Only Human by Gareth Roberts

The Doctor, Rose and Jack arrive on present-day Earth to investigate a temporal distortion. When they find Das, a neanderthal trapped twenty-eighth thousand years beyond his time, Jack stays to integrate him into society while the Doctor and Rose travel back in time to solve the mystery.

This is the first book in the fiftieth anniversary range of re-releases written during the era of Doctor Who in which it is set. As such it is very much a product of the 2005 series. Many of the preoccupations Russell T. Davies injected into the reboot are here. Chief among them is the notion that every day life in early twenty-first Britain is a dull, pointless existence for those not special or imaginative enough to be able to travel through space and time. Rose is special, as she can see beyond the confines of a workaday existence, and quickly grasp otherworldly concepts. As the companion is the audience’s representative in the narrative, we are also special; imaginative enough to leave the monotony behind and come on the journey with the Doctor.

In contrast, the lives of the humans from the future, who have travelled back to prehistoric times, are even worse. While the humans of today are apparently anaesthetised by just sitting at home, or taking packaged holidays (and famously by being excited by something as mundane as new Pringle flavours); the Osterberg residents are literally anaesthetised by drugs which immediately counteract negative feelings like fear, anger and grief. Like Jedi, but office-workers. This is disturbing in itself and touches on a similar idea to The Long Game; like here, little subterfuge is required for the villain to accomplish their plan due to the lack of inquiring minds around them, and an unwillingness to face the truth. As Edmund Burke said, “all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”.

I always think that while Star Trek was concerned with non-human or almost-human characters striving to define and capture what it is to be human (Spock, Data, Seven-of-Nine), Doctor Who more often looks at the removal of humanity, both in physical and emotional terms; the Daleks and the Cybermen being the most obvious examples as aliens who rob humans of their emotions and form. Here the de-humanising is all too recognisable as the logical extension of various forms of escapism.

Rose is well-written here, perhaps unsurprisingly as Gareth Roberts has probably the best ear for real-life characters and dialogue. It’s great to see Rose’s strengths borne out of her knowledge of modern-day life (for instance in the scene where she quickly learns about Das by visiting a gossipy nail bar), and being good with people. For me this is a better way of handling her. I wasn’t keen on her saving the day quite as often as she did in her first series on television; and by The Shakespeare Code she’d been mythologised to the extent that the Doctor seems to think she would have understood the Carrionites abilities immediately, despite never having met them before.

The sequences with Captain Jack and Neanderthal Das are written through their journals, which is nice device. As well as showing Das slowly get to grips with life in modern Britain, it holds up a well thought-out mirror to it. The humour arises from Das’ literalness and complete honesty, and Jack’s uncontrollable libido.

Fast-paced, well-told stories with lots of humour are the hallmarks of Gareth Roberts’ Doctor Who, this is a great read. I also strongly recommend his Fourth Doctor Past Doctor Adventures The Well-Mannered War and The English Way of Death, and his new adaptation of Douglas Adams’ Shada.

Not read Being Human yet? Buy now from Amazon:

Doctor Who: Only Human: 50th Anniversary Edition

On Kindle:

Doctor Who: Only Human

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One thought on “Only Human by Gareth Roberts

  1. I really enjoyed this book when I originally picked it up. The scenes with Jack trying to help Das find a mate were so hilarious.

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