Doctor Who 6.05: "The Rebel Flesh"

A column article, Shot For Shot by: The TV Squad
Danny Djeljosevic: I marathoned the last three episodes of Doctor Who today and, boy, Neil Gaiman is a tough act to follow, huh?

Paul Brian McCoy: This was going to be rough for whoever got the call.

Jason Sacks: I was thinking about that: last week's episode was a big episode with lots of big themes and major events. Then this week's was quiet, static, much more of a traditional Doctor Who episode.

Djeljosevic: This whole season seems to be rotating like that so far.

McCoy: In "The Rebel Flesh," the Doctor and Co. land on a small island in Scotland where government contractors are pumping acid out (??), and using fake people to do it. The workers are created with The Flesh, a vat of manufactured organic matter that forms into the dopplegangers (or "'Gangers") of the employees, right down to their memories. A solar tsunami (???) hits and the 'gangers become sentient and independent. Chaos ensues.

Sacks: Because it's Doctor Who, chaos always has to ensue!

Djeljosevic: People running down corridors and the like.

McCoy: I expected a little more, though, just because Matthew Graham created Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. Granted, "Fear Her" wasn't great, but still…

Djeljosevic: Or, as I remember it, "The one with the little girl drawing." But if "The Rebel Flesh" were a standalone episode, it'd be pretty crackerjack.

Sacks: I agree, Danny, this felt like it would have been a great first 20 minutes of an episode, but this felt a bit... thin. A bit decompresed.

McCoy: Honestly, I loved the concept of this episode, even if it was a bit cliché.

Djeljosevic: Yeah, it's basic sci-philosophical Doctor Who. This show does that in its sleep.

McCoy:"In its sleep" is the key phrase there, I think.

Djeljosevic: In fact, this is an entire episode of new Doctor Who clichés. The TARDIS becomes inaccessible, the Doctor meets a group of people who are going to be murdered one-by-one by a high-concept, and we're forced to ponder the nature and value of life.

McCoy: Classic.

Sacks: And there's yet another bonkers sci-fi concept that will never be mentioned again. Last time we went outside the universe, just kind of arbitrarily, this time it was some sort of solar flare or something.

Djeljosevic: That's one of the things I love about the show. It just throws out as many ideas as it can.

McCoy: Have any other shows/films/stories used the whole "I have all your memories, so I'm as valid as you" concept outside of Moon lately? I can't think of any, but I've been drinking.

Djeljosevic: None come to mind. The Island? But that movie could not be arsed to think about that. Not to any interesting means, anyway. Most sci-fi movies can't be bothered with meditations on the nature of being.

Sacks: I found the idea pretty interesting, and I had a moment while watching it like when I think about Jamie Madrox in X-Factor. That also seemed very classic new Doctor Who, though. There always has to be some kind of wacky philosophy behind it.

McCoy: That's the real strength of this episode, in my opinion. The whole "slaves are people too" meme is a dime-a-dozen, but that these folks are not just sentient, but identical to their Molds (or whatever) is a nice twist.

Sacks: They really do have just as much right to life as their counterparts.

McCoy: The scene where the Originals are face to face with their 'Gangers was nicely orchestrated. Very tense.

Djeljosevic: Speaking of classic new Doctor Who, did anyone else feel like the Doctor was written a bit like David Tennant? He does a lot of shouting in this episode.

McCoy: There was a lot of shouting.

Sacks: Everyone kind of shouts -- Rory was especially loud this episode.

McCoy: I've read a lot of complaints about this episode that the Doctor didn't do much and that it was boring until the final few minutes, but I didn't get that at all. Speaking of Rory, this was pretty much his episode.

Djeljosevic: I was waiting for Matt Smith to start shrieking about the splendiferous miraculity of humanity, and the amazingness of the human spirit, and whatever else Russell T. Davies thought to have David Tennant shout about to humans and aliens alike.

Sacks: Ooh, now I'm not missing Tennant...

McCoy: I haven't missed Tennant since he left. Dr. Girlfriend, on the other hand...

Sacks: Rory seemed like a single man, the way that he chased after Jennifer. He seemed especially fascinated with her.

Djeljosevic: I feel like Amy could have been a touch more jealous, since she was bothered by him being entranced by the siren in the pirate ship episode.

Sacks: This episode, she didn't seem to be paying much attention to what Rory was doing.

McCoy: I can't blame Rory, since Sarah Smart is just adorable as Jennifer. There wasn't a lot of directorial attention to Amy, but you can see that she's a little put off by their "intimate" contact -- the hugs and crying and all. Rory was a nurse, after all, and Amy's not the most compassionate or giving wife. I can see him really getting attached to someone who really seems to need him.

Djeljosevic: Having two companions at once isn't the best idea. One of them kind of gets short-changed, even if they're husband and wife.

Sacks: Amy seemed like such an interesting character in her first episode, but she's gotten progressively less interesting for me. She had a very unique hook -- that she always wanted to travel with the Doctor -- but that hook has gotten less and less played-up.

McCoy: A cute redhead in short skirts will never get less interesting to me. But I have issues. She's more proactive and aggressive and I like that about her.

Djeljosevic: This season is less about her escaping something by hanging out with the Doctor, but on the other hand she's given more to do by preventing the Doctor's death in the future. By virtue of being a cute girl, I am more interested in Amy Pond than anything else in the world.

Sacks: Really she's turned out to be the least interesting of the four female companions from the revival for me.

McCoy: I couldn't stand Rose after a while, and really loved Martha.

Djeljosevic: Amy's my favorite -- I think Rose is a twit, Martha was a bit bland, and I haaaate that harpy bride woman. I don't even remember her name.

