Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Almost People: We've Got Abilities To Transplant A Heart, We've Got Freezers Full Of Body Parts

The Almost People begins with the one of the longest 'previously on Doctor Who' sequences since the series started doing them five years ago. It goes on and on and on almost as long as The Daleks' Masterplan. Once that's out of the way - eventually - we're back to where we left off last week. The Two Doctors. Once, admittedly, a bit ... chalky. The chalky one is also newly-born and spends a couple of minutes in classic post-regenerative confusion. With the screaming. And the casual dropping of some continuity references (to An Unearhtly Child, to The Sea Devils and Robots of Death, along with allusions to the Cybermats and John Smith). A bit like the first episode of Castrovala in fact, except the dialogue's funnier here ('I've reversed the jelly baby of the neutron flow!', for one). 'You're struggling to cope with our past regenerations,' the (real) Doctor tells his new-found Ganger. 'Hold on.' Sounds like a plan. 'Why? Why? Why?' the Ganger-Doctor screams. Three excellent questions in an episode positively full of them. It's also full of moral imperatives, questionable character interaction, suspicion, pointed little metaphors about racism and genocide. And lots of shouting. A bit too much shouting to be honest. Could've done with a bit less of the shouting. But, there's plenty of good stuff too. Anyway, back to The Doctor talking to himself. 'I'd like more proof you're me,' he demands. 'Are you thinking what I'm thinking?' 'Inevitably!' When they discover that they've hatched, simultaneously, an identical plan The Doctor adds, somewhat narcissisticly, 'it's just so inspiring hearing me say it.' As they witter on about protocols and confusion and, you know, how great they are, Amy says that she's glad they solved the problem of 'confusing.' 'That's sarcasm,' suggests The Doctor-Ganger with a wild stab in the dark. 'She's very good at sarcasm,' The Doctor replies wearily. Having blamed his use of the sudden exclamation of 'Yowser!' on 'stress' (yeah, sure), The Doctor(s) hatch an escape plan. 'I'm starting to get a sense of just how impressive it is to hang out with me!' Meanwhile, the other Gangers are at the door and they're not saying much. 'I think I liked it best when they were being noisy,' Buzzer says, flatly. This, you sense, is not going to end well.

The episode follows the path of its predecessor, an attempt to equate the casual disregard for disposable technology - even if that disposable technology is, you know, alive - with a traditional Doctor Who 'why can't we all just get along?' conceits. For the most part this works very well, with some clever plot twists - in particular Rory's interaction with (several) Jennifers. Amy's inability to accept The Doctor-Ganger (who takes to calling himself Mr Smith in protest at such apparent bigotry) is troublesome. For both Doctors. This is partially dealt with in the quite glorious 'almost the Doctor' sequence. 'Being almost The Doctor is pretty impressive,' Amy argues after she's already had a go at the pair of them for finishing each others sentences. 'How can you both be real?' The answer is simple, it would seem. 'We both wear bow-ties. Which are cool, by the way.' Amy's still not having it. One of them was here first and, therefore, he's the 'real' Doctor. 'Interesting, you definitely feel more affection for him than me.' Amy uses her 'almost The Doctor' logic. 'Being almost The Doctor is like being no Doctor at all.' 'Don't over-react,' pleads Amy trying hard not to sound like a member of the BNP. The Doctor meanwhile places a - delayed - phone call. When asked why he gives one of his finest-ever replies to a ruddy stupid question. 'Because, Amy, I am - and always will be - the optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of improbable dreams.' Yes, we've noticed! When Amy has her, by now regular, date with the one-eyed-woman in the wall, The Doctor passes off the incident as 'a time mirage.' Sounds unlikely.

