Doctor Who series 6 episode 6: The Almost People

The one where Matt Smith does his Odo impression.

 

4 stars

 

 

Air date: UK: 28 May, 2011, BBC One

 

With a sarcophagus full of intelligent goo that can accurately copy anyone, there was only one place this story could logically end up: a Ganger version of the Doctor, who duly appeared in the cliffhanger to The Rebel Flesh. The opening scenes, of the avatar Doctor with his embryo-like face screaming through his past regenerations, are truly disturbing.

 

In this story, it seems even the Doctor's identity is under attack. Of course, with the Doctor it's never as simple as that. His clone is an exact, benign copy, not an evil lookalike like Salamander (Troughton) or Meglos (Tom Baker). This moves the discrimination shown by the refinery crew towards the Gangers, in the first episode, centre stage, as Amy has to deal with her prejudicial feelings towards the Ganger-Doctor, an attitude that has a satisfying pay off in the final moments. The thought also occurs to her that this new Doctor may be the one who died on the beach in the opening episode of the season, a tantalising prospect for long-term viewers, that illustrates how clever and considered the writing on this show is.

 

Playing opposite himself makes for some great moments for Matt Smith. His comic timing is as immaculate as ever, and the Doctor double-act can spin in a beat from being very funny – "I'm starting to get a sense of just how impressive it is to hang out with me" – to suddenly threatening, as he shouts into Amy's face about how the Gangers have been mistreated.

 

The Doctor-Ganger in The Almost People

 

The replica humans are clearly the same but different, and scenes like this are what give this story such a well-realised, edgy and adult (in the best sense of the word) atmosphere. Unfortunately, the appearance of Ganger-Doc slows down the crisis so that the race to the climax becomes a saunter rather than a sprint. Even though the Hieronymus Bosch-style imagery established in The Rebel Flesh becomes more extreme – a wall full of living eyes and a pile of moaning, distorted, discarded Gangers – the solution to the situation comes through family ties restored (a preoccupation of both Graham's writing and this season) rather than desperate, last-minute action. Yes, it's mature and makes sense thematically, as a Ganger parent replaces his dead 'real' counterpart and shows how irrelevant the prejudice about authenticity is. But it's a slightly disappointing ending to such a determinedly esoteric and unnerving set-up.

 

On the plus side, the brilliant but underused Arthur Darvill finally gets something to do other than look bemused, demonstrate his masterful comic timing and/or die. Rory's bonding with Jennifer (Sarah Smart), as outsiders within their respective groups, brings out his natural compassion and gives the story a touching and believable emotional centre. Rory's wounded, righteous indignation at later being tricked by the increasingly murderous Jennifer is one of the character's – and actor's – high points.

 

Jennifer herself is a bit of a problem. The script goes out of the way to stress that the Gangers are exact, consistent duplicates of their human counterparts, but someone who Cleaves describes as "a sweet kid" suddenly becomes deceitful, manipulative, violent and finally homicidal, "the stuff of nightmares," while the other Gangers, after initially turning on the humans, regain their compassion and common sense. This is because The Almost People is a Doctor Who story that has to have a villain/monster, so perhaps it's fitting that as Jennifer's character is bent out of shape by the needs of the script, the base instincts of humanity literally deform her into a monster. In such a metaphorical story, her fate is a perfect fit.

 

The end of the episode is an absolute stormer, one of the best examples of Steven Moffat's far-reaching and Byzantine plotting, shockingly undermining the stability of the TARDIS crew. The prejudiced Amy being exposed as an Almost Person herself – dissolving to reveal the real Amy in the throes of giving birth under the watchful eye of the enigmatic eye-patch lady – gives a satisfying twist of dramatic irony to a narrative trap that closes with a satisfying snap. Roll on A Good Man Goes to War. Perhaps in the future, people will reappraise this multi-layered and metaphorical, if slightly flawed, two-parter as The Face of Evil of its day? Let's hope so.

 

Rob Fairclough

 

 

Doctor Who: The Almost People
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