The Doctor: “There are people coming. Well, almost…”
Amy: “Almost coming?”
The Doctor: “Almost people.”
Intercom: “Halt and remain calm!”
The Doctor: “Well, we’ve halted, how are we all doing on the ‘remain calm’ part?”
Jennifer: “I couldn’t get out of my harness. I thought I was going to die.”
Rory: “Welcome to my world.”
The Doctor: “You stopped his heart! He had a heart! Aorta, valves, a real human heart, and you stopped it!”
Amy: “Right, brilliant… lost?”
Forman Cleaves: “Okay…? Once a reading’s been taken, we can manipulate its molecular structure into anything – replicate the organism down to the hairs of its chinny-chin-chin.”
Rory: “For want of a better word: oww!”
The Doctor: “It is too dangerous out here with acid leaks!”
The Doctor: “Yes, it’s insane, and it’s about to get even more insanerer… is that a word?”
The Doctor: “Assume the positions!”
The TARDIS crash-lands onto a small island on Earth after being struck by a solar tsunami. The island is home to an acid mining complex, run by a modest sized group of workers lead by a pragmatic foreman named Cleaves. The miners utilize synthetic flesh to create replicas of themselves, called “Gangers” (short for Doppelganger), that they control from the safety of harnesses, to avoid the natural hazards involved in mining acid. The complex, normally powered by solar flares, is being bombarded by the very solar tsunamis that forced the TARDIS into landing. The Doctor attempts to evacuate the workers, before the entire factory is destroyed, but fails to do so before another tsunami strikes, causing the Gangers to gain sentience from their human controllers. The Doctor not only must keep the Gangers and humans from murdering each other out of hysteria, but somehow get them all off the island before the next solar flare kills them all.
When it comes to a typical season of Doctor Who, there is no such thing as bowling a perfect three hundred. As solid as this season has been so far, it looks like The Rebel Flesh will end up being season six’s gutter ball (though, arguably, some may give that dubious title to The Curse of the Black Spot, although I really liked that episode… pirates-in-space notwithstanding). To be fair, it may be too soon to really label this episode a dud, since it’s a two-parter, and so the story isn’t even complete yet. However, I know I didn’t much care for this episode because after the cliffhanger, I was indifferent about how the story will conclude in next week’s episode. In fact, I almost stopped the episode before the “Next Week” trailer came on at the end credits. By the way, show of hands if you didn’t predict the cliffhanger? Yes, you there, the tubeworm in the back!
The main concept of the episode is clever, but I felt the plot dragged a bit, and the tension between humans and Gangers seems forced. Hostilities between the two factions is raised to the boiling point after Cleaves, in an act that ought to be labeled “Spaz Moment of the Year” for this season, outright kills one of the Gangers with an electrical prod for no other reason than to prove the point that the Gangers are merely equipment and deserve no other treatment. Although Cleaves is a fairly unlikeable character, her act of violence wasn’t really well predicated by any character traits she displayed before, and was wholly unnecessary. None of the characters have very realistic motivations and are mostly forgettable (or in Jennifer’s case, annoying). Why does Ganger-Jennifer become so evil after one of her comrades is murdered? Sure, I expect her to be upset, but “let’s wipe them all out” upset? How does her character go from weepy “I’m just as human as the real Jennifer” to a more sinister “kill them all”? Amy has nothing to do this entire episode but have yet another encounter with the mysterious Hatch Lady, who this time says nothing. Maybe she sensed that this episode wasn’t important enough for dialogue. Meanwhile, Rory spends his time helping Ganger-Jennifer make sense of her new life.
I think the main problem I have with this episode is that it reminded me of last year’s Silurian two-parter, The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood: a small group of miners encounter a race of creatures they don’t understand, so they panic, murder one of them, and nearly cause a war of global scale. This time, the stakes don’t really seem all that high, besides The Doctor simply wanting to help new life forms have a fighting chance before they are destroyed by their creators.
The one plus I’ll grant the episode is that the special effects are great. I like the look of the Gangers, when they are in “flesh form” (resembling Otto from Deep Space Nine). There’s a neat scene where Ganger-Jennifer seamlessly switches between human and Granger. Besides taking place in a drab, uninteresting location, the overall look of the episode is good.
Perhaps next week’s “The Almost People” will wrap everything up in satisfactorily enough that it’ll salvage this episode!