That Have Bred The Most Terrible Things (The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People)

(66 comments)

You, um, might want to get a doctor to look at that.
It’s May 21st, 2011. Bruno Mars is at number one with “The Lazy Song,” which is unseated after a week by Pitbull and several other artists with “Give Me Everything.” Lady Gaga, Snoop Dogg, David Guetta, and LMFAO also chart. In news, the EU agrees to a bailout for Portugal, Ratko Mladi? is arrested in Serbia, Queen Elizabeth II makes the first monarchal visit to Ireland in a century, Oprah Winfrey’s talk show goes off the air, and Herman Cain declares that he’s running for President.

On television, meanwhile, it’s The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People. Perhaps first and foremost, this is the story that seems to have scared the production team off of two-parters for a while. It is in many ways easy to see why. Despite a very strong first episode cliffhanger, both halves of this feel overly long. This is mostly due to specific problems introduced by Matthew Graham - instead of using the extra space to better develop characters, he simply goes overboard with numerous flatly developed characters (quick, name a single character trait of Dicken’s. Actually, being able to remember which one Dicken is counts). Instead of elaborating or developing his various themes, he just repeats them over and over again, endlessly reiterating, for instance, the bit about the eyes. Significantly emphasized things don’t even end up mattering - Cleaves acquires headaches in the second episode that are stressed a bunch, contribute nothing, and then cleared away with a miracle cure at the end of the episode. It’s bizarre and disjointed and ultimately rather unsatisfying.

But in many ways it’s not the particulars of why this doesn’t quite work that are most significant. It’s sufficient to note that they just don’t. Yet again. This isn’t unique to two-parters - it’s not as though the one-part episodes in any given season are devoid of crap. But there is a reasonable sense that the two-parters are prone to faltering for some reason or another. The reasons differ, but they seem to flounder when they’re not season finales. Moffat, in particular, has put a lot of effort into figuring out how to make the two-parter work, saying in more than one commentary that he believes the trick is to have the second episode begin in a markedly different place than the first one leaves off. 

Certainly The Almost People attempts that, devoting its second episode to the existence of a Ganger Doctor, but in doing so it reveals the potential problem with the approach, which is that it ends up feeling like the real premise of the story doesn’t show up until the halfway mark. This isn’t helped by the fact that the basic version of the premise - the Gangers getting loose - takes a third of an episode to get established. It is in many ways the same problem that plagues a lot of episode ones in the classic series: the gravity of the cliffhanger often distorts the storytelling.

But it’s not like this is the only problem two-parters have. For whatever reason, the new series has not been consistently great about recognizing what concepts deserve ninety minutes of exploration and what ones don’t. Implicit in the idea of a two parter is that there’s a certain degree of importance - they’re tacitly the big episodes. Which sort of works when they highlight big name monsters, but even there one has the sense that the two-parter is just there to justify the expense of creating a bunch of Silurian or Sontaran costumes as opposed to because there was a compelling ninety minute story to be told.

And so this marks the point where this trick is simply removed from Doctor Who’s toolbox, at least for the time being. I mean, I’m not going to be shocked to discover that the next season finale is a two-parter, but the business-as-usual two-parter seems to be for the time being properly dead. It’s worth reflecting, then, on whether this is a good thing or not. As mentioned, it’s not as though the two-parter covered itself in glory over its five-and-a-half year run, but on the other hand, when it worked, it worked well. And it does mark a real shift away from the classic series model, where the cliffhanger was a fundamental unit of how the show worked.

This story is nostalgic in other ways as well, though: it’s flagrantly based around the old Patrick Troughton-era base under siege format. This is true right down to the high concept setting, although that’s also where things begin to break down. When the Troughton era’s base under siege mania was at the height of its tedium, one of the biggest problems became the sense that stories were just being generated by a sort of mix-and-match set. But nothing in it felt quite as strangely incongruous as an acid-mining monastery. The reason is simple enough - the new series’ fondness for location shoots means that shooting around a castle is both cheap and nice looking. But the problem is that the monastery is such a diffuse setting that it never really works. The fact that they’re suturing together a half dozen or so castles to create it and the fact that they just keep tacking new rooms on as the plot necessitates it doesn’t help either, but the problems with the base go deeper than that. 

Which is a pity, because other parts of this are really genuinely good ideas. So much of the base under siege subgenre is based on paranoia about the boundary between the inside and outside. And the Gangers push this boundary interestingly, given that they are by their nature a transgression against it. They are simultaneously the very definition of “inside,” and yet they’re also expressly framed as monstrous, such that the tension is not merely “how are we going to keep the monsters out,” but rather “wait a moment, what is and isn’t a monster anyway?”

Or, at least, it tries. The problem is that ultimately, it still ends up siding with the humans. The basic fact that the Gangers have to do double duty as “they’re people the same as us” and “they’re monstrous” undermines things. On a fundamental level, there’s a real problem with the fact that the only outright villain the story has is a Ganger. It’s the usual problem that stories of this sort have - on the one hand, The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People wants to sympathize utterly with the Ganger’s cause, and on the other it wants to make sure it shuts down the possibility that their oppression justifies any sort of revolutionary act. And so the entrenched structures of power - the humans - are ultimately given priority. This is implicit even in the structure of the plot - the Doctor defaults to spending his time with the humans, and while he pushes them to save the Gangers as well, the result is still a story in which saving the humans appears to be the primary goal. Even the title is working against the Gangers, relegating them to the status of “almost” people. 

So what we have is a story that’s trying to smartly update the old base under siege story, but that ultimately just reaffirms its underlying paranoia and ethos while muddling about without doing much of anything. The only thing that really, properly works is the Ganger Doctor, and I’ll give credit to the “the Doctors were switched all along” idea, although an episode that demands to be rewatched in order for its best features (namely the subtlety of Smith’s acting) to be visible is perhaps a bit of a problem. But the real problem is how utterly timid the resolution to the cliffhanger is. Introducing a second Doctor just to have him flawlessly and seamlessly ally with the regular Doctor is a pathetic excuse for a plot twist.

