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Doctor Who: Human Nature by Paul Cornell

Doctor Who: Human Nature (edition 1995)

by Paul Cornell

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282767,030 (3.95)15
Hulton College in Norfolk is a school dedicated to producing military officers. With the First World War about to start, the boys of the school will soon be on the front line. But no one expects a war - not even Dr John Smith, the college's new house master... The Doctor's friend Benny is enjoying her holiday in the same town. But then she meets a future version of the Doctor, and things start to get dangerous very quickly. With the Doctor she knows gone, and only a suffragette and an elderly rake for company, can Benny fight off a vicious alien attack? And will Dr Smith be able to save the day? An adventure set in Britain on the eve of the First World War, featuring the Seventh Doctor as played by Sylvester McCoy and his companion Bernice Summerfield. This book was the basis for the Tenth Doctor television story Human Nature / The Family of Bloodstarring David Tennant.… (more)
Title:Doctor Who: Human Nature
Authors:Paul Cornell
Info:Dr Who (1995), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, science fiction, novel, doctor who, seventh doctor, new adventures

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Human Nature by Paul Cornell



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» See also 15 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
This is my fourth time experiencing Human Nature, each time in a different medium. The first time was way back in 2004, during the Wilderness Years, when Human Nature was one of the out-of-print novels that BBCi selected for its ebook program. In those pre-Kindle days, I would have read the whole thing on my dorm room computer screen. Then, in 2007, I actually got to watch the story, when an adaptation starring David Tennant was broadcast to the nation. About ten years after that, I listened to the audiobook of the novel, read by Lisa Bowerman (who plays companion Bernice Summerfield on audio) when I reviewed it for Unreality SF. Now, I've actually read in in print for the first time, albeit via the 2015 reprint from BBC Books, not its original 1995 Virgin publication.

I had ambitions of writing an in-depth thematic overview and got about 3,000 words into it before events caught up to me. Hopefully I'll come back to it someday, but somewhere else-- I think I could get it published in some kind of pop-culture general-audience critical venue. So I'll be short here: this is almost certainly the best Doctor Who novel that has been or will be written, with the most depth and nuance and themes, far more than a tie-in work even deserves, honestly-- but then again, it's Doctor Who, and it deserves everything we can give it.

Random Notes:
  • This book mentions Ellerycorp as a far-future giant corporation. Jason Haigh-Ellery is the entrepreneur who owns, among other companies, Big Finish Productions. Presumably Ellerycorp is a far-future descendant of Big Finish.
  • H. G. Wells is referenced; a suffragette uses him as a touchstone for the concept of free love. 
  • The Doctor's human persona, Smith, has memories from a mixture of the Doctor's companions over the years. There's a montage of them on pp. 92-3, most of which I can't identify, but I'm pretty sure the first one is a post-coital Ian and Barbara during The Romans.
  • Steven Moffat is in this book; he's a Scotsman who criticizes Sylvester McCoy's accent for being unrealistic.
  Stevil2001 | Jul 19, 2019 |
In this novel, the Doctor has himself genetically modified so he can experience life as a human. Forgetting his real identity, the Doctor believes he is a Scottish teacher named John Smith at a boy's school in rural England in 1914. If this sounds familiar to Doctor Who tv viewers, it's because Cornell adapted this book as the two-part episode "Human Nature/Family of Blood" in Series 3 with David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor/John Smith. It's best not to think of the television adaptation while reading the book as the stories differ in many ways.

Cornell's basic idea was to have a story featuring the Doctor in a romantic relationship with a fellow teacher, Joan Redfern. Again, in the present day we've seen the Doctor fall in love with Rose, snog Madame Pompadour, and marry River Song, so the elaborate plot of making the Doctor a human for him to experience romance would be excessive. Apart from the love story, this book is a good exploration of being human and the Doctor's character.

On the one hand this is a brutal and gory story. The villainous alien Aubertides are merciless in slaughtering (and eating) anyone who gets in their way. In response, the leaders of the school are willing to mobilize the boys into a military unit to fight back. There's even a disturbing scene early in the book where the school boys murder one of their own.

