I’ve got to admit, The Rebel Flesh has left me stumped. The TARDIS, blown off course by a solar tsumani, lands outside a medieval monastary where acid is being mined and pumped to the mainland. The work is being done by a skeleton crew through Avatar-like clones made possible by the ‘living flesh’ substance referred to by the title.
When things get struck by lightning/weird celestial storms, strange things happen. Ask Johnny 5 and the Fantastic 4. In the case of “The Flesh”, well, the strange sentient gunk takes on the thoughts, memories and feelings of the people they were intended to clone. And in a storyline that reminds me a lot of the series 5 two parter The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, the humans become the initial aggressor against a species they don’t understand and don’t hold to be ‘legitimate’ life forms.
And despite The Doctor making a sincere effort to broker a peace between the humans and their ‘Gangers, the leader of the mining operation opens up hostilities when she kills one of the gangers.
Oh, not forgetting that of course the big Gallifreyan goofball would stick his hand in the gunk and end up getting cloned himself. Those of us who’ve been speculating on this episode will have seen the Clone Doctor coming a mile off, especially with his “Trust me, I’m The Doctor” line. But though it wasn’t much of a surprise, the sight of Matt Smith with a creepy translucent mask on still gave me a shudder.
Was it scary?
It’s hard to tell if this episode was scary or simply confusing. But then, in an episode where people and their clones are running around, confusion is probably the intended effect. And that part worked.
I have an increasing problem with the amount of “vintage” Doctor Who elements that are creeping back into the series though. Last week it was the cheap “infinite [[TARDIS (Doctor Who)|TARDIS]] corridor” set. Increasingly, the background music is taking on the form of that old-school noodly music that dogged the old series. The only difference is the quality of instruments in the production – replace that with crappy synthesiser and you’re right back in the 80s.
Likewise the people hiding round corners and lurking in dark corners of the castle. It should be obvious to most watchers that there’s a conscious effort being made to throw back to the style of the classic series. I don’t like it. It’s what turned me off Doctor Who as a child, and I don’t like it on a modern TV show. Sorry.
I admire the concept behind The Rebel Flesh though. Those of you who were reading my Who reviews last year know I loved the execution of The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood.
Again we have a story about two opposed groups either having to work together or kill each other. This time, something that humans previously thought was handy sludge turns sentient and inconveniently starts wanting to be treated with respect. What makes this so difficult for the humans in question is that they’re staring at clones of themselves who have the same memories and personalities that they do. What happens when your clone wants to come home, have dinner and play with your/his kids? Try explaining that to the wife!
Unfortunately, the execution of this concept gets muddled with all the skulking around corridors and twin confusion. Like I say, the Silurian story from last year took great pains to balance the action with the higher concept. This story needed to be much clearer: do clones have the same rights as the original life form they’re based upon?
It’s a question that’s been asked in sci-fi before. It’s why I mentioned Johnny 5 up above – does a newly sentient robot have feelings, or a right to be treated like a human? You’ll see elements of this debate running through other shows like Caprica and Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse.
The bigger picture: what does this mean for the series arc?
Yes. Two Doctors. One original, one clone flavoured.
But you see the dilemma: it’s too overt a solution now. Would you kill off The Doctor, make a big deal about him being dead in 200 years, and then hand the viewers as obvious a solution as a clone?
Oh yeah, Mr Delaware The Third, you say you’re sure that was The Doctor’s corpse – but how do you know? That said…didn’t Moffat say he wanted The Doctor to be more incognito in future, less the notorious defender of planets and return him to a slightly more anonymous space/time traveller?
Following that line of thought, it would make sense if a clone Doctor had been burned on a funeral pyre. River Song said it was because Time Lord cells would be much sought after. But what if burning the dead clone also burned the evidence that it was a clone? And what if this ultimately is a way to fake The Doctor’s death…in the eyes of the universe?
But all the same, I find myself conflicted that such an obvious device would present itself now. Over to you lot – what did you think a) of the episode, and b) of the clone development?