For proof of concept, just imagine an alternate version of the story in which the Ganger Doctor and the regular Doctor, despite both being good guys, fall on opposite sides because the Ganger Doctor is slightly more disturbed and moved by the agony of the Gangers and thus ends up in actual conflict. You’d have had a story that actually interrogates the underlying bias that says that oppressed populations should attempt assimilation and politely ask their oppressors to maybe stop killing them so much - one where the moral center of the show is actually split. But instead we get both versions of the Doctor acting in perfect and tedious unity.

Part of this is the underlying plot thread that the Doctor is here in order to investigate the Flesh because of Amy. Which means all the actual concerns of the story are ultimately sublimated to the “we had to learn about the Flesh” plot. Which is the other rather frustrating thing about this story - it’s ultimately an eighty-eight minute tease for the setup for the next episode. The final scene is so utterly horrifying and upsetting that it overshadows everything else in the story.

What’s puzzling about this, as has been pointed out by many a commenter, is that the melting down of Amy’s Ganger is a terribly unsatisfying resolution for a story that’s spent the bulk of two episodes stressing how Gangers are people too and how decommissioning them is awful. Yes, there’s an explanation to be had about how Amy wasn’t a proper Ganger or whatever, but it’s still a jarring transition. But that’s ultimately overlooked, because the entire story is just there to lead to a shocking twist in the epilogue. 


It’s not that the twist doesn’t work in its own right - I’m quite partial to A Good Man Goes to War, in fact. But there’s something immensely frustrating and a bit cynical about doing a two-part story that ultimately just leads up to a barely related cliffhanger. Much about Season Six is a shaggy dog story, but in many ways this is the most flagrant and annoying example. Much like Matthew Graham’s other contribution to Doctor Who, this is a story that ultimately fails to add up to anything - iconography in search of a purpose. As with Fear Her, there are numerous interesting things that could have been done with this story and this concept. But none of them actually were. 

Comments

Alex Antonijevic 3 years, 2 months ago

It seemed like a cop out that they pretty much kill off most of the supporting cast. It would've been interesting for one pair of human and ganger to survive and have to deal with sharing an identity, but one or the other is conveniently killed before the story is finished.

Link | Reply

David Anderson 3 years, 2 months ago

It's not quite that there are a lot of interesting things that could have been done with the story and the concept. It's more that there are a lot of interesting things that were almost done with the story and the concept, but which it never quite committed to.
(I'll add that the Doctor having magic future medicines in his TARDIS is something just a little bit too Star Trek for my tastes.)

Link | Reply

xen trilus 3 years, 2 months ago

I think the two Matt Smiths working together (and teasing that one of them has changed sides, but revealing it as a ploy) are a joy to behold, but yeah, numerous other factors in the story mean it isn't ultimately the most interesting possibility. The only real advantage in this story is that it has a lot of room for Smith to have quite pleasing moments. Otherwise it's a bit of a hash job.

If there's anything to say about the supporting characters, it's how well Cleaves (the boss with the clot) manages to recover after her contrived "we need a human to be an arsehole" moment towards the end of part 1, ultimately winding up as the one semi-memorable character - in both forms. Alas, in the transparently mechanical process of ensuring no more than one of each character survives (because anything else would be difficult), her Ganger doesn't make it to the end, and neither does Ganger Doctor.

Restoring the two-parter for the finale of series 8 strikes me as a good move, because it's restoring both the (traditionally at least okay) Finale Two-Parter and the (traditionally high quality) Moffat Two-Parter in one stroke, while still not opening up a slot for the Underwhelming Two-Parter which cursed practically every series bar 7 - of which Rebel Flesh is a good example.

Link | Reply

ferret 3 years, 2 months ago

"Much about Season Six is a shaggy dog story, but in many ways this is the most flagrant and annoying example"

Very much - so much import was given (at the end) to the Doctor have gone through this to study The Flesh in the past in order to understand it in it's future, that I was expecting another flesh-centric episode (set in The Flesh's "present" that the Doctor is trying to understand) further into the season, perhaps the mid-season or ultimate finale.

Instead it just ends up being a trick in AGMGTW that could have easily been achieved with a teleporter with very little re-writing... certainly nothing that necessitated two episodes of groundwork.

And it is frustrating, as I very much enjoyed these episodes, obligatory awful "Lazarus Experiment" Ganger-monster aside.

Link | Reply

Daibhid C 3 years, 2 months ago

The most interesting bit in the story for me was the psychology of Ganger!Cleaves and Ganger!Jennifer, given that they're played as notably different from the originals.

I mean, yes, Ganger!Jennifer is The Boss Monster, but the reason for that is interesting. Human!Jennifer gets a speech early on about how she had an imaginary friend who was also Jennifer but was tougher and more determined, and the idea's clearly meant to be that Ganger!Jennifer has decided that if she's not the "real" Jennifer, she must be that one. Again, it's an idea they could have done more with.

Ganger!Cleaves meanwhile, is kind of the opposite, giving the impression that she's decided that if she's not really Cleaves that means she's not the leader, and this has come as a great relief to her.

And, while it's another example of the Arc Plot taking over the episode, I did like Amy's conversation with what she thinks is Ganger!Doctor, where she tries to show that she's totally comfortable with him and sees him as a person, and ends up hoping he's the one that dies at Lake Silencio,

Link | Reply

dirkmalcolm.com 3 years, 2 months ago

The Flesh doesn't just provide a lead-in to AGMGTW, it also acts as a red herring for the explanation of the Doctor's death and draws a bit of attention away from the Teselecta. As such the whole thing's just The Long Game for series 6 but mystifyingly stretched out over 90 minutes.

