I’m not surprised The Rebel Flesh started later than usual tonight. Bless the schedulers for giving parents the chance to pack smaller kids off to bed and avoid the sight of people melting in acid and the grisly Flesh people being formed. I think, perhaps, I should have packed Hat Jr off too. Not that she’s scared by any of that stuff – but it was an episode that required a bit more explanation than usual. And there wasn’t enough ghoulish stuff to keep her six-year-old brain engaged: “Doctor Who is boring without monsters…”
As an episode for older children and grown-ups though, I think it succeeded. It’s dark stuff packed with plenty to really think about (as opposed to the puzzlers that Steven Moffat likes to give us, Matthew Graham has thrown us some issues of morality to chew on). Yes, Matthew Graham – of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes (and, uh-hum, Bonekickers…).
Having opened with the chilling sight of two workers coolly leaving their colleague to dissolve (with equal sang-froid: “This is a right pain in the armour.”) in acid and worrying more about the cost of replacing his ‘acid suit’ and filling in the paperwork, Graham quickly makes it clear we’re going to have pay attention, by having them discussing the accident with the man they’ve just left to die. (Or not, obviously, but both of them had Marshall Lancaster’s face.)
While we’re worrying about this, the Doctor is clearly worrying about Amy’s on-off pregnancy results. Worried enough to actually do something – though what remains a mystery as his plan to pack Rory and Amy off for fish and chips (“take your time…”) is scuppered by a solar storm throwing the TARDIS onto the island with the acid and people wearing suits that are such a homage to Classic Who you have to hug your inner geek and grin.
It’s no surprise to find that in the 22nd century humans are still mucking about with noxious chemicals and putting profit before anything else, and it’s Doctor Who so drilling for acid is bound to go horribly wrong.
Although, of course it wouldn’t be such a disaster if the humans weren’t using doppelgangers (henceforth known as Gangers) for all the really dangerous jobs. The Gangers are copies of the humans made of ‘fully programmable matter that is learning to replicate itself at cellular level’. The Gangers are operated by the humans who are strapped into harnesses – ‘like driving a forklift truck’. Unfortunately, the Gangers aren’t just plastic models, they have thoughts and memories and feelings too. (Just like a certain Roman Centurion I could name.) How the Doctor keeps his temper as the humans disrespect the ‘gunge’ that they so carelessly pile they thoughts and feelings into, I just don’t know.
When the second wave of the solar storm hits, the people are all knocked out and the Gangers have escaped – or have they? Quelle surprise, the Gangers are now operating independently of their makers – and the solar storm’s magnetic quakes have ripped holes in the factory’s pipes leaving acid pouring everywhere. As the Doctor says: “A lot can go wrong in an hour.”
Talking of which, we don’t just have the Gangers and the acid to worry about, there’s also Rory and Amy. I love the way Rory’s character has grown – he’s still recognisable as the lunkhead from The Eleventh Hour, but dying several times over, waiting 2,000 years for Amy, travelling with the Doctor have all turned him into a quiet hero. Last week he was the one staying calm as the TARDIS became a potential deathtrap, this week he’s the one empathising with Jennifer’s Ganger and seeing things from more than one side. And Amy doesn’t look entirely chuffed about it.
The Doctor attempts to bring the humans and Gangers together, but is foiled by Cleaves killing Buzzer’s Ganger (a little too reminiscent of Ambrose in The Hungry Earth, but people are very predictable are they not?) and we’re left to watch both ‘teams’ declaring it’s ‘them or us’ and planning for war.
Lesser dramas would hit the button for the end titles there. But, there’s one last twist (though I did see it coming) – the Flesh has formed another Ganger. One that says: “Trust me. I’m the Doctor…”
Other stuff to love:
- The TARDIS has a dartboard…
- The Doctor measuring something with a snowglobe. I know his pockets are bigger on the inside, but he makes the average mum’s bag look understocked.
- Rory: “My mum’s a massive fan of Dusty Springfield.” Doctor: “Who isn’t?” Who knew he had such good taste in music?
- The Doctor off to try and cut the factory’s power: “I’ve got to get to that cockeral before all hell breaks loose. [pause, beams] I never thought I’d get to say that again.”
- Rory, coming round from being knocked out: “For want of a better word, ‘ow’.”
- The Doctor spotting Cleaves’ Ganger and proving it with a piping hot plate.
- When Amy realises Rory is missing. The Doctor: “Oh Rory. Rory! Always with the Rory.”
- The Terminator-3 flexibility of the Gangers – though without Robert Patrick’s hotness sadly.
- The perfect evocation of childhood memories: “I can still feel how sore my toes got inside my red wellie boots.”
Outstanding questions this week:
- The Doctor seems to know what he’s looking for when they first arrive, though is conveniently saved from having to confirm they’ve arrived ‘by accident’ when Rory burns himself on some old acid. How does he know about the ‘almost people’?
- What does he mean by “This is early Flesh. The early stages of the technology. So much to learn.”?
- When the Doctor tells Cleaves she’s crossed the line by killing one of them and that they’re coming back “in a big way”, am I alone in thinking he’s seeing a much bigger picture than we might think?
- Eye-patch lady (Frances Barber) gets two look-ins this week. What does she mean?
- Watching with the subtitles on second time round, the Doctor’s Ganger’s lines are actually. “Trust me. I’m the Doctor. I have a plan.” Probably not important, but don’t say I don’t share this stuff with you.
Posted by Jo the Hat