On the other hand, John Smith, while still in a human guise is able to determine a better way. To throw away the guns, lead the children to safety, attempt diplomacy, and then win through guile. The willingness of the human characters in this book to support and sacrifice for one another shows our species at it's best.

Like many Virgin New Adventures, there's a surplus of side characters and interwoven sideplots that could be excised to make a tighter, more focused adventure. But it's still a gripping read and Doctor Who at it's best.

Favorite Passages:
"I can see why Rocastle thinks that way. It's attractive. Imagine, never having to make any decisions. Because of honor. And etiquette. And patriotism. You could live like a river flowing downhill, hopping from one standard response to the other. Honour this. Defend that."

"'Isn't it odd,' opined Alexander, 'how close masculinity is to melodrama?'" ( )
1 vote Othemts | Jul 19, 2018 |
I read this shortly after having watched the Doctor Who episode of the same name, and I can't really separate the two in my memory.What does stick in my memory is the way that the two completely different characters (Martha and Benny) skew the vision. And that the novel has a lot more violence and death than I remember in the episode. And that I hope interesting things have been said about perceptions of race, and how stories set in historical settings explore this (Martha is black, Benny presumably white) ( )
  fred_mouse | Aug 16, 2017 |

This Seventh Doctor plus Bernice Summerfield New Adventure is really rather good. Paul Cornell here asks the unaskable: what if the Doctor were to try being human for a while, to live and love like the rest of us? He has managed to get to the heart of the Doctor's mythos. I found it very satisfying, and raced to finish it, to the point of waking up early this morning to do so. It's the first of the Doctor Who books I have downloaded that I would really like to spend money on for a dead trees version.

Bits I particularly liked: I thought the character of Verity resonated particularly effectively. "Verity" of course means Truth, and she holds the key to the truth about the Doctor's character; the name of course also recalls the real-life origins of Doctor Who; and the character herself is of course a very close reflection of Neil Gaiman's Death.

I also very much liked the human relationships of the book. I caught on to the true nature of Shuttleworth's liaisons pretty early on; the John Smith and Joan Redfern relationship was neatly done; and the Epilogue, which the author admits he had doubts about putting in, was very effective.

Great lines, too:
"You may know me as mild-mannered John Smith, history teacher, but secretly I'm the Doctor, universal righter of wrongs and protector of cats."
"So what did you say to him," the Doctor asked.
"That he believes in good and fights evil. That, with violence all around him, he's a man of peace. Thet he's never cruel, or cowardly. That he is a hero."
Sure, the book has its flaws, as mercilessly pointed out by some of the Doctor Who Ratings Guide reviewers (though most of them loved it). I'm with the Discontinuity Guide folks, though. I don't think I've read a better Doctor Who novel.

This is still the only Who novel to have been adapted for television rather than the other way round. I first read it, gulp, seven years ago - the first Seventh Doctor novel I ever read - and would have been rereading it anyway as I shall be rewatching the TV episode soon.

Now that I have read the previous 37 New Adventures, I still think this is one of the best in the series. It is better than most Who novels as a standalone (though Niall Harrison found the continuity heavy going), the major reference to previous novels being to Benny's loss of her lover in the Albigensian crusade. The Doctor is absent from most of the book and needs to be explained to his own alter ego, John Smith, whose final sacrifice is very effective. ( )
1 vote nwhyte | Jan 27, 2013 |
I have to admit it: I'm a HUGE Doctor Who fan. That said, I have not thought too much of the handful of books I've read that accompanied the series. Human Nature, on the other hand, was just brilliant. I admit it still had it's pulpy bits in the story, but in general it was as well written as many of my favorite novels (well, maybe not Gibson or Stephenson quality, if we're talking modern scifi, but quite solid nonetheless).I'll be seeking out other books by Cornell. It should also be mentioned that this book was loosely used as the basis for the episodes Human Nature and The Family of Blood in the 3rd seasons of the new Doctor Who series. These were easily among the very best Doctor Who episodes ever, so getting this book (it was a present from my darling wife) was a real score. ( )
  tlockney | Feb 5, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Paul Cornellprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bowerman, LisaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Donohoe, BillCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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