'It's the eyes. When they destroy us, the eyes are the last things to melt. And there's one question in those eyes. "Why?"' says the Jennifer-Ganger as she tries to persuade her fellow Flesh to revolution. Surprisingly, they're less than keen on the whole notion. Jimmy's thinking (like his human counterpart) about 'his' son and Cleaves is suffering from a stotting headache and suggests that she just wants to 'live in peace.' Jennifer is horrified. 'Don't you remember all the times you were "de-commissioned"? Or, should I say executed?' Cleaves says that she doesn't and, that's as it should be. Amy, meanwhile, tries to apologise to the Almost Doctor and gets attacked for her trouble. It seems that he can connect to the Flesh. This earns The Doctor-Ganger a fresh round of suspicion from the humans, particularly Buzzer who indicates that The Doctor-Ganger should sit where he can see him. 'Nice barrel, very comfy! Is this really what you want?' The Doctor's concern for Amy's attitude grows. 'Don't be so absurd ... Sure you're not prejudiced?' The two Doctors are still having a fine old time cracking some excellent back-and-forth one-liners. 'Am I crazy, Doctor?' asks one of them. 'Well, you did once plumb your brain into the core of an entire planet just to halt its orbit and win a bet,' replies the other one. As if to prove a point, perhaps, The Doctor sends The Doctor-Ganger off to find Rory and Jennifer.

Finally, seventeen minutes into the episode, we get out first glimpse of Rory deep in the underground tunnels and having a very disquieting experience when he stumbles across two Jennifers. The real one and the Ganger, he presumes. As it happens, the real one is already dead and they're both Gangers but we don't get clued up on that for a while yet. After the - seeming - Ganger is dissolved, the other Jennifer shows Rory a terrible sight. A series of discarded Gangers. 'Just thrown away ... Left to rot, fully conscious. Can you imagine what kind of Hell they're in?' There's also a rather effective little subplot about both Miranda Cleaves suffering from headaches caused by a brain clot. 'You don't look good,' Ganger-Dicken tells Ganger-Miranda. 'Monsters never do,' she replies. At this point, there are a couple of genuinely great scenes - this first involving Buzzer giving The Doctor-Ganger the old 'just following orders' excuse after he's laid him out flat with a blow to the neck. 'I should have been a postman, like me dad,' Buzzer says as he comes upon a now-mutating, mad-as-burned-toast Jennifer-Ganger, amused by her own strength - mental and physical - and shape-changing abilities. The two-parter here finally makes it debt to John Carpenter's The Thing clear. Back in the tunnels, The Doctor and the rest of the humans are given a pointed little stab - painfully - in the conscience by a wall full of Ganger eyes. Accusing eyes. Rory, having had his own conscience stabbed by the sight of the aborted Gangers, unwittingly leads his friends into a trap. But, not before telling The Doctor that 'they've been throwing away old flesh and leaving it to rot. Alive. I think the world should know about that.' Too late he realises that he's been used by Jennifer-Ganger. It gets worse as he finds himself trapped with the Gangers and the Doctor-Ganger. Cleaves gives her Ganger something to think about as the Ganger says, with some obvious regret, that 'we have to be free.' 'I'm sorry too, Miranda. Of all the humans in all the world, you have to pick the one with the clot. But, hey, them's the breaks. Welcome to the human race!' You're one of us, Jennifer tells The Doctor-Ganger, with a rather Stalinist point of the finger - 'join the revolution!' And, it seems that the Doctor-Ganger is going to do just that as he forcefully stops Rory from leaving with a callous push. 'Doctor, we can't just let them die,' pleads Rory. 'Ring, ring,' is the non-sequitur reply.

