by Catriona Mills

Live-blogging Doctor Who Season Six: "The Rebel Flesh"

Posted 28 May 2011 in by Catriona

So here we are, for a new Matthew Graham episode. I admit, this episode fills me with trepidation, given that I loathed loathed loathed “Fear Her”. But Matthew Graham is a good writer, so let’s hope he hasn’t mis-judged the audience again for this one.

Also, our peanut gallery is back! Well, one half of the peanut gallery is here.

Of course, the peanut gallery is currently distracted by a tennis player’s biceps, but I’m sure she’ll be paying attention again in a minute.

In other exciting news, I have been marking forever (and a day), so I can’t promise that this will be either funny or, indeed, coherent.

Ooh, Alcatraz! Or something. It’s oddly creepy, even for Alcatraz, and it’s full of people in boiler suits.

HEATHER (whispering to Nick): Is it a parking garage?

They head into a room with a giant vat of something. Something smoking. Something that requires hazmat suits. As they take readings on the “acid”, one of them, Buzz, climbs up onto the vat, and is accidentally pushed in by his co-worker.

WOMAN: I shouldn’t have nudged him. Sorry, Buzz, my bad.

But he’s actually melting, as his co-workers leave him behind, complaining about the cost of the hamzat suits.

But there he is outside!

He says he could get worker’s compensation, but apparently he’s not dead but is melting at the same time. And he’s not worth as much as a hazmat suit.


In the TARDIS, there’s Muse playing. Why? Oh god, why? Amy and Rory are playing darts, and Rory is either losing or being cheated by his missus. The Doctor runs another pregnancy test.

NICK: Doctor, stop pregnancy testing Amy. It’s creepy.

The Doctor tries to drop Amy and Rory off for fish and chips, but Amy resists, and then they’re hit by a solar tsunami.

Chaos ensues.

They land.

DOCTOR: A cockerel. Love a cockerel.

Rory says they’re not in the thirteenth century, because he can hear Dusty Springfield.

HEATHER: Well, she’s pretty old, isn’t she?

They head in, to satisfy the Doctor’s “rabid curiosity.” Rory burns himself with acid, but luckily it’s old acid, or he would have lost a finger.

Then they trigger an intruder alert, but luckily, as Nick points out, the security is pretty rubbish. That’s because most of the people are locked into some sort of harnesses.

Well, except that they’re also simultaneously running in, holding a variety of weapons.

The Doctor pretends to be a meteorological expert, blaming the solar storm for his presence. But they scan them for bugs—since this is a military base and they’re contractors—and when they come up clean, the Doctor talks them into letting him see their “critical systems”.

WOMAN: Which one?
DOCTOR: Oh, you know which one.
NICK: Total bluff.

Well, it’s a giant vat of fake flesh. Or, as Heather would have it, cream of chicken soup.

NICK: Cream of human soup.

They’re a long description here about the “flesh” and the “gangers” (doppelgangers), but it’s too complicated to translate here, especially since the Doctor just stuck his hand in the flesh.

Why, Doctor? Why?

NICK: Doctor, you know by now, if there’s something interesting around, you shouldn’t stick your hand in it.
HEATHER: Even if it’s papier mache paste.

Luckily, another solar storm is about to hit.

Jennifer (the cutely accented girl who knocked her co-worker into the acid) climbs into her harness, as they form a ganger for her out of the flesh, in front of Amy, Rory, and the Doctor.

It’s a creepy process, all right. Especially before the face is fully formed. But when it’s done, the ganger looks exactly like Jennifer.

The group prepare to continue pumping acid until the mainland tells them to stop. Especially since they get their power from a solar rotator. The Doctor’s quite enthusiastic about their need to prepare for the storm, but the woman in charge says, well, she’s in charge.

The Doctor heads out to find a monitoring station. But he barely gets there before the solar storm starts shaking the building. The connection to the solar power is the problem.

DOCTOR: I’ve got to get to that cockerel before all hell breaks loose. I never thought I’d have to say that again.

The storm roaring overhead is absolutely gorgeous. Wouldn’t want to be in one, though.

The acid pipes start breaking and the TARDIS starts sinking.

The gangers watch their counterparts, who are helpless in their harnesses. And the Doctor barely reaches the cockerel before the storm hits it and he’s thrown loose. Bit of an echo of “Vampires of Venice” there, but at least this is the beginning, not the end.

The Doctor, coming back to consciousness, finds the manager, and asks her why she isn’t in her harness.

