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

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

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

Original air date: June 2, 2007

The one where a man learns he doesn't exist, and the man he truly is decides to stop being kind.

Written by Paul Cornell. 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 realize 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 join the TARDIS and asks if she would like to start over. 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. Much later, though...


  • 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 collapsing galaxy, imprisoned in a mirror (every mirror), frozen in time 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.
  • Antagonist Title: "The Family of Blood".
  • 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 can go now.
  • Artistic Licence – History: "Women might train to be doctors, but hardly a skivvy and hardly one of your colour." says Joan Redfern. The first female doctor in Great Britain qualified in 1865 a year after the first black female doctor, Rebecca Lee Crumpler, qualified in New England.
  • Asshole Victim
  • 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: According to the commentary, the World War I Battlefield shown towards the end of the episode was filmed in this location.
  • 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 then we discovered why. Why this Doctor, who had fought with gods and demons, had run away from us and hidden – he was being kind.
  • Big Bad: The Family of Blood are largely a Big Bad Quartet, but Son of Mine tends to take the lead.
  • Blatant Lies: Martha at the end, regarding her Love Confession.
    Martha: I would have said anything to get you to change.
  • Boarding School: The primary setting for the episode is one of these for boys. John is a teacher.
  • Breaking Speech: Son of Mine's speech to the Headmaster about World War I, and how the boys at the school will be forced to undergo pain and suffering.
  • 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 telepathic 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.
  • Call-Back: When Hutchison calls Latimer a coward, Latimer - who has elements of the Doctor's psyche in him - replies "Yes, sir. Every time."
  • Can't Stay Normal: John Smith has to become the Doctor once more to stop the Family of Blood.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The watch, and more specifically, the Chameleon Arch inside, will be very important soon.
  • 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 that it's only one year later that some of those school kids are crawling through barbed wire and bullets.
  • Coconut Superpowers: Invisible spaceships are easy on the FX budget.
  • Contrived Clumsiness: The Doctor, pretending to be John Smith, does this on board the Family's ship to set it to explode.
    The Doctor: But if there's one thing you shouldn't've done, you shouldn't've let me press all those buttons!
  • Creepy Child: Daughter of Mine. Making a Self-Made Orphan out of her human host helps.
  • Cruel Mercy: When all is said and done, the Doctor doesn't kill the Family of Blood. Instead, he inflicts an ironic punishment that will last forever.
    • Inverted with the opening of the previous episode. The Doctor fled to 1913 and turned himself human in the hopes that the Family would give up and live their lives in peace. He was hoping he wouldn't have to confront them.
  • Death of a Child: Being possessed by the Family of Blood is said to overwrite the host's mind, effectively killing them. Whilst it is not expressly stated onscreen, this makes Lucy Cartwright a rare example of a child dying in Doctor Who (note that this wasn't the case in the original novel, where the equivalent of the Family were shapeshifters instead).
  • 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, against the Family of Blood. They should have realized his mercy earlier.
    • Joan similarly adopts this look when the Doctor offers her a spot in the TARDIS. She is disappointed that he is the Doctor and not John Smith.
  • Disintegrator Ray: The Family's hand weapon; one zap and the target is dust.
  • 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.
  • Distant Epilogue: The last scene is of elderly war veteran Tim Latimer at a remembrance service, everyone wearing poppies, that the Doctor and Martha have visited to see Tim one last time.
  • Doesn't Like Guns: Even though John Smith was supervising target practice last episode, the Doctor's dislike of guns is strong enough that when the scarecrows attack, he doesn't fire his gun at all.
  • Dramatic Irony: Tim calls his visions of World War I "the biggest war in history". Hooo boy... kid, you might wanna sit down for this next one.
  • Dreaming the Truth: It is in this episode that Joan realises that John Smith's dream journal is actually a log of the Doctor's adventures.
  • The Edwardian Era: We've got The Second Boer War in the rear view mirror and the Great War in one year's time.
  • Ethnic Menial Labour: Joan can't believe someone of Martha's colour could ever possibly be a doctor. No, the maid just memorised the names of every bone in the human hand for fun.
  • 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 Daughter of Mine mean he might eventually decide to release her from her mirror prison.
  • Evil Me Scares Me: The Doctor is not evil, but everything John Smith finds out about his true self frightens him even more.
  • 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.
    • Latimer's vision of his experience in World War I. It saves his life when he lives it for real.
  • Foreshadowing:
  • 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 a collapsing galaxy, Daughter of Mine is trapped inside a mirror, every 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.
  • He's Back!: John Smith goes to confront the Family of Blood by himself, begging them to stop their attack while giving them the fob watch. He gets tossed to the ground, and the watch is opened... except it's empty. And although John is confused, the act is given up when he proceeds to immediately grab the watch without a moment's hesitation after it's tossed to him:
    The Doctor: [stands up] Oh, I think the explanation might be you've been fooled by a simple olfactory misdirection. Little bit like ventriloquism of the nose. It's an elementary trick in certain parts of the galaxy.
  • Hidden Depths: The Headmaster, who is revealed not simply to be bleating on about how War Is Glorious from a position of ignorance — he knows how awful it can be, and believes in fighting anyway.
    • He also catches on to the fact that one of those is possessed by the Family of Blood (in this case Baines/Son of Mine) faster than more or less anyone else, remarking that "You speak with someone else's voice, Baines. Who might that be?" And this, mark you, from someone who is not disposed to believe in the supernatural.
