Alas, I was afraid of this. It was perhaps inevitable that this week’s episode of Doctor Who (“The Rebel Flesh”, written by Matthew Graham, the co-creator and writer of Life On Mars) didn’t reach the dizzying heights of last week’s fantastic Neil Gaiman episode. Although to be fair to Mr. Graham, he did have a tough act to follow.
The episode opens with the Doctor still contemplating Amy’s Schrödinger baby (and the most he has done towards discovering the cause of this is looking at the scanner again and again; the temporal equivalent of peeing on the same pregnancy test in the hope that it comes out negative). A solar tsunami (I’m going to ignore the fact that tsunamis come from earthquakes beneath the ocean and thus would not work that way in space) casts our brave travellers towards a monastery on 22nd century Earth. While there, they discover the usage of doppelgängers as labour workers. Predictably, the doppelgängers develop sentience after the aforementioned solar tsunami to give rise to a paranoid “who can we trust?” cloning scenario.
The titular Rebel Flesh (which I happen to think sounds like a potential pornographic movie) are the doppelgängers who develop sentience. Complicating matters is the fact that they are born (as it were) with all the memories and feelings of the originals, combined with a justifiable fear of not being accepted and outcast due to being ‘mere’ clones of themselves. As its heart, this story is very reminiscent of “The Hungry Earth” and “Cold Blood”, the rather unimpressive two parter of the first series. Written by a Life On Mars writer, two different but inherently similar factions (both episodes containing obvious prosthetics; the gangers in particular look like they’ve got a flattened Adipose stuck to their face) with the same rights are going to war while the Doctor works out how to stop it and bring peace, with a killing of one side by one of the other. Which story am I talking about here? The episode has implications about whether clones should be used as slaves that I’m sure will be followed up on in the next episode.
There are some nice moments in the episode, of course. Most Doctor Who episodes have some small moments to make watching worth your while, whether it be through dialogue or something about the enemy of the week. Of note in this episode is the bit where Matt Smith’s Doctor suddenly goes northern and says, in a manner that puts me in mind of Last Of The Summer Wine, “ooh, ee by gum”.
Of course, the true test of the competence of this episode is whether you tune in for the resolution of this cliffhanger in next week’s episode, which is the penultimate one before the “game-changing” cliffhanger in Steven Moffat’s episode 7. I’m not feeling compelled to watch it as I was with “Day Of The Moon”, but I’m still going to watch next week’s episode in hopes that the resolution is reversed from the opening two parter of the season (so I’m hoping for a rather lame set-up and great resolution). I’ll be honest, if you’re pressed for time I would suggest giving this one a miss, as it doesn’t add much to the overall story arc of the season (well, that we know of at this stage), other than a few token sightings of ongoing plotlines.