Series 6, Episode 6: The Almost People

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“Why? Why should we have to suffer for human beings?”

Hmm. Tricky one to review this – with that sudden dramatic switch in emphasis to the overall story arc in the last five minutes, it’s actually more like trying to assess the differing qualities of two episodes. Not since Utopia has an episode’s last few scenes changed the nature of the story so much. And yet, both aspects of the story informed each other in a way that made it, overall, rather better than last week’s somewhat predictable opener.

To start with though, the conclusion to the actual story of the Flesh and the Gangers was itself less of a predictable beast. As I said last week, there are some interesting, albeit familiar, themes being dealt with here, and even with the plot advancement being signalled a mile off as if by giant semaphore flags, both episodes dealt with them well, with some good dialogue and interesting characterisation.

What marked the conclusion out as rather more interesting, though, was the inclusion of the Ganger Doctor. Matt Smith was clearly relishing the possibilities available here, with two equally manic and excitable Eleventh Doctors to play with! The Ganger’s ‘post-regenerative trauma’, as it tried to sort through the information in a man who’s had eleven personalities, was a joy of fanwank as we heard lines from Hartnell, Pertwee, and then, marvellously, the actual voice of Tom Baker emerged to enquire as to the desirability of a jelly baby. But once settled down as Eleven, the Ganger made a great double act with the original Doctor, and their indistinguishability – apart from their shoes – became one of the key plot points.

Kudos again to director Julian Simpson for making the split screen shots of both Doctors work so well and look so effortless. And kudos to writer Matthew Graham for using the concept to further interestingly explore the nature of the artificial Flesh, and its status as a being in its own right. The Ganger Doctor was key to this, but as we later found out, there was a far more dramatic revelation in store.

The title, if I can get a bit fanwanky myself, seemed to encapsulate the theme. It seemed to me reminiscent of Ben Aaronovitch’s Virgin New Adventure title The Also People, which in itself I always thought derived from a line in Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – “the things are also people”. That, in a nutshell, was the theme of the story overall. The Flesh was more than a tool or a thing. Like Data in Star Trek TNG’s Measure of a Man, it had become a sentient being that should be accorded the rights of all other sentient beings.

This was illustrated in some actually quite graphic and horrifying ways. The pile of still conscious Ganger cast offs that Jennifer showed Rory was perhaps the most disturbing, with their still moving eyes and mouths. But perhaps more unnerving still was Ganger Jennifer’s assertion that she remembered every death she’d experienced as Flesh.

Here, though, we did see some more of the predictability emerge as to where these characters were going. As with, again, every Silurian story ever, Jennifer was clearly going to be the militant, driven Ganger who would stop at nothing to start a war out of bitterness, clearly for revenge. Her ultimate transformation into an almost well-realised deformed shrieking monster came as no particular surprise. Nor, given the setup last week, did Jimmy’s Ganger having to ultimately replace him as little Adam’s dad when the original Jimmy died. There was pathos, sure, but that was paint-by-numbers plotting.

Rather better was the treatment of Cleaves, with Raquel Cassidy again being magnetic in a dual role. It was fitting for the concept that Cleaves’ Ganger should be the first to experience cynical disillusionment with Jennifer’s fanatical revolution, as she shared her original’s character traits. Along with her original’s fatal blood clot – a point that was later vital to establish.

Having said that, not all of the characters were so well-defined. Marshall Lancaster’s Buzzer wasn’t given much to say or do, and his human original was despatched in short order, to no great emotional impact. And Leon Vickers’ Dicken, while looking pretty enough, wasn’t really given a personality at all, so when his human version sacrificed himself to save the others, it was no particular shock either. And what happened to all his sneezing in part one? I’d thought that might lead to some plot point or other. Or was it simply the only distinctive character trait the writer thought to give him?

The oncoming destruction of the crumbling factory as Gangers and humans tried to outwit each other and escape was well-handled by both writer and director, even if, again, we were seeing nothing new here. The scenario was actually handled so tensely as to allow me, at least, to forgive the fact that it was basically an Alien-inspired runaround. Others, I know, might not be so forgiving!

