Thursday, 28 November 2013

Human Nature

I finished a book the other night (In Our Time, a collection of transcripts of the Radio 4 programme presented by Melvyn Bragg) and as I am still binging on all things Whovian, the next book that I pulled down from my "Mons liborum legendurum" ("the mountain of books that must be read") was Human Nature by Paul Cornell.

I've been meaning to read this ever since I found out that this novel is the origin of the wonderful Tenth Doctor episodes Human Nature and The Family of Blood. It took me a while to track it down secondhand, and I felt that the moment was right to see what the Seventh Doctor is like in the story, and to meet Bernice Summerfield for the first time. Bernice is a Companion created by Paul Cornell and used by several authors during that long period when the only new Who that existed were the novels.

The basics of the story are the same - just before the First World War, the Doctor is working as a teacher at a boy's boarding school, and the Family of Blood are after him. I think, though, that as written, the story is unfilmable. There are some graphically violent deaths, including many schoolboys, and the Family of Blood turn the entire school into glass! That would use up the special effects budget pretty quick!
It made sense, too, to have Martha as one of the servants at the school on TV, rather than living in a cottage in the village as Bernice does. I did like the political touches in the novel, though - the suffragette and the Labour candidate, and the chap who runs the local museum. It was nice to see a gay couple portrayed in such a matter of fact way, too, at a time when they had to be very circumspect.
I finished it in an evening. The TV version is, I think, better - more tightly plotted and with better motivations for some of the characters - but it's a good, gripping read in its own right, too.

My favourite quotation from the book, by the way, comes from the beginning, where Bernice is waiting for the Doctor at a beer tent at a huge market.

"Now, you may well be thinking: 'Beer? What a terrible idea. That's no solution.' I would reply that you're wrong. It's a solution of hops, barley and yeast, and it is so transcendentally wonderful that I long ago made the decision to sacrifice any chance of trim thighs in favour of it."

Of course, Bernice is an archaeologist as well as a beer drinker - I think we'd get on rather well together!

No comments:

Post a Comment