As readers will know, I loved the first episode, Human Nature, and now with The Family of Blood, it all seemed to come together and gel into something cinematic in scope and which touched your heart and mind as you watched, making the audience think about what had happened as well as enjoying the scope and spectacle of it all.
We open as we left last week, with the Family threatening the lives of Martha and Joan unless the Doctor changes himself back into a Time Lord. Well Martha well and truly takes the upper hand, gaining control of a gun and getting everyone out of the church hall alive. I loved her off-hand comment to John Smith: 'God, you're rubbish as a human!' Very fitting given the circumstances. Everyone dashes back to the school where John Smith starts to rouse the boys and staff into a fighting force to see of the Family and their ambulatory scarecrows. Before the battle starts, however, the Headmaster and Phillips go out to talk to the attackers. These are great scenes, with the sounds of battle over Baines' foretelling of the War to come. But Phillips is disintegrated by the Family and the Head rushes back as battle commences.
Baines calls for more Soldiers and loads more Scarecrows arrive - all identical. How many do they have in the fields around this village? I counted at least 30 in shot, with more arriving all the time.
We have lots of great character interplay, all switched together here. The boys preparing for the fight with guns, June and John Smith trying to come to terms with what's happening and Martha trying to find the watch to restore the Doctor.
The Family start their attack and the initial phlanx of scarecrows are cut down with bullets as the school hymn plays. I felt this was a moment too far. For a start, why did the bullets affect the scarecrows at all, and the mood of the battle was, I felt, trying too hard to elicit a Blackadder the Fourth moment of poignancy which didn't work as the 'dead' were only scarecrows anyway. But the lead up, with the boys crying with fear, was brilliantly handled, and brought to mind similar moments in the middle Lord of the Rings film, The Two Towers.
It all ends when the little girl appears and disintegrates the Headmaster. Panic ensues and everyone runs again.
The Family now know they just need to get the pocket watch, and they also have the Doctor's TARDIS brought to the school to tempt the Doctor out. However the Doctor is nowhere to be seen and John Smith starts to crack under the strain. He just wants to be John Smith. This is a bravura performance from David Tennant. Absolutely believable and brilliant. Tennant is so watchable as an actor ... pure genius.
Smith, Martha and Joan head off to the Cartwright's cottage (little Lucy Cartwright is the small girl possessed by the Family) where they finally meet up with Tim who passes the watch across. These scenes feature the most poetic description of the Doctor ... 'He is 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 can see the turn of the Universe. And he's wonderful.'
This is said by Tim to John Smith as he agonises over whether to open the watch or not. Whether to return to being the Doctor or not. These are great scenes, perhaps a little long played, but necessarily so. John Smith must die if the Doctor is to live, and Smith does not want to die. He sees a flash forward of his human life as it might be ... of marriage and children ... happiness ... and then his death. And the make-up on Tennant for his old, dying frame is awesome. These are tear jerking, emotional moments, but also classic Doctor Who, making you care for the people and what's happening ... what decision would you ... could you ... make yourself?
And so it's endgame, and the most brilliant twist by writer Paul Cornell ... the Doctor was not hiding to protect himself and Martha, but to save the Family ... for when he returns (and of course we knew he would) he exacts his wrath on these alien beings in a way which is callous and cold - he gives them exactly what they wanted. This echoes the temptation posed by Rassilon in The Five Doctors, that those who wish immortality would be granted it ... at a price. But the Doctor's price is immense.
I loved the way the narrative suddenly shifted to Baines talking us through the fates of the Family members. Showing the Doctor as an implacable alien being, doing what he has to do. But cruel too, as if he had just waited, then the Family would have all died anyway. With his involvement they live forever in their own private hells.
After this, there's a sequence of endings to rival that of The Lord of the Rings. One at a time the plots and characters are wrapped up: Joan no longer wants the Doctor - her John Smith was the braver as he died to save everyone: the Doctor just had to change. Latimer sees the Doctor and Martha leave in the TARDIS, saves the older bully, Hutchinson, from a shell during the War the following year, and lives to an old age. The final scenes around the War memorial, the elderly Latimer holding his lucky watch and remembering, as the Doctor and Martha look on from a distance is awesome television. It's almost impossible not to be moved by it.