Thoughts on: The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People

This two-parter, I feel, is something of an underrated gem. It’s sometimes written off as tedious, plodding and boring by fans, but I can’t say that I share this perspective. To me, it’s a captivating story, immersed in very dark, heavy themes involving a compelling moral dilemma. The premise that establishes the conflict of the story, sentient “flesh” taking the forms and personalities of their “hosts”, is intriguing, and if you buy into the moral dilemma that follows from that premise, this story can be truly mesmerising. In truth, I think it’s one of the most provocative, philosophical stories we’ve seen on Doctor Who—or at least on New Who. Certainly this story represents a much darker, more mature shift in tone from Series 5, which was primarily pitched at a younger audience and was more fantastical rather than discursive. To be sure, the story could have done with more pace and substance, but I think the “slower” sections were more than made up for, or filled, by the relentless exploration of the moral or philosophical dilemma at the heart of this story, i.e. the humanity, or lack thereof, of the Gangers, and the way they were perceived by the humans.

So I’ll get right to it and congratulate this story for having the boldness to discuss the meaning of life. Or the meaning of humanity, in any case. It was a really intriguing theme which was explored compellingly in the conflict between the Gangers and the humans. There was no doubt as to what “side” the story ultimately came down on: the Gangers were, emphatically, human, their lives and souls human lives and souls. It’s enthralling viewing as we’re not sure if the Gangers can be trusted or not, whether they’re human enough or not, with their vacillating between seeming undeniably human to something quite else. Only at the end where the Ganger Jimmy sees his son does it become emphatically clear that the Gangers are just as human as their counterparts. I also wonder if the story contained a very subtle subtext on related moral dilemmas surrounding the contentious issue of abortion; the show did the same thing subsequently in Kill the Moon. There was a brief tidbit of the Doctor’s dialogue in particular that piqued my attention in this respect: “We were all jelly once. Little jelly eggs sitting in goop. … We are not talking about an accident that needs to be mopped up. We are talking about sacred life.”

The story also portrayed quite accurately, and uncomfortably, the prejudice and aversion and mistrust that would naturally be displayed by humans to something perceived as almost human but not entirely. Perhaps a warning against human cloning: be prepared for lynchings. It also disturbingly portrayed the human inclination to bigotry against the unusual, the abnormal, the not-quite-right. The Doctor knew from the outset that the Gangers at least had the potential to be indistinguishable from their human counterparts. He played an ingenious trick on Amy and the others when he switched shoes with his Ganger, leading Amy to treat the “real” him as if he were a Ganger, much revealing Amy’s own latent prejudice—wonderfully resolved when Amy admitted she had been wrong to assume about the Ganger Doctor. “You’re twice the man I thought you were.” The moment when, after the Ganger Jimmy saw his son over the hologram and, the penny having dropped, went to save his counterpart, the humans finally saw their Gangers for what they were—not monsters, but themselves—was very gratifying. And human Jimmy’s death in the arms of his Ganger, giving his Ganger his blessing to take over his life, was a touching moment.

The Doctor, and the Ganger Doctor, had a brilliant role in this story. After the initial astonishment of seeing two Doctors (of the same incarnation no less), an “omfg” moment if there ever was one, it was delightful watching the Doctors interact together. That it was Eleven who was cloned made it all the funnier; they bounced off each other wonderfully, and all of Eleven’s quirky idiosyncrasies and eccentricities were amplified with hilarious effect when there’s two of him straightening their bow-ties and making distracted, enigmatic remarks. Matt acted against himself with brilliant precision, making the sequences where we see the two Doctors interacting not only convincing, but genuinely amusing. In particular, I liked the Ganger Doctor, fresh from the vat, struggling to cope with twelve lifetimes’ memories, overwhelmed by the Doctor’s twelve personas running around his head. The human Gangers were distressed by finding themselves in possession of whole lives, imagine what it must have been like for the Doctor’s Ganger to find himself with twelve. I wonder if the Ganger Doctor’s tortured screaming at one point was his reliving his undoubtedly vivid memories of the Time War… In any case, I liked the interesting way the Doctor was portrayed in this episode. He was more manipulative than we’ve seen him before, tricking Amy and the others into thinking the real Doctor was the Ganger Doctor, a beastly trick if there ever was one. There’s a few brief moments, when the (real-pretending-to-be-an-evil-Ganger) Doctor is with the other Gangers and Rory, in which the Doctor is genuinely scary, and you become frightened as the formidable thought of the Doctor teaming up with a gang of evil Gangers to orchestrate revolution hits you. It was revealed soon enough that that was all an act, but it was exhilarating, if unnerving, seeing the Doctor’s manipulative side.

But dat cliffhanger tho. Wtf? Omfg!!!

Rating: 9/10.

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