So the plotline was wrapped up fairly efficiently, at least in an exciting way. However – and I know this is probably niggling – there was still no explanation forthcoming as to why 22nd century Earth needs all this acid, or how one can mine for it in any case. I realise that scientific accuracy isn’t traditionally a strong point in Doctor Who, and you could say that the business of acid mining is merely a McGuffin to give the base under siege a purpose. But as the acid’s destruction of the base was one of the primary sources of peril in this concluding part, I could have done with, at least, a couple of throwaway lines of exposition, preferably as establishment in the first part. It might have made more sense to set the story on an alien planet which could have vast deposits of subterranean acid. Indeed, I wondered whether this had been the original intention, and the shift to Earth and the admittedly atmospheric monastery setting had been dictated by budgetary considerations.

As the TARDIS deposited a motley crew of Gangers and humans at the headquarters of Weyland-Yutani like corporation Morpeth-Jetsan for an inquiry that had somehow already been convened, the point was rammed home well enough about the dangers of playing Frankenstein, and the consequences of artificially creating life. But even with the theme having been quite nicely explored, there was a lack of internal logic here. The Doctor had implied that these particular Gangers had gained individual sentience as a result of the solar storm, leading to the obvious conclusion that this was an exceptional circumstance, and that the Flesh in general didn’t have these characteristics. Yet he was urging them, as they went into the meeting, to make the case for the rights of Gangers. Also, the Ganger castoffs, still alive, implied that all Gangers had this potential. Which, if you think about it, makes his decision to destroy the now-revealed Ganger Amy a bit damn callous!

But oh, what a scene! That was marvellously played by all concerned. Karen Gillan’s faltering, uncertain, “I’m scared Doctor” was truly heartfelt, as was Rory’s initial protectiveness. That he ultimately, reluctantly, stepped away was a testament to how genuinely scary Matt Smith made the Doctor – once again, we saw that underneath the playfulness, this is really a 900 year old alien of immense power.

So, major arc developments. The Doctor has known for some time that this wasn’t the real Amy – that was his real purpose behind investigating the Flesh. Indeed, it hasn’t been the real Amy “for a long time”. How long exactly? I was thinking maybe she was replaced when captured by the Silence in Day of the Moon, but Steven Moffat has strongly implied that it happened even before the series began. And she really is pregnant – but with whose baby? And will it be the mysterious, regenerating little girl from the opening two parter? At least we now know that eyepatch lady is real, some kind of sentinel over the recumbent, real Amy, whose tenuous link to her Ganger led to the ‘Schrodinger’s baby’ uncertainty on the TARDIS medical scanner.

Rory didn’t die this week, but yet again, there was a reference to the 2000 years he spent as the Watchful Centurion, as the Doctor playfully called him “Roranicus Pondicus. As this has been harped on about several times since the season opener, and as Rory seems next week to be dressed in Roman garb, this is obviously significant. But who knows how? And the Doctor now knows about his oncoming demise, courtesy of Amy finding him indistinguishable from his Ganger self – something which didn’t hold true for hers! He hasn’t commented on it yet, but with next week’s episode bringing the season to a midpoint cliffhanger, I’m expecting this to play a major part.

So, we got an exciting and thoughtful conclusion to a very trad Doctor Who story, which suffered from a lack of originality, a lack of internal logic and some predictable plotting. Nevertheless, I do think that part two had more to recommend it than part one, and I never thought it was actively bad – just a little overfamiliar. Those who spend less time analysing the tropes of Doctor Who and science fiction in general may not have had that problem, and I know a lot of people who found this the most enjoyable story of the season so far. It’s just that I’m not one of them!

But those final scenes lifted it out of routine, and while linked to the main story, were almost an episode in their own right. Given the big advancement of the story arc, I wondered whether those particular scenes had actually been written by Steve Moffat himself – but Matthew Graham is capable of some very good writing even if he did give an unwilling world Bonekickers. It was a heart in mouth cliffhanger – and while I’m already finding it hard to wait for next week, I know the wait of several months after that may be even harder!

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