Episode Title: "The Rebel Flesh"
Writer: Matthew Graham
Director: Julian Simpson
Previously on "Doctor Who":
The Doctor (Matt Smith) and his companions, Rory (Arthur Darvill) and Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) answered a Time Lord distress signal from outside the universe, only to find themselves trapped on a sentient asteroid calling itself "House;" which sucked the soul out of the TARDIS and put it into a young woman named Idris (Suranne Jones). And although House fled with the TARDIS as his new body, the Doctor bonded with his ship (Idris) in a way that he never could before and ultimately realized that the TARDIS was the love of his life.
Eventually, the Doctor and Idris caught up with the TARDIS in time to save Amy and Rory and expel House. And before Idris' body expired, she and the Doctor officially greeted each other for the first time. The Doctor was saddened by his loss, but his spirits rose when the controls of the ship responded on their own accord, indicating that the soul of his love was still with him in the TARDIS.
On the TARDIS, Amy and Rory pass the time with darts and games while the Doctor nervously scans Amy to determine whether she is pregnant, But the results of the scan continuously waver between positive and negative. The Doctor attempts to ditch the Ponds in order to investigate further, but they refuse to let him leave on his own because they remain concerned about his pending death. The TARDIS encounters some turbulence and lands on Earth, near a castle turned factory. Initially, the travelers believe that they're in medieval times, but Rory points out that someone is playing a Dusty Springfield song.
Upon investigating, the Doctor and his friends find themselves surrounded by Miranda Cleaves (Raquel Cassidy) and her skeleton crew of factory workers, including Jennifer (Sarah Smart), Jimmy (Mark Bonnar), Dicken (Leon Vickers) and Buzzer (Marshall Lancaster). The Doctor's physic paper convinces Cleaves that he's there as an inspector, but he's more impressed that the crew is using a self-replicating fluid called "The Flesh" to create remote controlled duplicate bodies for themselves called "Gangers." And when the Doctor touches "The Flesh," he notes that it seemed to be scanning him while he was scanning it.
Shortly thereafter, a severe solar storm strikes, sending a massive electrical spike through the complex and knocking everyone out. When they wake up, Jennifer is noticeably shaken and Rory seems unusually protective of her. And when he escorts her to the bathroom, she reveals herself to be an unstable Ganger and attacks him. Back in the main room, the Doctor realizes that Cleaves is also a Ganger; which causes her to flee. The human crew is noticeably scared of the idea that the Gangers have become sentient beings based on their memories, but the Doctor attempts to manage their fears.
Rory finds the Jennifer Ganger again and calms her down to the point that she can be rationale. Elsewhere, the Cleaves Ganger starts to urge her fellow Gangers to rise up against their human counterparts when the Doctor finds them. The Doctor actually manages to bring all of the Gangers back with him to the crew, where they attempt to make peace with their alternate selves. But the real Cleaves appears and kills one of the Gangers before convincing her crew that the Gangers are monsters. Elsewhere, a familiar figure is beginning to emerge from "The Flesh."
With the Gangers now bent on wiping out their human counterparts and the TARDIS inaccessible, the Doctor herds the humans into the relative safety of the chapel. The Jennifer Ganger runs off, leading Rory to chase after her in an attempt to help her. After sealing themselves in the chapel, the Doctor, Amy and the human crew come face-to-face with a new Ganger Time Lord, who repeats one of his favorite phrases, "Trust me, I'm the Doctor."
Well… that happened.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for Matthew Graham for co-creating the original "Life on Mars" series. But he's also written "Fear Her," one of the worst episodes of David Tennant's "Doctor Who" era. And unfortunately, "The Rebel Flesh" is only slightly better than "Fear Her." It's also light years away from "Life on Mars."
This isn't just a disappointing episode of the series, it's flat out mediocre. For the first time that I can think of, an episode of "Doctor Who" felt stale and contrived. There is a certain formula to this series that I tend to overlook when the writing delivers. However, I couldn't help but notice how similar this episode seemed to "The Waters of Mars" and "The Satan Pit." And in both of those two previous episodes, the human crew members encountered by the Doctor at least had some memorable personalities.
In "The Rebel Flesh," both versions of Cleaves are basically cartoonishly hateful towards each other. For the human Cleaves, that turn seemed to come out of nowhere and served no other purpose than to draw out the plot. Having watched this episode twice now, I'm convinced that the only reason it was drawn out into two parts was to end on the cliffhanger of a Ganger Doctor appearing at the conclusion. But there was so little story progression in this first part that the entire story probably should have just been a single episode.
There are a couple of moments in here that work. Rory's emerging status as a heroic protector is a good progression of his character. Although the fact that it's being used to conjure up some jealousy in Amy is a little contrived, this actually gives Rory a more solid role to play on the TARDIS crew. He's the voice of compassion and he actually seems to care about the Gangers more than the Doctor does. Several commentators online have pointed out that Rory may be sympathetic to the Gangers because he remembers part of his life as a 2,000 year old Auton. That's actually a brilliant leap in logic, I just wish there was more in the episode to back that up.
I am interested in seeing where the story is going with the duplicate Ganger Doctor and if he is truly altruistic like the real Doctor. Of course, the fallback position is that the Ganger Doctor would be secretly evil or malevolent and thereby undercut everything that the Doctor has tried to do in this episode. That would certainly be the lazy way out. There's also the theory that the Ganger Doctor was the one who died at the beginning of the season. But that's also a little too obvious, don't you think?
If the second part of this episode manages to pull off some inventive twists and make the story entertaining, a lot of the sins of this episode can be forgiven. However, this is going to be the black mark of the season until then.
Crave Online Rating: 5.5 out of 10.