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Feature: Doctor Who (2000s)

Dr John Smith

Doctor Who writer Paul Cornell reveals how his 1995 novel became the third season two-part story, Human Nature and Family of Blood

Before he scripted Season One’s Father’s Day, Paul Cornell was best known for some first class Doctor Who novels. And among the very best of the best was Human Nature, published way back in 1995, in which the Seventh Doctor and his companion Bernice Sommerfield hide out in a British public school in the year 1913, on the eve of the First World War. His Time Lord physiognomy changed, the essence consigned to a cricket ball, the Doctor is not himself any more – he is Dr John Smith, a Human being and a teacher, and a family of alien visitors need to take the concealed Gallifreyan powers for themselves…

Rewritten for the screen as a lavish two-part, Human Nature has proven to be one of highlights of the third season. Cornell tells Starburst about the story’s 12-year journey from page to screen…

Those who have read Human Nature and seen the TV episodes have been surprised how closely you have stuck to the original…
It’s all still intact – it’s a very, very faithful adaptation of the novel. What used to be a cricket ball [to contain the Doctor’s ‘essence’] is now a fob watch, and instead of the Aubertides we have the Family of Blood. They have a different motivation and it’s a much more direct motivation, and they have the Scarecrows as their servants, but they have a similar structure and a similar way of dealing with each other. There’s still a little girl with a balloon and we keep intact the entire ending sequence which is the big pay off of the whole thing.
One of the problems of the book is that we never talked in much detail why the Doctor did this in the first place. In the TV version we do that in the pre-title sequence and it’s a very straightforward and dramatic reason and it’s also the only solution to the problem. It’s not a whim on the Doctor’s part, it’s the only thing he can do and the Family of Blood need the Time Lord’s nature very much and urgently. That gives a ticking clock to the whole two episodes which really makes it thump along.

So why did you add the scary Scarecrows?
Russell said, ‘We need something scary while the Family of Blood are pretending to be Human so let’s give them some scary scarecrows’.

Did you revisit the novel while you were writing the TV script?
I sort of did a quick read through, sorted out set pieces and wrote a short plot. I initially started way further away from the book because I tried to pre-empt the TV show. I thought they’d want to do it very much in their own way but we ended up pushing it way closer to the book.
Strangely enough, just about everybody else on the production team read it apart from Russell. What’s interesting is that Russell, not having read it, every time he had a new idea for a plot beat it would be something that had come straight out of the book, which was very pleasing. It was like he was unconsciously pushing it back towards the book.

by David Richardson

Read the full interview and everything you need to know about the third season in
Starburst Special #82

Photo © BBCtv
Feature © Visual Imagination 2007. Not for reproduction

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Starburst Special #82
Doctor Who 2007
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