Recap: Doctor Who S29 E9 "The Family of Blood"

Huh, walking scarecrows? ...must be midnight...

"Who am I then? Nothing...? I'm just a story?"
John Smith

Continued from "Human Nature".

Mild-mannered Edwardian schoolteacher John Smith is baffled when alien monsters turn up and demand that he turn himself into "The Doctor". But the strangeness is jogging memories deep inside him, memories of a life he's sure he never lived but only dreamed, and more and more fragments of his dreams are turning out to be real. Deny it he tries, but eventually John has to consider the possibility that Martha and the aliens are telling the truth: "the Doctor", his dream-self, is the reality, and John Smith is the fabrication.

Still frightened and confused, John quizzes Martha on the Doctor, and is horrified by her description: a tremendously lonely alien, the sole survivor of the universe's greatest holocaust, as remote and inhuman as a force of nature, who — for all his careful planning — never even considered that he might fall in love while hiding among humans.

Timothy asks how it's possible that he himself can learn things from John's watch and even see the future sometimes. With John now holding the watch that contains his Time Lord self, the Doctor's Motor Mouth starts automatically explaining how it's just a "low-level telepathic field" (which will become important later). "You were born with it, just an extra-synaptic engram causing—"

"—Is that how he talks?" John asks in utter horror, realizing fully that this Doctor is real, and inside him, and that he needs to make the most horrible decision of his life.

John would give anything to stay human and marry Joan. While spending his last evening with her, he even has a brief vision of that future: a long and happy life and a peaceful death, secure in the knowledge that everyone he loves is safe. But even that future is illusory, as the aliens are closing in on John and will spread destruction across the galaxy if they win. John must sacrifice himself and become the Doctor, though he doesn't even know if any fragment of his identity will survive.

With the help of Joan, John eventually makes the decision to open the watch, essentially commit suicide and become the Doctor again. He defeats the aliens without much effort, and as punishment for what they've done, traps them in different time event horizons... for all eternity. The creatures realise that the Doctor wasn't simply escaping from them — he was being kind to them, in giving them a chance to die without ever encountering him.

The Doctor returns for Joan. She's horrified to see him, even though he tells her that John is part of him now, somewhere deep inside him. He invites her to the TARDIS, and asks her if she wants to give him a proper chance for what he really is, starting their relationship again from a blank slate. She refuses, both disgusted and heartbroken at his antics. Decades into the future, Martha and the Doctor visit Timothy, now a war veteran, and give him some closure.

Not much later, the Gallifreyan technique to hide in human form will become important again...


