Well, I was right. Much to my astonishment, I was right. I said in last week’s review of Doctor Who that there was something not quite right with Mrs Amelia Pond, something slightly off. Turns out that for once I was right on the money. The final five minutes of The Almost People (Sat, BBC1) were dizzying, turning everything we thought we knew about this season completely topsy-turvy. Before we got there though, a certain amount of unfinished business from last week remained to be cleared up. Did part two of Matthew Graham’s story build on the promise of the first week? I’ll say it did.
I was having a chat with a couple of mates last week, and one of them expressed the opinion that Doctor Who is no longer kid-friendly – that it’s more for adults than it is for children now. I sort of agree with that, except I think that Steven Moffat and friends are now pitching directly at the same audience that Hinchcliffe and Holmes were – the (for want of a better word) “intelligent” thirteen year olds and up. Nowt wrong with that, and there were definitely moments this week that might well have been upsetting for the younger viewer.
Jennifer-Ganger noshing down on Buzzer, the pile of discarded ganger prototypes, the hall of accusing eyes (“always the last to go”) – all striking imagery, all strong stuff and all the sort of thing which will haunt the memory for years to come (well, with the exception of Jennifer and Buzzer, which brought back unfortunate flashes of The Lazarus Experiment) . This week was heavy on the atmosphere (Director Julian Simpson taking full advantage of the beautiful monastery location and filling the darkened corridors full of mist which diffused the light beauftifully). I know that the series has taken a serious hit in the budget this last couple of years, but you wouldn’t know it to watch this. Doctor Who has never looked better than it does now. The odd dodgy bit of CGI aside (and we didn’t *need* those ganger-monsters, the episode was working perfectly well without them), this is a show that looks lush, classy and is obviously made with love and care. Quite right too.
All of the atmospheric direction in the world means nothing if there isn’t something interesting going on to keep you watching, and this week we had all sorts. The most obviously showy aspect was of course, the Matt Smith double-act. Ganger-Doctor certainly made the most of his first appearance – spouting lines from his predecessors like there was no tomorrow (and indeed, speaking in Tom Baker’s voice, which was unexpected and rather heart-warming). As he adapted to suddenly becoming the Last of the Time Lords he sprang into high gear, becoming (if such a thing were possible) – even more hyperactive than the Eleventh Doctor normally is. Finishing each other’s sentences, interrupting each other, interrupting themselves – it was impossible to take your eyes off them (I especially liked the continuation of the ongoing attempt to find a catch-phrase that would stick. This week the candidate was “Yowza”, which obviously didn’t take on. If only his previous incarnation had shown the same rigour – we’d have been spared the pain of “Allon-Sy” and “Ho-yes”).
What was fascinating this week was the sudden reappearance of the old, manipulative Doctor. The Second Doctor had his moments, maneuvering The Daleks into their final destruction then quietly directing events on Telos to his own ends. The Seventh was obviously the player of Twister on a Thousand Mats. The devious, planning Doctor’s been in remission for a few incarnations now, but here we had the Doctors swapping around in order to test Amy. The scene in which Amy was grabbed by the throat with The Doctor gasping “Why? Why? Why?” into her face was gripping in so many ways – to be fair, if someone had done that to me I’d have been a bit careful around them afterwards, but it was so sudden, so shocking. If the Flesh is identical in every aspect to the original, does this mean that The Elveneth Doctor carries these darker tendencies as well? It would appear so, given how the episode panned out.
As with last week, the Saturday evening audience were presented with some strong meat to chew on – ethical questions of what it means to be human, how we behave to others and how we present ourselves. Doctor Who’s always drawn on other influences, and it was obvious that Jennifer-Ganger owes a huge debt to Mary Shelley, with the rampaging ego-monster of Frankenstein not only turning on the Creator, but demanding the right to exist themselves. For a while it even looked like she’d snared herself a mate – something which the original Frankenstein demanded but never quite managed. Thankfully for Rory, the veil was drawn from his eyes just in time. Poor old Rory – a good man manipulated to the advantage of others. His scene when he looks through the window at the others, mouthing “I’m sorry”, repeatedly – you can tell that just for that moment he hates himself for having been taken in so easily.
