Doctor Who 6.5 The Rebel Flesh
Jennifer (Sarah Smart) © BBC 2011


A solar tsunami hurls the TARDIS to Earth in the 22nd Century where an isolated group of people are mining acid. Instead of endangering themselves, they create synthetic flesh versions and use those to mine.

This is the first of a two-parter, so more questions are intentionally raised than answered. On the whole, this is an OK episode, but as usual it doesn’t bear much analysis. For a 45-minute episode it doesn’t seem to accomplish much, and I’ve not been able to work out, with all the rushing around and the occasional sense of urgency, how little story is actually fitted in. How do all those US series manage to cram so much into their 40-minuters, and yet Doctor Who manages so little, or what feels so little?

Doctor Who 6.5 The Rebel Flesh – Matt Smith
The Doctor (Matt Smith) in the acid mine © BBC 2011
Doctor Who 6.5 The Rebel Flesh
The Doctor (Matt Smith) and, let me see, who were they again? Oh yes, the Ganger Jimmy (Mark Bonnar), Foreman Cleaves (Raquel Cassidy), Dicken (Leon Vickers) and Buzzer (Marshall Lancaster) © BBC 2011

It seems these days that the TARDIS spends a great deal of it time – no pun intended – in space. It’s a space-time machine and so should not be troubled by such things as a solar tsunami, whatever that is. We may have been told, for once again this series is bedevilled by too much noise and music over the dialogue. The TARDIS lands on an island where acid is being mined. Acid!!!? When did we start having acid deposits on our planet? That’s news to me. Also, so far there has been no reason why the story demands they mine for acid; most mines have an element of danger. It could be anything, sensible…

Next up, we come to the human miners. I know it’s a trademark of nu-Who that human beings are the same throughout time, but it was still a disappointment that the dialogue and actions could have come from today. This is, after all, a century away. And what an uninteresting bunch they were. We had a stroppy leader – well that’s new, not – and a rather timid young woman. And that’s about all I can say of their characters, although some attempt was made when a real and artificial man talked about his/their family. I also wondered why there was only one copy of each person; surely if you can make one, you can make more? Or even a copy of a copy? There seemed to be a good supply of the flesh, so why couldn’t the copies, the ‘Gangers’, just overrun the place, whatever muddled state they were in? They seemed to know they were copies, so why not more?

If this had been 20th Century Doctor Who then we might well have started with some communication with whoever these people are working for, even if by good old-fasioned radio, but losing that simple scene, or two, meant that their isolation by the storm meant nothing. There was no loss. The isolation seemed normal.

Doctor Who 6.5 The Rebel Flesh
The Doctor (Matt Smith) knows everything © BBC 2011

Another change between the old and new versions of the series has been the Doctor’s drive to explore and discover things. He is not at all phased by the artificial flesh and of course instantly knows what might happen. His declaration that the copies are alive is a fascinating philosophical question and would once have been the main thrust of a moral dilemma, but here it is accepted and we move on. It’s all just a bit too glib, and I’ve decided that that word seems to describe a lot of this season. Glib!

The next mystery is why Rory suddenly takes such an interest in the Ganger Jennifer. They’ve not had any interaction, yet he’s off trying to save her. What did come out of this, though, was some actual interaction between Rory and his wife Amy. For a – recently? – married couple they seem to have very little interest in each other, and I have to keep reminding myself that they are married. a loving couple they are not! Here, their tentative bond was shown by the unspoken conversation conveyed by a look between Rory and Amy when he starts fussing over Jennifer. Well, it’s something.

There are some good aspects of this episode, not least of which – I am delighted to report – is Murray Gold’s music finally being allowed to add some moody tension, rather than the usual bombastic approach. There were some quite spooky, spine-tingling moments in the mine’s tunnels. A big plus must also go to the Ganger make-up. Most impressive.

The ‘shock’ revelation at the end, which had of course been well signposted, raises some of those deliberate questions. We now have two Doctors. Could one of these be the one killed in the first episode of this season? Or maybe this is the start of a whole new race of Time Lords, since these are meant to be exact copies? But there is one thing – ony one? – that niggles… The artificial flesh takes on a form it is given, so is the flesh that becomes clothes still ‘alive’ in the same sense as the Gangers? Spooky…


[Rating: 3]


Jan Vincent-Rudzki

UK editor of Film Review Online