Last night’s Doctor Who The Rebel Flesh, the first of a two part story, attracted 5.7 million viewers. This was the overnight figure, before iPlayer and catch-up is included. Written by Matthew Graham (Life On Mars/Ashes To Ashes), the Tardis crew land at a creepy monastery. The location is an island that is home to a small set of humans. They work there to mine acid important to the mainland. They carry out their work via the gangers (‘doppelgangers’), fascimile copies of themselves created from programmable biomatter and controlled by a psychic link. Are they more than just copies though? And just what does the Doctor know about them that made him bring them all here?
After being treated to such a special episode last week from Neil Gaiman with The Doctor’s Wife, there was always a danger that this would suffer in comparison, and unfortunately it did. There was nothing really bad about it as such, but the whole thing just felt a bit unoriginal and surprisingly unengaging. The performances were ok, it looked good with some nice directorial touches early on visually. However it just took too long to really get going.
Added to that, the cliffhanger was signposted far too early, rather detracting from it’s punch when delivered. There were some good things, to be fair to it, and I thought Sarah Smart really excelled as Jennifer. And the regulars all continued to impress. I loved the scene with Rory and Amy playing darts in the Tardis. This picture they paint of family life onboard the Tardis is portrayed very convincingly in a refreshing new way.
Fleshing Out The Plot
Still, I’m not writing this one off yet, there was enough of interest in some of the unanswered questions raised. For instance what was the Doctor doing with that snow globe? In addition I’m curious to see where they take the Rory/Jennifer subplot. Some saw this as slightly contrived, but I thought the performances from both actors carried it well. In some ways I wondered if this was playing out from the continued references this year to Rory‘s profession as a nurse. I think that is quite deliberate for some reason yet to be revealed.
On the evidence so far, The Rebel Flesh is probably the weakest story we’ve had since the Matt Smith era began. Whereas last year’s run all had a unique feel and tone to each individual segment. This year it all starts to feel a bit samey. It reminded me of too many other things, Bladerunner of course for it’s content. But also visually it had a lot of similarities to last year’s The Vampires Of Venice. For instance, the running around castle corridors with flashlights and the Doctor made to climb a tower during a storm.
I’m someone who has grown up with the old version of the show, and it’s multi-part serialisation. I should have anticipated a two part adventure with excitement. But the majority of attempts since it’s return in 2005 have never quite hit the right mark for me. Aside from showrunner Steven Moffat’s many good contributions, and the excellent Human Nature/Family Of Blood from series 3 with David Tennant, most have disappointed. There were some increasingly well written single episodes last year from Richard Curtis (Vincent And The Doctor) and Simon Nye (Amy’s Choice). I wonder if the modern incarnation of Doctor Who is more at home with self-contained stories.
Doctor Who continues next saturday 28th May at 6.45pm.