Link | Reply

Michael Durant 3 years, 2 months ago

"Actually, being able to remember which one Dicken is counts."

Ut ut! Being able to remember which TWO the Dickens ARE.

Link | Reply

peeeeeeet 3 years, 2 months ago

Wow, a Matt Smith story I like a lot more than Phil does. Didn't expect that. Personally I rather like the ordinariness of the characters, and I didn't find the setting particularly incoherent. The convenience of sealing off future ethical dilemmas is fair comment, though.

Link | Reply

peeeeeeet 3 years, 2 months ago

... piggybacking on that last point - going back to find out what I thought at the time, I came across this:

About the only thing I expected that didn't happen was that they would all turn out to be gangers, which, given how far away the real Amy is, would actually make more sense - why send any humans into such a dangerous situation when you can send in some gangers and have them protect themselves as best they can while various subsets of gangers do the dirty work?

It's too long since I last watched it to say how plausible that would have been, though.

Link | Reply

T. Hartwell 3 years, 2 months ago

Y’know, I have to admit that a while ago I was pretty firmly on the “yes two-parters more two-parters” side of things, but something in this essay sorta hit on something for me- the fact that in almost every single other modern drama on TV (heck, most sitcoms, too), two-parters are only ever used for very special occasions- season openers/finales, anniversary episodes, etc. I mean, just thinking about something like The West Wing, which I’ve been rewatching recently with my dad, in the entire first four seasons you only have 5 cliffhangers, and that’s only if you’re including the momentous final two episodes of the second season as a true two-parter rather than just two linked episodes. In the first four seasons of the revival you had 12.

Which gets at the crux of the problem here- in almost every other show ever, two-parters are only used when the story itself deems the extra length. In Doctor Who, they’re used because Doctor Who used to be 90 minutes long and two-parters are 90 minutes long. We can debate how effective the old structure of the show used to be (and I do think it was effective the majority of the time, at least under good showrunners), but the fact is Doctor Who rarely had the stories determine the episode count- Robert Holmes had an idea of it when he banished six-parters to the season finales, and you can argue the 3 vs 4 divisions during Cartmel were a play at it, but more often than not story lengths were determined by factors other than the actual stories.

So when Doctor Who gets updated to a modern drama structure (which I think can only be argued as a good thing), it still feels it necessary to keep the two-part structure just to retain what is now seen as a ‘classic’ part of the show, despite the stories never really needing that extra weight. I think there’s also an additional perception issue with it, in that because two-parters are generally saved for special episodes and finales and such- episodes that are aimed to be above the mark- there’s a perception of “two-parts = better story”, which is why I think there’s still a staunch section of fandom bemoaning the complete lack of them in Series 7 (despite it also being one of the strongest seasons of the revival thus far). So it’s both nostalgia and a perception issue, which is why it really is a good thing Moffat’s taken such care to remove them almost entirely from the show.

This is, of course, stuff that’s already been talked about at length here and so is probably only reiterating what’s been said, but it was a realization for me. Carry on.

Link | Reply

elvwood 3 years, 2 months ago

Yeah - I miss the cliffhangers, but all of the revival multiparters that weren't (a) season finales or (b) written by Steven Moffat have been at least a little disappointing. And I think that's down to the double whammy of increased expectations combined with the warping of the structure. In fact, even in my classic series marathon it's been noticeable how disproportionately often my favourite episode of a serial has been in the first half, so there's a lesson there.

Link | Reply

dirkmalcolm.com 3 years, 2 months ago

Human Nature? The Santa Pit?

Link | Reply

Lewis Christian 3 years, 2 months ago

I wish I could watch The Santa Pit.

Link | Reply

Alan 3 years, 2 months ago

My thought about that "other Jennifer" business was that the script was hinting that Jennifer had suffered from some kind of mental illness, possibly a multiple personality disorder (which may not be the clinical term anymore, but I don't remember what replaced it) and that was why her Ganger became homicidal. But the idea was very poorly developed so it didn't fully come across.

Link | Reply

Alan 3 years, 2 months ago

It was a deeply flawed story but I think I liked it better than most here. I didn't have a problem with the story's ending because I thought it was pretty clear that most Gangers are simply tools worn by their users without any independent awareness. It is only when something goes wrong with the process (like a mysterious lightning strike) that a Ganger develops an independent awareness, at which point it is sentient and should be entitled to the rights of any sentient being. Ganger Amy, from what we can see, had no independent existence apart from Amy once the connection was severed. And the horrific answer to the question of "what is up with the Eye-Patch lady that only Amy can see" made the preceding 90 minutes worthwhile . YMMV.

I anticipated that the Ganger and "real" Doctor would swap places but I was pleasantly surprised that the Ganger Doctor didn't turn against the rest (as Phil would have preferred) because I think that would have been terribly cliched and gone against the underlying refrain that the Gangers are perfect copies of their originals. The humans freak out over that because they're afraid of the Gangers "stealing their lives." The Doctor, being more socially mature than the average human, is free of that existential dread and utterly delighted to have someone he can relate to as an equal.

Link | Reply

elvwood 3 years, 2 months ago

My bad. Amend that to "...and not written by Steven Moffat or Paul Cornell". I'm afraid The Satan Pit comes under "a little disappointing" for me, though The Santa Pit might not have.

I suppose it's not a particularly strong statement when I notice how many of the two-parters were written by Moffat, but then I've not mentioned the stories excluded by my caveats that also failed to live up to my (overblown) expectations - such as The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords, The End of Time, or even Moffat's three definite Matt Smith second parts (though these only suffer in comparison to the first parts).

Link | Reply

Pen Name Pending 3 years, 2 months ago

When I first saw the trailer I thought this was called "The Rebel Fish" and so the Gangers seemed like mutant fish people...that might have been more interesting, actually.

