Okay, it's time to talk about something really serious. Pull up a chair and put on your listening faces. It's time to talk about discrimination. Because discrimination is wrong. Mmmkay? Especially when you're discriminating against your own vat-grown goo duplicate.
Sadly, last night's Doctor Who sort of hit the sour spot, between preachiness and incoherence. The "ganger" storyline sort of bludgeoned us with a message, but the story and its resolution left that message utterly murky. And apart from a few great Matt Smith moments and a weird/shocking ending, part two was rather dull.
(Oh, and I think it's probably a good idea if we skip discussing major spoilers for "A Good Man Goes to War" in the comments on this post, since most U.S. viewers haven't seen it yet. You can post general reactions, but please no details about how River Song turned out to be Davros or anything.)
Your mileage may vary, of course, but I just couldn't connect with "The Rebel Flesh"/"The Almost People." I'm not sure if I disliked the two-parter, or if I just couldn't get into it somehow. But whatever the reason, I didn't care about any of the characters, either the originals or their goopy duplicates. I didn't quite understand the basis of the whole "ganger" mythology, and I found the resolution both too tidy and kind of uninvolving.
So in this two parter, it's the future and people are using bio-engineered duplicates, with telepresence, to go into dangerous situations. It's basically Surrogates, but with goo instead of robots. Due to a freak accident, the goo acquires sentience and wants to continue living as the people it was copying. And there are vague hints that the goo was sentient all along, and one goo-person, Jenny, can remember all of the times she "died" when her surrogate body was no longer needed. (But is the goo sentient as goo, or is it just sentient as an echo of the people it's turned into? Do the Gangers deserve human rights, or does the goo deserve to live as goo? It's not clear.)
There are all sorts of interesting places you could go with this premise, but the story doesn't quite go to any of them. Instead, there's a lot of running around corridors and worrying about acid and safety protocols and who's going to get the evac shuttle. Meanwhile, the episode throws in a few gratuitously creeptastic moments, like random eyeballs on the walls or a pile of decommissioned goo bodies staring upwards.
The one bright spark of entertainment comes from the fact that the Doctor has been magically duplicated, so now there are two Matt Smiths riffing off each other. The one or two scenes where this is really exploited are quite cute — Smith gets to do the traditional "rapidfire imitations of previous Doctors" thing, which is fun. And the two Doctors have a nice bit of schtick, finishing each others' sentences and walking in bowlegged lockstep. It's all pretty fun, although the episode splits up the two Doctors pretty early. Mostly, the two Doctors provide an excuse to show that Amy is an anti-Flesh bigot, who won't accept the Flesh duplicate of the Doctor as the real thing. Until she finally learns the error of her ways.
Oh, and the one bit of plot-advancement that comes out of this situation is that Amy blabs to the Doctor about his impending (well, in 200 years) death. The Doctor clearly knows what she's talking about, because he mutters something about getting an invitation to his own death, towards the end.
Anyway, the Gangers manage to trap the Doctor and his friends in a Crypt-y sort of room, and it seems like they're doomed to death by acid. The Gangers celebrate by holding a be-in, where Jen snaps her fingers and says "You're one of us — join the revolution!" And then the duplicate Doctor reveals that he arranged for a call to go through right about now — the son of one of the trapped people. The duplicate sees his counterpart's son, and realizes he can't condemn Adam's real dad to death. This, in turn, provokes all the other Gangers into rediscovering their humanity. "I'm tired of this ridiculous war," says duplicate-Miranda. And everybody has a change of heart, because of a father's love for his son.
And then we find out that the Doctors changed places, and the duplicate is actually the real Doctor, and vice versa. This is mostly so that Amy will feel really bad about being a Ganger-hater.
In the end, the place is going to blow up, and Jen turns into a weird spider creature, and all hope is lost. Until things get neatly tied up. The TARDIS shows up, and the duplicate Doctor and duplicate Miranda sacrifice their lives to delay Jen so everyone else can get away — even though it's really obvious that neither of them needs to die. Couldn't they have just propped something heavy against the door? Or since the Doctor now knows how to dissolve Gangers using his sonic screwdriver, couldn't he have dissolved Spider-Jen while shielding the other Gangers from the effect? The sacrifice of the Doctor-Ganger and Miranda-Ganger seems merely to be set up so that there won't be any more pesky duplication. As a result of this utterly needless self-sacrifice, there's only one of every person.
In other words: It's going to be much easier to tolerate the Gangers if we don't have two of the same person running around. But isn't that the main reason why the Gangers need to be tolerated?
Once the survivors, humans and Gangers alike, are in the TARDIS, the Doctor does a technobabbly thing that turns the Gangers into real humans. Which seems even more random — if being a Ganger is nothing to be ashamed of, why do we have to turn them into humans? Why are we going to go around lecturing everybody about Ganger rights when all the Gangers have either died for no good reason, or been turned into "real" people? Ganger Dad goes off to meet his son, taking the place of the dead original. And the Doctor packs off Miranda and the other survivor, admonishing them to go give an impressive speech about Ganger liberation.
Once everything's all tidied up, we learn the real reason for this whole business — the Doctor figured out some time ago that Amy isn't really Amy. She's a Flesh duplicate, and the real Amy hasn't been here for months. The real Amy is pregnant — about to go into labor, in fact — at the mercy of the scary eyepatch lady. And then, despite all his endless speechifying about Ganger rights, the Doctor dissolves the Amy-Ganger into a puddle on the TARDIS floor. (He mutters something like, "Given what I've learned, I'll try to be humane." But it doesn't seem that humane, actually.) I guess it's sort of funny that Amy, who's been held up as an anti-Ganger bigot throughout the episode, turns out to be a Ganger herself.
And the episode ends with a moment of total pregnancy horror, with Amy staring at her bulging stomach and the scary black circle facing her.
I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed by the answer to the "Schrodinger's Zygote" riddle. Amy hasn't gotten very much character development all season, and now she's being set up as A) a damsel in distress and B) yet another science fiction heroine who has a scary/weird pregnancy. (Here's hoping she doesn't give birth to a rogue god who uses mind control to make everybody happy and karaoke-riffic.) It really feels like Amy's been downgraded, from feisty heroine who's at the center of the story to walking plot device. Or in this case, supine plot device.
So all in all, "The Almost People" left me a bit cold, almost as if I was actually made out of sentient putty. But what did you think?