Why does he assume she isn’t the ganger? We have a brief spirited debate on that topic, and I miss some stuff. As I pay attention again, they’re letting everyone out of their harnesses, and the manager explains that once the link is broken, the gangers return to flesh.

But the Doctor didn’t know that, so my question still stands.

Plus, someone is playing Dusty Springfield, so the question still (still) stands.

The Doctor says that the storm has animated the gangers, and the people whose gangers they are freak out completely at this idea.

MANAGER: Stolen lives.
DOCTOR: Bequeathed. You gave them your lives.

The staff still seem uncertain that the gangers can work when they’re not plugged into the harnesses. But Jennifer’s feeling unwell, and she heads off to the toilets. Rory runs after her, saying that the Doctor’s first rule is “don’t wander off”.

HEATHER: ‘I’ve had too many marshmallows”.
ME: What do you mean?
HEATHER: You’ll see.

Then Jennifer throws up a dollop of “flesh”.


I’ll never eat another marshmallow.

Jennifer, fleeing into a cubicle, sticks out a snake head and tells Rory they just need to live.

It’s not the most convincing effect.

Then the Doctor proves that the manager (Cleaves) is a ganger, as well, by handing her a red-hot plate from the microwave. Then her face goes all funny, she shrieks, “We are living!”, and runs out of the room.

Amy wants to know where Rory is, but, of course, he’s chasing after Jennifer, because she’s distressed and Rory is soft. (And I mean that as a compliment.)

Much running around the castle ensues, as the ganger Jennifer goes looking for Rory. The others manage to follow Rory into the toilets, realising that Jennifer is a ganger, too.

The Doctor clearly knows something about the flesh (as another man points out, he called it “early technology”), but he won’t tell them what it is. He just says that he can fix it. They agree that he’ll head back to the TARDIS and the others will wait in the dining hall.

Amy, though, heads off to find Rory, apparently walking straight through acid to do so.

I only know about three character names at this point, and we’re more than halfway through the episode.

Rory, elsewhere, comes across ganger Jennifer, talking about a time when she wandered away from a picnic and got lost on the moors. At the time, she imagined another Jennifer, a strong Jennifer, a tough Jennifer, who could lead her home. She’s looking at a picture of her child-self as she talks about this, and at her own, partly formed face in a hand mirror. She’s trying to reconcile the fact that she is Jennifer and a factory part at the same time.

Rory doesn’t help, asking where the real Jennifer is.

Ganger Jennifer says that she is Jennifer. “I’m me … me … me,” she says, beating herself on the chest. Every time she strikes her breast, she flips into warm human, and then back to greyish flesh. Lovely, lovely effect.

“Help me, Rory!” she says.

NICK: Help me, Rory. Help help me, Rory.
HEATHER: Stop it, Nick. It’s a very sentimental scene. We don’t need your Beach Boys references.

The TARDIS has sunk into the ground, the flesh in the tank is talking, one of the human crewmen keeps sneezing (relevant?), and the gangers have the acid suits. That means they can strike at will, and they will.

Ganger Jennifer gets excited when Rory says the Doctor wants to help Jennifer. “You used my name!” she coos, and she kisses him on the cheek.

HEATHER: Yeah, well, I wasn’t actually talking about you.

Amy opens a mysterious door, and see the eyepatch woman looking out of what seems to be a blank wall. As she slams the door shut again, Rory and the ganger Jennifer are on the other side. Rory offers ganger Jennifer protection, even though Amy says dismissively, “It’s a ganger.”

Elsewhere, the Doctor find the other gangers, and offers them assistance. He tells them that if they can hold their fully human forms, the others will be less scared. Not if they can see how you can turn your heads 180 degrees, they won’t be.

Ganger Jennifer, in the dining hall, is trying to convince the others that she is Jennifer Lucas, but they’re resistant. They’re even more resistant when the Doctor marches in with a bunch of gangers behind him.

Cleaves, elsewhere, isn’t thrilled about this, mumbling to herself, “Make a football team, why don’t you?”

Well, you can’t make a football team with nine people, for a start.

The Doctor offers to take everyone off the planet, humans and gangers alike. But when one of the gangers starts talking about his son, there’s a strange tension between the groups. The man who knows he’s the father is deeply uncomfortable with this.

Then Cleaves comes back in with a circuit probe, which carries about 40,000 volts (and, which the Doctor points out, Cleaves calls “she”).

GANGER CLEAVES: Oh, that is so typically me.

