Doctor Who Series 6 Episode 5 review: The Rebel Flesh

Posted: 1 June 2011 in television
Tags: , , , ,

Had an accident in the workplace? Yeah, I have, as it goes. I’ve melted.

The Rebel Flesh

“A man is the sum of his memories…” The Fifth Doctor, “The Five Doctors

The second 2 parter of this series comes from the pen of Matthew Graham, the co-creator, co-writer, co-producer of “Life On Mars” and “Ashes To Ashes“. So top grade credentials there – ok, he was also involved with “Bonekickers” but I have a soft spot for that series so there. Graham first wrote for the series in David Tennant’s first series back in 2006 with “Fear Her“, which, to be quite frank, was bloody awful with the air of a script that needed a couple of more drafts before it went before the cameras and a purging of the more OTT elements (such as the Doctor carrying the Olympic Torch). Though to be fair some of the worst parts have a feel of a RTD rewrite about them. So all in all I was a little wary when it was announced that Graham had been given nearly 1/6 of the screen time for the 2011 series. On the basis of “The Rebel Flesh” it feels as though everything will be far better than was the case with “Fear Her”.

In common with “The Curse of the Black Spot” the story takes a “base-under-siege” approach rather than the epic landscape hopping seen in “The Impossible Astronaut”/”Day of the Moon” or the high concepts of “The Doctor’s Wife”. And, as with the pirate tale, it sometimes feels that, with lesser production values, “The Rebel Flesh” could have been done as an outing for either the Troughton or Davison Doctors. I keep visualising the likes of “The Abominable Snowmen” or “Frontios” re-imagined with the current TARDIS crew…

Domestic bliss aboard the TARDIS at the beginning with Amy and Rory playing darts whilst the Doctor offers to drop them off for fish and chips. So like all good soap operas it’s obvious all is going to go tits up. And wham! A solar tsunami (which is a genuine solar event created by solar flares) knocks the crap out of the TARDIS and dumps the timeship on 22nd Earth at an acid refinery, formerly a monastery, populated by workers and their “gangers”. “Gangers” is the name that the humans give to the full physical doppelgängers that they can create via interaction with a self-replicating fluid called the Flesh.

Graham uses the Flesh and the gangers as a means to explore the age-old question of “what makes a human?” If humans are basically a bipedal store of chemicals animated by electrical stimulation and completed by a sum of memories, then is a ganger any different from the human template it was created from? Also thrown into the mix is “Frankenstein” with humanity “playing god” and “The Thing” with no one knowing who is real. There’s also lots of dark corridors to chase up and down with torches flashing left, right and centre. In fact at some points in the proceedings you have to stop and wonder if the story is also a homage to the cliche that the classic series mainly involved running up and down corridors…

Rory gets to show off the compassionate side of his nature, the part that lead him to become a nurse in order to ease the suffering of others. And he doesn’t die at any point in the episode either…The only trouble is he is portrayed as just a little bit gullible and wet for throwing his lot in with Jennifer so easily and clearly pissing off Amy. No police woman uniform at bedtime for him then…

Interestingly enough the Doctor seems well aware of what the Flesh is and its properties, and doesn’t seem in the least bit surprised to encounter it – though from the moment he stuck his hand into the vat it was only a matter of time before his ganger showed up, looking like Lord Voldemort with a bow tie. Doubtless many viewers thought “here’s the solution to how the Doctor can be killed 200 years later in his own timeline” – but that seems a little too obvious for a mind as labyrinth as that possessed by Steven Moffat. I seriously doubt the answer to that conundrum will be so telegraphed…

It’s always difficult to judge the merits of part 1 of a 2 parter without having seen part 2 but all in all “The Rebel Flesh” bodes well for a far stronger multi-parter than the likes of “Daleks in Manhattan“/”Evolution of the Daleks” or “The Sontaran Stratagem“/”The Poison Sky“. Lots of atmosphere and great moments of tame horror – how many adults and children were behind the sofa when ganger Jennifer elongated her head through the toilet door?

Steven Moffat  has been accused of late of making “Doctor Who” too complicated and too scary. If you want simple A to B to C to D narratives with the plot stopping to showcase an action scene or “emotional moment” then go and watch an episode written by RTD. If you want intelligent, scary sci-fi then watch the Matt Smith era of the series and get your children to explain the plot whilst you hide behind the sofa blubbering about how it never used to be this scary…

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