Okay I give this a 5/5 or a 10/10 really I do. It's just so different and that despite it being from one of the best NEW ADVENTURES by the egotist Paul Cornell (anyone who does not think he's a smug right old bas*## just read the behind the scenes book from Big Finish and find out what he said to Nick Briggs, who himself seems now full of himself). But anyway the sets, music, location work, and most of the acting. I say most because the actor who plays Baines makes some very odd choices in acting in some moments. His discovery of the forcefield is ...almost as if he's been hypnotized or taken over by the aliens already. He doesn't really play scared very well either. As the alien Son of Mine his quirks can be the quirks of the alien.
On the flip side, even though in a DWM interview, the actor who plays Tim is not a DW fan or a sci fi fan and thnks girls who dedicate fan sites to him should just go outside or go out, is excellent. I don't know if they deliberately did this but in many ways Tim echoes, for me, a younger version of the Doctor. Put quite simply, this kid, now probably 20 or so, is really a good actor in anything he's been in.
The rest of the actors are also quite good.
Now let's look at athe plot. It's so good, so well done, so different...and in the whole of DW...it...doesn't really make much sense.
Why? Well, the Doctor really has killed wtih the best of them. He was with UNIT. He kills. It's a fact. For years, I liked the Doctor because it was touted that he was the pacifist who never killed, was never cruel...uhm, exsqueeze me!? He sure is cruel sometimes, he's a killer who has shot a gun at an Ogron, etc etc. He even caused the Dalek embryo room to blow up. So we have a story where...he's hiding (another thing he almost never does outright at the outset) because...GET THIS...he doesn't want to show meanness to the alien family. Okay. WTF? For one, his "hiding"---maybe only a real excuse for him to become human as "he's always wondered"---causes people in this time to be victims of the family. On top of that, he...well, he's hiding. I can get that the Doctor is presented as a pacfist but he's not. He's showing the killers mercy.
Okay that makes some sense but...then later, he doesn't. And he's never been like that before. And if the family is so powerful, then...well, wait, they are and they are not. They don't seem to be able to notice Martha's face and they can't get into the TARDIS. Why can't the Doctor keep hidden in the TARDIS for three months until they die off? ANd how are athe aliens following him through time? Or are they? Why can't he materialize in the future where they are already dead? Why can't they follow him directly...it must have taken some time to set up the John Smith thing and the Martha as a maid thing (some really good pre-politcal correctness and prejudice stuff going on here). Soooo, becoming a human who's MORE vulnerable to the family and leaving the TARDIS seems like a good thing to do? Huh?
WTF 3: why does Martha leave the fobwatch in the Doc's room while...well, while he's human and she keeps the TARDIS key around her neck?
WTF4: although this comes later: If the all powerful RTD/Cornell Doctor can do what he does to the family later on...WHY THE HELL doesn't use these powers before or after to totally eradicate ALL his enemies. ANd IF the family is so powerful, how does the all powerful GOD Doctor put one behind a mirror....every mirror? Another he has in chains and blasts out the doors of the TARDIS and another he turns into a scarecrow. I totally forgot what he does to the father of mine but you get the idea.
SO wtf5: if the family is so powerful, why do they become so vulnerable after the explosion of their ship? And how does the basically weaponless and le'ts face it, totally wimpy Doctor get the FOUR of them in chains, stop them from using their weapons and their powers on him and move them into positions of such weakness? It makes NO sense really and we're not really shown that.
Other than all of that, this story has a lot to say about being human, being alien, and about love. It also makes us not realize any of the above WTFs since it's so tugging at our heartstrings to see the Doc in love, Martha not being loved, and the menace that grows on the situation. It's very engaging and very well played out. If the rest of DW didn't exist---as some reviewers say of CITY OF DEATH---this would be even greater.
A few random thoughts: this was much better on first viewing. If you want a pacifisitic bunch of heroes than watch the original TOMORROW PEOPLE (not the terrible 1990s version). The music is good but is reaching for something it just doesn't hit. The idea of the Doctor being human and forgetting is so good and many scenes hit upon that thread so well ,that it's milked for all it's worth (the piano falling scene, the Martha coming through the doors scene, the Doctor allowing Tim to be beaten and advocating gunfire). Another random thought: in some scenes and calling the familyh the family makes me wonder if perhaps the original idea was to have the Doctor's Gallefrean family or other Time Lords after him, maybe even his infernal cousins?
In THIRD DIMENSION they quote MILLENNIUM BLOG that states that they wished the opening could have been more like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER's episode where Buffy is really imagining/dreaming her whole series while in a mental institution and finishing out the story that way...but in truth, the opening doesn't specifically say that it isn't a dream! And I like the opening better than all of BUFFY and I like this story over that BUFFY story, which seemed to drop the ball.
All in all, I was really pretty hard on this above but truth is that this is a very good episode, one of the best of the new show and one can't help but wish that when and if DOCTOR WHO ever ends for good, it will end with...the Doctor somehow near death...returning into John Smith, age 32 or whatever, and having that life with Joan Redfern, returned to the past and that he dies after a full life (age 100?) and it's then implied that somehow his spirit returns to being the DOctor and will return...and/or that he and Joan's children...are somehow imprinted with Time Lord DNA. Now that would be a great way to end the series. But they won't think of that.
Myl idea was this:
The way to end the series?
The Doctor is at his last regeneration. He’s about to die but instead, he uses the TARDIS to return to 1913 to Joan Redfern. He changes back to John Smith. He lives his life, has his children, and dies in 1963…but then he’s reborn after his death. The human had a small amount of Time Lord DNA and RNA in him. The TARDIS materalizes around him as he’s about to get readied for burial. Inside is his grand daughter. Susan. It starts again. He’s the Hartnell Doctor again…somehow…how? He and Susan return to Gallifrey in the far past but are ousted as not being allowed to do this, nor was the Doctor supposed to come back from being a human or was he to ever become a human…