The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People

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Another week, another Doctor Who, another set of “OHMYGOD” moments.

This was another two parter — “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People”. The story opened with a bloke called Buzzer being accidentally pushed into a vat of acid and dissolving. He and his two colleagues are surprisingly casual about the whole thing. I’d be quite shocked if one of my colleagues started dissolving.

But then another Buzzer walks out to them with nothing more serious on his mind than making sure he doesn’t get in trouble for his suit being damaged. Confused? Don’t be. There’s actually a very simple explanation.

Buzzer works at an acid mining factory. It’s far too dangerous for the workers to be physically working with the acid, so instead they use fully programmable matter (“The Flesh”) to create identical models of themselves that they then control. Like in Avatar or Surrogates, but The Flesh melts back into liquid when the humans are done with them. They call these models “Gangers”, because they’re almost-but-not-quite Dopplegangers.

See, told you it was simple. Ish.

Anyway, the Doctor is incredibly interested in the flesh, as he always is in the major plot points of episodes. He scans The Flesh and touches it, reiterating how it’s far more alive than the workers understand. They’re dismissive of this, though, and of his warnings of the huge solar storm that’s about to hit the factory. Which, seasoned Who viewers know, is a bad move. If the Doctor warns you of something, pay attention. The solar storm hits and everyone inside is knocked unconscious.

When they wake up, a Very Bad Thing has happened. Well actually, several very bad things. Firstly, the storm has battered the factory and acid is leaking everywhere. Secondly, the ground the TARDIS was parked on has been showered with acid and dissolved; the TARDIS itself has sunk into the ground. Thirdly, the Gangers are no longer connected to the humans. They are in fact separate and animated.

Cue two episodes of mental gymnastics over whether or not the Gangers are in fact people. They have the same memories and rationality of their human source. They are certainly equipped with a full set of emotions — Jimmy and his Ganger come face to face and express identical love and pride over their son, and Ganger-Jennifer sobs over her childhood memories. The Doctor is convinced that they are people and deserve to be treated as such, and the audience are finding it pretty hard to disagree with him.

Thing is, it doesn’t matter what we think. In the factory, the only person who agrees with the Doctor is Rory. The humans consider the Gangers to be little more “mistakes” that need to be “cleaned up” and when a Ganger-Doctor arrives on the scene (looking, rather brilliantly, like post-resurrection Voldemort in the fourth Harry Potter film) Amy doesn’t want, like or trust him.

The Gangers aren’t going to take this sitting down — they’re been given life and they’re desperate to cling onto it. They’re also pretty damn angry about how badly they’ve been treated by the humans. Soon both sides declare war, and it becomes a game of cat-and-mouse in a factory leaking acid from all sides.

I could’t do justice to the excitement of the second episode without actually writing it like a novel. It was utterly, genuinely brilliant. Creepy, tense and unexpected at every turn. It’s also profoundly uncomfortable viewing — you always watch Doctor Who and want the humans to be the good guys, so when they are the ones doing bad things it makes you feel ashamed, almost guilty. I love the episodes that do this, though, and this one does it crackingly well.

Mainly, I must say, through Amy. This episode certainly shows a nastier side of her. I said before that she doesn’t like Ganger-Doctor, but she is actually downright horrid to him. She continually tells him that he doesn’t trust him, says that she can “tell the difference” and insinuates to him that she hopes it’s him whose death she has seen rather than her Doctor’s. Which certainly backfires when the Doctor tells her that actually he was pretending to be Ganger-Doctor to see what she’d do. Oops. Guess the Doctor knows about his death, now.

Anyway. Thankfully the Doctor is a smart man. When the Gangers have trapped Amy and the humans in a room that will slowly fill with acid, he appeals to the Gangers’ humanity and they rush in to save the humans. Well. Almost all of them. Ganger-Jennifer doesn’t take this about-turn well; she turns into a giant Flesh daddy-long-legs and starts attacking everyone. One by one, the humans and the Gangers sacrifice themselves (I feel sorry for Buzzer. He dies three different deaths in one story. That’s almost as much as Rory in a season) and eventually Amy, Rory, the Doctor, Ganger-Jimmy, Mirande and Ganger-Dicker escape. Ganger-Jimmy is dropped off at home to be a dad to deceased Jimmy’s son whilst Miranda and Ganger-Dicker go off to fight for Ganger rights. All happy. Apart from Buzzer. Sorry, Buzzer.

This so far has all been excellently done. Very exciting and chock full of things to discuss down the pub when you’re feeling philosophical. But it’s nothing, nothing compared to the final scene in the TARDIS.

Okay, bit of background. At the start of the episode, the Doctor scanned Amy and it still said she was pregnant and not pregnant. The Doctor has been telling Amy to breathe all the way through the episode and the Ganger-Doctor told her “Push, but only when she tells you”. Now, back in the TARDIS, he tells her that they went to the factory on purpose to examine The Flesh better. She’s having huge stomach pains; the Doctor says she’s having contractions. He promises her that they’ll come and find her, he warns Rory to stand back, he points his screwdriver at her and...she melts.

She flipping MELTS. She’s FLESH. She’s been FLESH ALL THIS TIME. AMY IS A GANGER.

Not a “separate” ganger, though, because she wakes up when melted. In a white room, wearing a white hospital gown, with the strange woman above her telling her she’s about ready to pop and that it’s time to push. Amy looks down to see a huge pregnant belly and her knees bent in a birthing position, and there’s some kind of weird green light/tube at the end of the bed. Amy screams...

And that’s it.

So for all of you Amy’s-dreaming theorists, well done. You were right. Ish.

For everyone else, oh my God. Oh my GOD. WHAT!? Seriously, WHAT!?

Amy is now in some undisclosed location, about to give birth to a baby that she was no idea she was pregnant with. When was she switched? I think it has to be somewhere between the end of the first and the start of the second episode — she said she was pregnant in the first episode, but not in the second.

But where is she? Who is the eye-patch woman? What is that green light/tube? It is a camera, or are they taking the baby away? Who took Amy? Why did they take her? The only explanation I have is that it’s the Silents — if she was taken during the first two-parter they were the main baddies there and the little girl with the photo of Amy was in the orphanage the Silents were swarming over.

But what the heck is going to happen in the next episode? It’s called “A Good Man Goes To War” and it’s the mid-series finale, so we know it’s going to be big. But how dark is it going to be? If someone has taken the trouble to steal pregnant Amy and replace her with a Ganger, they’re probably after the baby. Are we going to have Amy’s baby stolen? What is the Doctor going to do if someone steals Amy’s baby? I can’t imagine he’ll be best pleased, and an angry Doctor is a scary Doctor...

So many questions. I’m afraid I have no answers. If you just can’t wait for next week, there’s an intriguing but spoiler-free prequel here.

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Doctor Who

The long-running BBC TV science fiction series that started in 1963 and recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary. 2017 saw Peter Capaldi regenerate into the show's first female Doctor played by Jodie Whittaker. The Thirteenth Doctor's first season debuts in 2018, with Chris Chibnall replacing Steven Moffat as the current showrunner.

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