I enjoyed this when it first aired, although it was the first episode I ever rewatched (in my early days of watching the show, and America had an extra week gap in between these two episodes), so I kind of got tired of it after seeing them three times each. I also spoiled the cliffhanger of "The Almost People" because I watched the trailer for "A Good Man Goes to War" when it was available, a week before "The Almost People" aired in the US...oh, the early days when I was a naive Doctor Who fan.

Link | Reply

Pen Name Pending 3 years, 2 months ago

I've also been puzzled by the "two parters will fix everything!" campaign...most shows are just fine with just 45 minutes. I'll bring this up again when we get to "The Power of Three", but I don't think making it a two-parter would fix that. The big issue with that is the heart attack that is unoriginal, out of left field, and way too big (and I say this as a lover of that episode for everything else). They could have easily done something about how the cubes were preforming experiments on people, which would fit into the whole hospital thing...something smaller that could be reversed more easily.

Link | Reply

Adam Riggio 3 years, 2 months ago

I guess what we can conclude is that a two-parter is ridiculously difficult to manage. The 20th century show's cliffhanger structure worked so well because it was a regularly serialized program. The modern show is precisely not serialized because it isn't the cheap little program it used to be, where you could produce nearly an entire year's worth of episodes (and until 1986, it was still half a year of episodes) on a shoestring budget. The industry standard today for science fiction has changed so that Doctor Who would be far more expensive to produce. It makes me realize that if someone were to pitch something like this idea today, it wouldn't fly simply because of the size of the initial investment the studio would need. Doctor Who could take flight as a television show in today's world because it was already a culturally established brand.

But anyway, serialization naturally lends itself to cliffhangers. The best stories of classic Doctor Who were by brilliant writers. That much has remained the same. But the really good stories that were not by brilliant writers, you could say they work more as serialized stories. Not for nothing did JNT crib the relational structure of the characters in the Davison years from soaps. Still, unless the show is serialized, linked episodes with cliffhangers are exceptions to the rule, as Phil says.

In this sense, two-parters really are a hangover from the classic era. One can't have Doctor Who without cliffhangers, goes the mentality from the revival period ten years ago. (How wonderful that it's already been ten years since Doctor Who went back into production and it isn't going away!) So RTD programs his seasons with some two-parters every year, amounting to 10 stories over 13 episodes. But the regular two-part stories tend to be strained, because the extra time suggests an epic scale, which is underwhelming when it isn't there.

Link | Reply

Mattyoung! 3 years, 2 months ago

"But there’s something immensely frustrating and a bit cynical about doing a two-part story that ultimately just leads up to a barely related cliffhanger. Much about Season Six is a shaggy dog story, but in many ways this is the most flagrant and annoying example."

And so it's the most prominent example of season six's problems: where season five felt like a progression of adventures with a growing interconnectedness emerging, the arc of season six emerges so strong and is so huge that it consumes anything that isn't directly related to it.

Link | Reply

David Anderson 3 years, 2 months ago

I think I'd rather see this than something solid yet unimaginative like Cold War, to pick the goto episode for reliable yet formulaic Doctor Who. (Although I think a series with both Almost People and Cold War in it would last longer than one that's only Almost People.)

I think the story doesn't quite decide whether or not non-independent gangers are sentient or self-aware. Or perhaps they become sentient when the human closes the link. Ganger-Jennifer says they're sentient all the time, but she's unreliable. (The big ball of discarded gangers may really have been left behind by the industrial process, or it might have been made by ganger-Jennifer, who talks about making sacrifices in the context of that.) The Doctor drops off Cleaves and Dicken to campaign for ganger rights, which might imply that there's a problem even when things don't go wrong or might just imply that things go wrong frequently enough for ganger rights to be required.

Link | Reply

Adam Riggio 3 years, 2 months ago

Here's how the multi-part stories break down for me. This'll give us something to argue about.

Aliens of London–WW3: Good fun, but meh quality. RTD going OTT.

Empty Child–Doctor Dances: Steven Moffat is brilliant.

Bad Wolf–Parting: A suitably epic finale and regeneration. Introducing the Daleks makes this the first two-parter to have the cliffhanger radically shift the story content.

Rise of Steel: Solid adventuring, not a highlight.

Impossible Satan Pit: Good base-under siege action movie. The Doctor going full Lovecraft in part two keeps the story fresh.

Ghosts–Doomsday: Corporate satire turns into a Dalek killing spree, another content split in the same setting. Rose's departure brings the epic consequences to make it seriously work.

Evolution of the Daleks in Manhattan: Hoo boy. Still, fandom made Helen Raynor actually cry, and we should all be ashamed of ourselves.

Human Nature: Paul Cornell is brilliant, but the book was still better.

Utopia–Drums–Last of the Time Lords: A 3-part story that just barely works because of its massive scale and the sheer insanity of the Master taking over the show.

Sontarans Poison the Sky: Simple storyline and solid performances anchor a workmanlike, but fun Raynor story.

Silence in the Library: Steven Moffat is still brilliant. Donna's Matrix story in part two and the introduction of River keeps the library-under-siege story from slowing down enough that you notice what this plot actually is.

Stolen Journey: Suitably epic, but RTD introduces so many plates, even he can't spin them all at once. Spends the Specials year cleaning up broken ceramic.

End of Time: Finally, the RTD era explodes and dies, so of course it's huge. Still underwhelming, apart from Tennant-Cribbins. See Phil's second post for why.

Angels of Stone: Steven Moffat is still brilliant, unfolding the story slowly enough to maintain tension throughout.

Cold Hungry Earth: More solid adventuring, but mid-range for a wonderful season. Also, Rory's senseless first death overwhelms everything else in the story.

