Last night’s Doctor Who The Rebel Flesh, the first of a two part story, attracted 5.7 million viewers according to overnight figures. Written by Matthew Graham (Life On Mars/Ashes To Ashes), the Doctor, Amy and Rory land the Tardis at a creepy monastery located on an island that is home to a small set of humans working 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 going to be the danger that this would suffer in comparison, and unfortunately that’s what 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, but it just seemed to take 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, and this picture they’re painting of family life onboard the Tardis is portrayed very convincingly and is very refreshing in a new way.
Still, I’m not writing this one off yet, there was enough of interest in some of the unanswered questions (such as what was the Doctor doing with that snow globe), and I’m curious to see where they go with the Rory/Jennifer subplot. Some may have seen 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, which I keep thinking are 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, the look this year is starting to look a bit samey here. 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, with all the running around castle corridors with flashlights and the Doctor having to climb a tower during a storm.
As someone who grew up on the old version of the show, and it’s multi-part serialisation, I should have been anticipating 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. With some increasingly well written single episodes last year from Richard Curtis (Vincent And The Doctor) and Simon Nye (Amy’s Choice), I’m starting to wonder if the modern incarnation of Doctor Who now is more at home with self-contained stories.
Doctor Who continues next saturday 28th May at 6.45pm.
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