Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Way Of All Flesh

PARTS 1 & 2 
(The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People)

For the longest time, I have looked upon the sixth series/season of Doctor Who with a great deal of trepidation mixed with a total lack of enthusiasm.  I find my love for the series as a whole waining terribly.  In fact, it was only the pressure of deleting items on my DVR that got me to watch the two-part story The Gangers after a very lengthy hiatus.   

It's not often I give an original title to a revived Doctor Who story, but with this one I feel that neither The Rebel Flesh or The Almost People makes for a good overall title.  Moreover, since the villains are the Gangers, I feel having the two-part story be called The Gangers makes more since. 

In any case, I saw The Gangers long after everyone else did.  After various disappointments for me this series/season (Day of the Moon Parts 1 & 2: 6/10, The Curse of the Black Spot: 2/10, and The Doctor's Wife pulling the highest score with 7/10), I somehow didn't want to watch The Gangers.  How could it be that I've gotten to a point where I, devoted Whovian, just DON'T want to watch a Doctor Who episode?  The Gangers, sadly, has not cured me of this terrible malady.

Part 1: The Rebel Flesh

A storm has forced the TARDIS to land at a monastery on Earth.  The Doctor (Matt Smith), and his Companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) soon find that the monastery is really a factory.  The workers there create plastic forms of themselves, which they call Gangers (short for doppelgangers).  The head of operations, Miranda Cleaves (Raquel Cassidy) isn't happy to see them, and doesn't believe that a stronger storm will cause problems.  Neither do the other workers: Jimmy Wicks (Mark Bonner), Buzzer Edwards (Marshall Lancaster), and Jennifer 'Jen' Lucas (Sarah Smart).  The Doctor takes a quick look at the Gangers production (where his hand comes ominously close to the vat), and the storm comes.

We quickly learn the storm has released the Gangers, who resent being so easily destroyed and discarded.  As far as they are concerned, they are real, they are alive, and thus worthy of staying around.  Because they not only look like the Humans and can think like them, fighting them will be difficult.  The Doctor sympathizes with the Gangers, but the Humans want them disintegrated.  "They're monsters, mistakes.  The have to be destroyed", Miranda says. Now the battle between the revolutionary Gangers and the Humans begins, but with a new ally: a Ganger version of the Doctor emerges.

Part 2: The Almost People

Rory has become attached to Jen (both the Human and Ganger version), and soon takes their side that the Gangers should be allowed to exist.  The Doctor is thrilled to find his double, while the Gangers in their acid suits are besieging the Humans, who are planning their escape.  Amy does not trust or like the Ganger Doctor, but at least is able to unburden herself by telling the Ganger Doctor about how she saw the Gallifreyan Doctor die. 

Jen has basically gone mad: determined to wipe out the Humans and take their lives.  She pushes the other Gangers to follow her lead.  Miranda, who has a clot in her head, has already in her fear and anger killed the Ganger Jimmy, to the Doctor's intense anger.  However, Rory still thinks well of Jen, unaware of her duplicitous plan.   She shows him a pile of discarded Gangers melting together into one blob, suffering.

The Doctor manages to contact Buzzer's toddler, who is celebrating his birthday.  The Ganger Buzzer, having the same memories as the Human Buzzer, realizes that as much as he may feel he is Buzzer, he is not the child's father.  The child's real father is in danger, changing Ganger Buzzer and rescues the Humans trapped by Jen.  However, the Human Buzzer dies in the fracas, so Ganger Buzzer is given the blessing to take his place. 

As Ganger Jen goes on a rampage (having already killed Human Jen), the Gangers and Humans join forces to flee to the TARDIS.  Amy discovers that Ganger Doctor and Gallifreyan Doctor switched places, and now Ganger Doctor and Ganger Miranda stay behind to destroy Jen (which means destroying themselves).  The Doctor drops Ganger Buzzer home, takes Human Miranda and Human Jimmy to the factory headquarters to tell all, then exposes a shocking secret.

Amy is herself a Ganger, and the Doctor is forced to melt her.  The real Amy is in a white room, where the Eye Patch Lady (Frances Barber) that has been popping up left right and center tells her to push.  Amy finds that she is about to give birth..

I think that this Eye Patch Lady is this year's version of the Time Crack from last season: something that has been popping up, almost always near the end, to tie all the stories together into one epic one.  I have never warmed up to the idea that all the stories have to tie together: from Bad Wolf to the Crack in Time to the Eye Patch Lady, I sense a sense of repetition.  I didn't mind the Bad Wolf thing because there the stories can appear to act independently of each other, but during Steven Moffat's reign he has a madness of putting things into the stories in an obvious manner.  One almost waited to see the Crack come out in the end, and now the Eye Patch Lady is almost required to pop in and out real quick. 

