Friday, August 19, 2011

Summer DVR Dump: Doctor Who 6.05: "The Rebel Flesh"

“Yes, it's insane. And it's about to get even more insanerer. Is that a word?”
-The Doctor

Let’s just get this out in the open from the beginning. I was not a fan of this two-part episode of Doctor Who, neither this part nor “The Almost People.” I just didn’t think there was a ton of substance to this story, and the whole thing seemed to just be designed to lead to a big reveal about Amy at the end. Worst of all, when I was watching it, I was bored. I really think that this story could have been told in one episode, and splitting it into two was a stretch. Conversely, I think the story told in episode 7, “A Good Man Goes to War,” have been plausibly stretched to two episodes. So what was done with the pacing in the final stretch of the first half-season was fairly contrary to the depth of story they had available. I found this disappointing, because since Stephen Moffat is head writer for “Doctor Who” now (although he didn’t write these two episodes, I imagine his influence is strong in all of them), and he wrote the two-parter against which all other two-parters are measured in the modern era of Doctor Who, “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances way back in series 1. Anyway, let’s get the rest of this write-up over with. I’m instilling in you such anticipation for my writing, aren’t I gentle reader?

This episode overall has a very industrial feel in the tradition of “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit” from series 2 and “42” from series 3. We haven’t really visited this type of environment in the Moffat era, and now I understand why. I don’t think it really plays to his strengths. Moffat’s greatest contributions to the Whoverse have all involved making mundane things really freaking creepy, like the kid in the gas mask or a Victorian statue of a weeping angel. This story, on the other hand, was just plain odd, and much more in the vein of speculative fiction. Anyway, the episode opens with a scene of people in hazard/space suits at some sort of industrial facility. One of the people falls into a huge vat and appears to disintegrate, but what is strange is that none of the others seem especially upset about it. They talk about how the accident is going to cost a lot of money, but at least no one was hurt. It is apparent later in the episode just how this can be.

Meanwhile, on the TARDIS, Amy and Rory seem to be having a grand old time. They’re listening to loud music and playing darts. The Doctor, however, is much more subdued (well, as subdued as Matt Smith can get). He’s still looking at the scan of Amy that keeps switching back and forth between “pregnant” and “not pregnant.” He tries to send Amy and Rory away on a vacation of sorts while he takes care of some other business (perhaps investigating what the heck is going on with Amy), but Amy isn’t having it. She wants to stick with the Docotr, presumably because she still hopes to prevent his death. While they’re arguing, the TARDIS starts to get pulled by something, and everything gets chaotic. They land by a monastery on an island, but they quickly realize, when they hear some modern music, that they aren’t in the past.

Some sort of industrial work appears to be going on under the monastery, and the gang decides to investigate. Whatever is happening appears to involve pumping acid. I’m not sure if the acid is the byproduct of some industrial process or if they’re harvesting the acid for some other purpose. They go inside, and pretty soon, an alarm goes off and they’re surrounded by surly people wanting to defend the facility. The Doctor and company notice that they’re also surrounded by people hooked up to machines, kind of like “The Matrix.” The Doctor tells their captors that it looks like the facility barely escaped the last solar wave to hit it, and another is on the way. We also learn that this story is taking place in the 22nd Century. Doctor Who doesn’t do near future stories very often, so that makes me even a little more disappointed that the opportunity was squandered on this particular story.

The Doctor gets to look at a vat like the one seen at the beginning of the episode, and we learn how the same people can both be guarding the facility and hooked up to machines. The vat is filled with something called “the Flesh.” It’s “fully programmable matter.” Acid harvesting is a dangerous job, and many of the workers were dying. To cut down on the loss of life, they use the Flesh to create doppelgangers, and the doppelgangers, controlled by the “real” people in the machines, do the most dangerous work. The Doctor scans the vat of Flesh, and it starts to bubble. One of the bubbles touches his hand, which is a Chekhov’s gun if I ever saw one. We get to see the process of doppelganger creation when Cleaves, who is sort of the commander of the group, tells Jennifer, one of the workers, that she needs to get into her doppelganger for safety purposes. A ganger first emerging from the Flesh looks like a cross between Lady Cassandra, aka “The Last Human,” from series 1 an 2 and the Sontaran cloning solution from series 4.