The Pandorica's Big Bang: Moffat's still brilliant. The total story switch between episodes also keeps it fresh.

Impossible Moon: Moffat still brilliant, and the story includes so much that it never stops.

Almost Flesh: Most underwhelming two-parter since 2005. In fact I'd put it below Aliens-WW3, which at least was good camp fun. So much ignored potential. The Amy reveal similarly overwhelms the rest of the story. Even here, Graham steals the ending mistake from Chris Chibnall's Silurian story.

Basically, the last ten years have given us enough examples of how cliffhanger stories can work and fail in the new televisual context of Doctor Who that we can now make some reasonable judgments about what narrative techniques work best and how best to use them. They should 1) be epic stories like season finales (as Impossible Moon was, a season finale at the start of a season), usually involving a narrative collapse, 2) radically switch content between episodes to keep the story fresh, or 3) be the work of brilliant writers at the top of their games.

Link | Reply

arcbeatle 3 years, 2 months ago

Being that this is in my all time top ten Doctor Who stories, I don't even know where I'd start in disagreeing. I don't have time to go through the whole article piece by piece...

...But I guess overall I'm disappointed that an episode that deals more with the social justice of the oppressed people that make the western world's stuff who are invisible to us than any other Doctor Who (or any other TV or film sci-fi I've seen) gets discounted because Philip wishes for a violent solution to social issues to be portrayed as either good or inevitable. That the episode takes the stance that those people are equally people, not less than them as he claims in the article, a point made abundantly clear by a ganger literally replacing his human counterpart, and thus we should do what we can as people to alleviate the social injustice against them.

So here we have an episode where the violence of both classes is portrayed as a problem, just as often riots destroy the livelihoods of the neighborhoods they take place in, sometimes further impoverishing them. Which isn't to say that that violence is worse than the violence perpetuated on them by a society that has deemed them less than human, of course not. The gangers have been made violent by the oppression they grew up in, and they have every right to be angry.

But there is a better way, and the Doctor tries to show us it, revealing the latent prejudices of those involved, especially Amy, and ending the episode by causing a mass social outrage that their budget could in no way directly show.

The use of new media has allowed social justice causes to be spread easier than ever before, under the noses of the old media watchdogs, and while this didn't magically cure the problems in society, that even one case of police brutality has been shown to be real, and that officer stopped from doing so again because of it, shows its changed the way we can deal with this-- and so the solution here is social awareness. The Doctor pulls the curtain off of oppression, and reveals its bloody face to the whole world. In doing so, he probably stops a revolution, but isn't social change by peaceful means a cause worth fighting for?

Anyways I hope that made a lick of sense!

Link | Reply

Pen Name Pending 3 years, 2 months ago

I love your combined titles ("Impossible Satan Pit"). I quite enjoy them too, though I love stand-alones as well. I'm sure we'll get something great at the start of Series 8. According to Matthew Graham, he wanted to start "The Almost People" in another location to "throw everyone," but decided that was too much. Not sure how that would have worked (obviously it didn't), but he was trying to pull a switch.

Link | Reply

xen trilus 3 years, 2 months ago

I think part of the point was that the Flesh, as in the goop itself (regardless of being in human form or not), was alive and could feel pain etc. Hence why the Doctor mentions he wants to be "humane" about decommissioning Flesh Amy. I presume the less humane alternative would have been to let her collapse into a hideous mound of agonised organs such as that seen in the basement.

But the story probably needed better clarity in that regard.

Link | Reply

liminal fruitbat 3 years, 2 months ago

I think there's something in the Brilliant Book 2012 that said an earlier draft established that Jennifer had eidetic memory, and thus Ganger Jennifer was able to remember every experience the Flesh had ever had. (And sadly they cut that rather than the godawful dancing child...)

Link | Reply

jane 3 years, 2 months ago

The proper title of "Angels of Stone" is, of course, The Crash of the Byzantium.

Link | Reply

encyclops 3 years, 2 months ago

Adam, I think you nailed it with pretty much all of those assessments, at least as far as I'm concerned. It looks as though you're calling at least a technical victory for 11/18 of them, and I'd agree the two-parter can work under the right conditions.

When it's not the norm, and assuming viewers can remain unspoiled that it IS a two-parter, do we think that maybe it's a way to pull a "surprise! story's not over yet" move? That seems to be its function in modern TV (I'm thinking of Battlestar Galactica, for example), and judiciously applied I think it does have value. I may be dooming my argument here by citing "The Ark" as an example of this technique, but hopefully we can agree that the ep 2 cliffhanger is that serial's best feature.

Link | Reply

encyclops 3 years, 2 months ago

It made a lick of sense, and I would have liked the story a lot more if I thought it had portrayed these themes as eloquently and effectively as you've expressed them here. I think it muddied and underplayed and undermined them as often as it elaborated them, though I applaud you for being able to see past those problems.

After all, somebody has to love this story, in accordance with the rule I posted on Monday. ;)

Link | Reply

Adam Riggio 3 years, 2 months ago

In a way, Utopia pulled off a trick something like what you described, Encyclops. It wasn't so much that it said the story wasn't over yet, but revealed its nature in its last sequence as the first part in that 3-part season finale. The episode was advertised and appeared as a standalone, typically uplifting RTD happy story, until the end, when you realized that the story would actually continue. That trilogy has quite grown on me, but the cliffhanger to Utopia I still consider the best part of the entire story.

The Ark is one example of this being done in the classic series, and I think it's unfortunate that Doctor Who never pulled this narrative trick more often when it had a purely serialized nature. However, I think this was largely due to other aspects of the production, where the script editor never really had the autonomy to control submitted scripts the way the creative producer does in the modern show. As well, a lot of the time, the talent pool just wasn't up to the task of threading such a story together. Frontier in the Planet of the Daleks is the only example of this that I can really think of, which was only facilitated by the tight machine that Letts and Dicks' Doctor Who was by their fourth year in charge. However, the tightness of their production machine was no guarantee of overall quality of the program, as the following season showed.

