“The Almost People” picks up where the previous episode, “The Rebel Flesh,” leaves off. The Doctor, Amy and Rory are trapped in an acid factory, surrounded by rebelling forms of Flesh, a synthetic material that can create doppelgangers, or “gangers” of actual factory workers. Flesh was supposed to exist for safety purposes, but the gangers have a consciousness, they have feelings, hopes and dreams, and now they’re fighting for them. And if that weren’t enough, now The Doctor has a ganger of his own.
Warning: Plot details ahead. Proceed at your own risk.
(I will now confess something as a fan that will color the rest of this review. My least favorite Doctor Who episodes are always the ones that are somehow inherently non-mysterious. I prefer to see something magical and weird morph into some sort of sci-fi concept, rather than just see a sci-fi concept presented and have The Doctor fight his way out of it. Therefore the past two episodes have automatically been lesser ones for me. Disclaimer over.)
What begins as an adventure story about an attempt to stop a race of creatures who may or may not have sympathetic qualities quickly morphs into a study of humanity. Much of Doctor Who is concerned on some level with what it means to be human, what it means to be more than human and what it means to have power. With “The Almost People” the series asks just how important birth is to consciousness, just how different a synthetic person can be from the real one, and just how different a fake Doctor could be from a real one.
Amid all the excitement of attempting to escape the factory the episode is punctuated by Amy’s struggle to accept that she’s now contending with two Doctors. While Rory is convinced that the gangers have feelings of their own, Amy is convinced that the new version of her hero can never be as cool, as kind or as impressive as the real one, even when they’re standing right next to each other. Amy spends much of the episode debating this, and the verdict she arrives at (and yes, there is one) is one of the episode’s higher points, a moment when the show finally hits some kind of emotional nexus after 40 minutes of beating around the bush.
“The Almost People” is not the best of the season, but even if it ends up being the worst, it’s still pretty damn good. And even if the story itself doesn’t grab you, make sure you stay for the end, because that’s where things really get interesting.