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'Doctor Who' Season 6, Episode 5 Recap

by Mike Moody, posted May 22nd 2011 6:30PM
doctor who s06e05['Doctor Who' – 'The Rebel Flesh']

There's nothing quite like a good 'Doctor Who' creepfest to punch up a humdrum Saturday night. This week's episode was much darker and spookier than last week's zippy Neil Gaiman-penned hour, and, dare I say, 'The Rebel Flesh' was the best episode since the epic two-part series six opener.

I'm aware that many of you fell truly, madly, and deeply for 'The Doctor's Wife,' but Gaimain's 'Who' entry, while great fun and ambitious, felt a bit lacking in emotion and bite. I enjoyed that episode, especially the scene with The Doctor flying around in an open-air Tardis, but 'Flesh,' with its gothic elements and crackling combination of sci-fi and horror, was more engaging, and it played more into my wheelhouse (I'm a big fan of gothic horror and sci-fi movies).

This was scribe Matthew Graham's second 'Who' episode, and it easily topped his 2006 suburban-set offering 'Fear Her.' Like 'Fear Her,' 'Flesh' was loaded with mystery and scenes of terror and suspense, but this ep offered a full-on macabre nightmare scenario that raised some interesting questions about identity and ownership.

I appreciated the clever visual and thematic allusions to Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein,' the giant of all gothic horror tales. Like Frankenstein's monster, the slimy, slithery 'Gangers were brought to life inside of a darkly-lit castle by a bolt of lightning (or several bolts of lightning caused by a solar storm, to be exact), and they struggled to negotiate the tragic reality of their existence while fending off attacks from their makers.

The episode went to great lengths to sell us on the idea that the Gangers, though made up of "just gunge," were people too. They had feelings and memories and perhaps even souls. This idea stood in stark contrast to the perspective of the factory workers, as they valued their acid suits more than they valued the Gangers, who, in their eyes, were disposable ciphers temporarily animated by a freak occurrence. But The Doctor knew better, as he always does.

doctor who s06e05The Doctor sensed that there was life in The Flesh even before the Gangers started walking and talking on their own. The early scene with The Doctor sort of bonding with The Flesh was quite creepy, and it had me genuinely fearing for his safety. This new series is doing a great job of making the Doctor feel like a more vulnerable and relatable soul. A lot of that, of course, has to do with Matt Smith's nimble ability to seamlessly slip between The Doctor's comedic and dramatic personas.

I had a feeling that something extremely wonky was going to happen here – yes, even wonkier than the Gangers running about, turning into stretchy monsters and trying to kill all – after The Doctor stuck his hand in the fleshy goo. I kept waiting for the reveal that The Doctor we were following for most of the ep was a Ganger all along, but what actually happened was much more disturbing.

I still can't get that unsettling image of gooey, snake-faced Matt Smith out of my head. It's been quite a while since we've looked upon The Doctor and didn't quite trust him, and that final shot put us in a very uncomfortable place – staring at a second, possibly sinister version of our Doctor who was asking Amy to trust him, because, well, he's The Doctor!

The climax wasn't really all that shocking, as we started following a shadowy figure lurking about asking the air to trust him towards episode's end, but it was still a cool and creepy way to end the hour.

So, yeah, I'm looking forward to the conclusion, which, sadly, isn't coming until another two weeks. We've seen The Doctor come face-to-face with alternate versions of himself before, but things are different here. We still don't know exactly how The Flesh works, or what it's capable of, or how the Gangers truly differ from the originals. The notion that the Doctor will be forced to practice what he preaches, by not rejecting and casting suspicion on his Ganger outright, should prove fun to see play out in the second part, 'The Almost People.'

doctor who s06e05Oh, and what are we to make of Rory's attachment to Jennifer? I'm all for exploring how Rory and Amy's marriage is challenged during their wild TARDIS adventures, but this development sorta feels like a cheap device to stir up some unearned romantic drama. Still, some of the scenes with Jennifer breaking down and seeking solace in Rory were quite affecting. But there's something rather queer going on with Jennifer. It's probably too early to speculate on why exactly the real Jennifer seemed to be missing following the storm, or why her Ganger went from sad and sensitive to crazy revenge mode in an instant. Any theories, 'Who' heads?

