The Doctor Who Virgin books were hugely successful in the 1990s when Doctor Who wasn’t on screen. Indeed, one of these proved so popular that it was adapted for the show’s third series in 2007, written by Paul Cornell. But how similar is ‘Human Nature’ to its original source material?
The initial range of Doctor Who Virgin books focused on the Seventh Doctor, picking up where the TV series left off in 1989. Obviously, by the time 2007 came around, the Time Lord had already regenerated three times (or four if you include the War Doctor) and so the Seventh Doctor was long gone – as indeed was his companion Benny Summerfield, who is one of the main characters in the ‘Human Nature’ novel.
But in her stead is the Tenth Doctor’s relatively new companion Martha Jones, played by Freema Agyeman – the Time Lord’s first black companion, whose presence triggered a new plot element in ‘Human Nature’ – that of racism. Indeed, Martha is frequently subjected to racist remarks as she carries out her work at the Farringham School for Boys (where is she is employed as a maid) and this marks the first time in the series’ history that an explicitly racist comment had been directed at a companion.
Otherwise, the basic premise of ‘Human Nature’ is the same as the one from the Doctor Who Virgin books series. In both versions, the Doctor is on the run from an evil alien race who are hoping to acquire his Time Lord abilities. And in order to escape detection, the Doctor transforms himself into a human called John Smith, and becomes a teacher at a boys school in the early 20th century. After falling love with a fellow teacher, he soon finds himself at the forefront of battle, as the school is attacked by the alien race. Ultimately, he is forced to transform back into the Doctor in order to defeat them.
But in the ‘Human Nature’ from the Doctor Who Virgin books, the alien race is slightly different. They are the Aubertides from the planet Aubris – a shape-shifting race that has disguised itself as a human family, including a young girl with a red balloon. In the novel, their clothes (and the items they are carrying) are actually extensions of their bodies, and the girl is able to use the red balloon as a weapon. Of course, the red balloon also features in the TV version, but only as a visual detail. In addition, the aliens in the Tenth Doctor story are simply referred to as The Family of Blood – although they could still be Aubertides.
Then there are the scarecrows, which are absent from the Doctor Who Virgin books. In the TV adaptation of ‘Human Nature,’ these are mindless sentinels that are brought to life by the Family of Blood by the power of molecular fringe animation, and are used as foot soldiers. Apparently, these were added because the producer Russell T Davies wanted to include a traditional baddie in the story.
However, one constant in both versions is the character of Joan Redfern – a fellow teacher with whom John Smith forms a romantic relationship. And the Doctor Who Virgin books were particularly progressive in this respect; Paul Cornell’s novel would have featured one of the first instances (if not the very first instance) of the Doctor kissing another person out of love. This wouldn’t happen again until the 1996 TV movie in which the Eighth Doctor kisses his friend Grace after a whirlwind romance.
Of course, by the time the Tenth Doctor and Joan locked lips, he’d already kissed Rose Tyler, Captain Jack and Martha Jones, even if these instances could be explained away by the “necessities of the moment” (e.g. the Ninth Doctor had to kiss Rose in order to save her from the power of the time vortex.) And the John Smith in both versions of ‘Human Nature’ is quite clearly a different character – and not the Doctor himself – but it’s still an interesting plot point. In both the TV episode and the Doctor Who Virgin books, the Doctor wrestles with the same problem – he is a Time Lord, and cannot “love” someone in the way another human could.
Then there is the Chameleon Arch, which doesn’t feature in the Doctor Who Virgin books. In the TV version of ‘Human Nature,’ this is a device which allows the Doctor to turn his Time Lord DNA into human, and comes complete with a fob watch which contains his true identity. Indeed, this device became an important plot point in the remainder of Series Three, with (spoiler alert) the mysterious Professor Yana using one in ‘Utopia’ to disguise the fact that he is the Master.
However, in Cornell’s novel, the Doctor simply uses a cricket ball to house his Time Lord essence – a piece of technology that he bought from a market on the planet Crex in the Augon system. Despite this, a cricket ball does still make an appearance in the TV version, with John Smith using one to save a baby from a falling piano. As you do.
Have you ever read any of the Doctor Who Virgin books? If so, how do you think the ‘Human Nature’ novel compares to the TV adaptation? Let me know in the comments below!
You can read the ebook version of ‘Human Nature’ here.
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