THIS EPISODE TAKES PLACE BETWEEN THE TV
EPISODES "THE REBEL FLESH" AND
"A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR."
'THE COMPLETE SIXTH SERIES' BLU-RAY DVD
LIKELY TO BE RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2011.
The Doctor must convince terrified factory workers
to work with their doppelgangers to overcome a monster of their own making.
28TH MAY 2011
(45-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 2 OF 2)
Last May I spent a gloomy Saturday evening looking back and forth between my telly and my watch, frowning intolerantly as I waited for monsters to burst from the hearts of humans and the bowels of Mother Earth. The same time a week later, I spent almost an hour perched perilously on the edge of my sofa, my jaw risking carpet burn as I witnessed a dawdling plot take a sudden plunge over the catastrophe curve. Now here I am, a little over a year on, suffering the almost exactly the same.
Despite its pacing problems, The Rebel Flesh did a breathtaking job of outlining the moral issues that writer Matthew Graham wanted to broach, but The Almost People makes these tangible problems to be addressed. Instead of using a few fleeting, stage-style monologues to evoke Ganger sympathy, here Graham actually shows us the son loved by two fathers; the brain injury threatening two identical foremen; even the apparently indivisible affections of two twin Time Lords’ companion. The results are not as provocative as they might have been, as the writer dodges the toughest ethical questions by only allowing one version of each person to survive, but his narrative is gratifyingly thought-provoking nonetheless.
“You’re twice the man I thought you were.”
I particularly like how Graham uses our three beloved leads to personify three very different ‘Ganger’ attitudes. Firstly, we have big-hearted Rory, who has been flattered into becoming the Gangers’ feckless collaborator. We then have Amy, who sees the Doctor’s Ganger as being somehow less than the original; a sentient being in its own right, perhaps, but not the Doctor. And then we have the Time Lord himself, duplicated so flawlessly that even those closest to him can be fooled by something as simple as a switch of the shoes.
A year ago, something as bold as duplicating this incarnation of the Doctor might not have worked, but now that viewers are so familiar with Matt Smith and his idiosyncratic portrayal, the conceit works more effectively than I might have hoped. In part, this is because Smith is, quite literally, playing two eleventh Doctors. He isn’t playing a part-human Doctor as David Tennant notably did in Journey’s End, nor is he is charged with realising three discrete personality aspects as Paul McGann was in the less-famed audio production Caerdroia – he’s playing a Ganger version of his Doctor; effectively “the original twice”. As a result, this episode is instantly more appealing than its protracted predecessor. Not only was I wowed by Smith’s mercurial performance and moved by the illicit soundbites drawn from Doctors past, but I felt directly involved in the live issues, as I’m sure was the writer’s intention. Like many of the millions watching, I was in Pond’s shoes – as much as I knew that I should see the Doctor’s Ganger as a perfect duplicate, when it came down to it I didn’t want to. It didn’t matter how wounded Smith looked or how eloquent his arguments were, in my eyes the Ganger Doctor was somehow less than the sum of its parts, and it would take a clever ruse to convince me otherwise.
“The eyes are always the last to go.”
However, there is far more to this episode than moral musings. The Almost People builds upon the preceding instalment’s body horror, pushing the envelope psychologically as well as physically. Whilst I didn’t think much of the obligatory rampaging CG monstrosity, I did find the emotional horror that gave rise to it most effective. Jennifer’s impassioned speech to her countrymen about feeling each and every Ganger death is exceptionally harrowing, particularly when she highlights the very evident fact that a Ganger’s eyes are the last part of it to melt when it perishes. It’s as if the windows to their souls are desperately hanging on longer than their flesh will allow. This gruesome idea is then chillingly counterpointed by the mound of Raggy Doll Gangers that have been condemned to live in never-ending agony, simply because their human creators couldn’t be arsed to put them out of their misery. It’s a uniquely disturbing image; one that will stain the dreams of the nation’s children for months to come. It certainly will mine.
The Almost People’s murkiness is then brought into sharp focus through Julian Simpson’s measured use of colour. Here the assiduous grey of The Rebel Flesh gives way to red and yellow danger hues, as well as fleeting, technicolour glimpses of the world beyond the slavery of the factory. When the hologram of Jimmy’s full-colour son appears in the middle of the factory, it effectively encapsulates everything that the Gangers are fighting for, yet don’t feel quite worthy of.
“When are you coming home?”
The writer also handles the Doctor’s companions with real grace. It’s a testament to both his skill and Arthur Darvill’s persuasive performance that Rory convinces as both the vacillating, Adric-like turncoat and the friend so trusting that he just stands by and lets the Doctor do the unthinkable to Amy. Karen Gillan, similarly, is exceptionally credible in how she conveys Amy’s reservations about the second Doctor and particularly the distress caused by the “time memories” that increasingly percolate as this ambitious arc speeds into its long-awaited crescendo.
Needless to say, the episode’s climax is a jaw-dropper in every sense, and pleasingly it’s one that wasn’t tarnished by tabloid hacks. The shock of having Amy revealed as a Ganger, and one that I gather has been in place since before The Impossible Astronaut, could only be bested by the Doctor’s summary execution of her and what follows it. Even if the Amy Ganger isn’t dead per se and the Doctor has merely “cut off the transmission” of her consc-iousness to it (as Steven Moffat suggests is the case in the accompanying Doctor Who Confidential), by destroying a potentially sentient being as if it were just some disposable vehicle he has still seemingly flown in the face of the moral that’s just been rammed down our throats. Perhaps this is the whole point; I don’t know. No doubt need week’s adventure will elucidate.
“I’ll be as humane as I can…”
For present purposes, however, it is worth noting that Graham is careful to tender the ideas that dissolution might not be the end for the Doctor’s Ganger, and, more subtly, that there could have been more than one Ganger Doctor. What we finally understand to have been the original Doctor was unconscious for a spell in the middle of the episode, during which time he could easily have been replaced by a second, potentially unstable, Ganger. As the deranged Jennifer’s double-Ganger stunt ably demonstrates, there’s no good reason why the Flesh would have stopped at just one Doctor Ganger if it suited its purpose. Without knowing it, we may be in the fascinating position of having another Ganger in the TARDIS – it would certainly explain the Doctor’s tacit approval of his first Ganger’s sacrifice (which could be taken as an endorsement of humanity’s treatment of dispensable Gangers, thus making him less like himself than the copy) and his cold-blooded killing of the Ganger that has apparently been housing Amy’s consciousness. What’s more, a Ganger Doctor with an agenda potentially contrary to humanity’s might even fit the description of a “good man” and “hero to many”. I wonder…
But the Amy Ganger’s plight is only half the cliffhanger, as the original Pond wakes up from her “death” in the throes of labour, the tentative pregnancy that has underscored the season so far now apparently coming to term. If these astonishing developments aren’t considered “game-changers”, then I shudder to think what’s in store for us next week.
And so, just as Cold Blood did this time last year, the second instalment of a two-part tale has won me round. Graham’s adventure would certainly have been better presented as one consistently-paced hour, as opposed to nearly ninety minutes unevenly balanced astride an unmovable cliffhanger, but I suppose a slow first part that leads a spectacular second is not so vile a sin as an episode that promises the Earth, only to steal it away with a swerve.
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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