A solar tsunami liberates doppelgangers from their human ‘originals’. And when the Doctor arrives, the deaths begin…
The Rebel Flesh kicks off the journey towards the mid-season finale of Series 6 and sees a more mysterious Eleventh Doctor than we have perhaps seen before. Following on from Neil Gaiman’s love letter to the TARDIS means that this episode probably struggles more than it deserves. It is not a great episode, but it is also not as bad as I initially thought.
It certainly is worth noting that Matthew Graham’s return to the show is an improvement over his debut script in Series 2, Fear Her. That might not be exactly a glowing recommendation though. The Rebel Flesh is not a perfect story by any stretch of the imagination but certainly treads some interesting ground. The most intriguing part of the story are the Gangers, clones made out of the Flesh to do dangerous work on behalf of humans, like working with acid. The Flesh takes facets of the human’s personality though, meaning that, when things inevitably go wrong, it’s harder to tell who is human and who is Flesh.
Part of the problem with the story, however, is that the supporting cast feel majorly under developed. Part of this problem can be seen to be intentional. By sparing us details about the humans, the audience is on edge as to who is human and who is Flesh. However, the fact that we don’t get to know very much about any of these characters before disaster strikes in the form of the solar storm means that the audience doesn’t really care either way. This does help to contribute to a great cold open though, when Jennifer’s ganger inadvertently causes the death of Buzzer’s, whilst the rest of his colleagues just watch on as his body begins to melt in the acid. The Rebel Flesh is the first part of a two-part story, but it never really feels like it is.
It feels like it is rushing to tell the story in order to introduce us to the monster of the fortnight, rather than taking time to build a mystery. Mark Bonnar is perhaps the most compelling of the guest cast, but that is possibly due to the strength of Bonnar’s acting. The other guest cast get little to do: we learn that Buzzer likes Dusty Springfield, Dicken likes building card houses and Cleaves is perhaps unnecessarily aggressive, but there’s certainly not enough about Sarah Smart’s Jennifer to show us why Rory finds her quite so endearing. The Gangers raise a valuable point: they are essentially the same as the humans, so don’t they deserve the right to live? The problem is that the humans that they are copies of aren’t terribly interesting, so we have double the amount of bland on a screen.
There are some lovely moments in this story and the director, Julian Simpson certainly leans into them. The scenes of Jennifer’s Ganger forming out of the Flesh are reminiscent of Frankenstein and the location shooting taking place in this monastery whilst new life is being formed is really evocative and the work done on the Flesh’s skin, changing from normal human faces to something really unsettling can be really unsettling. Our opening establishing shot of the monastery is really great. It is, therefore, disappointing that the CGI lets the good work down, especially in the bathroom scene where Jennifer goes all stretchy.
From the outset, it is clear that the Eleventh Doctor doesn’t really want his companions around whilst he explores this monastery, before they are caught in the solar tsunami. Smith is good here, if a little sidelined along with Amy as Rory really takes the lead here. I do like Smith channeling his inner Troughton when he arrives at the facility, though. The beating heart of this team is Rory, played by Darvill, who manages to bring some degree of sense to Rory’s actions. Rory goes against Amy here and wants to help Jennifer, as opposed to this more alien Doctor and Amy, who both struggle with connecting with people, which is not something that can be said of the third member of this team and this allows Rory to come into his own. The Eleventh Doctor has ulterior motives here, and despite what he is telling his companions, be did intend to come here to investigate the Flesh, even if his reasoning isn’t clear yet.
Verdict: An intriguing idea that suffers with some problems with the story telling and decision-making. In attempts to create paranoia, we ultimately end up not caring who is Flesh and who is human. 6/10
Cast: Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams), Mark Bonnar (Jimmy), Marshall Lancaster (Buzzer), Sarah Smart (Jennifer), Raquel Cassidy (Cleaves), Leon Vickers (Dicken) and Frances Barber (Eye Patch Lady).
Writer: Matthew Graham
Director: Julian Simpson
Producer: Marcus Wilson
Composer: Murray Gold
Original Broadcast Date: 21st May 2011
Behind the Scenes
- The first use of motion control cameras in Doctor Who since The Mysterious Planet, and the first time they were used on actors rather than inanimate models.
- The facility was originally to contain more workers and gangers, but numbers were reduced due to budgetary reasons, to accentuate the feelings of fear and paranoia and to make the story clearer.
- Mark Bonnar plays the villainous Time Lord The Eleven for Big Finish, who debuts in the audio anthology Doom Coalition.
- Sarah Smart also appeared as Laura Corbett in the Fourth Doctor Big Finish story The Crooked Man.
- Raquel Cassidy has also appeared in the Big Finish plays The Judgment of Isskar, Parodoxicide, Question Marks and Destination: Nerva.
I quite like the opening scene on the TARDIS, with the companions playing darts. It’s nice to see what happens during their down time.
I’ve got to get to that cockerel before all hell breaks loose! I never thought I’d have to say that again!The Eleventh Doctor
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