DOCTOR WHO “The Rebel Flesh” Season 6, Episode 5 – Last week, the TARDIS in her flesh form grappled with a word so difficult to understand that she couldn’t form it until the end of the episode. The word was “alive” and once again, this week’s episode of Doctor Who asks the viewer to consider how we define life.
When fully programmable matter – nicknamed “The Flesh” – develops a completely autonomous consciousness, The Doctor argues that this unintentional and extraordinary creation of a new life form is to be treated with a sort of rational reverence. For the most part, The Doctor believes that all creatures should be given an opportunity to live freely and peacefully somewhere in the universe. The humans, overwhelmed by fear and panic, think it’s best to destroy the abomination, their “Gangers,” and pretend the accident never happened.
Throughout the episode, The Doctor hints at having experienced something just like this in his past. He jokes about thinking he’d never be able to say “I have to get to the cockerel before all hell breaks loose” again and when they first set foot on the grounds of the isolated 13th century monastery, he talks about the layout with Rory and Amy as if all three of them had already been there. Amy and Rory make it clear that they’ve never been to the location before, but before The Doctor can address this, he’s distracted again. The Doctor appears to have a greater understanding of what is happening on this island than he lets on. He talks about the work being done with the bubbly vats of acid as early technology, and the urgency with which he tries to convince the humans and the Gangers to understand one another and work together makes me think there’s something significant happening here. Might we be witnessing the early stages of the Sontaran clones? Or perhaps these humans were the first to tap into the programmable matter that might be similar to what the Nestene Consciousness uses to create their advanced Autons?
Having spent 2,000 years as a Nestene duplicate himself, Rory instantly sympathizes with one of the Gangers, Jennifer. He had experienced what it was like to have all the emotions, memories and feelings of a unique living human being while at the same time, being not quite that same living human. At first it seemed out of character for Rory to jump into the line of danger for a new stranger, but it’s also been a while since anyone really needed him to be a hero. It was as if the part of his subconscious that remembers what it was like to be a Nestene duplicate took over his normally cautious approach and replaced it with the same determination and bravery that he previously showed when he was protecting Amy.
The same hints at the overall seasonal arc were peppered into this episode as they have been in other Doctor Who episodes this season, although they seemed like obligatory references this time more than anything interesting. We saw the woman with the metal eyepatch, but she didn’t say a word and the TARDIS still can’t tell if Amy is pregnant or not. I’m happy they didn’t kill off Rory in this episode, but it is a two parter so I guess there’s still room for Rory to die in this arc.
I really liked the setting for this episode of Doctor Who. The dark isolated monastery fitted with advanced technology draws up feelings of the horror of the Frankenstein laboratory. (Why do so many of brilliant scientists work in such creepy labs? It makes for great horror, but it’s no wonder these experiments go awry, they should invest in some better lighting.) Much like Frankenstein’s monster, The Flesh/Gangers in their unstable state were visually horrifying but somewhat sympathetic. Ganger Jennifer looks in the mirror and instead of seeing her normal reflection she sees a Voldemort-with-a-ponytail version of herself which causes her to vomit up a glob of acid flesh. I cringed at the repulsiveness of it, but I also felt sorry for her because she was a frightened and confused creature. What I assume was intended to be a scene which would cause the viewer to jump out of their seat, ended up being a moment which caused me to jump out of the story. The great moment in the bathroom that stirred up both horror and compassion in me was stopped dead when Ganger Jennifer busted her head through the bathroom door and showed off her stretchy neck, although, it definitely made me laugh.
The cliffhanger leaves us with The Doctor coming face to face with the Ganger Doctor and while both versions seem to have the same intentions at the end of this episode, the previews for the next Doctor Who episode make it look like things will not be going as planned. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.