for the rock -'
Serif: 'Ah yes, the radioactive granite, so conducive to mutation.'
Doctor Smith: 'No, the rock with "Greetings from Aberdeen" written through it.'

Doctor Smith: 'Anywhere that birds still sing, one can have a picnic safely.'

Constance: 'We may commit arson and explosion, but have not murdered anyone. We are sincerely moral campaigners.'
Benny: 'Fine. One day, I'll learn to talk like that, too.'

Constance: 'Do I take it that we are being fired upon?'
Benny: 'Yes. Sorry. Happens to me every other week.'

Greeneye: 'Do you prefer me as a man or a woman?'
Benny: 'Do you do amphibians?'

Aphasia: What's retaliate?'
August: 'It means kill most of the enemy and let the survivors apologize.'

Doctor Smith: 'What would the Doctor do?'
Benny: 'He'd find a way to turn this around. He'd make the villains fall into their own traps, and trick the monsters, and outwit the men with guns. He'd save everybody's lives and find a way to win.'

Alexander: 'Isn't it odd how close masculinity is to melodrama?'

Doctor Smith: 'You my know me as mild-mannered John Smith, history teacher, but secretly I'm the Doctor, universal righter of wrongs and protector of cats.'

Alton: 'Interesting that we're old enough to be shot at, but not to hear wicked words.'

August: 'We're all things when it comes to war.'

And many others.

Continuity: Benny had a portable history unit, which broke down before she arrived on heaven. It allowed her to look at archives whilst in the field, and had a program to make any given library think that you're a member and allowed to access its archives. Her family is British.

Earth is in the arm of Mutter's Spiral in the Stellarian Galaxy, whilst Gallifrey is at the core. The Sontarans and the Rutan are in the same Galaxy, but are nowhere near each other. There are cats on many worlds, but the Aubertides believe them to be Gallifreyan animals.

The [Seventh] Doctor hates the taste of pears. For some reason he is particularly keen not to hurt Owls. He is still a vegetarian. The TARDIS contains medi-patches that can sober you up instantly.

Death claims that she, Time, and Pain are the dreams of Time Lords who leak out across the universe and occasionally given form by something like the Timewyrm. Time Lords in nightmares or near-death states sometimes make deals with them, including becoming their champions. Verity refers to them as Eternals (as in No Future).

Aubertides (from, unsurprisingly, the planet Aubis) can shape-change by consuming organic matter and mimicing it - one cell is enough to steal a shape. They cannot absorb Time Lord abilities in this fashion. Every hundred years, the Aubertide queen lays eggs and the Aubertide king fertilises them in the ground. Those in the eggs reproduce by budding - but each "family" can only produce six generations (one in each) before the genetic material is stretched too thinly. Aubertides like citrus fruit and, apart from the Dubraxine family, are usually friendly.

The Time Lords are said to have interbred the humanoid races, causing genetic drift - possibly as a cure for their "periodic" infertility. They also dream of what it is to be able to fly or be a different sex or to have a child.

Why the Book is Better

Fans familiar with both versions of Human Nature usually say that the original book is better than the TV story. Saying that the book was better is, of course, something of a cliché – it tends to be because a book has the ability to go into a lot more depth than a story told in any other medium. In this case, however, there are a number of other factors that make the book a better story.

The Doctor

The first, and most important, reason is the character of the Doctor. In the book, the Doctor's motivation comes naturally. The New Adventures novels have consistently painted the seventh Doctor as somebody who is mostly concerned with the big picture. He sees himself as “Time's Champion”, his role in the universe being to actively make history better. He finds it difficult to relate to his companions on a human level, and the idea of this Doctor falling in love is pretty much inconceivable. The previous novel saw his companion heartbroken at having to leave a love interest to almost certain death, and the early chapters of this novel show that he was unable to offer her any meaningful comfort. In this context, it makes perfect sense for him to try to learn what it means to be a human, and rewriting his biodata to achieve it is exactly the sort of crazy scheme he would try.

In contrast, the tenth Doctor is arguably the most human incarnation of the Doctor to date. He “does domestic”, and the character arc in his first series was all about how he and his companion were in love, but not admitting it (with enough ambiguity that those who dislike the idea don't have to accept it). With this Doctor, there is absolutely no character hook to hang the idea of the Doctor becoming human on. Having his decision to become human be a decision to hide from an enemy who is chasing him through the vortex may have been the most obvious way to get the plot to work, but it requires an enemy that the Doctor genuinely believes he has no hope of fighting. The problem here is that running and hiding is pretty much the least Doctorish thing it is possible to do. This problem is compounded by the apparent ease with which the Doctor defeats the family of blood in the second episode.

John Smith

The differences between the two versions of John Smith are also quite telling. In the novel, Smith retains a number of the Doctor's personality quirks, some of which are out of place in the pre-war era. He mixes his metaphors, and sometimes takes other peoples' metaphors literally. He doesn't participate in corporal punishment – required to carry a slipper for the purpose of enforcing discipline in the classroom, he carries a pink fluffy one, which can't really hurt anybody. He comes across as a man out of time, and, as such, is a very interesting character.

