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Sunday, 29 May 2011

Doctor Who - Series 6 - Episodes 5 & 6 'The Rebel Flesh' & 'The Almost People' - Review

What’s the Story?

The Tardis is caught up in a solar tsunami and lands on an island monastery, where human workers are creating their own ‘doppelgangers’ to do the risky work for them, from a secret programmable matter called The Flesh. As the storm worsens however, the ’Gangers’ come to life without needing their human counterparts, and with the exact same personalities and memories the Humans and Gangers go to war to determine who will survive. As The Doctor tries to maintain peace, the story concludes with a dramatic revelation that changes everything we thought we knew…

What’s the Verdict?

Matthew Graham, writer of ‘The Rebel Flesh’ and ‘The Almost People’, has previously brought us the much maligned David Tennant episode Fear Her and the much loved cult tv favourite Gene Hunt in Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. So where do these two episodes fit within the spectrum of his past work? The answer seems to be somewhere in between.

After the wonderful ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, ‘The Rebel Flesh’ had a lot to live up to and probably wisely adopted an entirely different tone. This episode took it’s time to stoke up the atmosphere, slowly building a dark and creepy thriller with hallmarks of many sci-fi programmes and movies that have gone before. For the most part this worked, we had time to get to know the characters and their backstories, but at other points it felt a little too ponderous and too light on action.

The ‘Gangers’ were intriguing ‘villains’ and I was impressed by the creepy visual effects creating the rubbery facial features, if less so by the head of Jennifer upon an elongated snake-like neck, which erred a little too far to the silly side. I love the name ‘Ganger’ (surely someone has used it before?) and it created an interesting morality tale. Rory was given the chance to branch out on his own and it was interesting to see the dynamic between Rory and Amy shook up like this.

My main problem with ‘The Rebel Flesh’ however, was that it all felt just a little bit too predictable. Cleaves was the obvious choice to be the one to break the already fractious peace and we have seen this plot device many times to create a war in Who and many other programmes and movies. The Ganger Doctor likewise was signposted from the moment he touched The Flesh, and the whisperings of ‘Trust Me’ throughout the episode only served to confirm it. Again the visual effects were nicely done however and seeing Matt Smith in Ganger form was still a highlight even if it was expected.

It is virtually impossible to judge a two-part episode on the first part alone and this is why I have chosen to review both together, as after ‘The Almost People’, the events of both episodes take on a far greater significance. I’ll try and think about the episode without THAT ending first…

Matt Smith produced another of his finest performances to date (although it is possible to say this every week) and the Two Doctors were a lot of fun to watch. Hearing the catchphrases of previous Doctors was a lovely touch and the dialogue sparkled between The Doctor and his Ganger.

It felt like the ‘monster’ of this story took a back seat to the morality play, sometimes this was a bit heavy handed (I think we all got the ‘humans are the villains’ angle) and I can’t help wondering if the episode needed a monster at all. Especially as the CGI work again looked more silly than scary (the concept art displayed on Confidential, looked scarier than the real thing, perhaps they needed to give the creature Jennifer’s features without just plonking the whole head on the end!).

The Jennifer-Ganger and Doctor-Ganger switcheroos were again a bit predictable, not because of any physical clues, more because ‘It’s The Sort Of Thing They Do’. It did provide an interesting way to explore the Doctor and Amy’s relationship and a nice way to really prove that Gangers and their human counterparts cannot be differentiated (*FORESHADOWING ALERT*).

Most of the guest actors were given a chance to shine and they all did so, Mark Bonnar’s Jimmy was particularly moving in ‘The Almost People’, Sarah Smart did a great job with a difficult part(s) (though it was a shame the Jennifer/Rory subplot didn’t amount to more) and Raquel Cassidy and Marshall Lancaster were memorable as Cleaves and Buzzer respectively. Leon Vickers, as Dicken, should perhaps be feeling a bit short-changed through no fault of his own, underused to the extent that I had to check the credits to learn the character name.

Unfortunately, the ending did feel a little too neat. Dicken appeared to exist purely to pointlessly sacrifice himself, leaving one Human and one Ganger version of each person. It might have been more interesting to see how they would have coped with two versions of themselves, but perhaps time didn’t allow for a deeper exploration of this.

The death of the Ganger Doctor surely dispels the theories it is the Ganger Doctor that died in ‘The Impossible Astronaut‘, but with The Doctor’s parting words about molecular memory, it is possible it is not the last we will see of him.

Now we come to THAT final scene, which really puts the events of the past two episodes (and perhaps the whole series) into perspective. With Amy revealed as a Ganger all along, we understand why it was so important to slowly build the story, to learn so much about the Gangers last week. Where it felt ponderous or like being hit over the head with a hammer? Well there was a reason for that. The Gangers aren’t just monsters of the week(s) but in fact so significant to the plot that they have changed everything we thought we knew.