I think, if there's anything we can take away from this account of the multi-episode story in the modern series, it's not so much that they should be abandoned altogether, but that they aren't really necessary. You can have a season of Doctor Who come off perfectly well without a multi-part story, without the traditional week-to-week cliffhanger. That was series seven.

I've actually been thinking of going back through series seven later this summer as we approach the end of the Smith era on the Eruditorum, to answer the challenge I got in the comments here a few weeks ago to offer my own redemptive readings of the more maligned stories of that year. But I don't want to step on Phil's ideas too much.

Link | Reply

Adam Riggio 3 years, 2 months ago

And why on Earth didn't I call the series one finale Parting of the Bad Wolf?

Link | Reply

BerserkRL 3 years, 2 months ago

I'm puzzled that "end of the 2-parters" is being read as "end of the cliffhangers," when this is the very story that -- by having a cliffhanger in its 2nd episode at least as big as the one in the 1st -- shows you don't need 2-parters to have cliffhangers.

Link | Reply

arcbeatle 3 years, 2 months ago

I seem to be in the minority on that point, and a very tiny minority with how highly I rank this story in Doctor Who. What was the rule you posted? I suppose I could scroll through all the comments... But I'm assuming that every Doctor Who ep is someone's favorite!

Link | Reply

Pen Name Pending 3 years, 2 months ago

Bad Wolf of the Ways

Link | Reply

Pen Name Pending 3 years, 2 months ago

I was thinking the same thing...I started watching the show in Season 6, and every episode in the first half had a cliffhanger except "The Doctor's Wife". Granted, "Black Spot" only has the inconclusive pregnancy test, but I was under the impression in "Day of the Moon" that we just didn't see the results, so it added something new to worry about.

Of course, Series 6 is more serialized, which is why cliffhangers work so well (unlike Series 7).

Link | Reply

encyclops 3 years, 2 months ago

It's not so much that every story is someone's favorite (though I suppose it's theoretically possible that someone loves The Twin Dilemma or Timelash above everything else) but that every story has someone who loves it and someone who hates it.

Cherish that minority status. How intensely boring it would be if everyone loved and hated the same stuff! I myself would rather watch "Four to Doomsday" than "Earthshock" so I know a little of what you feel.

Link | Reply

encyclops 3 years, 2 months ago

Good point, BerserkRL. And of course Season 7 has "The Name of the Doctor."

Link | Reply

xen trilus 3 years, 2 months ago

I don't quite understand blaming the arc. I wouldn't say it consumes The Doctor's Wife, The Girl Who Waited or The God Complex (and it only partially consumes Closing Time, which is something of a deliberate decision). The arc only "consumes" the stories in which there is no other more/equally interesting element, which suggests to me that the problem lies with those stories.

If Rebel Flesh/Almost People was a tour de force of drama, a thrilling narrative that actually executed its ideas and characterisation proficiently, and it still had that whopping cliffhanger at the end, no-one would complain about it being consumed by the arc. It would be viewed as a great story which also had a stonker of an arc twist at the end.

As is, it would be just as poor if you removed the arc element entirely. Possibly even worse.

Link | Reply

Philip Sandifer 3 years, 2 months ago

I should clarify that it is less that I am invested in violence per se and more that I am deeply skeptical of a rhetoric under which oppressed groups are limited to, in effect, asking their oppressors nicely to stop being so mean.

Link | Reply

encyclops 3 years, 2 months ago

It's been a while since I watched this -- I got through the minimum two viewings I ask of myself before I review it, and that's all I could stomach -- but could you help me recall how they were limited to that approach? I thought they started with violence -- on the base, largely with Jennifer -- and through the course of the story came around to more peaceful negotiation. I can understand why you'd call that "asking their oppressors nicely to stop being so mean," and why you'd be skeptical of it, but surely if it could accomplish the intended goal, wouldn't everyone on either side of any of these sorts of conflicts prefer to work it out peacefully? Isn't "asking nicely" the first resort rather than the last, and perfectly fine as long as it's not the only?

Also, I find that one of the ways this story undermines itself is that it can't seem to decide whether the Gangers really are the same people as the individuals who -- spawned them? -- or if they're unique creatures with minds and wills of their own. That is of course the central question, but here's where the sci-fi allegory once again (see "Beast Below" et al.) gets in the way. In a literal sense, the oppressors really are identical to the oppressed, and the latter would not exist as individuals without the former, which has to confound our intuitions about these situations a bit. It certainly does mine. It's as though your hazmat suit magically gained the ability to walk and talk and access your memory, and began to insist it was you and that you'd been oppressing it. I know the Flesh are supposed to be standing in for underpaid underprotected industrial working classes, but on the terms we're given, it's hard to be self-righteous about the mean humans oppressing what are basically sophisticated Dickies work pants.

But like I said, there's possibly some nuance I'm forgetting here that makes the metaphor work better than I think it does. I doubt it -- after all, I'd agree that "there are numerous interesting things that could have been done with this story and this concept. But none of them actually were" -- but it's possible. I can think of numerous ways this could have been cleaned up and brought to a point where it could have made a coherent point about oppression, but most of them would have left less time for SpoooOOOOoooooky Jennifer, so probably not likely to happen.

Link | Reply

Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 2 months ago

A cliffhanger which is, of course, never properly resolved in the next story (I refer to the Doctor and Clara's success in leaving his timestream, not the Hurt Doctor).

Link | Reply

Pen Name Pending 3 years, 2 months ago

"The Snowmen" is quite cliffhanger-like, too.

