Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Opinions Unsolicited: Human Nature vs Human Nature

clip_image002The second of my Doctor Who ebooks is Human Nature, by Paul Cornell. In the third series of new Who, there’s a two-parter that starts with an episode of the same name, with the same premise, written by the same person. The book, however, was written in 1992, while the episodes Human Nature and Family of Blood aired in 2007.

So basically, this has been an exercise in comparing and contrasting.

Which I adore because I’m an enormous dork.

Within the first several chapters, I noticed (as would any fan of the show) a couple of fun coincidences between the book and the episodes which simply could not have been intentional. When Cornell wrote the book it was 92, there was no inkling yet of the show starting up again, or who would be cast in the role. Yet the John Smith in the book believes himself to be Scottish. And one of the villains of the tale tries to pass himself off as the tenth incarnation of the Doctor as part of a ruse.

I know, I know. Coincidence! But it amused me deeply.

Overall, the stories are quite similar, but there are notable differences. The book is about the 7th Doctor, and he becomes John Smith not to hide, but for respite from himself. His companion here is Professor Bernice Summerfield, who poses as his niece and rents a small house in town. Our villains are still after Time Lord, but for different reasons; in the show, they wanted to feed off a Time Lord, and John Smith simply would not do, while in the book they weren’t after Smith at all but rather the Pod that contained his Time Lord data (which was a pocket watch in the show).

The book makes reference to characters I haven’t encountered in the old series yet (Ace again, Romana, Lord Rassilon, and I think there was even a veiled reference to the Master in there), but I know enough about the mythos of Doctor Who for that not to be an impediment to my enjoying the story. And how I enjoyed the story! After the first few chapters, I found I forgot almost entirely about my exercise in comparing the book to the show. Cornell introduces a bevy of fascinating characters, Alexander Shuttleworth, Richard Handleman, Constance, and of course Bernice. I adored them all, and was eager to learn how they would all deal with the plight they found themselves in. (Of interest (to me): Benny has a “portable history unit”, which basically is a wifi e-book or tablet pc and allows you to browse the books of whatever library you have accounts with. Mr. Cornell saw the future of reading technology. Fun times!)

I think I preferred the Joan Redfern of the show than the one in the book, but that could have to do with the ways in which the stories are different (and also the ways in which John and the Doctor are different). Either way, Joan loves John Smith, but in the show she struck me as a quieter, stronger woman. In the book, she is not a nurse but a science teacher, though she is called upon to tend injuries on more than one occasion. (Her profession has nothing to do with my preference for one version over the other, it was merely an observation).

We also still have young Tim finding the Pod (or pocket watch in the series), though he plays a much larger part in the book. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise, really, since a writer has the luxury of giving its players considerably more to do with a couple hundred pages than it does with ninety minutes. I enjoyed his expanded role in the book a great deal. He is still tormented by the other boys at the school, far worse than was shown on screen, but he comes through it even better than Tim did in the series.

I was disappointed there isn’t a Baines in the book, but then, the family doesn’t operate in the same way. In the show, they possess the humans they come in contact with; in the novel, they are shape shifters that were able to take on the form of any flesh they consumed. (The book was considerably gorier than the show). And anyway, half of the appeal of Baines was the delivery of his lines, which wouldn’t have come across the same way in the book. Another point of interest, the young girl (called Aphasia in the book) has her red balloon that goes everywhere with her. Her evil, horrible, red balloon. Whenever I rewatch the show, I’ll look at the red balloon and shudder.

Some of the biggest differences I noted had little to do with who was or wasn’t present, but were in the Doctor himself. In the show, you discover the Doctor was running from the Family of Blood in order to be kind to them – he knew he would do horrible and cruel things to them to prevent them hurting anyone else. In the book, he becomes John Smith in order to escape himself. I don’t know what’s happened to leave him so disillusioned (in Nightshade he was attempting to find himself as well, and considering settling down and retiring from his adventuresome ways), but obviously it’s something enormous. Whatever the cause, this difference in character motivation drastically changes the outcome of the romantic plot. 10 tells Joan he is capable of everything John Smith was, that everything Smith was came from a place within him. 7 tells Joan he is incapable of the feelings John Smith had because he is in no way human. In one story, the Doctor is refusing to be the man Joan wants, in the other, Joan is refusing to be with the Doctor who is the man she loved but also—terrifyingly—more.

Also interesting to note, in the show, the Doctor became human in an attempt to be kind, to prevent cruelty and harm, but in the novel, that is why John Smith allowed himself to become the Doctor once more. I find this reversal fascinating; within the context of their respective stories, bearing in mind the other differences at play in the character development of the Doctor, both decisions make sense. In the book, the Time War hasn’t occurred, Gallifrey is still kicking around with its orange sky. In one story we have the Doctor as yet untouched by the loss of his home planet and people, while in the other we have the more hardened Doctor, who has had to make unconscionable decisions and deal with loss the likes of which I can’t begin to fathom. The same Time Lord we know and love, responding to events around them differently due to changes in circumstance.

I’ve often wondered what would have happened how 9 would have coped with Donna, or how 11 would have reacted to that first encounter with Jack. Put 10 in 11’s place to deal with the alien menace in The Lodger, and things would have worked out quite differently (I think 10 would have run upstairs the first chance he got, eager to push mysterious buttons). This book has done exactly that. Instead of 10, we have 7 in a similar set of circumstances, and the differences in character cause the story to evolve differently.

And I love it.

There were a few scenes in the novel that I really wish had been kept in the show, but for budgetary and general feelings of squikiness I can understand why they didn’t blow up the school with a bomb that turned all the people within it to fused glass. It would have looked cool, though.

And sadly, the book had no creepy scarecrows.


Wow. This turned out longer than anticipated. And I don’t think it’s even that complete, or smooth a read…

If only I could bring myself to work on my own writings this way. I’d be three pages closer to down Asylum!

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