After spending some of this review complaining about the predictability of certain plot points across these two episodes, I have to admit I did not see this ending coming at all (I’m sure some clever people out there predicted Ganger Amy, well done you :-) ). One of the reasons I love Doctor Who is that although this twist knocked me for six, it actually makes complete sense when you look back at what has gone before. Eyepatch Lady specifically said Amy was ‘dreaming’ and we have had two whole episodes about how the Gangers are exact duplicates of the Human. This isn’t a magic pool of light or an ethereal higher power, the writers have shown great skill in signposting the truth while still managing to surprise.

To conclude, I think that without that ending, these episodes would have been viewed as solid, enjoyable if not remarkable episodes of Doctor Who. With a cliffhanger like that however, anticipation for the mid-series finale cannot be higher, although I imagine the wait until the next set of episodes will be tough I'm sure we will be given enough to speculate about in the meantime!

Best Scene

Well, there’s only one contender really here isn’t there? As The Doctor, Amy and Rory stepped into the Tardis, we knew something pivotal was about to happen. Matt Smith switches brilliantly from the humour and flippancy of his Doctor to the serious resolve, and seeing the hard look of resolution upon his face here, the sadness tinged with anger; it was clear to Amy and to the audience what he was about to do. Karen Gillan gave a fantastic performance also and you could really feel her fear and bewilderment, the two men she loves most in the world backing from her. Amy seeing that look in the Doctors eyes, knowing what he was about to do and confessing that she was frightened; it was a gripping and heartbreaking moment and one of the stand outs of the series. And then the Doctor kills her. And then she wakes up. A mind-bending but completely gripping cliffhanger that leaves me with genuinely no idea at all about how events will go in the finale. Just the way I like it. :-)

Best Lines

From 'The Rebel Flesh'

Jennifer - ‘I thought I was going to die’
Rory - ‘Welcome to my world’ - surely this confirms we are being toyed with over Rory’s frequent ‘deaths’.

 The Doctor - ‘Human lives are amazing, are you surprised they walked off with them?’
The Doctor - ‘Has anyone got a pair of shoes I could borrow? Size 10. Though I should warn you I have very wide feet’. - it’s all in the delivery!  

The Doctor - ‘Eeeeee byyyyyy baaaaah gum’
Ganger Cleaves - Oh great, you see that is just so typically me’

From ‘The Almost People’

Doctor 1 - ‘Is that what you were thinking?’
Doctor 2 - ’ Yes it’s just so inspiring to hear me say it’.

Doctor 1 - ‘I’m starting to get a sense of just how impressive it is to hang out with me’
Doctor 2 - ‘Do we tend to say Yowza?’
Doctor 1 - ’ That’s enough, let it go, we’re under stress.’

The Doctor - ‘Tough old Sexy’ - I was particularly pleased to hear this line, as I felt a pang of horror seeing the Tardis sinking into the acid last week and thought at the time The Doctor would have reacted more than he did, turns out he wasn’t worried!

Rory - ‘I’ll break out the big guns’
Jimmy - ‘I look quite handsome from this angle’ - ah humour in death, so very Doctor Who!

 Amy - ‘You’re twice the man I thought you were’
The Doctor - ‘Given what we‘ve learnt I‘ll be as humane as I can, but I need to do this and you need to STAND AWAY.
*Rory lets go of Amy‘s hand*
Amy - ‘Doctor, I am frightened. I’m properly, properly scared.
The Doctor - ‘Don’t be. Hold on. We’re coming for you, I swear, whatever happens, however hard, however far, we will find you.’
Amy - ‘I’m right here’
The Doctor - No you’re not. You haven’t been here for a long, long time’
*The Doctor steps away. He points his sonic at her*
Amy - ‘Oh no’
*The Doctor sonics Amy and she disappears*’

Oh so many questions! When was Amy switched? (and is this why she has been wearing the same shirt!!??) We first saw Eyepatch Lady in Day of The Moon so was it before then? How long has The Doctor known? Who is she giving birth to (the regenerating child?) and who is the father (if there is one as such!)? What happens now The Doctor knows he will die? Or has he always known that too? Who has kidnapped Amy and why her? The Silence? Or someone else entirely? Oh yeah, and on top of that we still have the small matters of who kills The Doctor, how does he (presumably) survive and the old favourite, who is River Song? It is highly unlikely we will get the answers to all of these next week, we may not even get the answer to one, but regardless of whether we end the episode with answers or just more questions, it is shaping up to be an absolute cracker!

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