Link | Reply

Pen Name Pending 3 years, 2 months ago

My issue with Series 6 is that, at the time (being the first string of Doctor Who I watched), the first half felt very serialized and mysterious and I was constantly wanting the next episode, but after "Let's Kill Hitler" everything is wrapped up and we get a string of stand-alone episodes, so it lost momentum. That said, I love everything in Series 6B aside from "Night Terrors" (which I don't hate, but it's more forgettable), and "The God Complex" may be my favorite episode of the season.

Link | Reply

Callum Leemkuil 3 years, 2 months ago

Here's my ethical issue: there's no indication that the company that created the flesh has attempted to do any research into the possible (and, notably, already reported) sentience of the flesh, and no evidence that they're going to fix the problem once the survivors report it to them. Sure, we're supposed to assume they're convinced, but taking the problem to the oppressors (who control millions of, as the episode informs us, literal slaves in India) and saying "please stop oppressing us" isn't a situation that has ever played out particularly well for the oppressed in the past. The episode ends up perpetuating the hierarchy it spends the whole episode arguing against.

Link | Reply

encyclops 3 years, 2 months ago

It's hard to debate this, really; so much depends on what we take at face value from the episode. As you say, we're supposed to assume they're convinced, just as we're supposed to accept the fantasy premise of insta-clones that are sometimes mindless avatars and sometimes not depending on whether a bolt of Frankenstein's lightning has struck them. We're supposed to accept the story's assertion, that it's possible to recognize the common humanity of worker and boss and find peaceful, civilized solutions, that violent revolution is not the only answer.

I'm trying to find a difference between what you and Philip are saying and the claim that "violent revolution IS the only answer." Is there a middle ground between "politely asking" and "murdering all oppressors," and if so, how would you characterize it?

The story characterizes it like this (the Doctor's words):
"Make them understand what they're doing to the Flesh. Make them stop."

"Make them" may seem glib to you, but it's not "ask them to stop, and if they say no, thank them and leave." We have to imagine the rest, and if we're cynical we imagine it one way, and if we're pollyannaish we imagine it another, and probably it's somewhere in between. We don't really know if the hierarchy is perpetuated or not; we don't see what happens after the door closes on that press conference.

The difficult thing is that Gangers are not an independent, distinct species like the Ood. They're literal and complete copies of existing human beings, more alike even than clones would be. Each of them thinks they're married to the original's spouse. Each thinks they own or rent a home, but in fact they don't have one. It's a MASSIVE ethical problem, but the ramifications go so far beyond "the oppressed in the past" that, unless we think of it purely in metaphorical terms, we can't even really compare it. That's the frustrating thing about this story.

Link | Reply

BerserkRL 3 years, 2 months ago

Is there a middle ground between "politely asking" and "murdering all oppressors," and if so, how would you characterize it?

In the real world, it's the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of social life.

Link | Reply

BerserkRL 3 years, 2 months ago

Is there a middle ground between "politely asking" and "murdering all oppressors," and if so, how would you characterize it?

In the real world it's the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of social life.

Link | Reply

encyclops 3 years, 2 months ago

Wicked.

Link | Reply

David Anderson 3 years, 2 months ago

It doesn't seem to me that The Name of the Doctor leaves it a question how the Doctor and Clara get out. (More precisely it doesn't treat it as an interesting question.) Presumably they resurface somewhere in the Doctor's timestream. I thought there might be a slight question when in the Doctor's timestream they resurface, but that was only because I thought it was one way Smith and Clara could meet Tennant and Rose.
Whether Hurt is 0 or 8.5 or 12.5 or 13 is the real cliffhanger, and it's clearly supposed to drive nearly all other questions out of the way.

Link | Reply

elvwood 3 years, 2 months ago

Or just Bad Parting. (I like the combos too, BTW.)

Link | Reply

Froborr 3 years, 2 months ago

Dissociative Identity Disorder.

There is still some debate over whether it is actually a thing that people have, IIRC.

Link | Reply

Froborr 3 years, 2 months ago

I think "The Santa Pit" would almost necessarily be better than both "The Satan Pit" and any of the other Christmas specials.

Link | Reply

Anton B 3 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for (in the true spirit of Anarchy) sharing that, BerserkRL.

Link | Reply

Anton B 3 years, 2 months ago

The concept of 'monsters are people too' has been utilised so frequently on Doctor Who that, in this story, the writer lets it slip out of his grasp. So, rather than explore the ramifications of whether the Flesh are malevolent simulacra or beneficent golems he seems to want to wrote both a 'Silurian' style 'the monsters have the moral high ground' narrative and an 'Ood' style 'the exploited slaves have rights' morality play and the two themes keep tripping eachother up. This leads to the weak 'let's have a meeting about this' resolution which is totally upstaged by the sudden and unexpected 'death' of a major character (Flesh Amy) In exactly the same way that the equally weightless 'summit peace talks' denouement of Cold Blood was upstaged by the similarly unnecessary, even to the season arc, 'death' of Rory.

For an exploration of similar themes of exploitation, cloning etc in a sci-fi mise en scene that succeeds both intelligently and movingly I'd suggest Duncan Jones' movie Moon.

Link | Reply

Adam Riggio 3 years, 2 months ago

I agree with David on this one. It isn't really a cliffhanger how they get out of the time stream. It would be a cliffhanger if the last image we saw of the episode was Clara stuck in the space-less zero-time crying that she doesn't know where she is. Then the Doctor's voice-over and the appearance of the leaf are clearly him RESCUING HER. He confidently meets her, picks her up, and acts as if he knows exactly how to get back to the material spacetime universe. How they get out of the vortex is a non-issue precisely because the Doctor treats it like one. It still bugs me when I talk to people about the ending of this episode and they treat getting out of the vortex like an unresolved cliffhanger. It totally misreads the Doctor's behaviour in the scene.

