Doctor Who, Eleven For Eleven: The Almost People

“You tricked him into an act of weakness, Doctor.”

“No, I’ve helped him into an act of humanity. Anyone else like the sound of that?”

I’m not sure whether I liked “The Almost People” more than last week’s “The Rebel Flesh” because of the long-term implications and last-minute revelations or because it was a better unit of entertainment. I enjoyed the humor of Matt Smith playing off of himself, and there’s a lot of great payoffs throughout — and I do love a good bit of payoff. I do have a big problem with the threat, though; I didn’t buy it as a wide-scale threat one bit, and there were moments where they were trying to sell it that way. It’s a base under siege, not a worldwide revolution, and there was never a moment where it felt like it could conceivably roll into one. 11. It’s nice to see that the Doctor’s been doing more than just staring at that pregnant/not pregnant display all this while. He worked out that there was something weird about Amy and picked himself a nice spot to do some research and test some hunches. The tricky thing about the cliffhanger is that because we’ve spent more time with “liberated” Gangers than with the operator-driven variety, it’s quite a shock when the Doctor whips out his Sonic and “decommissions” Amy’s Ganger. We just watched the Doctor and Miranda turned to goop, so my own immediate assumption was that what the Doctor did was in total violation of the entire point of the story: the Flesh is a living thing just like we are and it should be respected and understood and such. It was only on second viewing that I realized that he had to eliminate the Ganger to sever the connection and present Amy and Rory with reality. Still, more than a bit off-putting — and hang on, the Doctor said that the TARDIS stabilized the Gangers. Is it because Amy’s is still operator-driven that hers wasn’t stabilized as well? I suppose we have to assume as much. So how long have we had Amy as a Ganger? Since the very beginning of the season? Was she swapped out one day while Rory wasn’t looking during the two months the Doctor was away? Or was it sometime during the three months between “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon”? It’s been at least since “Day of the Moon,” as that was the first time Amy saw the weird Eyepatch Lady. Whenever it happened, it’s been for most of the series thus far, and just adds one more bit of long-term weirdness to the still-building pile.

10. Speaking of switches, the only spot where the Doctor and his Ganger could have switched shoes — and like I said last week, that was so obviously going to be the “tell,” which makes the switch from the get-go such a nice twist — is when the two were trying to turn the power back on. So the Doctor who picks up the question of the Flesh — the pounding “WHY?” — so strongly and attacks Amy is the original Doctor. This also means that Amy told him that she watched him die. He was distracted at the time, but he’s the Doctor: he never misses a beat. Funny that a mangled version of William Hartnell’s words, Jon Pertwee’s “catchphrase,” and the voice of Tom Baker all come from Matt Smith’s mouth when, as I said last week, the Doctor he most reminds me of throughout this story is Sylvester McCoy — though I guess attacking one’s companion is a bit Colin Baker, eh? But testing his companion, playing that switch, was a total Seventh Doctor move, as was this whole endeavor, done without explaining the point to the little humans.

9. The character of Jennifer’s Ganger is so strange. Rory shows her such kindness in the previous episode, but she appears to be so affected by the death of one of her fellows that she turns into this overplayed malevolent monster that seems to relish the death and manipulations she’s about to wreak upon the hapless humans. She mentions to Miranda’s Ganger that she can remember all the times she’s been “decommissioned” — but Miranda’s can’t. Is Jennifer somehow special? Is she the instrument of some kind of Flesh overmind? Clearly something like that is at work, since the Doctor is struck by that powerful psychic resonance. What little sympathy we have for her drops when she turns into a big monster. And what’s most interesting is that the other characters see it, too: as their alliance falls apart, Miranda calls her “the stuff of nightmares.” I’m not sure whether it’s disappointing or heartening that Jennifer has to keep making with the rallying cries to keep her revolution going to the extent that it does; she’s the only true believer of the lot, which is probably why she sticks out like a sore thumb. Gangers are supposed to be perfect duplicates. How did she wind up with so much angry Ganger and so little humanity left in her?

