“I’m telling you, when something runs towards you it’s never for a nice reason.”

dw605_001445The Rebel Flesh’ by Matthew Graham had a lot to live up to, namely as the writers last Doctor Who story was ‘Fear Her’, generally regarded as one of the worst of the new series episodes.

It is therefore a relief that this episode was a triumph. Not (yet) reaching the heights of ‘The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon’ or ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ but slightly better than ‘Curse of the Black Spot’.

This shouldn’t have been a big surprise. Matthew Graham is clearly a good writer, as shown by his work on ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes.’ Even ‘Fear Her’ had some positive parts, noticeably the emotional resonance of a lonely child and her fear of her abusive father.

It is this same area in which ‘The Rebel Flesh’ is strongest. At it’s core it is a story about identity. It is a theme that science fiction likes to explore time and time again, from ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ to ‘Blade Runner’ to the recent series of  ‘Battlestar Galatica.’

At this point the question isn’t ‘Who is a Ganger?’ but ‘Is a Ganger a person?’ That may change later but the drama of this first episode was whether these duplicates of the real crew actual people or monsters?

Coupled with that is the question of if humanity can ever use a proxy to perform tasks. Whether it be using robots, Ood or artificially grown people is it ever more than a form of slavery?

The opening perfectly demonstrates this. When Buzzer’s ganger falls into a vat of acid, thanks in no small part to Jennifer, they treat it as a minor inconvenience, rather than a tragedy. At most Jimmy complains about the loss of an expensive acid resistant suit. Only in the last shot do we see the agonised face of the ganger melting into the acid.

The Doctor has always believed that all life is precious and it is clear he believes it is morally wrong to create life to act as a tool. No surprise then he is mind melding with tubs of goo and giving speeches about eggs in jelly. This puts him at odds with the crew who clearly put a lower value on the life of a ganger.

The pacing of the story is slower, but in a deliberate way. There is an uneasy sense of anticipation. We know that the Gangers and humans are going to be turn against each other, even before the storm, and so does the Doctor.

From the hints given so far the Doctor seems to know the events that are about to happen. It is something akin to his behaviour in ‘Waters of Mars’ or ‘The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood.’ He is fighting the inevitable.

Matt Smith puts in a twitchy, paranoid performance for this episode. The warmth and confidence of the previous episodes has been replaced with awkward silences, fidgeting and sideway glances. Something about this is making the Doctor uncomfortable. He isn’t telling his companions everything leading us to doubt whether we can trust him.

This helps create the mood for the whole episode. The humans are afraid of their duplicates, an incident on the Isle of Sheppey providing a cautionary tale of a rogue Ganger killing his operator.

In return the Ganger question their own existence. They remember everything the original does, they have the same thoughts. As copies they are all too aware that they won’t be treated as real people and may even be destroyed.

Thankfully both sides aren’t instantly hostile towards each other, instead only one member in each camp is a bad egg. On the human side Miranda is determined to regain control, even if it means electrocuting people with her makeshift cattle prod.

While Miranda’s ganger is almost serene about what is happening it is the quiet Jennifer’s ganger who prompts the others to go to war. In her scene with Rory she reminisced about being lost as a child and imagining she had a stronger twin. Does she now view herself as this more confident duplicate?

I think we can sympathise with both camps. Particularly effective  is the scene between Jimmy and his ganger, both claiming the son as their own. From the ganger perspective how could anyone tell you the child you love and remember being born isn’t yours? Equally how terrible would it feel to hear a mistake of science tell you that your son is his?

The supporting cast do a great job of selling the situation. They are convincing as every day people, even if the situation is bizarre. Raquel Cassidy is able to show both sides of Foreman Miranda in her twin roles, Mark Bonnair is likeable and level headed as Jimmy and the ever reliable Marshall Lancaster brings all the naivety and uncertainty that he displayed as DC Chris Skelton in ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes.’

dw605_001343Special mention should be made of Sarah Smart as Jennifer. She has the difficult task of eliciting both sympathy and fear from the audience. There was the danger that she could have come across as whiny or needy but her agony over finding out she isn’t human is convincing, enough to make us believe that Rory would be protective of her.

This is quite a character development for Rory. For the first time here is someone who needs him. Jennifer isn’t as strong as Amy and it is clearly a new experience for him, to have a woman turn to him for comfort.

There is also the fact that he has been in a similar situation when he was an auton, fighting against his preprogramed killer instinct. He knows what it is like to doubt who you are, despite the memories in your head.

At this point I don’t think that Rory is in love with Jennifer. He feels protective towards her and angry that Amy would dismiss her as less than human. For once he is standing his ground and doing what he believes is right.

The smaller, unspoken moments in this episode are great and speak volumes. Amy’s surprise when she sees Rory comforting Jennifer and her approving, but cautious, nod indicates that she is both worried and proud of Rory.

Similarly in a later scene Rory is shocked to find Jennifer is holding his hand, with Amy watching in the background. He tries to get Jennifer to release him but her hold remains fast.