By contrast, the televised John Smith does not retain any Doctorish quirks, he acts entirely like a man of his era – enthusiastically participating in leading the Officer Training Corps, and treating Martha with some disdain because she is just a maid. This character is significantly less interesting than the Smith from the novels. He also stretches the suspension of disbelief – TV-Smith is able to set off a Rube Goldstein sequence by throwing a cricket ball in just the right way to save a baby in a pram. The visual sequence is impressive, but it makes it difficult to believe that he is just a human being. Furthermore, his romance with Joan takes place absurdly quickly.In the first episode the two are not even on last name terms yet by the end of the story - just the next day - they are acting like an established couple. This lessens the emotional impact of his decision whether to sacrifice his life with Joan in order to defeat the aliens.

The changes to Smith are understandable, as they make it far easier to sell the TV audience on the idea that Smith is not the Doctor, and they allow the action to take place over a short timescale, but they make him a less interesting and less compelling character.

The Companion

When it comes to the treatment of the Doctor's companion, the book starts with two big advantages. Firstly, being a book there is much more space to explore the companion's subplots. Secondly, Benny is easily one of the most multifaceted and interesting companions in Doctor Who history – so much, that she became the star of the longest-running Doctor Who spin-off. Martha, however, is arguably the least developed of the New Series regular companions – her character is defined entirely by her unrequited crush on the Doctor, her job, and her skin colour.

In the book, Benny gets her own set of plot threads, and her own supporting cast. She is pro-active in a way that Martha never gets the chance to be. Martha's supporting cast consists of one character who is killed and replaced by the family half-way through the first episode. And her subplots – such as they are - consist of being in unrequited love with the Doctor and receiving some racial abuse. And the latter is a theme that the book explores far more effectively in a couple of throwaway lines - Joan casually using the n-word (unfortunately edited out of the 2015 reprint), and Anand being called “darkie unpronounceable” by the other kids - than the TV story does at all.

The Villains

Finally, the villains in the novel (the aubertides) are much more effective than in the tv story (the family of blood). There are several reasons for this. Part of it is that the aubertides have distinct personalities, whilst the family of blood really don't. The more important part, though, is their motivations. The aubertides are after the pod, so that they can absorb Time Lord biodata, which will enable them to fulfill their dreams of conquest. Because they want to become Time Lords themselves Smith deciding to become the Doctor again and then fooling August into becoming human allows the aubertides to be hoist by their own petard.

In contrast, the family of blood are not distinct entities. Their motivations are less well-established, most of what we get coming in hurried exposition near the end. They basically want to hunt the Doctor, apparently in order to eat him and lengthen their lifetimes. Getting hold of the watch is a late switch, when they realise they can get what they want from it (which confuses things a bit more). In any case, their actions and motivation have very little relationship to the central conceit of the Doctor becoming human. And instead of their ultimate defeat flowing naturally from both the premise and the motivations of all the characters, the Doctor defeats them by blowing up their spacecraft and then imprisoning them in particularly nasty prisons (for no apparent reason), much of which has to have happened offscreen. There is no thematic tie-in, and although they are suitably creepy they rarely come across as having substance.

Whilst both stories are very good, it is quite clear that the novel hangs together far better than the TV story and the central characters generally get treated in a much more interesting way that better tie into the premise and themes of the story.

Links: There are many references (especially in the prologue) to Sanctuary, and Benny's brief relationship with Guy de Carnac. We see Death, and the death of Smith completes the deal that the Doctor made with her to save Ace (Love and War). There are references to the Hoothi, Benny's friend Clive, and the Monks of Felescar (Love and War), currencies from The Ribos Operation, and The Mysterious Planet, All-Consuming Fire (Benny's 'recent acquaintance'), the Sontarans and Rutans, Ace, Time Loops (Image of the Fendahl), Time-Space Visualisers (The Space Museum), Warlock (Chick), the Ice Warriors, Benny's dad, Jack Harkaway (Conundrum), and Morgaine (Battlefield).

Most of Doctor Smith's memories are based on things from the Doctor's past - mostly pretty major things like the Master, Cardinal Borusa, and former companions. I'll let you spot them for yourself. The ring the Doctor gives Joan is probably the first Doctor's - except that the stone is described here as being purple rather than blue. There's a brief mention of "intelligent seaweed" (Fury from the Deep, and Benny thinks that the Doctor has probably met Rudyard Kipling (Evolution).

Location: A marketplace on the planet Crex, an unknown time in the future (though given Greeneye's oath about currencies, probably around The Ribos Operation, The Mysterious Planet, and The Trial of a Time Lord). Farringham, Norfolk, April 1914

Unrecorded Adventures: Doctor Smith notes that Newton was always extremely bad-tempered and completely... obsessed with death. The Doctor has already met Richard Hadleman, in Richard's future (or in events that Richard should have forgotten).

Q.v. The Two Human Natures, Human Nature (TV)

The Bottom Line: 'The Doctor would have some plan worked out in two seconds. One, if we had a chessboard handy.' One of the best New Adventures. The book starts on a roll with Benny's diary extracts, playing out her reactions to the probable death of Guy in Sanctuary. It continues with a brilliant plot and, throughout the book, we get to explore who the Doctor is. There's barely a line that's not superb, and the characterisation is well up to Cornell's usual standard. This is as close to perfect as Doctor Who gets.

Discontinuity Guide by Stephen Gray

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