Contributor: Gregg Wright
“The Rebel Flesh” marks the beginning of a two-parter, which comes before yet another two-parter that will take us from the first half of the season to the second half. “The Rebel Flesh” is like any other stand-alone “Doctor Who” adventure, but longer. The basic concept is good, and it allows for some good philosophical explorations. It’s also a relatively solid attempt at telling a genuinely spooky “Who” story, which seem to fairly rare these days (though it’s nowhere near as impressive or scary as any of the episodes featuring the “Angels”).
Unfortunately, I do think the episode doesn’t live up to its potential as well as it should. And I admit to finding it more tiring than entertaining to see the Doctor forced to deal with such incredibly ignorant, narrow-minded human beings. I’m always irritated by characters in science-fiction who just can’t accept that a perfect copy of themselves is just as much them as they are. The poor Doctor is left struggling to convince these people of how ridiculous their misconceptions are. But, of course, everything goes to hell.
Rory and Amy both often seem like they’re just along for the ride. So this episode was unusually good, in that regard, for how well it integrated Rory into the proceedings. Unlike the 22nd century humans who’ve been duplicated as “gangers”, Rory is unable to objectify the gangers. This is actually one of Rory’s finest moments, as it effectively integrates Rory’s innate sense of compassion into the plot. There’s a particular ganger, Jennifer Lucas, who he becomes protective of once he realizes that she’s just as real as her human couterpart; a relationship which Amy seems overly threatened by. Rory’s outrage over the originals’ treatment of the gangers serves as one of the episode’s stronger points, in my opinion. I like that it caused Rory to act more bravely than I would have normally expected of him. I hope that this element is continued in the next episode, “The Almost People”.
Another redeeming touch was the appearance of the Doctor’s ganger at the end. Without that revelation, the cliffhanger lead-in to the next episode would have been pretty underwhelming. I’m actually somewhat interested in seeing the Doctor have to deal with a potentially slightly unhinged, more dangerous version of himself. The doppleganger concept becomes much more fun and personal when it directly connects to a regular character. This specific ganger is essentially, or at least mostly, the Doctor. But his current state might make him act a little more irrationally. I’m hoping that this new plot element will make the second episode a bit more interesting than the first.
The Doctor is once again seen watching the TARDIS scanning Amy, once again with inconclusive results. And Amy briefly glimpses the eye patch lady again. Neither of these inclusions tell us anything we didn’t already know, or advance the larger plot in any way. So they feel kind of useless. But I suppose I’m glad they were thrown in, at least to remind us that they’re going to get around to explaining it all eventually.
To summarize, this episode was a strong attempt to tell a creepy sci-fi story with some philosophical depth. But the writing is a bit on the weak side, especially in contrast to last week’s Neil Gaiman-written episode. The jokes don’t always work as well, and the dialog and plotting feel a bit awkward and incoherent. Still, the concept is strong and the execution, though flawed, still results in a worthwhile episode with a good lead-in to the conclusion of the two-parter.