Ganger Buzz charges Cleaves, and she kills him.

CLEAVES: We call it decommissioned.

The gangers, not surprisingly are not the slightest bit happy about this. They flee, but Cleaves is immune to the Doctor’s reproaches. “If it’s war, it’s war,” she says. “It’s us and them now.”

Elsewhere, ganger Jennifer is saying exactly the same thing. It’s interesting that she’s in charge, and not ganger Cleaves.

Ganger Jennifer says that she’ll take care of the spare running around, and we see Jennifer for the first time since she put herself in harness, limping badly, and being scared by something groping around in the darkness.

The Doctor wants the most defensible room in the castle (the chapel), warning that the gangers are coming back in a big way.

They certainly are, in the acid suits.

Rory refuses to enter, saying that he can’t leave Jennifer alone. And he dashes off down a side corridor as the gangers, in their suits, appear.

The others barricade themselves into the chapel, but something else is already there.

DOCTOR: Show yourself! Right now.

Amy says that this is a horrific mess, and the Doctor agrees. But he’s not the Doctor.

GANGER DOCTOR: Trust me. I’m the Doctor.
HEATHER: I’m a pillow!

I think she means the ganger Doctor, rather than herself.

Next week: more gangers!

Share your thoughts [6]


Matt wrote at May 30, 04:12 am

GAAAAHH! Creepy episode or what?! I thought it was much better than Fear Her.

It’s a bit stupid that they are pumping acid, I mean acid is not like oil. It’s actually usually extracted in salt form from minerals, transported as salts, and converted to acid using electrolysis just before it is used AFAIK.

Also installing an industrial plant into an old castle? It looks cool and everything but why?

Oh well, it’s a great excuse to have acid spurting everywhere, shadowy corridors and stone vaults. (Also BTW, even if they did have pipes full of acid everywhere, the power blackout should have stopped the pumps and they would have heaps of isolation valves for stopping the flow and pressure relief safety valves).

Anyway, apart from the completely illogical context, the actual story was great with pretty convincing reactions from the characters, both gangers and originals. Also, as Karen Gillan mentioned in the Confidential episode, it explored some new dimensions of Rory’s character, showing his “rescuer” impulse which caused some roll reversal in that relationship.


Catriona wrote at May 30, 04:36 am

Way, way better than “Fear Her”, but I admit I didn’t find it all that creepy. Odd, really: you’d think I’d be terrified.

I don’t know much about how acid works, but I assumed that “acid” was just a colloquial term for whatever they were pumping (like “flesh” is a colloquial term for whatever that creepy flesh paste really is). So what they really meant was “we’re pumping something with a long, complicated name that burns people because it’s acidic.” But then, now I think about it, that doesn’t make sense, because the Doctor was the first person to use the term “acid.”

I did like Rory’s role in this. Because he’s soft, Rory. And I mean that as a compliment. And this wasn’t really that different from him sitting on the steps of the Pandorica for two thousand years. Sure, the “two thousand years” bit owed as much to his love for his wife as it did to his overall kindness and sensitivity to people in pain or difficulty, but this is all part of the same impulse. He’s becoming a nicely rounded character, Rory.


richard wrote at Jun 1, 06:06 am

…and, of course, it makes sense for Rory to have particular empathy for slightly plastic-y people who aren’t quite themselves.

Also, acid factory in medieval castle makes perfect sense if you have an inkling about 22nd century heritage planning laws. Keep the facade and the cockerel and you can do what you like with the insides.

Really, though, I just swung by to nominate
It’s not the most convincing effect as the understatement of the century.


Catriona wrote at Jun 1, 06:30 am

“Keep the facade and the cockerel and you can do what you like with the insides” is the mission statement of Brisbane City Council’s planning department.


Catriona wrote at Jun 1, 06:32 am

Actually, you know, the idea that Rory might empathise because he wasn’t entirely human himself at one time is something that never, ever occurred to me. (Which, now I think about it, makes me feel right stupid.) I think, though, that his empathy is directed as much towards Jennifer the individual/s as it is towards the gangers in general—which makes sense to me, because she’s just as cute as a button.


Nick wrote at Jun 3, 04:53 am

The episode’s pre-credit sequence was terrifically uncanny; possibly one of the best they’ve ever done. I didn’t mind the story itself, but it didn’t quite live up to the promise of the intro.

It’s funny how stretchy-headed CGI people aren’t, in the end, all that much more convincing than the big rubber snake at the conclusion of “Kinda”.

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