And speaking of theories, we still don't know whether or not Amy is preggers, and the Eye Patch Lady appeared to her again through another disappearing slit in the wall. It's easy to deduce that the mystery surrounding Amy's non-pregnancy is tied to the Eye Patch Lady, but how exactly are they connected? And why hasn't Amy told anyone about her disturbing visions? We'll get answers, hopefully, soon, but in the meantime; I appreciate the show continuing to lay the groundwork for a longer arc during these mostly self-contained episodes.

Other thoughts/Quotes:

- A great turn here from Raquel Cassidy as the take-charge Foreman Cleeves.

- "I've got to get to that cockerel before all hell breaks loose! I never thought I'd have to say that again."

- "Yes. It's insane. And it's about to get even more insanerer."

'Doctor Who' airs Saturdays at 9PM on BBC America.

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Funny that this episode was compared to "Fear Her", since this episode, just like "Fear Her", was one of the worst episodes of the new series. Poorly paced, poorly thought out, poorly put together, just not interesting in the least.

May 23 2011 at 4:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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May 23 2011 at 3:32 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
General Kenobi

The only problem with Rory empathizing with her because he remembered his days as an Auton discounts the period in the episode when he was seemingly devoted to her and thought her completely human. Unless it was an underlying thing, which I guess is possible, but hardly compelling.

As for the Ganger Doctor, it is interesting to note that we now have a doppelganger for the Doctor... a stand-in for his death perhaps?

May 23 2011 at 2:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to General Kenobi's comment

About the stand-in death thing: That was the first thought I had when he started playing around with the Flesh. I *hope* that isn't true because I'm used to Doctor Who taking me for an adventure, not down a road I already know.

May 23 2011 at 9:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Anthony Wickizer

This episode while a very different story has way too similar a theme to last seasons Silurian ep. The only interesting part was Rory really. And that was because they are finally turning the table on Amy so she can be a kittle jealous. And Rory is so in love with Amy that anyone who thinks it's a crush is silly. He just feels for her and her predicament.

The other interesting thing that happened was the Doctor Ganger but that didn't do anything awesome in this episode yet. Very humdrum episode. Especially because Tyne TARDIS malfunctioned.....AGAIN!!!! yeah it never takes him where he wants to be but it has never broken down so much like ever.

Part 2 looks more interesting but hopefully its not just the Silurian ep with a twist.

And Neil gaimens episode was FAR better than this one. It was funny, dramatic, and explored the doctors only real love. It was brilliant.

May 22 2011 at 10:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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May 22 2011 at 9:48 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply


The episode was boring, and predictable.

Saying this was the best episode since the two-part opener is damning with faint praise. Gaiman's episode was the only really good episode so far this season.

May 22 2011 at 9:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"Gaimain's 'Who' entry, while great fun and ambitious, felt a bit lacking in emotion and bite."

And with that you lose the right to review Doctor Who forever.

May 22 2011 at 7:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Smiley's comment
Mike Moody

There it is! I was waiting for that, and it only took about an hour and a half. Nice job, Internet!

May 22 2011 at 8:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mike Moody's comment

Yikes. Sorry dude but it's true. This episode was boring, I was actually quite upset when I realized it was going to be a two-parter. It was uninspired and felt exactly like they've done this episode before. Gaiman's episode on the other hand felt whimsical and fun, it was obvious that he has a passion for the Doctor.

I do agree that the actress playing Jennifer was great though.

May 23 2011 at 9:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
Karol Theresa

I suspect Rory, remembering well his plastic centurion days, empathized a little too much with Jenifer. Perhaps even a molecular bonding of sorts too place. Clearly he got way too involved considering his passion for Amy.

May 22 2011 at 7:22 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Karol Theresa's comment
Mike Moody

Excellent point, and I suspect that, in the conclusion, Rory will explain to Amy that the memories of his plastic centurion days still haunt him and allowed him to feel for Jennifer.

May 22 2011 at 7:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My theory on Rory is that his concern over Jennifer comes from his time as a plastic centurion. He knows how it feels to wake up one day and find out that he was just a duplicate. He can relate to what she's going thru better than anyone. I don't think his interest in her is romantic.

May 22 2011 at 7:19 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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