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"Who am I then? Nothing...? I'm just a story?"—John
Continued from Doctor Who.
Mild-mannered Edwardian schoolteacher John Smith is baffled when alien monsters turn up and demand that he turn himself into "The Doctor". But the strangeness is jogging memories deep inside him, memories of a life he's sure he never lived but only dreamed, and more and more fragments of his dreams are turning out to be real. Deny it he tries, but eventually John has to consider the possibility that Martha and the aliens are telling the truth: "the Doctor", his dream-self, is the reality, and John Smith is the fabrication.
Still frightened and confused, John quizzes Martha on the Doctor, and is horrified by her description: a tremendously lonely alien, the sole survivor of the universe's greatest holocaust, as remote and inhuman as a force of nature, who -- for all his careful planning -- never even considered that he might fall in love while hiding among humans.
Timothy asks how it's possible that he himself can learn things from John's watch and even see the future sometimes. With John now holding the watch that contains his Time Lord self, the Doctor's Motor Mouth starts automatically explaining how it's just a regular human "low-level telepathy field" (which will become important later). "You were born with it, just an extra-synaptic engram causing--"
"--Is that how he talks?" John asks in utter horror, realizing fully that this Doctor is real, and inside him, and that he needs to make the most horrible decision of his life.
John would give anything to stay human and marry Joan. While spending his last evening with her, he even has a brief vision of that future: a long and happy life and a peaceful death, secure in the knowledge that everyone he loves is safe. But even that future is illusory, as the aliens are closing in on John and will spread destruction across the galaxy if they win. John must sacrifice himself and become the Doctor, though he doesn't even know if any fragment of his identity will survive.
With the help of Timothy, John eventually makes the decision to open the watch, essentially commit suicide and become the Doctor again. He defeats the aliens without much effort, and as punishment for what they've done, traps them in different time event horizons... for all eternity. The creatures realize that the Doctor wasn't simply escaping from them -- he was being kind to them, in giving them a chance to die without ever encountering him.
The Doctor returns for Joan. She's horrified to see him, even though he tells her that John is part of him now, somewhere deep inside him. He invites her to the TARDIS, and asks her if she wants to give him a proper chance for what he really is, starting their relationship again from a blank slate. She refuses. Decades into the future, Martha and the Doctor visit Timothy, now a war veteran, and give him some closure.
Not much later, the Gallifreyan technique to hide in human form will become important again...
- And I Must Scream: "We wanted to live forever… so the Doctor made sure that we did."
- Badass Boast: Oddly, made about The Doctor by someone else:
Tim Latimer: He's like fire, and ice, and rage. He's like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. He burns at the centre of time and he can see the turn of the universe. And… he's wonderful.
- BBC Quarry: The World War I Battlefield, according to the commentary.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: You want to live forever so badly? The Doctor can arrange that.
- Beware the Nice Ones:
Son of Mine: And so we found out the reason this man, who had fought with gods and demons, had run away from us and hidden - he was being kind.
- Boarding School
- Broken Masquerade: John Smith suffers this when he starts to realise the truth about who he really is.
- Then this happens when Timothy asks him why he can hear the watch.
As The Doctor: Oh, it's just a low-level telepathy field, you were born with it, just an extra-synaptic engram causing—
As John Smith: [gasps in utter horror] Is that how he talks?
- Break the Cutie: Poor, poor John Smith.
- Can't Stay Normal
- Chekhov's Gun: The watch
- Coconut Superpowers: Invisible spaceships are easy on the FX budget.
- Creepy Child: Daughter of Mine. Making a Self-Made Orphan out of her human host helps.
- Cruel Mercy
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Martha can't catch a break with all these Edwardians treating her like a second-class human.
- Dreaming the Truth
- The Edwardian Era
- Ethnic Menial Labor
- Fake Memories: As Joan notes, John's fake memories are strictly factual, with no emotional content.
- Fate Worse Than Death: The fates of the Family, as meted out by the Doctor. It's revealed that the Doctor wasn't running from the Family because he was scared of them… but because he was scared of what he could do to them.
- Flash Forward: John and Joan's aborted future together.
- Also Latimer's vision of his experience in World War One. It saves his life when he lives it for real.
- Fridge Brilliance: This episode is why the Doctor is afraid to regenerate in "The End of Time"--he remembers John Smith's death.
- Future Me Scares Me
- Heroic Sacrifice: John, offscreen.
- Hey, It's That Guy! / Hey, It's That Voice!: Well, no wonder Ferb is so good with semi-futuristic technology. And why Sam can get through airport security so easily.
- Idiot Ball: Somehow the Family completely fails to notice the fact that Smith / the Doctor seems to be going out of his way to trip over himself and press certain buttons. It's not all that well concealed.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: "The Time Lord has such adventures… but he could never have a life like that."
- Large Ham: Son of Mine. "DON'T YOU LIKE IT, SIR?"
- Loss of Identity
- More Dakka: The Vickers machine gun is used to cut down an army of scarecrows.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: When Smith enters the Family's spaceship. He's not Smith anymore. He's the Doctor.
- Oh Crap: The looks on the faces of the Family when their ship is blown up and the Doctor is standing over them glaring down at them.
- Psychic Powers: Tim Latimer.
- Psychopathic Manchild: Son of Mine. "Super, super fun!"
We'll blast them into dust, then fuse them into glass, then SHATTER THEM ALL OVER AGAIN!
- Psychotic Smirk: Son of Mine. SON OF MINE.
- Puppet Masters: The Family.
- Refusal of the Call: Joan. See What the Hell, Hero? below.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: A calm example.
- Shut UP, Hannibal: The Headmaster delivers one to Son of Mine (which doubles as the writer criticising the way public attitudes to World War One have often been portrayed in British media):
Son of Mine: War is coming. In foreign fields, war of the whole wide world, with all your boys falling down in the mud. Do you think they will thank the man who taught them it was glorious?
Headmaster: Don't you forget, boy, I've been a soldier. I was in South Africa, I used my dead mates as sandbags, I fought with the butt of my rifle when the bullets ran out, and I would go back there tomorrow for King and country!
Son of Mine: Etcetera, etcetera!
- Tomato in the Mirror: John Smith. Accompanied by a brief Heroic Blue Screen of Death.
- Tranquil Fury: The episode's climax.
- Uncanny Valley: All of the Family, Most notable offenders are Son of Mine and Daughter of Mine.
- Visible Invisibility: When Baines strikes the ship's invisibility field, it briefly becomes visible.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Joan delivers a devastating "The Reason You Suck" Speech in the episode's denouement. Too bad the Doctor doesn't seem to have listened.
He was braver than you, in the end — that ordinary man. You chose to change. He chose to die. … If the Doctor had never visited us, never chosen this place — on a whim — would anyone here have died?
- Though the end of the episode shows that at least two people survived because of him, thanks to Latimer's knowledge of the future.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The entire episode falls into this trope. Although a descendant of Joan Redfern has written a book about John Smith and his Journal of Impossible Things in The End of Time, the Family's attack on the village, from the disappearances to an aerial bombardment, seem to have completely vanished from English history, as the show never mentions it again.
- A valid explanation is put forward in Series 5.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: The Family certainly don't by the end.
- World War One
- The X of Y