Monday, August 25, 2014

Doctor Who--"The Rebel Flesh"

First things first. Yes, Matthew Graham is the writer of the two part story, for which “The Rebel Flesh” is the first installment. Yes, Graham also wrote "Fear Her,” the worst episode of the revived series. Yes, “The Rebel Flesh” operates on a glacially slow pace until the last few moments. However, Graham also co-created Life on Mars, sets up an intriguing premise, and presents a fantastic cliffhanger to tide us through the week. So I give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he has redeemed himself.

The TARDIS crew visit’s a 22nd century monastery that has been converted to a factory. The factory is run by humans who have created clones of themselves called Gangers to perform the most dangerous tasks to keep the place operating. The doctor halts a solar tsunami--just go with it--before it can kill everyone, but the tsunami causes the gangers to become self-aware and xenophobic, setting up a confrontation between them and the humans. Rory bonds with a particularly sensitive Ganger who is fighting off her aggressive instincts with the memories of her human version. While barricaded inside the chapel, the humans discover the doctor accidentally created a ganger of himself when he touched the fluid used to make them earlier in the episode. To be continued.

There is about 22 minutes of material stretched into 45 here at such a pace hardly any tension can build up until the last few minutes when the Gangers whole-heartedly get their war on. I think the slower pace was supposed to give us a chance to appreciate Rory more, as there is a heavy emphasis on his budding friendship with Jenny, a Ganger who has more of her true self’s essence than the others appear to possess. He even throws in a self-aware line regarding how many times he has ’died” in order to empathize with her I confess no particular attachments to Rory, so other Wholigans may have gotten more out of that than I did. I would have appreciated less of that and more emphasis on the claustrophobic sense of being trapped and stalked by relentless Gangers, a tension which should have been felt throughout with Rory and Jenny breaking the tension periodically instead of the other way around.

I sensed a lot of homage, though I am unsure how much is intentional. The concept of technology both creating and degrading sacred life simultaneously is directly from Frankenstein . Even the monastery’s conversion to a factory represents the science versus religion theme which exists in the novel, though few ever analyze it seriously. Kudos to graham for recognizing it is there. The vats of fluid the gangers are created in look much like those the Cylons used to create new skin jobs. As you can see from the above photo, the make up job on the Gangers looks a lot like the Changelings from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. If you want to get right down to it, how often have the concepts of cloning and unusual solar activity caused problems in science fiction? I do not know if they have ever been combined before, but throw in some elements of a zombie attack, and you have ’The Rebel Flesh.”

It is tough to fairly judge the first part of a two part story because the big picture is not there yet. “The Rebel Flesh” is all set up. Very, very slow set up. But it has potential. In spite of its stew of elements from other science fiction, I am still interested in seeing if it has a unique resolution. With Graham responsible for the script, it takes a lot of optimism to do so.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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