“The Family of Blood” might be the single most moving story in the history of Doctor Who. It’s certainly a tale in which the cost of the Doctor’s victory is weighed up in genuine sacrifice, not just from the Doctor himself—or rather his human counterpart John Smith—but in the innocent bystanders who have been affected by the consequences of his decisions. It’s a sacrifice that is given extra historical weight, given the time and place in which the story is set. It’s a story about love and duty, and about the wonder of a life well lived.
It’s also the only TV adventure in which the Doctor is almost entirely absent, but his face is a constant presence.
Here are a few things that you should keep an eye out for, the next time you watch.
Having ramped up the emotional content of Doctor Who, putting greater emphasis on the Doctor’s feelings and tugging at his conscience, Russell T Davies stated in an interview for Doctor Who Magazine that this was not intended to be at the expense of the thrills, spills and occasional daftness that Doctor Who is equally famous for.
“I’m sure that fandom was luxuriating in that run of ‘Human Nature,’ ‘The Family of Blood,’ and then ‘Blink,’ which was very dark,” he said, “and then the darkness of bringing back the Master. Fandom might think that’s the way forward… but it’s not… The greatest mistake with TV drama is to presume that darkness equals good. If you’re expecting Doctor Who to head further that way, just because of the success of ‘Human Nature’ onwards, that’s not what’s going to happen. Sorry.”
In the same interview, Russell earmarks Harry Lloyd, who plays Baines/Son of Mine, for exceptional future glory, saying “After his audition, I sent a note to [casting director] Andy Pryor saying, ‘He’s not just good for Baines; that’s the next Doctor.’” Which, now that we know the Doctor can choose his appearance when he regenerates, must make you wonder what kind of catastrophe could envelop him that he would choose THAT for a new face.
The exchange in which Hutchinson calls Latimer a “filthy coward” and Latimer says, “Oh, yes, sir! Every time!” is a deliberate throwback to a very similar moment between the Emperor Dalek and the Ninth Doctor in “The Parting of the Ways.” The Emperor Dalek says “What are you, coward or killer?” to which the Doctor replies “Coward. Any day.” The idea being that Latimer, by listening to the voice of the Doctor hidden in his pocket watch, has begun to take on some of his mannerisms and essential character.
Similarly, when Joan asks the Doctor if he can change back, it’s an exchange deliberately intended to echo that between the Doctor and Rose just after his regeneration, in the 2005 Doctor Who Children in Need special. Rose asks if he can change back, he replies, “Do you want me to?” to which she says yes. This is to further underline the idea that this is still a significant relationship to the Doctor, despite no longer being the man who started it.
The Doctor imprisons Father of Mine in chains made from dwarf star alloy, the unbreakable metal obtained from white dwarf stars that can be used to contain species that travel in time. These properties first came to light in the Fourth Doctor adventure “Warriors’ Gate”, and dwarf star alloy has since been used to construct the cell in Area 51 in which the Eleventh Doctor hid from the Silence in “Day of the Moon.”
There are a couple of further deviations from the original ending of the novel. The Doctor does confront his hunters in both stories, but in the book they have taken Joan captive and his biodata module isn’t just an empty pocket watch, it’s got John Smith in there. One of the Aubertides (as they’re known in the book) is then transformed into John Smith, who then sacrifices himself to save Joan.
Also, after they have been defeated, the final explosion traps the Aubertides forever within their temporal shields. They aren’t imprisoned individually by the Doctor, and the irony that these creatures who wanted eternal life now have eternal torment instead is left without comment.
Incidentally, the bitter irony that seekers after eternal life might actually get what they want in ways they had not foreseen is also the final lesson of the Doctor Who 25th anniversary special “The Five Doctors,” with similarly horrifying consequences:
Huw Rees, who plays the older Tim Latimer at the Remembrance Day service at the end of the episode can also be seen playing one of the elderly residents of Upper Leadworth, the village in which Rory and Amy live in “Amy’s Choice.”
While the boys from the school are shooting at the advancing scarecrows, the choice of music is particularly apt. It’s the hymn “To Be A Pilgrim”—also known by its first line as “He Who Would Valiant Be”—which was adapted from John Bunyan’s 1684 poem The Pilgrim’s Progress by Percy Dearmer in 1906 for The English Hymnal, and set within the stirring melody of the traditional Sussex air “Monk’s Gate” by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
The hymn has a close association with schools and duty. It is the school hymn for many schools, including Reigate Grammar School, who even named their annual review publication The Pilgrim in tribute. It is also the battle hymn for the British Special Air Service.
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