8. In right and proper Doctor Who style, not everyone gets out of this one alive, though I find it’s a bit too neat and tidy about getting rid of redundant people: one human and two Gangers make it out, and nobody left alive is doubled up. But hey, out of five guest characters twice over, two whole pairs got knocked off.

7. When the Doctor and his Ganger are feeling each other out right after the opening titles, they have a quick conversation about Cybermats of all things. You know, the Cybermen’s mouse-like “pets” that haven’t been seen on TV since the Tom Baker story “Revenge of the Cybermen” back in the 1970’s. The BBC have already confirmed that the Cybermen are coming back; this seems a good sign that the Cybermats are, too.

6. I’ve seen complaints that this story had too little meat for a two-parter. I don’t think that’s the case. I think the problem is that it had just enough meat for, say, a Seventh Doctor three-parter, and it got spread out into a classic four-parter’s length. There’s an awful lot of dashing to and fro and chases through corridors and getting locked up and smaller threats like the problem of the acid cover that’s going to blow, just like a classic four-part runaround. It’s a bit padded, sure, but it’s padded with bits that increase tension, short-term problems, bits that reveal more character and give us some more sterling dialog for Matt Smith’s Doctor. I like those bits. So personally, I’m perfectly okay with the length of it. But then, I like the idea of a good two-parter. It’s Doctor Who. It’s supposed to have cliffhangers. The more, the better.

5. There were a few moments throughout that pushed the idea that perhaps the Doctor’s Ganger was going to turn baddie. It’s actually quite scary that the Doctor exhibiting all that behavior — every last moment of it — was the actual Doctor. But turning it around, it’s clear that the show’s pushing the idea that a duplicate of the Doctor may turn ruthless — the Doctor certainly has that in him — but he will always seek the most humane solution, the solution that will result in the greater good. That’s just who the Doctor is, and any copy or splinter of the Doctor which retains his memories and personality will be just the same. Again, this is why the whole situation with Jennifer doesn’t make any sense to me; Miranda’s Ganger can predict all of Miranda’s moves and her password because they are exactly the same person. Jimmy’s Ganger goes home for his son’s birthday in Jimmy’s stead because he is exactly the same person —

4. — and god, wasn’t that obvious from, like, the halfway point of last week? Only one of them was going to make it out, and the more dramatic situation was for the Ganger to have to be Dad? Still, beautifully played, the whole sequence, from the Ganger breaking down at the sight of his boy, to the real Jimmy’s death, and then the Ganger having to take the call in his stead. It’s heartbreakingly played. Shame it’s just so obvious.

3. Speaking of well played stuff, the final scene in the TARDIS is just devastating. I’ll be honest, when the Doctor started talking about the Flesh, I had no clue what possible bearing the Flesh could have on Amy’s baby. I must be thick; the Doctor’s shouting at Rory to stay away, the Doctor talks about how he’s going to try to be humane based on what he’s learned, and then the moment comes: SPLOOSH. Good to see ol’ Rory’s quicker on the uptake than I am; when he backs away, it’s clear he knows what the Doctor’s getting at. Karen Gillan really does some fantastic work here; Amy clearly has no idea what’s going on and is terrified that her best friend is shouting at her and accusing her of something she doesn’t understand and he claims she’s pregnant when there’s obviously no baby, and then her husband backs away, pulls away his hand, severs that lifeline. That confusion and horror is all over her face. It’s starting to become clear what Steven Moffat meant when he said that these two have been with the Doctor too long.

2. The buzz is that this cliffhanger is a better cliffhanger than next week’s. I think I can live with that. Next week’s cliffhanger is going to be resolved in THREE MONTHS. This week’s? Next week. It’s a good thing it’s next week. I really want to see what a Time Head’s supposed to look like.

1. “… but things happened, and there was stuff, and shenanigans. It’s a beautiful word, shenanigans.” I love how Smith takes his usual Doctory rambling and almost makes it sinister and melancholy at the same time there. His tone throughout that whole scene is just brilliant, but right there, that’s perfectly-judged gold.


