“Only Human” by Gareth Roberts (2005) — Doctor Who

Synopsis

A “dirty” rip in time and a Nean­derthal in 21st Cen­tu­ry Lon­don. That’s enough to draw the Doctor’s atten­tion. How­ev­er, when­ev­er and wher­ev­er he came from, the Doc­tor can’t get Das the Nean­derthal back to his own time with­out the effects of time trav­el killing him, so the Doc­tor enlists Cap­tain Jack Hark­ness to mind him for a month to accli­mate him to the 21st Cen­tu­ry while the Doc­tor and Rose inves­ti­gate the past, only to find a par­ty of sci­en­tists from the future exper­i­ment­ing on humanity’s ancestors.

It starts with just a sim­ple home exper­i­ment: all Chan­tal want­ed to do was make a few improve­ments to the fam­i­ly’s pet cat to keep it from pee­ing on the car­pet. That, and maybe make it a lit­tle more effi­cient in catch­ing mice. And maybe improve its inter­nal biol­o­gy. And pos­si­bly make it a lit­tle smarter, too. Per­haps being able to pass these traits on to its descen­dents also would be a good idea. It was a nice after­noon’s work, and Chan­tal, a very bright pre-teen, was very suc­cess­ful, because the mice were soon gone, but her par­ents were very cross with her for using her Mom’s lab­o­ra­to­ry for her exper­i­ment with­out their per­mis­sion. It was a les­son Chan­tal would not for­get: when doing things like this, do them where they won’t be eas­i­ly seen. And just in case, edit her­self to remove those pesky lit­tle human traits like com­pas­sion and empa­thy which only get in her way.

That’s what she’s doing in the dis­tant past: mak­ing improve­ments on ear­ly man, to make them bet­ter hunters. Which, if allowed to con­tin­ue, would com­plete­ly change human his­to­ry by wip­ing out Homo Sapi­ens’s ances­tors and com­plete­ly negate her own time­line, but she does­n’t care about that. Nor does she care about her asso­ciates, using them as handy meals for her exper­i­ments. And to keep her asso­ciates from dis­cov­er­ing the truth, she manip­u­lates their “pop­pers” to dope them with mood-enhanc­ing drugs, keep­ing them docile. Except for one, who eschews the “pop­pers” but he does­n’t count.

This is where (and when) the Doc­tor and Rose come barg­ing in. The Doc­tor is quick to real­ize that some­thing is very wrong, many some­things. But Chan­tal is maybe just as smart as a Time Lord, although cer­tain­ly not as expe­ri­enced, but its enough to cap­ture the Doc­tor and Rose and slap the Doc­tor with a “pop­per” pack to manip­u­late him. For­tu­nate­ly his Time Lord phys­i­ol­o­gy is capa­ble of final­ly over­com­ing their effects. But because Chan­tal still has Rose, he is forced to coop­er­ate until Chan­tal makes the mis­take the Doc­tor near­ly did with Das: when Chan­tal fool­ish­ly attempt­ed to return to the future, the unshield­ed effects of time trav­el destroyed her.

Mean­while, Das is find­ing the 21st Cen­tu­ry to be a host of mar­vels, although his cul­tur­al skills need some work, but he is capa­ble of learn­ing. He finds tele­vi­sion mys­ti­fy­ing (he likes watch­ing “Are You Being Served” so there’s no account­ing for taste) and the food mar­velous. He even finds friends and affec­tion. Cap­tain Jack, along with a psy­chic cred­it card sup­plied by the Doc­tor, helps him find a place to stay until he is able to live on his own.

Commentary

What is the def­i­n­i­tion of human, and just who is human? That’s the ulti­mate ques­tion here, with the two con­tes­tants in the human­i­ty con­test being Das the Nean­derthal from the dis­tant past and Chan­tal the sci­en­tist from the dis­tant future.

Appearance

Das cer­tain­ly does­n’t look quite human. In fact, when the Doc­tor first encoun­ters him in a hos­pi­tal, he assures the nurse that his appear­ance is the result of acromegaly. Chan­tal on the oth­er hand is human­i­ty per­fect­ed in the looks depart­ment. Every human of her time peri­od was the recip­i­ent of gen­er­a­tions of genet­ic manip­u­la­tion and are as phys­i­cal­ly per­fect as possible.

Actions

Das is a hunter from a prim­i­tive hunter / gath­er­er soci­ety but that does­n’t mean he’s stu­pid. In fact, while he is very tak­en with the 21st Cen­tu­ry, he is not over­whelmed by it, although he does­n’t under­stand much of it, or applies his own lim­it­ed expe­ri­ences to it. He does make friends, start­ing with Cap­tain Jack and sev­er­al oth­ers, and even gets a job and a wife.

Chan­tal, on the oth­er hand, while being extreme­ly smart from a very advanced civ­i­liza­tion, is com­plete­ly devoid of any feel­ings toward any­one else, pos­si­bly even toward her­self. She made sure of that, edit­ing them out of her brain and mind as eas­i­ly as she edits chro­mo­somes. She’s all alone with exper­i­ments, on whom she dotes as their cre­ator and as the finest exam­ple of her genius, one that will live on as a liv­ing tes­ta­ment to her.

Final Results

And it all comes down to this: human isn’t so much as how one looks as how one acts to oth­ers. In this case, Das wins hands down because Das is a nice per­son under­neath his pre­his­toric appear­ance, while the phys­i­cal­ly attrac­tive Chan­tal does not play nice with her toys, which is about what her com­pan­ions and assis­tants are to her, if not lunch for her pets.

Summary

Mind Control:

  • “Poppers” – drug packs that enforce com­pli­ant feel­ings although Chan­tal can manip­u­late the drug dosages to pro­duce oth­er emo­tion­al states. Most all of the future humans wear them.

 Bad Stuff:

  • The sto­ry of Das and Cap­tain Jack, two men from wide­ly dif­fer­ent times, try­ing to nav­i­gate 21st Cen­tu­ry life would have an inter­est­ing read all by itself. (Das and Jack in a road trip movie?)

 Good Stuff:

  • Chan­tal, the cheer­ful­ly psy­chot­ic psy­cho­path­ic sociopath or is it socio­path­ic psychopath?
  • Das watch­ing “Are You Being Served?” reruns and “Car­ry On” movies.
  • The Sacred Fish of Mat­ri­mo­ny. I was wait­ing for the Fish Slap­ping Dance, though, with­out luck.

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