One of the areas in which the current series of “Doctor Who” has shown a marked improvement over the previous two is in getting the balance right between adventure and the personal. “The Family of Blood” continued this trend where the defeat of said Family, a quartet of possessed humans, is as important to the plot as John Smith’s relationship with Joan. This wasn’t the case with Paul Cornell’s previous script, “Father’s Day”, two years ago, where the Reapers were confined to subplot in favour of detailing Rose’s quest to save her Dad. There was a major shift in “Doctor Who”, when it returned in 2005, showing preference for family matters over alien armies! This wasn’t the programme of yesteryear! Back in the early days of the original show, in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”, the Doctor and friends had to defeat just that, a Dalek invasion of Earth! The story wasn’t called “When Susan Met David”!! Thank goodness!!! Similarly, almost a decade later, “The Green Death” was primarily concerned with overcoming giant maggots and a deranged computer, not Jo Grant getting hitched to the fella from the Nut Hutch. Thus, the departure of actress Katy Manning was handled all the more effectively by preventing her character’s love affair from overwhelming the rest of the narrative. As the Doctor and the Professor, in this Wales-based ecological Pertwee adventure, are rivals for Jo’s affection, the story’s title could quite easily, and rather inappropriately, have been “Smith and Jones”! And, that would’ve also been plain corny, wouldn’t it?
To generalise a little, I would estimate that approximately 80% of screen time in classic “Doctor Who” was taken up telling the adventure side of each story whereas in some of the early episodes of new “Doctor Who” the opposite is true, with the same percentage allotted to exploring relationships. That’s a shame because that change has made what was once a unique science fiction series now seem like every other show! What’s more, I never got the feeling that the relationships were properly thought through. The ties that bound the characters together were sketchily written at best, sometimes contradicted, and if you’ve read Dickens or Hardy, and seen it done well, why would you want to watch it done poorly? With last week’s episode, “Human Nature”, I felt the balance was more fifty/fifty between the two storytelling aspects which isn’t a bad place to be but, as I’ve already indicated, not where the show was forty-four, or even eighteen, years ago. There was a slight tilt in favour of relationships again in the concluding episode, “The Family of Blood”, mainly because the enemy was dispatched ten minutes before the end so Joan could give the Doctor his marching orders, he not being the man he used to be! Despite the episode underrunning, the extra time did allow for a lovely TARDIS dematerialisation scene, the best since season one’s “The Unquiet Dead” which brings me nicely back to “Charlie boy” who would, undoubtedly, have mocked the aforementioned statistics as mere “stutterings”! Incidentally, speaking of Dickens, actor Harry Lloyd, who played the persistently smirking “Son of Mine” Jeremy Baines in the latest two-parter, is actually the great-great-great-grandson of the novelist on his mother’s side!! “Super! Super fun!!” Ancestry explains everything!!!