3 thoughts on “Doctor Who, Eleven For Eleven: The Almost People

  1. Hey stumbled upon this post by chance after doing a wordpress search. I like your analysis and observations about this episode and seeing as you’ve got a collection of them I’ll subscribe to read further articles. :)

    How do you think the series is shaping up overall? I think this is a more mature series and definitely great for the older audience, but I hope the kids still enjoy it and perhaps grow up to watch re-runs and appreciate it better. I think this could shape up to be a rather epic series.

  2. Jennifer actually made sense to me – remember that last week, when recalling the story to Rory about being a little girl with sore toes in her red wellies, that there was a “strong Jennifer” who left her at home?

    I think that’s why her ganger was so different to the real Jennifer – different aspects of her personality. Although I still don’t understand where the first Jennifer ganger went (unless it was the real Jennifer who pushed/knocked Buzzer into the acid, but that doesn’t make sense because they were meant to use gangers for all the risky work).

  3. Cecilia: It’s weird, she tells that story to Rory and even refers to it again in this episode, but given how strongly the other Gangers who are given any development or time to shine at all reflect their progenitors, and given how strongly the script beats that particular drum with Miranda, Jimmy, and the Doctor, Jennifer stands out as something of an anomaly. I see what Matthew Graham was getting at with the idea, I just don’t think it’s pulled off at all in a way that makes sense, and I don’t know if it’s a problem with the writing or a problem with the malevolent relish with which Sarah Smart plays putty-faced Ganger-Jennifer and the obvious duplicity with which she plays the scenes with Rory this week (in either case, the way she plays it doesn’t help). I’d cite that as one of the big problems with the two-parter overall — the whole idea is that the Gangers are living beings that deserve rights and normal lives just like we do, but every time they become all putty-faced they start acting like Doctor Who monsters, all snarls and sneers.

    Stuart: I do like the tone of it; since “Curse of the Black Spot” it’s felt to me — and I’m sure I said something to this effect in one of my earlier posts, though I don’t think quite with this specificity — like Moffat has changed the feel, and the kinds of stories, and the interplay between the characters so it very much reminds me of the best of the Tom Baker years, but as perceived through a modern post-Buffy/Battlestar/Lost filter. It feels very classic and modern at the same time. Small casts, closed-off locations, runarounds through tunnels and quarries, and modern Earth nowhere in sight, but with a greater emphasis on character drama and running threads and sort of a ticking clock in the background. Last year definitely had its own identity, but now it feels like this incarnation of the show has cast off the last of the vestiges of the RTD era (Neil Gaiman’s episode’s touchstones aside) and has become kind of its own thing. I’m enjoying the hell out of it now, mostly due to Matt Smith’s magnificent performance in the title role and the well played twists and turns, but when the 2011 season is over and Moffat still has three or four balls in the air I wonder what kind of a mood I’ll be in. I hope there won’t be a quiz when he steps down in, oh, let’s say 2014, though it would kind of be fantastic if he left a few bits unresolved for the next regime to run with. In the short-term, it definitely has me excited for next week; I’ve watched that trailer on YouTube a dozen or so times. In the RTD era I would get excited by what they were bringing back this season — OOH, IT’S THE MASTER! OOH, IT’S DAVROS! In the Moffat era I find I’m much more excited by What’s Actually Happening, the cliffhangers and mysteries. Oh sure, it’s cool to see the Cybermen coming back, but I’m far more chomping at the bit to see the mystery of River Song revealed and what the deal is with Amy’s pregnancy. And ooh, who are those guys with the swords? And what’s the deal with this military force?

    I think there’s enough cool stuff, like the aforementioned dudes with flaming swords, and creepy monsters, and pirates, and Cybermen, and so on that kids still find the series engaging. At least, I would hope so. I would weep for humanity if kids today didn’t look at some of this stuff and find it niftylicious and creeptacular. I know I went back as an adult and watched the Doctor Who stuff I grew up with and reengaged with it and caught things I never would have picked up on at five years old, and I’d say this stuff would be far more rewarding from that standpoint. But the only way we’ll know for sure is to come back in fifteen to twenty years and go find some college students and start surveying, eh? ^_^

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