Sunday, June 5, 2011

Doctor Who - Season 6, Episode 6: The Almost People

"Yowza!" - The Doctorganger

Well, that ending was a doozy, wasn't it? But "The Almost People" certainly took a long time getting there, and I can't seem to find much to say about the journey leading up to that ending.

Much like the two-parter's first half, this week's episode sure seems to involve lots of running through corridors, falling into (and out of) traps, and forced drama. I'm not saying this isn't enjoyable, mind you, but you'd have a long list on your hands if you went through and counted all of the cut-off threads and pointless "Let's go from A to B!"-scenes.

What is the narrative drive behind these bits? Well, the Doctor and the Doctorganger want, as ever, for everyone to live. The other Gangers want their autonomy, though the demented Ganger Jen wants a revolution more than she wants a new peace. And the "real" people want to destroy the Gangers and go home, eliminating their mistake without learning from it. Where do we end up? Not everyone lives, the survivors attempt to get the Gangers some measure of autonomy, Jen's revolution ends in (to coin a phrase) a "splattering mess on the carpet," and everyone learns a bit of what it means to be human.

On the whole, I'd say the suspicion I expressed last week—about this being more of an overstretched single episode than a legitimate two-parter—was a valid concern. Aside from the aforementioned ending and a few other crucial moments, do we really get much more out of this episode? I'm not so sure. As an audience, we're usually inclined to agree with the Doctor, and so our opinions on whether or not the Gangers ought to be considered "people" were probably settled in part one. This cuts out a lot of the episode's philosophical weight, or makes it redundant at best. Plus, between Cleaves and Co.'s anti-Ganger stance, the Gangers' Flesh-fuelled rage, Rory's naivety, and Amy's prejudice against the Doctorganger, we're left with a very frustrating atmosphere where we know better than most of the characters and every small victory is undermined by someone's bad attitude.

Similarly, the episode's desire to keep almost all of the characters in a grey area, rather than portraying them as legitimately good or bad, leads to some very muddled motivation. I understand that the Gangers are just like people, and people are flawed and fearful, so it makes some sense that both sides would act out of self-interest and mistrust. But the number of crosses, double-crosses, and changes-of-heart on display here smack of wheel-spinning more than any legitimate dramatic need. On the positive side, it is interesting to watch how the Gangers and their human counterparts easily counter each other's moves, and this might play better, if both sides weren't so unappealing, in a more methodical, cat-and-mouse plot. Instead, the episode has an uneven, action-movie pace that doesn't serve the material as well.

The script doesn't stray too far from the conventions of the doppelganger trope, with scenes like the two Jens fighting while Rory can't decide who is the "real" person and who is the Ganger being more or less genre-standard—though, in that case, the convention was slightly subverted by having both Jens be Gangers. Texts about uncertain identities often have this kind of "Who's the impostor?" baggage, and it shows up again when the Doctor and his Doctorganger switch places and experience life from each other's perspective. At least this leads to a thematically-important moment, as Amy tells who she presumes to be the Doctorganger about witnessing the Doctor's death. It's left unstated, aside from a single line near the episode's conclusion, but apparently she's let that cat out of the real Doctor's proverbial bag.

And we can't talk about thematic importance without mentioning that ending! Somewhere along the lines, perhaps weeks ago, the Doctor realized that Amy wasn't herself. He finally brings that realization home when he disintegrates her with the sonic screwdriver, revealing her to be a Ganger. The real Amy then wakes up, hostage to the Eyepatch Lady, whose appearances we now understand to have been flashes from real Amy's mind to that of her Ganger. Likewise, her Schroedinger's pregnancy is revealed to be some spillover from the real Amy, who is about to go into labor when the episode ends.

There are some implications to the Doctor's actions, here. Why has he straight-up "killed" Amy's Ganger after risking his life to save the others? What must Rory be thinking? When and how did Amy get replaced? I daresay we'll learn more about some of this stuff in next week's midseason finale, "A Good Man Goes to War."

But if this week's reviewcap seems a bit forced, well, it is. I had a hard time mustering up any passion for this episode when, due to the time delay BBCAmerica created by delaying its airing last week, I already knew it ended with a cliffhanger. Even worse, by the time this episode made its way to Amazon, I had already learned far more details about NEXT week's episode than I would have liked. Media companies have to learn that distribution models that fail to account for fan communities and social networking will encourage piracy. I'm typically the last person in the world who will download media that I can otherwise see for a small fee; there's too much low-cost content out there for me to feel an urgent need to steal anything. But, when dealing with a show that everyone will be discussing, random week-long delays are only going to drive secrets into the open and rule out a spoiler-free viewing experience. If that doesn't disincentivize playing ball with the media companies, I don't know what does.

But back to "The Almost People." It's a fine episode, and even if much of the tension does feel externally forced rather than organically derived, well, it's still tension. And Amy's situation at the episode's end certainly serves as an effective appetizer for not only what's to come next week, but what to expect from the rest of the season. I only wish we'd been given a less diluted plot. The episode's "creature" aspects (Jen's Monster-Ganger and the hideous, multi-faced blob of discarded flesh) were suitably creepy, but felt underused in the midst of all of the other stuff, most of which could have been handled more economically and resolved last week. Still, onwards and upwards, as they say! From what I've heard, "A Good Man Goes to War" is a cracker! We'll talk more about it next week.

Notes and Quotes

  • Probably won't have too many quotes this week or next. My mode of reception now makes accurate quote transcription quite difficult due to imprecise rewinding, which breaks up the flow too much to enjoy the show. I might have given the episode another watch specifically for quotemining, but ultimately didn't have time.
  • That said, I did enjoy this exchange:
    • Doctor: “This is going to overheat and fill the room with acid, just as a point of interest.”
      Cleaves: “And we can't stop it?”
      Doctor: “Just as a point of interest, no.”
  • The Doctor also gives good advice about how to celebrate a birthday: "If you don't feel sick by midmorning, you're not doing it right."
  • I kind of found Rory's foolishness hard to believe. However protective he felt towards Jen, I don't think he'd have put his wife into jeopardy for any reason.
  • I still don't mean to be a Negative Nancy, here. It really is a decent episode. I just wish it'd aired when it was supposed to air!

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