Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Doctor Who: The Almost People


The brief tour of previous Doctors is fairly inconsequential, I suppose, but it’s fun. And it’s good to hear Tom Baker’s voice again. And it’s fine for Cybermats to get a mention. Just let’s never see them again, ok?

There are now two Doctors; the Doctor in stereo. Both of them are loving it, bouncily encouraging each others’ Doctorish ways. Still, you can tell them apart from their shoes, of course... But why are both Doctors imploring Amy to “breathe”? And you can tell that underneath it all they’re stressed. They’d never normally use words like “yowser”.

The whole ethical can of worms opened by the Gangers’ existence is dealt with much more effectively and powerfully in this episode, although this leads us to a bit of awkwardness at the very end. Flesh Jennifer is starting to remember her previous lives: the eyes are the last bit to go, as we’ll later find out with a more horrifying wall of eyes than anything we saw (or would have, if there was any footage) in Marco Polo. But we’re getting splits; Flesh Jennifer wants all-out revolution but Flesh Cleaves, in contrast to her counterpart, just wants a quiet life. It’s an interesting microcosm of the politics of resistance- Malcolm X vs. Martin Luther King, perhaps. The only trouble is that this feels pretty much exactly like every Silurian story there’s ever been- the same ethical dilemma, reheated. It’d Old Silurian vs. Young Silurian all over again.

Amy is clearly not prepared to accept the Flesh Doctor, insisting that only the original is “really” the Doctor. Everyone else, with varying degrees of subtlety, implicitly accepts this, and they are both treated differently. It’s an interesting commentary on everyday racism; “Smith” is tolerated only conditionally, treated with suspicion and, as we’ll find, not really considered “human” or deserving of the same rights. This is the most chilling thing about this episode, and Amy is absolutely complicit.

Amy sees the eyepatch woman again, and this time mentions it to the Doctor; we know that this sub-plot is going to come to a head now, as if we didn’t already know as soon as we saw the recap of last week’s incident in the “previously on Doctor Who” bit. And even if we didn’t suspect it already then the Doctor’s pooh-poohing is a dead giveaway.

There’s a real awkwardness between Amy and “Smith” , but she still thinks of him as “almost” the Doctor, and takes the opportunity to confide in him because she saw the Doctor die at his own invitation. But that’s ok, because he’s not the “real” Doctor. Right? Certainly the real Doctor would never lash out at Amy like that.

Rory, meanwhile, gets taken for a ride by Flesh Jennifer, bless him. Still, Jennifer has a sort of point, if she can indeed remember her previous “selves” being slowly and horribly killed every single day, rotting away while fully conscious. Still, there’s no denying that Rory comes across as a bit of a gullible twonk.

There’s a very revealing scene in which “Smith” and Buzzer find the dead “real” Jenny, who’s been unconscious all this time. Buzzer just knocks him out on orders from “the boss”. After all, he’s not human.

It’s quite a contrast when “Smith” wakes up among the Gangers, who instantly accept him. After all, he’s one of their own.

We’re starting to see how similar both versions of the same character are, though. Both versions of Cleves are stuck with an inoperable blood clot. And both versions of Jimmy love the same little boy, even if he isn’t exactly the greatest of child actors.

The end of the main plot, shortly after Jenny goes all Lazarus Experiment, is sudden but well-judged. The TARDIS tumbles into the correct underground chamber in the nick of time. Everyone piles into the TARDIS, but Cleaves’ Ganger stays behind for a bit of a noble sacrifice. I’m glad to see that the character (both versions)  is actually rather more well-rounded than seemed the case last episode.

Joining her in the heroic death stakes is none other than the Doctor. Or rather the Ganger Doctor; they swapped shoes, meaning we’ve had them the wrong way round all along, a nice trick. But that means Amy told… oops. At last she comes to realise that the Flesh is as real as the original Doctor. After all, he’s managed to convince her of that for most of the episode. Interestingly, though, as she gives hem a farewell hug, he tells her to “Push, Amy. But only when she tells you to.” What’s that all about, eh?

The “real” Doctor also lets slip that he understands exactly what Amy has told him. As the Flesh Doctor muses that “My death arrives, I suppose”, the “real” Doctor adds “But this one we’re not invited to.” Oh dear.

There’s a bit of handwavium in evidence as the Doctor miraculously cures Cleaves and the TARDIS miraculously “stabilises” the surviving Ganger versions of Jimmy and Dicken. But why’s the Doctor telling Amy to breathe so often now? We find out immediately, as the contractions start. It seems both Amy and the Doctor have been keeping secrets from each other. The Doctor announces that he “needed to see the Flesh in its early days. That’s why we were here in the first place.”- he just needed enough information to block the signal to the Flesh. The Flesh, that is, that Amy’s mind is currently inhabiting while her body goes into contractions, many light years and many centuries away.

But there’s a problem with the Doctor just zapping Flesh Amy. Yes, we get a “Given what we’ve learned I’ll be as humane as I can”, and yes, it’s a quick death with no slow, fully-conscious rotting with lingering eyes. But we’re left with a very nasty sense that the Doctor has just murdered a sentient being. It’s a pity, especially as a quick line of dialogue to the effect that later Flesh aren’t sentient would have been all we needed.

Amy wakes up, and the Eyepatch Lady tells her to push…

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