Written by: Gareth Roberts
Reprinted in 2013 to celebrate the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary
Publisher: BBC Books Edition
Paperback: 240 pages
Available as a kindle ebook and an unabridged Audible Audiobook from Amazon.
Only Human is a story about the Ninth Doctor, featuring companions Rose Tyler and Captain Jack Harkness. The tale starts out in modern-day Bromley, where a Neanderthal man, Das, finds himself at a fancy dress party. The Doctor and Rose travel back to the Paleolithic Era to find the time-travel source, while Captain Jack Harkness tries to help Das adjust to the modern world. The Doctor and Rose find advanced humans studying groups of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. As they seek to understand the mysteries of the advanced humans, it becomes evident there is a non-human threat as well.
The Ninth Doctor fits well in Only Human, in part because he is one of the more skeptical doctors in his attitude towards humans. The plight of a Neanderthal in modern England who will be the last of his kind mirrors the Doctor’s own struggle coming out of the Time Wars. The Doctor can empathize with the plight of Das, while also connecting the guilt he feels for his role in Gallifrey’s destruction to the part Homo sapiens had in the extinction of the Neanderthals.
Only Human is an apt title, whether or not you include Neanderthals under the heading of “human.” The Doctor refers to the extinction of Neanderthals at the hands of Homo sapiens. Whether Neanderthals went extinct because of warfare or competition for resources, it’s clear that Homo sapiens was the historical “winner.” In Only Human we see mankind’s failings magnified at two ends of the spectrum. On the one hand, war and violence dominate in a primitive world. On the other, the scientific control of natural human responses leads to inhumanity towards others.
Gareth Roberts is a British writer who is well known for his involvement with Doctor Who since the 1990s. Robert has written for every Doctor Who medium, including television, novels, short stories, audio plays, comics, magazines, and a stage play. He’s known for his humorous approach and is well versed in the Doctor Who universe, having created a great deal of it. Some of his other novels include The Highest Science (Seventh Doctor), Tragedy Day (Seventh Doctor), Zamper (Seventh Doctor), The Romance of Crime (Fourth Doctor), The English Way of Death (Fourth Doctor), The Plotters (First Doctor), The Well-Mannered War (Fourth Doctor), and I am Dalek (Tenth Doctor). Roberts also wrote a novelization of Douglas Adams’ TV story Shada (Fourth Doctor), which is one of our favorite Doctor Who books.
Despite Roberts’ extensive experience writing in media that limit narrative to dialogue, he successfully uses internal monologue in the story through the log entries by Jack and Das. The juxtaposition between Das and Jack’s perspectives of the Neanderthals’ adjustment to the modern world is one of the most entertaining aspects of Only Human. Roberts did not use descriptive elements as much as we would expect in a novel, but the richness of the Doctor Who universe makes up for it. There is little about the TARDIS or the relationship between the Doctor and his companions that need to be explained to the Doctor Who aficionado. Even without extensive descriptions or point-of-view narratives conveying character motivations, the reader feels immersed in the story.
One of the things we love about the Doctor Who universe is how we have new opportunities to learn the stories of past Doctors through novels, audio plays, and short stories. Christopher Eccleston’s portrayal of the Ninth Doctor gave us the wit and charm we expect, while also conveying the complex feelings of a man who has witnessed the destruction of his entire world.
On the other hand, we are big fans of Captain Jack Harkness. Jack’s references to different places in time and space keep us connected to the sci fi element in this anthropologically-heavy tale. Robert is able to show us the preening, eager-to-please Jack Harness from the early seasons of Doctor Who—not the dark, know-it-all Jack from Torchwood. When describing Das’s integration into the modern world, Jack says, “I had to turn off Farscape and Deadwood before he saw them and picked up some very mad ideas. So it’ll be a long job, but I’m gonna do it. I’ll wow the Doctor and Rose.”
It was really fun to have Jack and Das back on Earth as a second storyline. It’s hilarious to hear Das describe Jack’s arrogance, need for stimulation, and misinterpretation. In his first log, Das says, “Jack thinks he knows everything, but he just knows more about this time than me. It doesn’t mean he understands life in general at all.” Das loves desserts, but thinks socks and cutlery are useless. Das is a great character because even though he is an ancient man trapped in the modern world, he is brave, smart, and independent.
The advanced humans studying prehistoric Earth were written to be oddly unemotional, but at times it was hard to tell them apart because of this. The storyline about their evolution was interesting, but the nature of the characters meant it was hard to feel invested in them. On the other hand, the prehistoric Homo sapiens and Neanderthals were each interesting characters, and their inclusion enriched the story.
The unabridged audiobook version of Only Human is 4 hours and 55 minutes long, and is published by BBC Worldwide Limited.The audiobook is narrated by Anthony Stewart Head. His involvement with Doctor Who began in 2002 as the voice of a character in the miniseries Death Comes to Time. Head has been involved in the new television series as a narrator for Doctor Who documentaries and Doctor Who Confidential. He also appeared in the 2006 episode “School Reunion.”
Anthony Head is a renowned actor known for his roles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Merlin, and Little Britain, as well as stage productions. Head has also been narrating audiobooks since 1999, when he recorded A Line In The Sand by Gerald Seymour. He is best known for narrating the Paul Temple series, and has also narrated the Doctor Who book The Nightmare of Black Island, amongst other novels.
Head provides a skillful narration in Only Human. He is able to distinguish characters through accent and inflection without distracting the listener. Though watchers of the television show only had one season to become familiar with Christopher Eccleston’s depiction of the Ninth Doctor, his northern accent distinguishes him just as much as his leather jacket and melancholic character. Head is able to bring the dialogue of the Ninth Doctor to life not only through the accent, but by expressing his cynicism through a restrained performance. We are also transported when Head performs the American accented dialogue of Captain Jack Harkness.
Only Human provides an opportunity to see the Ninth Doctor in action within a clever Earth-based storyline. The classic theme of Man’s inhumanity to Man is the perfect landscape to showcase the Ninth Doctor and still-new companion Rose. The inclusion of Neanderthal Das and the always entertaining Jack Harkness turned a simple story into an engaging novel. Only Human is a well-written book that will allow the reader (or listener) to escape, albeit temporarily, to the world of Doctor Who.