  • Homage: John Smith's vision of what would happen if he stayed human and married Joan is an obvious one to The Last Temptation of Christ.
  • Humans Are Morons: The Family think turning into a human has made the Doctor an idiot.
    Son of Mine: Same thing, isn't it?
  • 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 — but 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.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Ungrateful though she may be, Joan isn't wrong that the Doctor choosing to flee to this time and place is what brought the Family, and as such lead to the deaths. His silence when she brings this up highlights that he's aware of it too. On the face of it, there seems to be no reason why the Doctor couldn't have hidden somewhere isolated where no innocents would have been placed in danger, or at least chosen somewhere where the locals would have been less vulnerable.
  • Kick the Dog: Joan Redfern tells Martha that "a skivvy" of her "colour" will never be a doctor, even if women one day manage to be eligible for the position.
  • Kirk Summation: The headmaster delivers one to Son of Mine (which doubles as the writer criticising the way public attitudes to World War I have often been portrayed in British media):
  • Large Ham: Son of Mine. "DON'T YOU LIKE IT, SIR?"
  • Loss of Identity: John Smith feels himself slipping away when he holds the watch.
  • Mirror Monster: The Doctor traps Daughter of Mine, in the form of a little girl, in a mirror. Every mirror.
  • 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. And him flipping all them switches while stumbling around the ship? Not an accident.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Daughter of Mine's face when Latimer opens the watch and she is blasted with a vision of the Doctor at his most cruel and merciless.
    • When the Family realise what they had dismissed as John Smith clumsily bumbling around was the Doctor purposely sabotaging their ship to self-destruct.
    • 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.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • The Headmaster's last moments are spent trying to get a little girl off a battlefield. Unfortunately, that's not a little girl. Not any more.
    • The Doctor, after a fashion, when he gives John Smith visions of the life that he would otherwise have had with Joan before he opens the watch. Of course, it could be argued that this makes things worse, by leaving John in absolutely no doubt of what he's losing, but he's trying.
  • Psychic Powers: Tim Latimer has a "low-level telepathic 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 the dust into glass, then SHATTER THEM ALL OVER AGAIN!
  • Reckless Pacifist: Downplayed; while the Doctor’s attempt to be “kind” and let the Family die naturally ends up being futile and leads to more deaths and wreaks more havoc in people’s lives than if he had simply defeated them in the first place. That being said, they did make the choice to come after him.
  • Refusal of the Call: Joan refuses to be a Companion because she dislikes the Doctor's recklessness (and there's the fact that he looks just like the man she used to love).
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: A calm example. The Doctor never raises his voice to the Family and remains 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.
  • Scary Scarecrows: The Scarecrow Mooks again. Even worse is the end, when of Son of Mine is "suspended in time" and turned into a scarecrow damned to guard the fields of England forever.
  • 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 spaceship, and the Family members themselves when they use telepathy. There's also their true form. It's all green and glowing.
  • Slasher Smile:
    • The Doctor shows one to the Family after pointing out he's just set their ship to self-destruct in front of them without their noticing.
      The Doctor: But, in fairness, I will give you one word of advice... [grins with evil glee] Run!
    • Son of Mine has a disturbingly lopsided one that seems to be permanently plastered on his face throughout practically the entire episode.
  • Smug Smiler: Son of Mine. SON OF MINE. He's having "Super fun!" blowing up the village. What makes it worse is that he never stops doing it — even when the Doctor is blowing up their ship and he's screaming for the Family of Blood to escape, he's still smiling.
  • The So-Called Coward: Hutchinson twice calls Tim a coward when he catches the latter seemingly avoiding and then outright deserting the military school's defensive (bear in mind before judging Hutchinson too harshly, this is a time when desertion was still punishable by firing squad and shell shock wasn't recognized by military leaders as a real mental problem). What Hutchinson doesn't realize is that Latimer knows neither of them are destined to die defending the school, and Hutchinson furthermore has no idea about the fob watch's value nor that Latimer realizes he's of more use avoiding the Family to keep the watch safe. Indeed, a year later, Tim and Hutchinson are fighting together in WWI, and now it's Hutchinson who's deferring to Tim. In a deleted scene, after fleeing the school battle, Tim zig-zags the trope by telling Hutchinson he was right to call him a coward as he was too afraid of what he sensed was inside the watch to do his duty sooner.
  • Soul Jar: Sort of. The watch is more like a mind-jar.
  • Title Drop: Incidentally the only time in the entire two-parter that the Family is referred to by their full name.
    Rocastle: You speak with someone else's voice, Baines. Who might that be?
    Son of Mine: We are the Family of Blood.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: John Smith, you're actually an alien known as a "Time Lord". It's accompanied by a brief Heroic BSoD.
  • 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. She's quite 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.
  • Ungrateful Bitch: Joan towards the Doctor, despite everything he did to help save the day in the end.
  • 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") being erased from history or forgotten by the public at large. Alternately, the show has always portrayed humans as having a Weirdness Censor where public alien activity is concerned, a fact lampshaded at least as far back as "Remembrance of the Daleks" when Ace wonders why no-one remembers Daleks gliding around Shoreditch in 1963. And there seem to be plenty of organisations like Torchwood around ready to provide cover stories for this sort of thing.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The Doctor makes sure the Family doesn't enjoy their new immortality.
  • 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".


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Doctor Who NSS 3 E 9 The Family Of Blood


The Family of Blood

The Family of Blood wanted to live the Doctor made sure that they did.

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