Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I Think I'm A Clone Now

As I write this, I still have yet to see a single minute of Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes, so the only other work of Matthew Graham that I can compare against The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People is his previous Who episode, Fear Her. (This year's story is an improvement.) However, knowing as I do that his two hit series are homages to the Sweeney-esque cop shows of the '70s and '80s, I believe that I can feel their lingering influence in some of the awkwardly macho dialogue on display. There's so much corn in this pair of scripts that they could have used the Jolly Green Giant for the big CGI monster in the second half.

By and large, this is a passable two-parter - not great, but good enough. Probably in the region of 6 out of 10. What lets it down isn't really the dialogue, but the sheer mess of it all.

Is it the Flesh or the Gangers that are the victim here? The script keeps changing its mind about this. We're told several times about the Flesh's grievances, but it's the Gangers and their struggle for equality with the humans whose minds they share that we're invited to sympathise with. Are they actually perfect copies of their originals, or are they just autonomous parts of a Flesh gestalt? Do all their assertions of ownership over their duplicate memories, their disagreements and in-fighting actually mean anything? I think the whole business about the Flesh being self-aware and suffering in its own right is a dead end in plot terms - the Gangers are quite definitely individuals by the end, and all the talk of a Ganger revolution suggests a population of individuals that has to be organised - but so much is made of it that it muddies the whole issue.

Speaking of muddying, how about that final scene? So the writer spends ninety minutes telling us that clones made out of chip shop batter are real people too and deserve our courtesy and compassion, at the end of which the Doctor turns round and shoots one with his sonic handgun screwdriver. I know we can, if we so choose, devise our own theories to cover this - the technology's moved on, Ganger Amy isn't self-aware as a Ganger - but it looks grievously wrong, and we shouldn't have to make our own apologies for it simply because nobody else has bothered to. (And besides, she's had a lot more of the TARDIS' reputed stablising influence than the Gangers who survive this story - shouldn't she be as "real", or more?) Taken at its face value, in the context of its parent story, it's a complete volte face and a bit of a moral pratfall. It's a bit like the Doctor's vivisectionist fistbump in last year's Silurian story, except that in this case it's clear where the blame lies. Since it's a series arc scene that's been tacked onto the end of the story, I think we can pin it squarely on Steven Moffat - it's his scene, and in his capacity as showrunner and visionary-in-chief he's done a poor job of integrating it into Matthew Graham's story.

In case it wasn't already nauseatingly obvious, I'm not loving this series as much as previous series. More on this in due course.

Much of The Almost People is given over to Wouldn't It Look Cool If scenes that don't make a lick of sense - all the eyes gummed to the wall, the big pile of fused melty Gangers in the basement, and of course the lumbering Jennifer-beast. Jennifer's snakey-neck moment in The Rebel Flesh should also be mentioned. The Ganger Doctor's fan-servicing blast of previous Doctor impressions, possibly. These all have the feel of images that Matthew Graham started with, tried to fit a story around and couldn't bear to lose in the final draft - they don't add a hell of a lot to the story.

I'd be interested to know if acid actually is or can be produced by mining. I freely admit that I know nothing about this, but I always imagined it was synthesised in labs. Any passing scientists reading this, please feel free to comment.

What else? It's easy not to notice in hindsight, once the Doctor switcheroo has been revealed, that we actually saw the real Doctor roughing Amy up in a corridor. In his defence, he had just found out about his death (or at least, he'd found out what Amy thought about it). The business of Amy not trusting (what she believes to be) the Ganger Doctor on principle is laboured well beyond necessity. On the other hand, I felt that the handover of Dad duties from the Scots guy to his Ganger (and the way the Doctor used this as leverage in his relations with the Gangers) was handled very nicely. But just how did the Doctor know to arrange that phone call so far in advance?


Christopher Pittard said...

Good points all, especially on how this one goes back and forth on just how autonomous the Gangers actually are. This is summed up in a very telling plot hole in the second part: Cleaves is clever enough to use a codeword in her communication with the rescuers in case the Gangers are listening, but dumb enough not to realise that the other Cleaves will come up with the same word, rendering the whole idea useless. It's as if in the first instance the Gangers are separate people (listening in), but in the second instance they're simply projections (and therefore don't need to listen to what the others are doing, because they'll already know).

Other thoughts, in no particular order:

I really quite liked the first part. I've heard complaints about yet another Who doubles story, but the set-up here does seem quite original in how it explores some of the implications of the idea. It's also much more thorough in exploring the idea of the Freudian uncanny double than most stories of its kind, but that's another story for another time.

And yet... whereas real Jennifer in the opening scenes seems to be an adult doing a dangerous job, as soon as she gets ganged she becomes a whining eight year old blurting cut-price existentialism. She becomes wearying quite quickly, which seems unusual for this kind of character.

Part two is all over the place, not only for the reasons already mentioned, but the really clumsy attempt to bring in the company as the bad guys. I can only assume the script editor missed "Who are the *real* monsters?"

Was the end of part one meant to be a surprise? It's really not clear whether they meant it to be or not.

The ending - i.e. the Gangers realise they've been bad - is just silly.

Part one, I give 7; part two, 5. That means 6, overall.

John Toon said...

Blimey, another episode we agree on? Is this a record?! I should point out that the ending is not unique in DW, and for what it's worth I don't really mind it if the series dares to suggest that sometimes, just sometimes, people can be made to stop doing bad things by persuasion alone.

Re the company as bad guys, you know what part two *really* needed was Cleaves complaining about her bonus!

Christopher Pittard said...

Of course, the other problem with the company as monsters theme is that, once introduced, it then places the Doctor in the rather uncomfortable position of effectively killing off (literally) an industrial action. So it gets ditched again except for the rather vague "Let's talk to them" ending.

I have a theory that the eleventh Doctor is really a huge Tory. Here, he defuses industrial protest; elsewhere, he pals up with Churchill and Nixon. And he wears tweed and a bow tie.