Story: The Doctor makes a mysterious decision to obtain a telepathic pod from an omnivorous, occasionally cannibalistic, shapeshifting race of aliens known as the Aubertides. He stores his own knowledge and personality in the pod – as well as detailed genetic information – and turns himself, both physically and psychologically, into John Smith, history teacher, a perfectly ordinary human (with odd gaps in his memory) teaching at a boys’ school in 1914. Bernice is left to fend for herself as the Doctor pursues whatever mystery has compelled him to undergo such a drastic change. In the process of discovering what it means to be human, the former Time Lord falls in love with a local woman who is attracted to his simplicity and gentle nature – but when the Aubertides storm the countryside, discovering that they have done business with a Time Lord and trying to track down his regenerative DNA to save their dying race, “Doctor John Smith” must risk everything and everyone to protect his fellow humans.
Review: Probably the best original novel ever to hit the shelves with the Doctor Who logo on its cover, this extremely atypical book is either loved or hated, depending on which segment of fandom you ask.
“Human Nature” achieves an emotional complexity not often reached by most Doctor Who novels, and this is Paul Cornell’s strong suit. Cornell also wrote the outstanding “Love And War” earlier in the New Adventures series, which introduced the character of Bernice. The Doctor’s love story with Joan rings absolutely true emotionally, rather than seeming tacked-on, and furthermore, it’s easy to imagine Sylvester McCoy playing the role of the Doctor’s human alter-ego. Cornell perfectly captures the nuances of a McCoy performance in print, making it all the more plausible. And the book’s final scene, its final words, are almost guaranteed to leave the reader choked up, with its hint that the Doctor – after reverting to his Time Lord state – does indeed remember and understand what love means on a “mere” human scale.
Author: Paul Cornell