McCoy: I didn't think I'd like Donna, but hers was the most tragic arc of any of them. That won me over.

Sacks: I loved Donna's attitide, She was game for anything, and had fun with her adventures.

McCoy: But I'm a sucker for a cute redhead, so Karen Gillan is second only to Sarah Jane for me. Well, Leela is up there, too, now that I think about it.

Djeljosevic: I had to look up Leela, and she sounds fucking awesome. She's like a pulpy jungle girl warrior type. She seems like a great foil for the proper English weirdo Doctor.

Sacks: That's exactly what she was. She had a great Eliza Doolittle thing going with Tom Baker's Doctor.

McCoy: Leela was awesome.

Sacks: Hmm, so this is an interesting commentary on this episode... we don't have much to say about it, really. There were some interesting enough themes, but nothing in it that was extremely compelling.

McCoy: Should we talk about all the red herrings that are in this episode? Because there are plenty. Well, three anyway. First, we've got the similarities between the 'Gangers and the Autons.

Djeljosevic: Yeah, the Autons are made of a universal goo as well, no?

McCoy: Animated plastic, but close enough for it to be interesting. We've also got the similarities between the acid suits and the uniforms for Sontarans.

Sacks: Yes, I was actually thinking at one point that the great revelation was that the 'Gangers would end up being Sontarans. I really enjoyed all the episodes with the Sontarans, and they would have added energy to this episode.

McCoy: I thought they were the Sontarans when the opening shot showed the Scots in their Acid Suits in silhouette.

Djeljosevic: That wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility for Doctor Who, would it? Showing us the origins of a creature that would evolve into a completely separate species.

McCoy: Not really. It doesn't really tie in to the established canon, but I wouldn't put it past Moffat to tinker with that. The Sontarans are clones, after all. The Autons, though are just manipulated by a big tenticly thing, The Sestene Consciousness, if I read/remember right. And they surely didn't originate on an island in Scotland. However, I don't think it's a coincidence that the writers/designers put these similarities into the production.

Djeljosevic: I'd almost chalk it up to the genericness of this episode -- that it happens to resemble things from previous Doctor Who adventures.

McCoy: That could be just as possible. Then there's the whole 'Ganger Doctor issue. So are we agreed that making the Doctor that died in the first episode a 'Ganger is way too obvious for even semi-serious consideration?

Djeljosevic: I didn't even consider that dead Doctor being a clone to even be a possibility. That would be so cheap.

McCoy: It's crazy the number of people I've seen online saying, as if it's clever, "Did anyone notice..."

Sacks: I wouldn't put it past the show.

McCoy: Dr. Girlfriend pointed out that they missed a fantastic opportunity to bring back another Doctor for a guest appearance. Have The Flesh scan him but animate a previous incarnation. That would have been awesome.

Sacks: OOH

Djeljosevic: That would have been brilliant.

Sacks: I've been watching the Hartnell episodes lately. It would have been great to have the oldest and youngest Doctors next to each other. Especially since Smith is way older than Hartnell's Doctor.

Djeljosevic: "That's what you used to look like?"

McCoy: I would have paid good money to a Kickstarter fund to pay Paul McGann to do a guest appearance, especially after seeing him again recently in Luther.

Djeljosevic: The William Henry Harrison of Doctors. Holy shit, they should totally do a "Four Doctors" crossover with the last bunch.

McCoy: I'd pay for Eccleston, too, but I have a fantasy of seeing Matt Smith team up with Paul McGann to fight the Time War. Yes, I just admitted that in public.

Sacks: Nice!

McCoy: I'd even pay to see Sean Pertwee put on a wig and pretend to be his dad for a special episode.

Sacks: I thought this was the most mature presentation of the idea of clones that I've seen on Doctor Who. It was much more like how I would expect clones to be in real life.

McCoy: I admit, I loved the approach to cloning and identity they took here.

Djeljosevic: Almost exact copies with the same memories. Could you imagine two identical daddies coming back home from the weird sci-fi acid jaunt in Scotland?

McCoy: Yes. Yes I could.

Djeljosevic: I'd love to see an exploration of that. Maybe Duncan Jones should ready a direct sequel to Moon.

Sacks: That would rock. Moon was great.

Sacks: I have to admit I have absolutely no interest in the subplot about Amy maybe being pregnant. They'd better have a good payoff for that storyline.

Djeljosevic: I completely agree. I don't know what it is about that, but I just don't care about the status of Amy's uterus. I'm hoping it'll just cleverly play into the overarching story of the season.

McCoy: It seems to be hinting at alternate timelines crossing over and playing out at the same time. Which was kind of hinted at with that horrible Pirates episode.

Djeljosevic: The second there was a spaceship, that episode won me over.

McCoy: Nothing about that episode won me over. Not even Amy in pirate gear.

Sacks: I liked the completely stupid arbitrariness of the pirates episode. It seemed like a crazy Pertwee episode or something.

Djeljosevic: I think we've said all we needed to about this episode, yeah? What would we rate it?

Sacks: for me. A totally average revival episode.

McCoy: It's hard to judge the first half of a two-parter, but given the attention to philosophical questions of identity and memory, plus the focus on Rory (he did spend 1,000 years as a 'Ganger, after all), I give it , with high hopes for the second half.

Djeljosevic: I'd give it . It's pretty much an average Doctor Who episode -- one that could have popped up in any of the previous five seasons. It isn't the best of the season, but it has some decent moments and doesn't screw the pooch. Or any pooches, for that matter.

Due to the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, BBC America won't be showing the next new episode of Doctor Who. So check Comics Bulletin in two weeks for our review of the next new episode, "The Almost People."

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