Stars: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Mark Bonnar, Marshall Lancaster, Sarah Smart, Raquel Cassidy, Leon Vickers, Frances Barber, Edmond Moulton
Writer: Matthew Graham
Director: Julian Simpson
Network: BBC America, airs Saturday nights
Original Telecast: June 4, 2011
In the sixth episode of DOCTOR WHO Series 6, “The Almost People,” the Doctor (Matt Smith) and the Other Doctor (Smith again) must manage a volatile situation between humans and Gangers as fear threatens to plunge everyone into war. But as tensions rise and two Time Lords may only serve to exacerbate the problem, there’s a bigger mystery lurking in the shadows. Just why was the Doctor coming here in the first place to find out about the Flesh, and why is Amy still catching glimpses of that strange lady with the eye patch (Frances Barber)? Something is very wrong with Rory’s (Arthur Darvill) wife, but can the Doctor figure it all out before it spells disaster for the married couple – and someone very close to them?
Usually it’s the first-part of two-part stories that suffers as it often spends more time shuffling characters into place for part two than it does telling a satisfying enough story itself. This time however, a very strong first part last week (“The Rebel Flesh”) is followed by a disappointing finale, as this episode cares more about working toward a shocking surprise cliffhanger for next week instead of shouldering the full responsibility for being the second part of a two-part tale. Granted, that surprise is a pretty big one – at least for viewers that go spoiler-free – but it still shifts focus away from so much that would have made this episode a far more satisfying conclusion to the Gangers’ saga.
Lots of obvious set-up material in part one went missing this week. Why was the Doctor constantly checking a snow globe last time? What happened to Dicken’s (Leon Vickers) habitual sneezing, a seemingly deliberate “you’ll be able to tell the human by the sneezing” gimmick that never gets a pay-off here? No matter how many times I’ve seen this episode – a handful so far – I still can’t follow the sonic screwdriver(s), but I feel like there’s an editing problem there. And before we move on, what about this whole acid-mining thing? Why the hell were they mining acid? For what? We’re vaguely told in part one that this is under contract for the military, but what’s the point? And how does mining acid even work, anyway? It doesn’t look like they really have the hang of it anyway.
The bigger issues though are of an ethical and moral nature, and they could easily be resolved with a line or two of dialogue. Since they aren’t handled in this episode, the only question now is whether they’ll ever bother to deal with it later; I fear they won’t. So we may be left with the following questions.
After spending two episodes championing the rights of the Flesh and impressing upon viewers that they are sentient beings with the potential to be their own individual entities, why does the Doctor so easily dispatch Amy’s Ganger without a second thought? Yes, she’s being controlled by the real Amy and is not an independent being, but the Flesh is still a living thing. If it’s from later technology, why would a future version of the Flesh be less sentient or less potentially alive than the earlier version? Wouldn’t such development be going backwards in scientific terms, and wouldn’t that have likely involved the deliberate decision to quash the Flesh’s spark of sentience in direct contradiction to the Doctor’s ideals? If anyone understands this one better than I did, feel free to let me know.
Even if that one has an answer, there’s another issue with the Doctor’s morality here that may be more troubling. Just this past Christmas, we saw him leave a young woman to die without ever inquiring about the details of her terminal illness or lifting a finger to help her with all space and time at his disposal, and despite the fact that she and her lover became temporary traveling companions for (from their perspective) years, but here he meets a woman for a few hours, finds out she has a blood clot and just reaches under the TARDIS console and tosses her a miracle cure.
What exactly is his criteria for helping people then? What do you have to do to be blessed with a cure from the Doctor’s medicine cabinet? And never mind all the individuals, what about the grander sweep of history? If he cares so much about humanity, how come he isn’t dispensing more magic cures? Is he hiding away an anti-cancer elixir but withholding it because that’s one step too far for him? Where are these lines drawn? I know, I know – don’t think about it, just enjoy the show. Fans can be very selective about what they choose to think about, but when it comes to our hero’s core ethics and morality, I think that’s pretty damn important. Since we only just last year saw him profess love for the Silurian equivalent of Josef Mengele, I have to wonder about ol’ Number Eleven.
Back to “The Almost People.” For those that have trouble with Rory’s relationship with Jennifer (Sarah Smart), my wife offered one of her brilliant insights that I hadn’t picked up on. Jennifer told Rory (and us) about herself as a lost little girl and another, stronger side to her psyche. If Jennifer has a multiple personality problem, although she’s a meek, sweet girl most of the time, it’s that darker, stronger side that the Ganger copy must have brought to the surface. And as for Rory, we know he’s a natural caregiver with a thing for vulnerable young women that have a history of psychological problems. For our former plastic Centurion, it’s an excellent, logical character beat.
The saddest thing about “The Almost People” is that it’s an episode being pulled like liquid Flesh in two directions, partly by its opening episode and partly by the mid-season cliffhanger it’s intended to set up. In this tug of war no one wins, so what could have been a really strong story becomes less than stellar although still buoyed by good performances and some rather profound but all-too-brief touches here and there.
Next time, DOCTOR WHO enters new territory as it offers its very first mid-series (or season) cliffhanger. Who is River Song? That question will be answered – at least in part – before the show takes a summer break and returns in the autumn. Join us here in one week for our look at “A Good Man Goes to War!”
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Click on the link for AX’s review of DOCTOR WHO episode “The Rebel Flesh”
CLICK HERE for AX’s List on “THE FIVE QUESTIONS WE HOPE DOCTOR WHO – SERIES 6 ANSWERS”
CLICK HERE for Neil Gaiman talking about scripting his Season 6 DOCTOR WHO episode
CLICK HERE for brand new photos from DOCTOR WHO – Season 6 – including new poster
CLICK HERE to view the new EXTENDED SEASON 6 DOCTOR WHO trailer
CLICK HERE for Actor Mark Sheppard talking about his role in a Season 6 episode of DOCTOR WHO