Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Human Nature / the Family of Blood

Paul Cornell and I have been friends for around twelve or thirteen years now, and while I haven't read everything he's ever written - and am quite fond of both his current Wisdom comic book from Marvel and his truly excellent science fiction novel British Summertime, (A book so good it made me vomit on an airplane. Long story, see for yourself when it comes out in the US from Monkeybrain Books), to date my favorite fiction he's ever written is an old Virgin Books Doctor Who tie-in novel called Human Nature, out of print now, but available from the BBC as a free ebook. In it, for reasons I won't spoil, the Doctor decides to become human and not only alters his DNA but his memory as well, such that he had no concept of things non-terrestrial. It's a bit of a temporal Last Temptation or a Superman II and maybe you can guess where it goes from there, but it's sheer brilliance and recounting the ending to friends has never failed to elicit a tear from me, even here a decade later.

Now, Paul has written more Doctor Who novels than I can count, as well as quite a few spin-off books, audio books, etc... But apart from Doctor Who, he's also written comic books (2000AD among them), and has written for several UK television shows - Coronation Street and the new Robin Hood among them. He's even had his own series, Wavelength, on the telly. Pretty much universally regarded as the best of the Doctor Who novel scribes and with years of television experience, in an act of cosmic justice so rare in television Paul was indeed tapped to write for the new series. His first outing gave us "Father's Day," the very touching episode in which Rose went back in time and met her deceased father. Good, certainly. One of the better episodes, yes, with good moments for the actors, but it didn't unseat the best of the new season. But the last two weeks on the BBC saw a two-parter, "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood," and as you might guess, this was the long-anticipated (by me) adaptation to the small screen of my favorite Who novel ever. So, was it any good?

Now, Paul knows that I'm not closed lipped when I don't like something, so hopefully he - and you - will believe me when I say this: Not only is it the best story to arise from the new series to date, but it just might be the best episode of Britain's number one television show in the entire five decade history of the series. It might just be tied with Steve Moffat's "The Empty Child/the Doctor Dances" (and Moffat's "The Girl in the Fireplace" makes any top three list), but if it's tied then it's neck-and-neck and I'm not sure but what Cornell isn't pulling ahead. I'll of have to watch it again to be sure! I've already watched part one twice and gone back to other bits. I think they're going to be talking about this one for a long, long time. Certainly, this is my vote for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form in next year's Hugo awards. Watch it, vote for it, buy the DVD when it comes out in your region. It's rare when you get perfect television and this one is a real gift.

After years of teasing him about everything I can think of, I am suddenly in awe of my friend. So before I let that get in the way, here is a picture of Paul, his wonderful wife, and David Tennat (the reigning Doctor) that I unapologetically nicked from his blog:

14 comments:

Robert said...

Lou,

Thanks for plugging Paul's book here. I'm ordering a copy from my local Barnes & Noble tomorrow. Or maybe they've already got it -- they seems to regularly carry Monkey Brain titles at that store.

Here's my plug for another recent MB release which seems like it might be coming from the same place as British Summertime -- The Man from the Diogenes Club by Kim Newman. If you like The Avengers, British spy flicks from the 60s/70s, Hammer Films...this book's for you.

RObert

Peter Hollo said...

Yep, I'm with you here - it was a truly awesome double episode. Sean Williams was telling me I was in for a treat when I saw him in Sydney last week, and how right he was :)

I'd say it's at least equal with The Girl In the Fireplace, if not The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. Brilliant and beautiful work.

Paul Cornell said...

Oh, how nice! Thank you, everyone. Especially you, Lou. I really appreciate that. (British Summertime may not make everyone vomit on an airplane. Terms and conditions apply.) I will now deliberately make Lou recount the ending of Human Nature in a convention bar.

dave hutchinson said...

Not just outstanding Who but outstanding television, period. Wonderful stuff.

Lou Anders said...

Robert - Diogenes Club is on my list. And have you seen the cover of the follow-up? Go to their website and check it out if not, it's gorgeous.

Paul - I will choke up. It's in a very small list of stories I find it impossible to retell without emotion. For some reason, reading (but not just remembering) the last page of The Time Machine does this to me too, as does - bizarrely - the scene in the Jim Burns rebooting of Superman when his kryptonian parents die.

re: vomit - I was on the way to NYC to meet with Publishers Weekly for the first time when I read a particularly graphic bit of savagery. I broke out in a cold sweat and thought I had flu. I went to the airport bathroom, actually didn't upchuck but came damn close, and took off my shirt and sat on the floor till the nausea passed. I thought I'd have to phone Jill (our publicity director) immediately upon landing and tell her I couldn't make it, I had a bug. When it faded entirely within 20 minutes I realized Paul had the singular honor of giving me the most visceral reaction to a piece of fiction I'd ever had in my life

Chris Roberson said...

"Human Nature/The Family of Blood" is now one of my two favorite Who stories of all time, in any media, right alongside "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances." Just a tremendous bit of writing.

British Summertime should be on shelves any time now, btw, if it isn't already, since it shipped out from the distributor at the end of May.

Now I'm off to reread the original Human Nature novel!

Christian Berntsen said...

Ah, see, with an endorsement like that now I really can't wait for series three to broadcast on Sci Fi this summer (it's the only thing I can't wait for on Sci Fi, they have nothing else to look forawrd to these days, though I do hope the final season of BG will wrap things up in a good fashion). In the meantime I will be checking out the ebook. Dammit, Lou, stop offering up cool things to read, I will have time for nothing else if you keep it up. By the way, it was great meeting you at BookExpo last weekend.

Lou Anders said...

It was great meeting you too Christian. Caution - season three starts off wobbly, or rather it starts off good, gets wobbly, then improves in a sharp build. Tennant really has become my favorite though, the way he combines the enthusiasm of Tom Baker, the lonliness of Sylvester McCoy and the look of Peter Davison.

Anonymous said...

I can only concur with my estimable peers - 'Human Nature/The Family of Blood' is the type of Doctor Who story I've always wanted to see on TV; the 'Batman Begins' of Doctor Who, if you like. An awesome slice of television. Good going Paul!

George

Robert said...

Paul -- I did it! Ordered a copy of your novel today at B&N. Should have it in "4-5 working days." Looking forward to it.

Lou -- thanks for the heads-up about the Diogenes Club volume. The cover art is gorgeous. Just sorry I'll have to wait until Fall to get my hands on a copy of the book!

Robert

Lou Anders said...

Chris - are you seeing this, me moving your books like this?

Paul Cornell said...

I love hearing individual sales happen! And thank you all once again.

Lou Anders said...

Incidentally, Paul, it was the line "he was being kind" and all around that that put it over the line of genius for me.

Paul Cornell said...

Goodness, thanks.