You know the drill.
The Family Of Blood
It's a tricky one. A great (and I mean great) midsection bookended by silliness...I think it gets by all in all and the two parter is certainly a top ranker overall, but I can't say that The Family Of Blood is the unadulterated masterpiece its predecessor was. It's only the difference between excellent and very good, put it in that context, but I can't help but feel a little bit disappointed.
The beginning had me worried. The emphasis struck me as being on shallow flash-bang action and Rebekah Stanton was nowhere near as good as Harry Lloyd as a possessed human, bringing back horrible, horrible memories of Margaret Slitheen. I could just about cope with the overcooked WWI allegory, complete with tearful boy soldiers – literally – until Baines mentioning the war directly (complete with echoing sound effects) splintered the camel's back. No real effort was made by Charles Palmer to make the scarecrows look particularly frightening, and I was beginning to think that Human Nature was going to be sold out.
Fortunately this turned out to be just a way round the cliffhanger, and the real meat of the episode came when Smith, Joan and Martha hit the abandoned house. Tennant's acting as he despairs about his prospects really makes the episode. Jessica Hynes – a comedy actress, don't forget – is absolutely wonderful, and the episode has some very sophisticated things to say about, well, human nature. The Doctor changed to Smith in order to flee; Smith's decision, on the other hand, was a sacrifice. I can't help but feel that it would have been more appropriate to have the episode titles swapped round. It all goes into a loose character arc where the tenth Doctor is beginning to get called on his thoughtlessness – think back to Soloman's angry reaction when his question of “who are you?” is answered glibly in Daleks In Manhattan. As such minor criticisms that come out of this section are easily absorbed: Latimer's speech is over the top and unnatural, especially in the context that the wild angel he's supposed to be describing spent the entire second series playing Gallifrey's village idiot. Baines's comment that he never raised his voice is a nonsense as the tenth Doctor rants and raves all the time, although I loved the montage of their poetic punishments and the fact that we never learned who the Family actually were.
Then it falls flat again with the embarrassing end sequence, where Murray Gold plays something Celine Dion would reject as too mawkish while Latimer offer's trite lines about sticking together. It leaves a bitter taste after a fundamentally very good episode; it's a great two parter overall, but I'm undecided about The Family Of Blood in isolation.
**** / *****