Last year when Steven Moffat took over as producer and show runner for Doctor Who, the buzz was all about seeing what a full season under his guidance might look like. Most fans agree that Moffat delivered solid results in his first season at the helm and that just amped up the curiosity to if and how Moffat might top himself in his second season as showrunner.
Five episodes into the season, we’ve had one instant classic and a couple of stories that had some potential but maybe came up a bit short.* Of the swings and misses, this week’s story was the biggest, if only because it’s the first half of a two-part story and it carries a heavy load of exposition and the fact that it felt like a greatest hits compilation of lot of what we saw last year.
*I’m not ready to hit any kind of panic button on the season yet, but I am concerned. It also helps to recall that I liked most of how Russell T. Davies structured his first season as show runner and then how it slowly became a law of diminishing returns during the David Tennant era.
“The Rebel Flesh” has some interesting moments to it, but they’re all a bit isolated. The Doctor, Rory and Amy ride a solar wave to a remote island in the near future. The island hosts a team of people who are harvesting and pumping back to the mainland a highly corrosive acid. To minimize the risk to the workers, the team members build copies of themselves, nicknamed Gangers. A second wave of the solar storm hits, knocking out the crew and bringing the Gangers to life and creating a potential conflict between the two sides.
Visually stunning, “Flesh” features some nice location work and some interesting visual moments. It also offers a few hints there’s something more going on here, at least where the Doctor is concerned. He tries to get Rory and Amy to not go with him on this adventure and he clams up when directly asked about his real reason for being on the island during this crisis. There are also some hints about the overall arc of the season, though they feel frustratingly shoe-horned into the story rather than how the hints and clues were distributed last year.**
**At this point, if I see one more shot of that woman watching Amy and see the Doctor looking worriedly at the read-out screen saying she may or may not be pregnant, I may scream. It’s beginning to feel like Moffat is treading water on this one. I have a feeling we’ll get some answers in episode seven in two weeks and hopefully it will be worth the wait.
But as visually interesting as the story is and with a few hints sprinkled here and there, the rest of the piece just wasn’t all that interesting. Large portions of the second half of the episode felt like they were treading water to get to the cliffhanger***. Then it also felt like we were treading some of the same ground we did in last year’s Siluarian two-parter. The new Gangers and their right to life and the war coming because of a mis-understanding and the lack of ability of one human being to see the big picture felt like it was taken right out of the second half of the Silurian set last year. And it’s not like that story was delving new ground itself…
***I called the cliffhanger the first time the Doctor touched the large vat of goopy flesh, figuring somehow we’d get a Doctor duplicate running around.
Meanwhile, we continued a trend of the Doctor being separated from the TARDIS. Maybe it’s an homage to the early days of the show when a lot of the conflict of the stories came from the TARDIS crew not being able to get back to the ship. Or maybe it’s my fascination with the classic series and a recent visit back the first Doctor era that’s making it seem more apparent than it really is.
In the end, the story wasn’t exactly thrilling, but it wasn’t exactly terrible. It was just sort of there. I didn’t love it or hate it. And most damning, I’m not all that hooked to see where it all goes next week.
Hopefully the second half can redeem the story.
You seem to be on a bummer with DW this season. I just re-watched most of season one with Christopher Eccleston and this season is way beyond that: characters are stronger, stories are stronger and the suspense is greater. In many ways, I like the fact that the tried and true monsters such as the Daleks are not being pulled out and run through the ringer one more time. The whole feel of the show is on a different level.
Besides, we finally get to find out who River Song really is in 3 weeks.
Mike Brazinski says
It’s funny. I’ve had the completely opposite feeling the past two episodes. “The Doctor’s Wife” did not do it for me. The episode was fluffy and the Amy/Rory running in the halls seemed like complete filler to make the episode long enough. Suranne Jones was fun to watch as the Tardis but that just wasn’t enough.
“The Rebel Flesh” reminded me much of the Tom Baker era. It was nice not to see a mustache twirling villian. Rory’s attachment to Jennifer was a nice touch. I’m really looking forward to the part II because I don’t know where the episode is going next.
Lejon from Chandler says
So, yeah… I actually felt OK with this ep. The tech involved in the gangers intrigued me. And, yeah, completely foretelling on the dupe Doc… that in itself should indicate a tie back to the main arc… after all, if we have a dupe being killed by the spacesuit, then Amy should be able to let The Doctor in on the secret, yes?
Or, as I also suppose, this could all be in Amy’s head.
Michael Hickerson says
@Lejon. Comments about how long everyone was knocked unconscious could be a hint that it is a dream as you speculate.
@Matt. I don’t feel down on the show so much as disappointed. It could be that my expectations were insanely high after last year’s ending…but I feel like we’re treading water too much early.
Ben Ragunton says
This was an episode that I was very concerned with as I saw it had huge potential for both success and failure, and I knew it would all depend on the Doctor’s doppleganger. However, after having watched part 2 I can say that I felt that the episode was greatly redeemed in terms of its main plot, as well as answering a question or two.
I was largely happy with it, although I don’t know offhand what my co-host (on the podcast I record) thought as I was on vacation at the time…