I could really have done without the anvil-clanging big message of the week – as with the first episode, I’d sort of worked out that there were monsters on both sides without them actually using the line “Who are the real monsters here?” Just for a moment I was expecting Lee and Herring to wander in –
“But Who is the real monster, Stu? Is it me, who exploits the Flesh for his own corrupted ends, with no thought of how they may be feeling? Or is it the businessman… in his suit and tie?”
“Erm, it’s actually the first one I think, Rich…”
What was fascinating about ths week was the way that the older the Gangers got, the more they seemed to exhibit the good side of humanity. Ganger-Cleves turned out to be a thoroughly good egg in the end, as did Jimmy. Once “real” Jimmy gets a chestful of acid, it’s up to Ganger-Jimmy to take over and become the father he felt that he already was. By all appearances he’s well and truly up to the job. Cleaves (in either incarnation) comported herself with dignity and grace, a million miles away from the twitchy, nervous maniac of last week. The revelation of the brain-clot which was carried by both versions was a nice twist – if you take on the characteristics of a human, you take on all their frailties and weeknesses as well and it’s to Raquel Cassidy’s credit that she managed to dial back her performance to the point where by the end of the episode I was rooting for them both to survive.
This being modern Doctor Who of course, we’re big on heroic sacrifice and the episode came to a conclusion with not one, not two, but three characters biting the big one to save everyone else. In at least one character’s case I’m absolutely certain we haven’t seen the last of ’em. But is it far too easy to assume that was Ganger-Doctor we saw being gunned down at the start of the season? The way the plotting this year’s gone, I’m not at all sure.
And then… that last scene. After two entire episodes hammering home the fundamental similarities between the Flesh and real humans (even going as far as dropping two of the cast off at Weyland-Yutani sorry, Morpeth-Jetsan to argue that very point), suddenly we have an unsympathetic Doctor, totally willing to kill Ganger-Amy on the spot. Not only that, but the revelation rocks Rory’s world to the foundations as well, and he actively sides with the Doctor – stepping away and leaving Ganger-Amy to face her death completely alone. The moment she said she was really scared, my heart went out to her, and it was shocking to see the coldness in the normally warm and lively Eleventh Doctor’s eyes. It might have made more sense, surely, to keep Ganger-Amy around? As a direct link to the real Amy (as evidenced by her continuing Frances Barber visions, it was obvious that Amy’s actual experiences kept on bleeding through into the consciousness of Ganger-Amy), she might have provided vital assistance in finding the “real” version. But no – there’s the Doctor, gunning down someone for whose very right to exist he’d been fighting for two full episodes. Didn’t ring true. I still don’t think we’re done with this particular plot. Given how we’re only six episodes in there’s lots of time to explore this further. I just hope they do, because I don’t want to think of The Doctor as someone who pays lip-service to noble ideals without carrying them through. That said, this is a man who pressed the button which destroyed his entire race, so who knows what he’s capable of?
So… were does that leave us? Pregnant Amy “ready to pop” (now there’s a line I never thought I’d hear in Doctor Who). The Doctor, on the warpath. Rory, no doubt furious and desperate to find his wife (and bear in mind that wherever she is, he says he knows). Where is Amy? Is this something to do with The Silence, or does it hark back to something from last year (I’m hearing fan theories tonight that a rewatch of The Big Bang might shed some light)? Given that next week sees the return of The Arch Plotter himself, The Grand Moff… who can say?
We’ve got a “game-changing cliffhanger” to come, so I don’t expect everything to be answered. I just know that the title of next week’s episode – “A Good Man Goes To War” – carries infinite promise. I suspect we’re off into areas that Doctor Who has never explored before. Everything I thought I knew about this series has been upended several times already this year, and I’m completely wrong-footed. Good. Long may they continue to confound my expectations.