Series 6 - Episode 5: 'The Rebel Flesh'
Written by Matthew Graham - Directed by Julian Simpson
It's almost hard to believe we have reached the fifth episode of Series 6 already - only two more weeks before 'Doctor Who' leaves our screens for that dreaded and rather ridiculous break, but let's not start off with a bad note. After last week's masterful episode from the insane mind of Neil Gaiman, 'Fear Her' (2006) writer Matthew Graham returns and puts his chips down for a suspenseful and gripping first part to a tale that bears a grand homage to classic American Body Horror.
After a brutal solar tsunami, the TARDIS lands alongside a futuristic factory in which doppelgängers or 'Gangers' are created in order to complete jobs and tasks that are too 'hazardous' for humans. But when a second wave of solar energy strikes, the 'Gangers' and the humans become separated and the environment becomes hostile. It's up to The Doctor, Amy and Rory to defuse an inevitable war and the loss of true identity.
'Dark' is often an overused terminology in regards to television and cinema - it's usually labelled to a certain show or franchise that has been in circulation for a lengthy time period and it seems to be a natural progression to make the content seem 'darker' in order to gain a wider audience and fiddle with taboo subject matter and imagery. In regards to 'The Rebel Flesh' however, it's a fairly accurate description.
Although Graham's first 45 minutes isn't as eerie as Moffat's sensational 'Day of the Moon', it's much more demented in it's atmospheric scope and indeed it's characterisation. Episode 5 oozes with warped charisma; it's a risky move for 'Who' but a good one at that. The 'Gangers' owe a great debt to 70s and 80s Horror cinema - directors like David Cronenberg and John Carpenter have played with bodily disfigurement and metamorphosis for years, and it seems those years have paid off. The 'Gangers' are so interesting in their design, politics and ethos; realistically as The Doctor mentions, they are human - they have been given life by the one they resemble; they are not alien, nor a bi-product of some nuclear malfunction. They are living, breathing and conscious entities which makes them ever so more bizarre and brilliant.
'The Rebel Flesh' seemed like a bit of an appetiser for next week's round-up at points, but overall it was an incredibly entertaining and visually exciting episode that is worthy of it's own merits. Sure, it wasn't as much of a spectacle as 'The Doctor's Wife' but there is only so much money to go round. Rather than gallons of monumental CGI, director Simpson used intricate camera techniques that helped enforce atmosphere and tension. The sequence with Rory leaving the group to search for 'Ganger' Jennifer Lucas (Sarah Smart) was unbearably claustrophobic, plus the episode whipped out the classic 'SURPRISE!' moment when audiences are briefly introduced to The Doctor's 'Ganger' which looked like a cross between Smith, a zombie and a high street mannequin - freaky is probably the word I'm looking for.
Rather than Smith gobbling all the limelight like last week, Graham's episode gave Rory a more active role which he fully embraces. At times, his new found 'relationship' with Jennifer seemed a little awkward, but realistically if one reads between the lines, they have quite a lot in common - Jennifer recalls of a past thought/memory in which she meets a stronger version of herself (which is epitomised by her 'Ganger'), indeed Rory had a stronger version of himself as an Auton Roman back in Series 5. Jennifer also makes a joke about a near-death experience which Rory is the flagship leader for, and the pair seem to be inferior to those who surround them. In the TARDIS, The Doctor is boss and in the Pond household, it's our beloved Amelia who wears the trousers.
For this reason, I put aside the occasional squint and allowed their relationship to wash through me; it's clear that the writers are trying to boost Rory's story-arcs and good on them, he's more than a nose you know. Darvill gets my vote this week - not only is he prominent in the story, he's become a fine actor. I just hope he is as important in 'The Almost People' next week. Smith was brilliant as always and Gillan is cracking on wonderfully. Her chance meetings with the 'Eye-Patch' lady are becoming ever more frequent and intriguing - let's just hope Moffat doesn't make us choke on it over the ridiculous hiatus.