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The Doctor must convince terrified factory workers

to work with their doppelgangers to overcome a monster of their own making.

Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2011


E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.







Doctor Who’s sixth series (or thirty-second, if you must), seems to be polarising fan opinion, and this latest story is no exception. Fans have never been shy or particularly tactful about voicing their opinions, and this time they seems to be split down the middle. Some have called The Almost People a fine and enjoyable episode, a solid instalment of Doctor Who. Some have dismissed it as poorly-made rubbish. Personally, I’m in the former section. While I certainly don’t think this two-part story has been a classic, it’s far from the travesty some are painting it as. Considering just how much there is to enjoy here, and the strength of the central story, the backlash against the story from some quarters has really surprised me.


I compared  The Rebel Flesh to last year’s Silurian story, and the comparison still holds in many respects. Both are straightforward stories dealing with humanity’s relationship with another intelligent species with whom it must share the Earth, up until their final moments, at which point they turn on their heels to focus solely on the ongoing arc. Cold Blood became remembered by many purely for its last minute shock, and the same is likely here. However, the truth about Amy, though a surprise, is at least in keeping with the episode in general, and supports the story rather than overpowers it.


Do you know, really, there could be only one...


The Almost People works perfectly as the second part of this story, providing a pacier conclusion to the build up of The Rebel Flesh. There are still pacing problems though: now that the tempo has picked up, the character development feels very rushed. The gang of Gangers back down from their murderous vendetta very suddenly, when it should have been a gradual return to conscience; equally, Ganger Jennifer’s transition from meek young woman to bloodthirsty revolutionary to rampaging monster is far too rapid to seem credible. OK, there’s no way such a thing could be realistic, and the memories of dozens of slow, painful deaths are bound to drive anyone mad, but it plays out as a jarring change rather than a genuine development.


The attitudes of the regulars are the most interesting part of the story. Once his duplicate has stabilised following its difficulty in dealing with eleven lifetimes’ worth of memories, the Doctor is astonishingly comfortable with his duplicate. On reflection, this makes perfect sense; the man’s been duplicated before, and has run into himself on numerous occasions - it’s not as if this is an entirely new situation for him. The fact that he’s such a raving egotist doesn’t hurt, either. Matt Smith is perfect throughout; the wonderfully-written banter between the two eleventh Doctors is a joy to watch, as they finish each other’s sentences and openly massage their shared ego. The opening chaos of the Ganger Doctor’s mania is daft but played with absolute conviction; even the soundbites from David Tennant and Tom Baker don’t feel too incongruous. The Doctor’s outburst to Amy when the Flesh reaches out to him allows Smith more freedom with the character than usual; a rare chance for naked anger and fear.


Here it comes...


Karen Gillan gives an excellent turn as Amy, who, understandably, can’t accept the new Doctor as the same man she’s been idolising all these years. She falls victim to anti-Ganger prejudice in a way that’s neither surprising or blameworthy; how would any of us react in just such a situation? Rory, meanwhile, becomes a victim of his own compassion, manip-ulated by Jennifer into doing her dirty work. While he’s a complete berk for advocating tricking the Doctor, Amy and company and allowing them to be locked up, Arthur Darvill’s performance is so sympathetic that you feel hard pressed to blame his character. In fact, everyone’s actions here - save for mad Jennifer’s - are entirely understandable, if not conscionable.


On the other hand, the horror elements of the story aren’t easily forgotten. The sight of a pile of rejected Gangers, melting into one another, slowly decomposing yet still conscious, is revolting while at the same time evoking sympathy for the Gangers’ plight. The wall of eyes, while purely gratuitous and there only to make us shudder, certainly does its job (I just can’t deal with stuff about eyes). The final stage of the Jennifer Ganger’s lifecycle, the Thing-like stalking monster, is effectively creepy, but the effects are nowhere near convincing and it was a wise decision to keep it restricted to fleeting glimpses and shadows. The stretching mouth, on the other hand, is a tough one to pull off and doesn’t really work.


“You think a Ganger can’t put on a limp?”


Jen’s Ganger seems to have abilities far beyond the others, presumably because, in her mentally damaged state, she can’t stabilise physically. It does allow the excellent rug-pull of their being two duplicates of her at large, although in hindsight it’s one I should really have seen coming. At the least, it’s a fine example of setting up clues early in the narrative, in order to use, then subvert them later on. We know the real Jennifer is limping, so we know which of the two is the copy. Then it’s revealed they’re both copies, and the reasonable line “You think a Ganger can’t put on a limp?” makes a very salient point. Similarly, the Doctor’s shoes: the melting boots in part one were so evidently set up in order to tell the two Doctors apart that it worked well to subvert this by having them swap. This, however, I did see coming, as I imagine did most viewers. It also occurs to me that the Doctor is now wearing living Flesh on his feet. Still, the script works the idea well, leading us to believe that the  Ganger Doctor is going bad, only to reveal it was all a bluff.


It’s a shame the Ganger Doctor is killed at the end. His very existence inferred that it was he, not the original Doctor, who died in The Impossible Astronaut, but this stank of a bluff in itself. All the same, it would have been interesting to see the long-term effects of having two Doctors hanging around - I half-expected him to turn once again and nick the TARDIS, but instead he went for the self-sacrifice route. Perhaps they could have kept the Ganger, and had the original Doctor die - now that would have been a shocker…


Do you want a Jelly Baby?


While last week I compared the Doctor to his second incarnation, here he’s most like the seventh - cunning and manipulative. He proactively seeks out the Flesh specifically to study the Gangers in their early stages, and when Amy insists on coming along, he uses the opportunity to study her and her reaction to the phenomenon. Was the cloning of the Doctor an unforeseen side-effect, or did he deliberately allow it to happen by interfacing with the Flesh, just so that he could study the effects more closely? It all smacks of hypocrisy on his part. After all his speeches on the sanctity of Ganger life, he uses his own Ganger as would any worker of the twenty-second century. Still, the greater good has been served, although the rescue team didn’t sound too surprised to hear of the Ganger uprising - perhaps this wasn’t the first such occurrence.


Which brings us back to the final twist. The Doctor disintegrates Amy, revealed to have been a Ganger for months. Although this Ganger seems to be more advanced and truly sharing the real Amy’s consciousness, the Doctor never gives her a chance to exist as a separate being. Instead, she’s switched off, bringing the real Amy back to wakefulness. Amy’s face, upon finding herself shut in a box, heavily pregnant and ready to give birth, is one of quite understandable terror. What a frightening thing for any woman to experience. It certainly provides a satisfying solution to the is she / isn’t she? pregnancy mystery, although the greater mystery continues. As an aside, Rory shows a hell of a lot of trust in the Doctor as he obeys his instruction to stand away from his wife.


The final revelation threatens to overshadow the story, but in the end, just about manages to reinforce it. Still, over the coming week, people aren’t going to be talking much about the plight of the Gangers or whether the effects worked; they’re going to be talking about Amy and her baby, and it’s all down to next week’s episode to make this half-season work as the one long story it’s turned out to be.


Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2011


Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.


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