The setting of an ancient monastery turned into an acid pumping station is brilliantly done, thanks to clever location work combining several castles and ruins into one place. It feels isolated, ancient and otherworldly.

I’m not a huge fan of Murray Gold’s work (he can be a little bombastic) but I found that his music heightened the drama of this episode. Particularly the distorted theme he provided the marching gangers, highlighting their malfunctioning nature.

Not everything worked. It seems a bit strange that this episode was set on 22nd century Earth. A solar tsunami is lighting up the sky and causing earthquakes yet it is treat as a natural occurrence for our world.

Similarly the idea that acid is being mined and piped to the main land doesn’t ring true. I’m not aware of any such mining or a particular need for acid as a natural resource. It seems a very alien practice for Earth.

Still, this does add to the off kilter feel for this episode. It is like our world but different.

The worst moment was probably the Jennifer ganger stretching her neck through the toilet door like a snake. The effect wasn’t convincing nor added anything to the horror of the situation. In the end it came of as a little silly.

dw605_001656This was the only low point for the special effects. The design of the gangers was simple but effective, giving them a different shade of skin and softer features. They were both strangely beautiful and offputtingly half formed.

The cliff hanger ended not on the imminent peril of one of the cast but the revelation that there is Doctor ganger. Demonstrating the advantages of the ganger design he was recognisable but deeply uncomfortable to look at, especially with his little smile at the end.

What will the presence of this double mean? In theory he should be just as benevolent as the original but the real Doctor’s reaction suggests that this is not a good development. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

So far this is turning out to be the best season of Who yet.

This entry was posted in 11th Doctor, First Thoughts, The Rebel Flesh. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to “I’m telling you, when something runs towards you it’s never for a nice reason.”

  1. Pingback: ‘The Rebel Flesh’ Reviews and Extras | Entertainment Blogs

  2. Matthew C says:

    Do you really think this is the best season of Who yet? Better than Season 18, 26 or in the BBC Wales verion, series 1? That is one disturbing suggestion.

  3. etheruk1 says:

    Season 18 had ‘Leisure Hive’, ‘Meglos’ and ‘Keeper of Traken’ all of which can be a bit of trial to get through. The rest of that season was great, especially ‘Warrior’s Gate’ and ‘State of Decay’.

    Season 26 is brilliant, with some of my favoriate episodes of Dr Who. Only ‘Battlefield’ is below par but that still has the Brigadier and an interesting ‘noble’ villain. Season 25 would have been perfect if not for ‘Silver Nemesis’.

    Series 1 had ‘Aliens of London/World War Three’ , ‘The Long Game’ and ‘Boom Town’. The series was finding its feet in terms of tone but Aliens of London introduced farting aliens and pig men while Long Game is quite dull and has the Doctor unfairly punish Adam.

    I have a hard time thinking of Classic Who in terms of Seasons because so much of it (pre-80s) I watched as individual stories. So really my comment was directed towards the New series.

    I thought last season of Who was really good, let down only by ‘Victory of the Daleks’ and ‘The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood’ but so far I’ve not been disappointed with any story of this season.

    If the quality can be maintained this will be the first season of Who I could see myself rewatching every episode.

  4. dailypop says:

    Outstanding article (as always). I like how you touched upon the aspects of the script and cast in a very thorough and insightful manner.

    Series 5 got me re-invested with the new Doctor Who. The 6th series has been a mixed affair for me, with The Doctor’s Wife a very definite bomb in my opinion (yes, I know the rest of the planet adored it). The two-part opener was very good, but it bothers me that so much of the story remains untold. We may have to wait until episode 12 or 13 for a resolution and that is a long way away. Curse of the Black Spot was entertaining, but a bit empty.

    Even so, The Rebel Flesh was outstanding and I hope that part two will continue to develop the storyline. It has a lot of the qualities that I hold essential to a good classic adventure with thankfully very few of the usual BBC Wales additions.

  5. John Nor says:

    “From the hints given so far the Doctor seems to know the events that are about to happen. It is something akin to his behaviour in ‘Waters of Mars’ or ‘The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood.’ He is fighting the inevitable.”

    Yes I noticed something was going on that the Doctor isn’t quite letting on about, now this is interesting – the Doctor either has been to this monastery-refinery before, or else he’s read about it in history books and knows “how the story goes”. The lines from the Ponds saying their arrival was “an accident, wasn’t it?” and the Doctor’s response almost seem to suggest he’s actually guided them here.

    So if he knows the 22nd Century history, can he actually change it, unlike The Waters of Mars? It’s a curious element of the story.

    “Amy’s surprise when she sees Rory comforting Jennifer and her approving, but cautious, nod indicates that she is both worried and proud of Rory.”

    Yes all of this storyline is subtly done, there’s various moments with the Ponds in the background continuing this debate even when there’s other events in the foreground. You mention in the comments the “rewatchability” of this season-so-far and I would agree, it’s things like that which make it highly rewatchable.

    I’d also agree it’s shaping up to be an all-time-great Doctor Who season.

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