It's Just Gunge

Review of The Rebel Flesh
Warning:  This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

Derivative much?  It's been a long time since I saw a story so predictable; I knew the major plot points by the time last week's trailer was over.  Great:  some sort of it-could-be-human-except-it's-not-alive technology becomes self-aware and gets in a fight for its life with "real" humans.  ~yawn~

Not only does this echo countless science fiction/horror classics from Frankenstein to Blade Runner to Who's own Robots of Death (fear of the nearly-us-but-clearly-Other is deep-seated), the story is a ripoff of other, newer Who stories.  There are obvious parallels with stories as recent as The Waters of Mars and The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, not to mention smatterings of The Doctor's Daughter, The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit and just about every Auton or base-under-siege story ever made. And did anyone not see the "cliffhanger" coming from the instant the Doctor first touched the Flesh?  If that had been any more heavily telegraphed, viewers would've had to set up little cable offices in their living rooms (or wherever they watch their Who) to take the messages down.

So let's get the boring stuff out of the way first. When our heroes first walk into the monastery, the camera POV from behind the stones is suggestive of someone watching them - like a Ganger already going walkabout. Later, it's only Jennifer who's not hooked up. Why? Is she already a stabilized, independent Ganger? Could be. Wouldn't surprise me if that crops up next time (like the one Operator who keeps sneezing; Chekov's gun much?). And does Ganger-Jennifer mean anything more than that she plans to disable her Operator-self when she says she's going to "take care of the spare one running around out there"? Or is there a spare Ganger? Truth be told, I don't really care. I just feel I need to speculate to stay awake...

Then there's the requisite appearance of Creepy Eyepatch Lady. CEL is this series' crack in the universe; it's a visual catchphrase that's becoming as tiring as all the rest. She didn't even bloody say anything this time to give me more fodder for my ridiculous, useless theorizing.

The only really interesting thing in the whole episode is the Amy/Rory/Jennifer triangle. And this really did engage me in the story. In fact, I'm beginning to think of this as the Year of the Rory. He's finally coming into his own as a real character - no longer taking the back seat to Amy. Nowhere is it more obvious than his developing relationship (capital R?) with Jennifer.

I can easily see the appeal that Jennifer has for him. She's attractive, needy, and takes comfort in what he has to offer - in a natural and demonstrably grateful manner. When she's in trouble (which is pretty much the moment she realizes she's the Ganger-Jennifer and not the Operator-Jennifer), she instinctively looks to him to solve her problem, to protect her (look how they hold hands during the meeting of Gangers and Operators). I bet Rory never thought he'd get that kind of response from a woman, having basically been trained since childhood to accept Amy as his overlord. It must be a completely intoxicating experience for him.

Adding Jennifer to the mix gives a completely different dynamic to Amy and Rory's relationship. She has never had anything close to a rival for his attention before; she's used to having him wrapped around her finger and needing to do no more than glance in his direction to get him to come running. Now that Rory's starting to realize the truth behind Jennifer's comment that "Amy's a lucky girl," he's really grown a pair. He is actually willing to ignore the blandishments of both the Doctor and Amy, and run off into the night to do what he feels is right (and perhaps a bit dashing). I imagine next week we'll get to watch Amy do a little soul-searching (ick), which - while likely painful (as in, not good drama) to watch - might eventually lead to some actual character development for her. Which is sorely needed.

Where were the bright spots in the otherwise dull and lifeless (sorry - couldn't resist the pun) "main" plotline? I have to say the makeup and effects were top notch. The Gangers really do look wonderfully creepy, and I loved the way Jennifer kind of flickered between the two states as she pounded at her chest in anguish. Even some of the "solar tsunami" (~astrophysicist tears her hair out~) effects were at least pretty.

I also loved some of the Doctor's little toss-off's, like "it's about to get even more insanerer." His use of the snowglobe as a solar activity indicator struck me as very Three for some reason, which was awesome (I've seen Three in him before, most notably in Vampires of Venice; ask, if you want specifics). After my rather ebullient reaction to last week's episode, though, the best bit was probably the Doctor's response to Amy's comment that they'd landed at that time and place "by accident." It was a nice nod back to that conversation with IDRIS.

So what's in store next week? Dunno. Don't really care. I'll watch, for completeness, and in the hope that I'll be pleasantly surprised, but for now I'm just marking time till "everything changes." Any episode with River's gotta be better than something this unoriginal.
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