The Gangers is that it was eerily reminiscent of Cold Blood Parts 1 & 2 (The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood).  You had two lifeforms which don't trust each other and have members in each who want to destroy the other.  You had the Doctor attempting a truce between them that would help them coexist.  You had one member of Group A killing a member of Group B out of fear.  You had the Doctor get angry.  You had that action be the spark of a full-fledged war.

I'm not saying Matthew Graham was using Cold Blood Parts 1 & 2 as a template for his script of The Gangers Parts 1 & 2.  I'm just saying that while I was watching The Gangers, I noticed it followed a similar pattern.  I could even make a case that The Gangers tackled a similar theme to Cold Blood: the idea of the right of the Other to live.  With Cold Blood, it was the Silurians.  With The Gangers, it was the Gangers themselves. 

There are some good moments in The Gangers and some good ideas.  The plea for tolerance within the story is not subtle, but it is introduced cleverly to where it doesn't overwhelm the story.  It also is nice to see Rory take a role apart from being The Doctor and Amy's stooge, the comic relief who is easily disposable (see The Many Deaths of Rory Williams in Amy's Choice, Cold Blood Part 2, The Curse of the Black Spot, and The Doctor's Wife).  Also, it was a clever idea to have the Gangers wear the acid suits, making it easier to distinguish the Gangers from the Humans.

I also thought Balazs Bolygo's cinematography was excellent: all grays to capture the night or the morning in this unforgiving terrain.  Murray Gold's score still is consistently good, and special credit should go to Barbara Southcott and her staff's make-up (given the make-up is a driving force in the story).  Director Julian Simpson evoked good scenes, in particular when we come across the sight of discarded Gangers.  That was unexpected and frightening (perhaps too frightening for children, but that's a judgment call).

However, the things I disliked about The Gangers outweigh the things I though were good.  Even though this was a two-part story, I thought Part 1 (The Rebel Flesh) was extremely rushed to get to the outbreak of chaos.  I couldn't help think about how if The Gangers were made during the classic era, we would have had more of a build-up to the eventual Ganger Spring.  We certainly would have met the characters and seen how the Doctor became to be remade as a Ganger. 

To my mind, there were no real surprises except for the end.  I knew there was going to be a Ganger Doctor (since Part 1 took pains to hint at it), I knew Ganger Jen was not alone (as big a hint as I can give without giving away something I though pretty obvious).  When Amy reveals to the Ganger Doctor she saw him die, I knew...oops, she shouldn't have done that.  A lot of the story, again despite it having two hours, felt hurried, almost like the story was stretched out to make it two episodes long, in particular Part 2 (The Almost People).  I would have though making Part 1 the Rise of the Gangers and Part 2 the Siege of the Humans would have made The Gangers far better.

Also, I was not amused by the Doctor's obvious delight at seeing himself.  The comedy between Doctor and Doctor didn't make me laugh.  Instead, they irritated me.   As for the big twist in the end, I though it was inconsistent.  The Doctor has spent the two episodes pleading for the right of the Gangers to exist, yet he at the end destroys the Ganger Amy.  What about her?  Granted, it had to be done, but still...Besides, I couldn't get how or when Amy was replaced with her doppelganger, and both the Eye Patch Lady and Amy's labor pains just appeared to come out of nowhere.  Add to that, this last scene basically overwhelmed The Gangers, making look like the entire two stories were nothing more but filler for this Big Twist. 

As a side note, I was confused by something in Part 2.  I thought I heard the Doctor call Rory "Rory Pond".  I don't know if that was accidental on the part of the character or it was written that way, but I think it captures better than anything I could write or say just how redundant Rory is...has he been reduced to being Mr. Pond rather than Amy being Mrs. Williams?  Perhaps somewhere along the way he changed his name and I just missed it.

One thing that is obvious is that now that we learned that the Ganger Doctor and the Gallifreyan Doctor switched places, the Real Doctor now knows of his upcoming death, so we know that he knows and thus we know that the Doctor will not die, at least not on Lake Silencio.  Maybe another Ganger will take his place by the lake.  If it was thought that all would be revealed, then they did their job.  Basically, Season/Series Six is now a Long Game if you will, a wait to see where the season will go even though we already know where it's headed.

The Gangers Parts 1 & 2 isn't a bad story, but I felt it was rushed, followed a similar pattern to others, and was just filler for the really BIG moment: that damn Eye Patch Lady waiting for Amy to give birth...to I wonder whom...

Rory Williams Death Count
In Episode: (Zero)
Overall: (Four)


Next Story: River's Secret Parts 1 & 2 (A Good Man Goes to War/Let's Kill Hitler)