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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- “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.
- 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?)
- 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.