The plot of the novel begins shortly after the events of Sanctuary where the Doctor finds a device that could make him human so as to better understand Benny. They land at a school for boys in 1914 in the time period right before the outbreak of World War I where the Doctor becomes Dr. John Smith a history teacher and Benny just lives in the village. It is revealed however that the pod that made the Doctor a human being was placed in the marketplace as a way for the Aubertides, a family of aliens who reproduce by budding, to track down a Time Lord so they can gain the power of immortality. They invade the school and chaos ensues with Smith falling in love with science teacher Joan Redford. Benny is the one who has to protect John Smith following his list of instructions as the pod containing the Doctor was stolen by a bullied student Timothy Dean who gets informed on what he has to do by the mind within the pod. Cornell’s plot is first and foremost an emotional one as characters build these deep relationships over the nine week period between the prologue and Chapter 1. There is also a second half with high action and subplots involving the Eternal Death who makes a deal with the Doctor to have John Smith when the Time Lord returns and with Timothy as a way to get what she wants and so he can see the future.
Yes John Smith and the Doctor are two very different characters who have the same ideals but go about their actions in very different ways. John Smith is what the Doctor would be if he was a human being as he doesn’t want to see people get hurt. He makes a real connection with these kids in the same way as the film Dead Poet’s Society. He gives Tim life advice, but it is awful as he is trying to fit in with the other teachers at the school who are undeniably British. He also doesn’t want to become the Doctor at the end of the novel as he knows he will no longer be himself even when he sees what will become of Gallifrey and Romana and Flavia along with it who both are executed by the Aubertides for not giving up the Time Lord’s secrets which is very selfish. This is in stark contrast to the Doctor who actually becomes the selfless one as he makes sure everyone gets through history which still causes him emotional trauma. They both work as characters and show exactly why the Doctor cannot be a human being.
Benny and Joan are also foil characters for this novel as Joan is Smith’s companion to the novel where she is kind of helpless as she is a woman. Benny calls Joan a racist which is apt for the time period as she doesn’t like anyone of color, African, Asian, Indian or otherwise. Joan is the complete product of the time while Benny sees past the pasts problems. Benny is paired up with a gay man called Alexander Shuttleworth who is having a relationship with another man and she doesn’t care. She supports the suffragette movement and when two of the Aubertides claim to be the Tenth Doctor and a companion, she is the one who sees through it while Joan just wants to give them what they want and have her happy little life with John Smith. Alexander is a great sidekick as he is going against the early twentieth century stereotype of gay people as he is the courageous one while others are cowardly to fight.
Now let’s talk about Tim who has his own subplot which begins with the other boys having a fake trial and actually hanging him with a noose while others look on and watch because he seems to be a coward. He actually dies and Death gives him his life back so she can have the life force of John Smith. Tim is also the only rational one as he doesn’t know how to deal with bullies in the best way as he has a friend to help him through. Cornell points this out especially as one friend or ally is all that it really takes to be able to get through it. Tim’s little arc is great as he earns the respect of the others in his dorm through the story while the bullies lose any respect. Finally let’s talk about the villains who are evil incarnate. They want to be immortal and will kill anyone who gets in their way. Heck they set off a fusion bomb just so they can try and get the Time Lord essence. Here unlike the television adaptation they are all killed, one by a Time Lord who was already on the campus of the school. They are also more creepy here as they all sort of act almost human, but not quite.
To summarize, Human Nature deserves the reputation and it is perfect even if my favorite novel is still All-Consuming Fire. 100/100