Like David said, the real cliffhanger is the reveal of John Hurt. Mind you, I think, the way the Doctor refers to him and how he discusses his own nature, it's pretty clear that he's the Time War Doctor who destroyed Gallifrey. The real hook of the scene isn't that it's a cliffhanger in terms of plot. It's a cliffhanger in terms of the narrative of the show itself. The audience knows the next episode is the 50th, and Hurt's appearance is essentially the teaser for the anniversary show. It communicates to the audience that: an actor of John Hurt's legendary status is going to be in the 50th, he's going to play the Doctor, and it's going to involve the Time War.

Also, when I think about the 50th's events in relation to this scene, it occurs to me that this vortex isn't the Doctor's time stream in the traditional purely ontological sense. Hurt's Doctor ends his life with the knowledge that he tried to save Gallifrey but will forget as he regenerates into Eccleston, where the Hurt that appears in the Doctor's time vortex clearly believes that he destroyed it. Because Day of the Doctor hadn't happened yet, the Doctor still believes he committed genocide; therefore, he did actually commit genocide. Until Day of the Doctor happens, that is. This is a further facet of Moffat's epitemized time: the Doctor's own time stream and the echoes of his previous selves in it are constituted by his memory of his own life.

Link | Reply

curlyjimsam750 3 years, 2 months ago

(Long-time reader, first-time poster.)

Aren't there actually two main trends at present? One is for shows to be based almost entirely around one-off episodes, as you say. The other is for ongoing stories spread across entire seasons or more (Game of Thrones etc.). So, Series 6b/7 aside, Doctor Who tends to be somewhere in the middle.

But I've never really understood the "two-parters aren't generally as good" argument. Personally I really do think the average quality of two-parters is higher than that of one-parters, and of course lots of two-parters are extremely popular. Even with the ones that fandom in general doesn't like so much I've never really been able to fathom why that's the case.

"most shows are just fine with just 45 minutes" - true enough, although perhaps Doctor Who isn't like "most shows" in that it usually has a bit more worldbuilding and things to be squeezing into those 45 minutes. I don't think most one-part Doctor Who stories would necessarily be improved by making them two-parters, but I do think nearly all of them would benefit from an extra five or ten minutes.

Link | Reply

encyclops 3 years, 2 months ago

It still bugs me when I talk to people about the ending of this episode and they treat getting out of the vortex like an unresolved cliffhanger. It totally misreads the Doctor's behaviour in the scene.

We've seen this discussion in comments before. I think the explanation is reasonable, but I think it's pretty clear from the number of people who are confused about it that it's legitimately (though I'm sure unintentionally) misleading. I see why it's frustrating, but I think people (myself included) came by this impression honestly.

Even just the Hurt part feels unresolved, as though it's the beginning of a conversation and we don't know how it finishes, or how coming face to face with this part of himself makes the Doctor feel, and so on. It really is more of a cliffhanger for us, the audience, because the episode doesn't really seem to care how it affects the characters.

Do I think we need to resolve any of that? Ultimately, no -- "Day of the Doctor" gets the job done and we can move on. But I can understand why it felt at the time to some of us that we ought to have expected it.

Link | Reply

Triturus 3 years, 2 months ago

curlyjimsam750

I'm agnostic on two parters, but I definitely agree with you that a 55-60 minute episode length would be a better length for a standalone episode than 45.

I suspect that a combination of cost constraints and the need to consider ad breaks for overseas broadcast slots would prevent a shift to longer episodes, unfortunately, even if the production time would like to increase the length.

Link | Reply

Leslie Lozada 3 years, 2 months ago

Yeah, I get what you mean. I watched Series 6.A in a span of a week, with some help from Comcast.
I liked 'Night Terrors' but I'll say why next week.

Link | Reply

Daru 3 years, 2 months ago

Oh my golly I soooo want to watch The Santa Pit! And yes, for me T. Hartwell, series 7 has been the strongest so far. Not fussed about two parters.

Link | Reply

Daru 3 years, 2 months ago

On the point of cliffhangers vanishing - they have not, we pretty much have them most episodes with the pre-credit sequence. With a mini cliffhanger acting as the hook to get people into watching the episode.

Link | Reply

Daru 3 years, 2 months ago

I pretty much enjoyed the individual elements of this tale, but in the end have found it doesn't add up. The main problem is the episode is really a set up for the melting of flesh Amy as has been said. I do love the double Matt Smith, but yes at the time I had hoped for one to root for the other side and to see them having a stand-off against each other. Would have been fun.

Link | Reply

Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 2 months ago

We did end up getting something like that with "Nightmare in Silver". I... don't think it's Smith's best moment. :-(

Link | Reply

heroesandrivals 3 years, 2 months ago

Between "The Rebel Fish" and "The Santa Pit" this thread has a lot of awesome sounding near-miss titles.

Link | Reply

heroesandrivals 3 years, 2 months ago

Whenever someone discusses cliffhangers my mind turns to (of all things) Power Rangers: Dino Thunder -- a season that's quite well regarded in the fandom for reasons the writer freely admits have little to do with its quality. He credits it on his cliffhangers. The series wasn't serial but every episode ended with a sting or hook on the end that set up a new problem or changed the status-quo in a way that made the viewer want to tune in next week to see what happened.
In Doug's opinion it's nice to have self-contained stories that exist in a vaccum, timeless and complete unto themselves. But a good hook at the end, in his opinion, could elevate a mediocre story even if the next episode picked up days or weeks later.

tldr; cliffhangers are good but a story doesn't have to be serial to use them. You can use them more or less in _isolation_ quite effectively.

Link | Reply

Mike 1 year, 11 months ago

Interesting to look at this discussion around the necessity of two-parters when it seems Series 9 will be made up entirely of two-parters.

Link | Reply

New Comment

required

required (not published)

optional

Recent Posts

Archive

Tags

Authors

Feeds

RSS / Atom