Trapped in the - soon to explode - acid-room The Doctor tells Jimmy 'if you have a better plan, I'm all ears. In fact, if you have a better plan I'll take you to a planet where everyone is all ears!' What happens next is a slightly-too-convenient plot device in which The Doctor(s) use that pre-planned optimistic phone-call to Jimmy's young son, to interesting effect. 'You tricked him into an act of weakness,' sneers Jennifer-Ganger in the worst bit of overacting of the episode. A pity as otherwise Sarah Smart is genuinely terrifying in the role. 'No,' contradicts The Doctor-Ganger, 'I helped him into an act of humanity.' And that simple act of human kindness and sentimentality and warmth immediately makes the situation better. This is beautifully contrasted with the other major plank of metaphor in the episode, the loss of innocence. Specifically in the case of Jennifer but also, as we career towards a shocking finale, for Amy too. 'What's the point in this ridiculous war?' asked Cleaves-Ganger. 'Look at you, Jen, you were a sweet kid. Look at you now! The stuff of nightmares.' The next few minutes are terrific as Jimmy is killed trying to save his friends and his Ganger counterpart is given an important lesson in developing humanity. Which, surprisingly, is nowhere near as mawkish and trite as it might have been in lesser hands than those of Matty Graham and Steven Moffat. There's a superbly suspenseful chase through the tunnels as Jennifer goes all spider-monster on everyone in the vicinity. There are sacrifices (one of the Dickens, one of the Cleaves, one of The Doctors), and there's the clever revelation that The Doctor-Ganger and The Doctor changed shoes a while back and everything we've thought we knew was basically, you know, wrong. With brilliant timing the TARDIS finally drops through a convenient hole in the tunnel ceiling. 'You're twice the man I thought you were,' says Amy. The Doctor-Ganger's parting words to Amy are strange. 'Push, but only when she tells you to,' said as the music takes a turn for the operatic and dramatically intense. It doesn't make sense for another five minutes but, when it does, it's an O!M!G! moment. 'My death arrives, I suppose,' The Doctor-Ganger says. 'But, this one we're not invited to,' replies The Doctor, providing one potential explanation for the Doctor's future 'death' in The Impossible Astronaut. 'Your molecular memory can survive this, you know,' The Doctor tells his Ganger. 'It may not be the end.' The Doctor leaves his Ganger and the Miranda-Ganger to make 'the king of grand gestures,' by destroying Jennifer (and themselves) with the sonic screwdriver. 'There may be a way back from this,' The Doctor-Ganger says, as they prepare to do the deed. 'Being vapourised? How?' asks Miranda. 'Let's find out. Geronimo!'

There are a couple of coda scenes which wrap up the story effectively - the now-human Jimmy and Dicken joining a cured alrerady-human Miranda as the survivors of the war, determined that the story of Morpeth Jetsan's exploitation of the Gangers shouldn't be swept under the carpet. And then, we're back in the TARDIS with The Doctor, Rory and Amy. And off on another adventure next time. Or, are we? In a final sequence that no-one saw coming, Amy is - herself - revealed to be a Ganger, and all of those disquieting moments with the one-eyed-woman-in-the-wall were not hallucinations or memories or 'time mirages' after all, but were really happening. There's a bit of Rosemary's Baby in the way that, coldly, The Doctor tells Rory to step away from Amy. 'She's going into labour. I needed to see The Flesh in its early days, that's why we were there in the first place. I was going to try to drop you off for fish and chips first but things happen and there was stuff. And shenanigans. Beautiful word, shenanigans. I needed enough information to block the signal to the Flesh. The signal to you. Given what we've learned I'll be as humane as I can but I need to do this and you need to stand away.' Reluctantly Rory does. 'Doctor, I'm frightening,' confesses Amy. 'Properly, properly scared.' Don't be, The Doctor assures her. 'We're coming for you, I swear it. Whatever happens, however hard, however far, we will find you.' Amy says that she's right here. 'No you're not. You haven't been here for a long, long time.' And then he points the sonic screwdriver at her and she implodes in a puddle of white liquid stuff. And, wakes up in a white room, hugely pregnant, with the one-eyed-woman-in-the-wall telling her to push. Amy, instead, screams.

Okay. I'm not quite sure how a pretty straightforward base-under-siege format turned, in the space of one short scene, into something else entirely but I'm jolly glad it did. The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People work effectively enough as a nice, traditional Doctor Who story with a nice, straight-forward message and fine, obvious purpose. Working within the framework of a classic smart criteria - the episodes have a plot which is specific and measurable, achieveable, realistic and, ultimately, timebound. And, in the log term, achieved too. What the last two or three minutes gave us was a - necessary - slap across the chops just to remind the viewer that this show has some serious game when it's got a tale to tell. This year, Doctor Who took a big risk and went for something daring, something challenging. Thank God there's somebody left of British TV who is prepared to do that.

The latest Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day is a warning to the curious about the potential misuse of futurist technology filmed for The Tube by the third-best band in Hull, The Red Guitars.


David Alexander McDonald said...

No"next time"! Barstids! Must say the series has taken a turn for the weird, even if I still don't like Matt Smith in the role.

Mari said...

I found the ending seriously disquieting. Not happy about Amy's ganger being reduced to a puddle.

Speaker to Animals said...

Another great episode.

Totally forgiven Matt Graham for Fear Her.

But not Bonekickers.