  • Aliens Are Bastards: The Family are a particularly sadistic bunch. Murdering people (including at least two children, along with one of their families), taunting their victims, bombarding a village of civilians with missiles and, after their objective is complete, they'll take over the galaxy starting with Earth.
  • And I Must Scream: Trapped in a blackhole, imprisoned in a mirror (every mirror), bound to a scarecrow's post in a farmer's field, wrapped in unbreakable chains and tossed down a shaft.
    Son of Mine: "We wanted to live forever... so the Doctor made sure that we did."
  • Armour Piercing Question: By Joan at the end, calling the Doctor out on his recklessness.
    Joan: If the Doctor had never visited us, never chosen this place -— on a whim -— would anyone here have died?
    (the Doctor does not answer, the grim look on his face saying it all)
    Joan: You may go now.
  • Badass Boast: Oddly, made about the Doctor by someone else:
    Tim Latimer: He's like fire, and ice, and rage. He's like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. He's ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time and he can see the turn of the universe. And... he's wonderful.
  • BBC Quarry: The World War I Battlefield, according to the commentary.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: You want to live forever so badly? The Doctor can arrange that.
  • Beware the Nice Ones:
    Son of Mine: And so we found out the reason this man, who had fought with gods and demons, had run away from us and hidden — he was being kind.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • Martha at the end, regarding her Love Confession;
      Martha: I would have said anything to get you to change.
    • The Doctor's claim that he could still be everything that John Smith was. Joan does not believe him, pointing out that John Smith was a far better man than the Doctor, and blaming him for the Family's actions.
  • Boarding School: The primary setting for the episode is one of these for boys. John is a teacher.
  • Broken Masquerade: John Smith suffers this when he starts to realise the truth about who he really is. Then this happens when Timothy asks him why he can hear the watch.
    The Doctor: Oh, it's just a low-level telepathy field, you were born with it, just an extra-synaptic engram causing—-
    John Smith: (gasps in utter horror) Is that how he talks?
  • Break the Cutie: Poor, poor John Smith. The adorkable teacher is forced to confront the reality that his entire personality is a sham.
  • But Now I Must Go: Once the Family has been dealt with, the Doctor prepares to head off again, offering to take Joan with him. Given all that has happened, Joan is more than happy to see him leave.
  • Can't Stay Normal: John Smith has to become The Doctor once more to stop the Family of Blood.
  • Good Is Not Nice: The Doctor's punishments for the Family: Father of Mine is bound in unbreakable chains and thrown down a deep shaft, Mother of Mine is jettisoned into an exploding galaxy, Daughter of Mine is trapped inside a mirror, and Son of Mine is immobilised and used as a scarecrow. All this is after the Doctor granted them their wish to never die. Remember, the Doctor will give you one chance; fail to take it, and suffer his wrath.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: John, offscreen, because returning The Doctor's memories is essentially his death.
  • Humans Are Morons: The Family think turning into a human has made the Doctor an idiot.
    Son of Mine: Same thing.
  • Idiot Ball: The Family fails to notice the fact that Smith seems to be going out of his way to trip over himself and press certain buttons. He's human, after all, and humans are idiots. He couldn't possibly know how to sabotage their ship!
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: John Smith certainly prefers to stay a school teacher instead of an adventurer. The Doctor is quite clear that he doesn't want to change back.
    Joan: "The Time Lord has such adventures... but he could never have a life like that."
  • Improvised Weapon: Tim uses carefully timed openings of the watch containing the Doctor's consciousness to distract the Family, and at one point uses it directly to stun Daughter of Mine.
  • Large Ham: Son of Mine. "DON'T YOU LIKE IT, SIR?"
  • Kirk Summation: The Headmaster delivers one to Son of Mine (which doubles as the writer criticizing the way public attitudes to World War One have often been portrayed in British media):
    Son of Mine: War is coming. In foreign fields, war of the whole wide world, with all your boys falling down in the mud. Do you think they will thank the man who taught them it was glorious?
    Headmaster: Don't you forget, boy, I've been a soldier. I was in South Africa, I used my dead mates as sandbags, I fought with the butt of my rifle when the bullets ran out, and I would go back there tomorrow for King and country!
    Son of Mine: Etcetera, etcetera!
  • Loss of Identity: John Smith feels himself slipping away when he holds the watch.
  • More Dakka: The Vickers machine gun is used to cut down an army of scarecrows.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: When Smith enters the Family's spaceship. He's not Smith any more. He's the Doctor.
  • Oh Crap!: The looks on the faces of the Family when their ship is blown up and the Doctor is standing over them glaring down at them.
  • Once More with Clarity: The climax of the episode shows the scene that Latimer had a vision of, with him and the bully struggling alongside each other on a muddy battlefield. Where the vision gave the impression that they died there, Latimer, armed with his memory of the vision, knows to dodge to one side, saving both of them.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: Just as some of John Smith's actions (so different from what the Doctor would do) shock the audience earlier in the story, him suddenly speaking in the Doctor's voice horrifies him and Joan at the sudden understanding that there truly is an alien inside him.
  • The Poppy: At the end of the episode, we see an elderly Tim Latimer at a war memorial, visited by The Doctor and Martha, wearing Poppies.
  • Psychic Powers: Tim Latimer has a "low level psychic field" that enables him to talk to the watch.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Son of Mine. "Super, super fun!"
    Son of Mine: We'll blast them into dust, then fuse them into glass, then SHATTER THEM ALL OVER AGAIN!
  • Psychotic Smirk: Son of Mine. SON OF MINE. He's having "Super fun!" blowing up the village.
  • Puppet Masters: The Family can control people by infecting them.
  • Refusal of the Call: Joan refuses to be a Companion because she dislikes The Doctor's recklessness.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: A calm example. The Doctor never raised his voice to the Family and remained stoically calm when punishing them.
  • Rule of Scary: There's no practical reason for the doctor to hand out such Cool and Unusual Punishment in the end. He could have just killed them (that would have been the practical thing to do), or he could have used the same punishment on all of them. As it is, this trope allows the writers to scare us with common everyday things, as they like to do: When you're standing in front of a mirror and see something move, that's Daughter of Mine trapped in there forever. Son of Mine gets stuck suspended in time as a Scarecrow on a lonely hill.
  • Sealed Good in a Can: The Doctor. Most of the episode is devoted to unlocking the can; once he's out, it's all over for the bad guys.
  • Sickly Green Glow: Inside the Family's space ship and the Family members themselves when they use telepathy. There's also their true form. It's all green and glowing.
  • Soul Jar: Sort of. The watch is more like a mind-jar.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: John Smith, you're actually an alien known as a "Time Lord". It's accompanied by a brief Heroic Blue Screen of Death.
  • Tranquil Fury:
    • The episode's climax.
      Son of Mine: He never raised his voice; that was the worst thing. The fury of the Time Lord. And then we discovered why. Why this Doctor, who had fought with gods and demons, why he'd run away from us and hidden. He was being kind."
    • Joan's speech in the end counts, as well. It's quite she's angry but she's also being civil.
  • Underestimating Badassery: The Family of Blood realises too late that they seriously underestimated the Doctor. As soon as he gets his memory back, he defeats them easily in a matter of seconds. It's then revealed he wasn't afraid of them; he was just trying to avoid what he could do to them.
  • War Is Glorious: A reconstruction is present in this episode. War is not glorious but you do it anyway, for king and country, and that's the glorious part. Tim the wrinkled veteran is present at a war memorial.
  • War Is Hell: Even though they're only fighting scarecrows, the boys, as well as John Smith, are extremely horrified at what they've done as they massacre the Family's army.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Joan delivers a devastating "The Reason You Suck" Speech in the episode's denouement.
    Joan: He was braver than you, in the end -— that ordinary man. You chose to change. He chose to die... If the Doctor had never visited us, never chosen this place -— on a whim -— would anyone here have died?
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The entire episode falls into this trope. Although a descendant of Joan Redfern has written a book about John Smith and his Journal of Impossible Things in "The End of Time", the Family's attack on the village, from the disappearances to an aerial bombardment, seem to have been completely missed by English history. Series 5 offers the suggestion that the cracks in the universe may have been responsible for these events and others like them (such as "The Next Doctor" and "Journey's End"), being erased from history or forgotten by the public at large.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The Doctor makes sure the Family doesn't enjoy their new immortality.
  • World War One: Looming just over the horizon. The episode does a Time Skip at the end to show Latimer and Hutchinson on a muddy battlefield and narrowly surviving. Then another time skip to show an elderly Latimer at a war memorial, being visited by the Doctor and Martha, many years later.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: The school kids, even after seeing Daughter of Mine vaporise the headmaster, can't bring themselves to shoot her. She even brags about it.
    Daughter of Mine: Are any of you really going to shoot me, really?
  • The X of Y: The Family of Blood.

Alternative Title(s):

Doctor Who NSS 3 E 9 The Family Of Blood