There’s a debate among the group about whether to seek shelter from the coming solar wave or keep working. The Doctor thinks they should seek shelter, of course, but Cleaves disagrees. The Doctor takes a look at some of the facility’s controls, and then he decides he needs to look at this weathervane thing outside. While he’s outside, the solar wave comes rolling in, and the monastery is hit badly. Acid starts to leak, which is definitely a bad thing. Even worse, the Doctor gets thrown from the tower with the weathervane as power surges are happening everywhere. The Doctor eventually comes to and learns that everyone was unconscious for a little while, maybe an hour. This concerns the Doctor, because he knows that things can go very wrong in an hour. Amy wants to know where the ‘gangers are, and Cleaves says they should have converted to pure Flesh in the emergency. Clearly that didn’t happen, though, because music starts spontaneously playing. The ‘gangers are still around. The Doctor says that ‘gangers have the same memories as their “real” counterparts, which makes the whole thing even more creepy and confusing.

Jennifer goes off to the rest room, and Rory joins her because it doesn’t seem smart to travel alone under the circumstances. Something happens to Jennifer while she is in the rest room, and she runs off. While investigating Jennifer’s disappearance, Rory gets knocked out by some Flesh. We see that this Jennifer is clearly Flesh, as she freaks out and stretches her neck unnaturally in an attempt to attack Rory. Rory, smartly, makes a run for it. Meanwhile, the Doctor notices that the Cleaves with his group is actually Flesh. The Doctor tells her to trust him, but she freaks out and starts looking kind of like Odo from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The Doctor says she has lost her ability to stabilize into full human form. Flesh!Cleaves funs off.

The Doctor takes a small group outside to look for Rory, and it turns out that Rory is outside too, hiding from Flesh!Jennifer. Everyone is a little suspicious of how much the Doctor knows about the Flesh, but he pleads with the group to let him try to fix everything. He truly believes he can get the “real” humans and their ‘gangers to accept each other. I’m not sure if the Doctor in his previous incarnations was quite that naive. Acid is leaking and making the facility rather dangerous. The Doctor wants to use the TARDIS to continue the search for Rory. Meanwhile, Rory himself finds Flesh!Jennifer looking at her “real” counterpart’s photos and reminiscing. She gets very upset that she’s not considered a being in her own right, and she ends up crying on Rory’s shoulder.

The ‘gangeres are congregating, and they’re wearing the acid suits. This isn’t very good for their “real” human counterparts. While continuing the search for Rory, Amy sees a window in a door open again, once again revealing the creepy eye patch lady, just like in “Day of the Moon.” Rory and Jennifer find her staring at it. Amy is, understandably, a bit wary of Flesh!Jennifer because she’s a ‘ganger. Meanwhile, it looks like the Doctor has found the rest of the ‘gangers. He’s going to try to convince them to make peace with the “real” humans, of course.

The rest of the humans don’t quite know what to do with Flesh!Jennifer. They don’t trust her any more than Amy did. As a bit of a commotion starts, we hear the Doctor’s voice. He’s rejoining the group, and he’s brought the ‘gangers with him. One of the crew has a bit of an argument with his ‘ganger about who is the father of his son. The Doctor wants to use the TARDIS to get everyone, human and ‘ganger, off the island. The real Cleaves appears, though, and she doesn’t want any ‘gangers getting out. She has a device that could electrocute the ‘gangers. The ‘gangers run off, and there’s lots of “us and them”-ing. Flesh!Jennifer seems to be one of the more militant of the bunch- she really wants to go off to war, and she wants to kill her counterpart. Rory runs after the “real” Jennifer, and the ‘gangers aren’t far behind. Then there’s a big surprise at the end. The Doctor has a ‘ganger face. Guess there are two of him now, and we’ll find out why later this week when I recap “The Almost People.”

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