The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People

The main thing I remember from the original broadcast is the quite extraordinary cliffhanger, so this rewatch was an opportunity to enjoy the finer details of the preceding 88 minutes, and it turns out this is quite the gem. It’s such a very Doctor Who-ish idea – a lot of shows would have an episode about human avatars going rogue, but not many would approach it with the aim of establishing doppleganger rights.

Like with earlier adventures with Silurians and later ones with Zygons, this is all about what it means to be human, along with allegories about equality and acceptance. But while there was certainly an element of “but who are the *real* monsters?” (it was telling that the human version of Cleaves was the one who fucked up the peace talks), a lot of the action relied on the assumption that Ganger = baddie. This might have seemed like having your cake and eating it, were it not for the later revelations, which we’ll get to.

It was a perfect set-up for some traditional cloning high-jinks, such as the group having secret Gangers in their midst, and Rory’s subplot with the multiple Jennifers ending up a bit like Red Dwarf‘s Psirens. It was a bit of a disappointment when the Gangers gained the ability to turn into Stretch Armstrong, and became more of a traditional straightforward monster. It’s a similar feeling I had with The Lazarus Experiment – a CGI creature to run away from isn’t as scary as something more human and creepy, in this case clones not knowing they’re clones, or the fear of your clone stealing your identity.

And of course, it was always leading up to the Doctor gaining a Ganger. Two Matt Smiths can only be a good thing, especially when one of them keeps quoting his former selves. As soon as our Doctor lost his shoes, I was looking out for them as an indicator of which was which, having forgotten the twist that they swapped over at some unspecified point in proceedings. I do wonder whether that was before or after one of them became violent towards Amy, because if that was the actual Doctor, that seems a bit much, regardless of how important a lesson he was teaching her.

But then, of course, that wasn’t the actual Amy. I noticed they were very clear to establish that the real humans retain the memory of what happens to their Gangers, ensuring that everything that “Amy” has experienced so far this season matters, regardless of when the switch took place. The big reveal ripples back to recontextualise much of what goes before – the aforementioned issue about the narrative relying on the audience believing Gangers are always baddies is no longer an issue, because the episode’s all about the Doctor teaching us, via Amy, that our assumption was wrong.

Best of all, it means that the whole adventure was brought about by the Doctor being a bit Machiavellian, hiding his true intentions from his companions and the audience in order to serve his own secretive purposes. It’s basically Smith acting like McCoy, which is a winning combination, and this is a story that’s much better the second time around.

And yeah, the sight of Amy being turned into goop, and then of the real Amy waking up nine months pregnant with Eye Patch Lady as a midwife, is rather an enduring image. Such a stunning cliffhanger at the end of a two-parter that it almost feels like a reverse Utopia situation, but it is in fact something very different. Bring on Doctor Who‘s first ever mid-season finale…

RATING: 9

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