Monday, 13 June 2011

Doctor Who: The Rebel Flesh

“I thought I was going to die!”

“Welcome to my world…”

I didn’t like Fear Her very much, which doesn’t exactly make me much of a contrarian, I know. Still, Life on Mars was very good, if not quite as good in hindsight as we all thought it was, so I was glad to see Matthew Graham get another chance,. We end up with this, a two parter which is really quite good, if nothing particularly special, with only a couple of little niggles.

Anyway… it’s a picturesque setting: a kind of Yorkshire St. Michael’s Mount being used as an acid factory in the 22nd century. It’s near Whitby, apparently- is this some sort of Dracula allusion? It’s as ruggedly industrial as any early Pertwee, but with much nicer architecture. And to add to the nostalgia factor we get quotes from The Invasion (“pettier than a computer, isn’t she?”).

The pre-titles sequence introduces us to our three factory workers Jennifer, Buzzer and Jimmy. The underwhelmed reaction to Jenny’s accidental “killing” of Buzzer hints at this story’s McGuffin, as does the reappearance of Buzzer, played by Life on Mars’ Marshall Lancaster.

The TARDIS is almost like a city centre pub these days, what with the dartboard and Muse’s Supermassive Black Hole. But the fact that the Doctor is having a sneaky scan of Schrodinger’s foetus at the beginning of the story, not the end, should alert us that something’s up, story-arc wise.

The Doctor, Amy and Rory disembark, and for some reason are instantly fascinated by a pip. Er, how very interesting. It’s a bit like the beginning of Fury from the Deep, except without all the tiresome suspicion for the TARDIS crew. Thank the heavens for psychic paper, which has delivered us from having to sit through loads of boring scenes with the Doctor being mistrusted by those in authority.

We meet the rest of the crew: Cleves, the boss, played by Raquel Cassidy off of Lead Balloon, and the strangely anonymous Dicken, who might as well not even be in the story. We’re also introduced to the Flesh, “fully programmable matter”, which is used to create “Gangers” to do all the dangerous work. Oh, and there’s going to be a big solar storm. Gosh, I wonder what’ll happen. After all, lightning striking artificially created human-type creatures isn’t in any way known in popular culture for bringing them to life, is it?

The inevitable happens, they’re all out for an hour, the TARDIS starts ton sink into the ground, and the Gangers have gone walkabout. Surprised? Thought not.

Rory, being a nice bloke and a burse, starts to comfort the terrified Jennifer, to Amy’s obvious annoyance. We really should realise, as the plot has been fairly predictable so far, that she’s a Ganger, and it’s not long until we get confirmation by CGI. And Cleves, it turns out, is a Ganger too. It’s all quite effective, even though it does little but run through an established list of tropes. The whole existential aspect of the Gangers being just as much a continuation of the previous self as the original is touched upon but not with any real passion or creativity. This isn’t a bad episode, but there’s certainly an element of going-through-the-motions with the plot. There just aren’t any real surprises.

Interestingly, the Doctor comments quite early on that “This is early Flesh- the early stages of the technology”. He obviously has some sort of agenda- even Jimmy can spot that. Then again, the Doctor seems to think there’s a word called “defendable”, so what does he know?

Jenny’s big speech to Rory is quite awkward, too. Sarah Smart delivers the lines well, but the dialogue is neither naturalistic nor poetic enough to get away with not being naturalistic. Again, the existential crisis of realising your memories are not your own (or are they?) is touched upon but not with any real depth.

The Doctor is forced to abandon his shoes (and in a script this predictable we know that’ll be important later), but manages to bring everyone- human and Ganger- together. It’s an ominous sign, though, that the Gangers have all the acid suits.

Arthur Darvill shows how great he is in portraying Rory’s embarrassment when Ganger Jennifer tells him that “Amy’s a lucky girl”. And as for Amy, she’s seeing that Eyepatch Lady again. She’s rather less convinced of the Gangers’ humanity than Rory, and I don’t think this is really to do with any jealousy for Jennifer. You can tell from glances between her and Rory that she knows her jealous instincts are just instincts. She’s actually being quite rational about the whole thing. Rory waited two thousand years for her- she has nothing to be jealous about and she knows it.

There’s an interesting scene in which the two Jimmys ponder the fact that they both have the same son but, again, the whole philosophical angle is quite plodding and superficial. And the Doctor’s northern accent has declined somewhat since the days when he was Christopher Eccleston.

If this already feels a bit like last year’s Silurian two-parter in that its quite good but predictable and never-really catches fire, we get a more blatant parallel in which Cleves becomes this story’s Ambrose. Once again it’s a woman who makes it all kick off. Hormones and wandering wombs? It’s like feminism never happened. Well, perhaps that’s a bit harsh; I’m sure it wasn’t actively meant like that. But it’s a little awkward.

Oh, and here’s a Ganger Doctor. Like everything else that happens it’s hardly a surprise, but it’s quite an appetiser for the next episode.

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