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

aka: Doctor Who NSS 3 E 9 The Familyof 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...


  • And I Must Scream: "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 rejects the notion entirely, pointing out that John Smith was a far better man than the Doctor, who's alien morality would treat people's lives like a game and then pat himself on the back for saving people that he had put in danger to begin with.
  • Boarding School
  • 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.
  • 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 entirely because he arrived to begin with, Joan is more than happy to see him leave.
  • Can't Stay Normal
  • Chekhov's Gun: The watch
  • Child Soldiers: The children at the school are armed with an array of machine guns and facing a very powerful enemy. When they realise they only shot down scarecrows, even the nastiest bully is relieved. Then it hits you, it's only one year later that those school kids are crawling through barbed wire and bullets.
  • Coconut Superpowers: Invisible spaceships are easy on the FX budget.
  • Creepy Child: Daughter of Mine. Making a Self-Made Orphan out of her human host helps.
  • Cruel Mercy
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Martha can't catch a break with all these Edwardians treating her like a second-class person, including John Smith.
  • Disapproving Look:
    • The Doctor's permanent emotion during the climax, sometimes edging into Death Glare. Doesn't help that he looks right at the camera more than once.
    • Joan's similar adopts this look when the Doctor returns, cheerfully offering to let her travel with him, whilst completely overlooking all the mayhem and death he's left in his wake.
  • Disintegrator Ray: The Family's hand weapon.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Son Of Mine (pictured above) still wears his shit-eating grin after being frozen in time, and recounts his and his family's Fate Worse Than Death rather stoically.
  • Dreaming The Truth
  • The Edwardian Era
  • Ethnic Menial Labor
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Despite being a Psychopathic Manchild devoid of any mercy to others, Son of Mine still expresses the hope that the Doctor's yearly visits to Sister of Mine mean he might eventually decide to release her from her mirror prison.
  • Fake Memories: As Joan notes, John's fake memories are strictly factual, with no emotional content.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: The fates of the Family, as meted out by the Doctor. It's revealed that the Doctor wasn't running from the Family because he was scared of them... but because he was scared of what he could do to them.
  • Flash Forward:
    • John and Joan's aborted future together. Particularly tragic as in that future John marries Joan, has children and dies peacefully with Joan by his side assured that his family is happy and thriving.
    • Also Latimer's vision of his experience in World War One. It saves his life when he lives it for real.
  • Foreshadowing:
  • Future Me Scares Me
  • 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. And 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.
  • Humans Are Morons: The Family think turning into a human has made the Doctor an idiot.
    Son of Mine: Same thing.
  • Idiot Ball: Somehow the Family completely fails to notice the fact that Smith / the Doctor seems to be going out of his way to trip over himself and press certain buttons. It's not all that well concealed.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: "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?"
  • Loss of Identity
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Puppet Masters: The Family.
  • Refusal of the Call: Joan. See What the Hell, Hero? below.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: A calm example.
  • Rule of Scary: There's no logical 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. But as it is now, this 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. And 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.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: The Headmaster delivers one to Son of Mine (which doubles as the writer criticising 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!
  • Sickly Green Glow: Inside the Family's space ship. And the Family members themselves when they use telepathy.
  • Soul Jar: Sort of. More like mind-jar.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: John Smith. 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.
  • 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.
  • Visible Invisibility: When Baines strikes the ship's invisibility field, it briefly becomes visible.
  • 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. Too bad the Doctor doesn't seem to have listened.
    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 Family certainly don't by the end.
  • 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.
  • The X of Y

Alternative Title(s):

Doctor Who NSS 3 E 9 The Family Of Blood