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Wednesday, 30 of September of 2020

Doctor Who – “The Rebel Flesh”

It’s interesting that you refer to them as ‘it’ but you call a glorified cattle prod ‘she.’

The Doctor inspects some Flesh

Bubble bubble toil and trouble indeed.

I normally don’t review the first part of a Doctor Who two-parter, but since I’m going to be doing it again the week after next for the mid-season break, I figure I might as well do it here.

The other reason, beyond setting a minor precedent for myself, is that I feel like the episode deserves a little defending. The reaction from a lot of folks I know was fairly cool, with someone using the phrase “tepid” to describe it on Twitter. And the episode isn’t great or even all that good, but it does some nice things that I think need to be acknowledged.

Of course, this review will be a little shorter than others, if only because there’s a little bit less to say as the episode is mostly just set-up for past 2. However, (All of that turned out to be false.) I have a feeling that part 2 will (heheh) depart from the cool vibe this episode engages, so we may get to two tonally different episodes. And I’ve gone through that anxiety recently enough that I don’t want to make the same mistake twice.

So, yes, there’s not a lot of new stuff going on here. I mean, the Doctor facing off against body doubles and doppelgangers has probably been a couple of times now, and even if it hasn’t, it’s still a pretty tired trope of science fiction at this point. I mean, unless you’re doing some sort of alternate universe nonsense, it’s pretty hard to justify dipping into that well these days.

And the episode doesn’t delve as deeply into the whole existential crisis of facing a copy of yourself, a perfect copy, they stress. Yes, Jennifer’s ganger (that sounds so wrong) gets a nice little speech, as does Jimmy’s, but there’s nothing we haven’t really heard before from anyone in these situations. So we quickly escalate to the going to war with one’s self literalization (which Jimmy points out is very insane) and getting to the Flesh copy of the Doctor himself.

Likewise, Rory’s beats in this episode pretty opaquely written. The one episode where he doen’t mention that he’s a nurse, and thus would want to save and protect human life (being a nurse and all), is the one episode where it would actually make sense for him to mention it (it made no sense to mention it last week). So, as a result, the Rory and Amy stuff again feels largely half-baked again.

What is there to like then? Well, for starters, I really dug the 1930s horror film vibe the episode gives off. I mean, yes, the whole thing should reek of Frankenstein (electric storms, things coming to life that technically shouldn’t be, etc), and it does, in wonderful ways. The muted colors, steam and fog, lots of light coming in through dirty windows, and a really nice (and very different) musical score. All these things keep the episode moving at a nice clip, and while I didn’t relish the plot, I found the atmosphere more than satisfactory.

And to the notion of Frankenstein. Cloning is the obvious anxiety on display here, but given the nature of the Flesh as a vat of chemicals that stew and have been controlled quite precisely, I actually thought of genetically modified foods and organisms more quickly than I did cloning. It’s not a (heheh) fully fleshed out idea, of course, but one to mull over, I think, as we go forward into the next episode, and how anxieties about GMOs are playing out in this two-parter.

So it’s not a great episode by any means, but I think it’s still far better than “The Curse of the Black Spot”, and has a fair bit more promise going into the second episode.

One last programming note: BBC America isn’t showing the concluding episode “The Almost People” next week due to the Memorial Day holiday. Unlike BBC-A, I have no such qualms about watching television on a holiday, so expect a review before the episode airs in the States.


  • I didn’t take any notes while watching this, so my final thoughts section is very brief. Apologies.
  • If in last week’s episode Matt Smith played the Doctor like a little kid, he plays him decidedly older-skewing here. Their initial landing on by the castle was just very well-aged school-master. Loved it.
  • “It’s weird. But you get used to it.”
  • “Oh great. You see, that is just so typically me.”
  • “This is insane. We’re fightin’ ourselves.”
  • “And it’s about to get even more insanerer. Is that a word?”

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