Doctor Who: The Rebel Flesh

“The truth resists simplicity.”

John Green

The first of a Doctor Who two-parter from Eleven’s second series, The Rebel Flesh is probably one of his better episodes, featuring as it does a ruined island monastery, people with scary gloopy faces, and a ruthless factory leader who won’t listen to reason (those kinds of storylines tend to play out well in Doctor Who). The Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves in an ancient monastery serving as a 22nd-century factory for an acid so dangerous that the workers use substitute bodies made out of a substance called “the Flesh”. Think Avatar, except the avatars are more expendable. That’s the point. Anyway, when a solar storm hits the solar-powered factory, the overload of electricity shocks the Flesh so that the avatars become more than tools – they become sentient, perfect copies of their users, complete with memory and emotion. Of course, humans being humans, the workers don’t take kindly to their doppelgangers, and war breaks out.

It’s one of those episodes that Doctor Who tends to be good at, the kind that asks questions about humanity: what does it mean to be human? And what does it mean to be people? And can humanity deal with the difference? It gives the Doctor a chance to be sad and angry and shocked; Matt Smith is reasonably good at that here, although I’m slightly sceptical of his motivations for exploring the factory in the first place: “Let’s go and satisfy our rabid curiosity.” Really? You couldn’t think of a better way of getting him in there?

Rory’s befriending of Doppelganger Jenny is quite touching, if a little out of character (it’s nice to see Rory foregrounded for once), as is the all-too-brief alliance of the humans and the gangers. And if the science is a little bit suspect (“fresh acid”, I’m pretty sure, is not a thing), well, that snippet from Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole” makes up for it.

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