As we continue the sixth (and one of the best) seasons of the BBC hit, Doctor Who we reach another two-parter. The premiere was a also told in two episodes but every season of Who will normally have two or more two-part episodes. What better way to keep fans in agonizing suspence than to leave them stressing for a week about the most recent cliffhanger? It worked brilliantly for Classic Who episodes, those always left off with a stinging cliffhanger.
Oh, but here the’s the rub for us American Whovians, we’re going to have to wait until June 4th to get the second part of this tale. Episodes 6 and 7, the end of this first half of the season, have been postponed a week. BBC America states the plan was to avoid to the normally low ratings of Memorial Day weekend. Many Americans will have plans for the weekend, but like myself, they would be able to watch their recorded episode come Monday morning and now it’s going to have to wait. That is, if you don’t attempt to find “other” means to watch the new episodes because the BBC will still be playing the second half next week. This might be a real stumble for BBC America as the ratings for this season of Who have been phenomenal and it’s probably due to airing the episodes on the same day, both sides of the pond. Next weekend, BBC America will instead be playing a marathon of all the episodes from this season so far.
But let’s not worry about that frustration for now, we still need to discuss if this weeks episode, “The Rebel Flesh,” is worthy of two weeks of worrying and hypothesizing? Much of this episode plays like a set-up for next week’s thrilling conclusion, but such should be expected from the first half of a two-part story.
SPOILER WARNING: Plot details ahead. Proceed with caution.
After the Tardis is hit with a solar tsunami, the Doctor, Amy and Rory are forced to land in Earth’s future, on a small island where humans are mining acid. Yes, acid, what a safe commodity. Being such a dangerous substance the humans there use living flesh to create clones they can control like avatars to mine the acid without fear of death. Well, at least for the humans, the fleshy dopplegangers or ‘Gangers’ are not as lucky. When another solar wave hits the island the plant loses power. During the surge and the subsequent black out the Gangers, who have had the memories of the miners downloaded into them countless times over, become sentient, copies of those miners.
So now we have two versions of every miner running around, one human one Ganger, but what is the difference? Here is where this Doctor Who episode starts to retread old ground. As you can probably guess, the Doctor’s plan is to have the humans and their dopplegangers work together in order to escape the island. (Oh, did I mention the plant is now damaged and sprouting dangerous acid leaks? The Tardis itself is even stuck in an acid hole, cutting off the easy escape route and giving us a reason to perpetuate their peril for another episode.) But the humans don’t want to work with their Gangers, they’re abominations, need to be destroyed. To which of course the Doctor makes the argument of what makes one human? The Gangers are clearly alive, have all of the memories and feeling of the person they’re copied from, what makes them not human?
But the humans don’t go for that and this puts the Gangers on the defensive, needing to fight for survival, leaving us with an ‘us or them’ scenario with the Doctor, Amy and Rory stuck in the middle. The Doctor and Amy spend much of this episode in their expected roles; the Doctor is there to explain and philosophize and Amy is there to raise questions. Who shines in this episode is Rory. Upon arrival Rory immediately became protective of the shy, Jennifer. When he’s faced with her Ganger this need to keep her safe continues, especially since everyone seems so quick to destroy them. It’s a new side of Rory, the strong protector, and Amy might just be a little miffed that he feels the need to watch out for the other young, pretty woman.
Now what’s a two-parter without a gripping cliffhanger? And this one’s a real doozy; one you might have seen coming from a mile away but still leaves you screaming at your television when the credits begin to roll. While the Doctor was initially scanning the flesh it turns out the flesh was scanning him. And guess what, we get a Ganger Doctor. But we know Time Lord bodies are extremely complicated and special so how accurate of a duplicate this is will have to wait for next week. Oh sorry, two weeks.
For a story that’s mostly exposition and set-up, “The Rebel Flesh” still manages to be creepy and suspenseful, particularly when faced with the dilemma of if a person is a human or Ganger, and touching as we see Rory really embrace the protector role when given someone in need of protecting. It might not be this season’s strongest episode to date but it’s hard to judge a story when it’s only half over.