“The Rebel Flesh” – Review: Redux

Doctor “Come on, there’s people coming. Well, almost”
Amy “Almost coming?”
Doctor “Almost people.”

The Rebel Flesh

At the start of Series Six, “The Impossible Astronaut” graced our screens and went on to become the most recorded programme in British TV history. Heady times, indeed, and proof that public interest in the show remained strong, even if viewing habits were, and continue to be, rapidly changing. However, Series Six was also the first of the post 2005 era to broken in half courtesy of a mid-season break and it remains a quite controversial concept. As I plough my way through this episode-a-day marathon, it is sometimes tricky to recall such details but my original review of “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People” two parter (the very last two-parter that we’ve had, to date) began with a statement of how much I was looking forward to the gap, reasoning thus… “First off it gives us time to take stock of what’s happened… Second, the potential pain of the break will be very much alleviated by the return of Torchwood and its ten-part “Miracle Day” series… Third, well it’s summer isn’t it?“. How naive? Despite the fact that the mid season lulls that the viewing figures had seen in the past when there were 13-part marathons rather than 6 or 7-part sprints as the weather improved and the distractions of summer evenings took their toll, I’ve now experienced a complete about face and am much more in favour of the marathon approach.

Anyway, before we get ahead of ourselves, now is the time to discuss Matthew Graham’s second visit to the Doctor Who writer’s room. I have to confess that while being an admiring fan of his sublime work on “Life On Mars” and “Ashes to Ashes”, Mr Graham’s first foray in to Doctor Who in 2006′s “Fear Her” left me a little cold. There were good ideas bursting to get out during that one but it seemed to be let down in the execution (the lighting of the Olympic torch at the end is still comically bad), and some ideas that really should’ve been left far behind in the drafts of the early scripts, were disappointingly left on-screen for all to see. Also, “The Rebel Flesh” was very much a case of after-the-Lord-Mayor’s-show: I imagine Matthew Graham getting an email like this… “Dear Matthew, I need a script from you that is going to follow-on directly from one of the greatest story ideas we’ve ever had in Doctor Who that will be written by the greatest writer of fantasy fiction alive today. Good luck with that. All the best, Steven.” So, imagine my delight when I tuned in on consecutive Saturdays to see a damn fine story unfold.

The opening sequence with Marshall Lancaster’s dissolution and reappearance let us in on the secret of the Gangers with a clever little puzzle to ponder as the titles rolled. Then, for the briefest of moments, some concerns began to surface: You hear a term like “solar tsunami” and you think, “Oh dear. Nothing good can come of this” but thankfully I was wrong. The Doctor landed the TARDIS on the strange be-castled island complete with dangerous acid mining activities and a Dusty Springfield soundtrack. And the script fizzed off the page and on to the screen. However, we soon got our first clue that something was amiss: It was clear that the good Doctor knew where he had landed; and the fact he was looking at his positive/negative pregnancy monitor just before hitting the storm and taking Rory and Amy to meet the Flesh was the clue we needed. In hindsight, there were little echoes of the manipulative character traits that we hadn’t really seen from the Doctor since the end of McCoy’s era.

From then on, we had some elements of classic Whovian adventures played out for our entertainment: running in corridors, Doppelgangers, companions in danger, scary monsters and all woven together in an engaging, compelling storyline. But bubbling away throughout, and especially noticable on second viewing, you get a few nice clues about what is to come.“Amy, breathe” the Doctor says no more than 20 minutes in to the first episode before the solar storm has even hit and I never noticed it at first. It’s the subtle touches like this that make the story so watchable. We even knew that the Doctor saw this version of the Flesh as early technology but it never even crossed my mind that a more advanced version was right there with them. This episode had a pretty fab cliffhanger of its own too with the Doctor/Ganger’s appearance, while signposted early on to anyone who’s watched any genre television before, was still a nice reveal and left an eager sense of  anticipation

Highlight: The appearance of the Ganger Doctor

Lowlight: It was always going to suffer in comparison to the previous episode

Talking Point: Is this Matthew Graham’s redemption?

Demon’s Run Rating: 14 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 14th May 2011

Marathon Status: 79 down, 23 to go

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