Review by Mark Bousquet
“THE ALMOST PEOPLE” – Series 6, Episode 6, Story 217b – Written by Matthew Graham; Directed by Julian Simpson – The Eleventh Doctor, Rory, and Amy are at their monastery in the future caught between the humans and the gangers and blabbedy blabbedy blabbedy. Are we even supposed to talk about what happens in the first 95% of this episode? Because Amy Is A Ganger, And Original Amy Is About To Pop Out A Baby.
Does anyone actually care about THE ALMOST PEOPLE? Isn’t everyone really just gonna talk about that last few minutes and try to figure out what that means?
I feel bad for Matthew Graham. As bland and stretched out as THE REBEL FLESH was last episode, the second half of his two-parter is a marked improvement. There’s real tension here, characters have actual emotions, and there’s some clever bits to keep you guessing. Though if you didn’t guess the Doctor swerve, well, if we were watching together you would have totally heard me groan and say, “So obvious” and if you didn’t know what I was saying you totally would have faked it.
I’m not saying ALMOST is a great episode, but it’s almost a perfectly fine run-around-and-shout story, and where last episode needed more story, there’s some actual complexity here that needed more room to fully explore. Graham doesn’t take the easy “the gangers are monsters” vs. “the humans are monsters” angle, at all, but switches things up so some characters on each side are the actual monsters. Ganger Jennifer is a monster, but so is Human Cleaves, for most of the episode. What we have is two sides of a conflict of their own making and it would have been nice to explore that a bit more than we do here. The way it gets used in ALMOST is just to elevate the tension of the episode instead of being any kind of actual character study, like when Buzzer knocks the “Ganger” Doctor unconscious.
The episode encourages you to think of them as “Human” and “Ganger” and not individual personalities because it dresses them in uniforms. That is, the humans generally wear their orange jumpsuits and the gangers generally wear the acid armor. It’s all well and good to say “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but when you’ve only got about 45 minutes it’s a good idea to give the audience a few visual clues because the characters are basically one note ponies.
The one part of this episode that pales in comparison to the previous episode is the Rory/Jen relationship. In REBEL FLESH, Rory’s determination to stick with Jen and see her to safety was admirable. When he found out she was a ganger he still stuck by her, but here Rory spends the bulk of the episode off-screen as Amy worries about him. He’s confronted with two Jens and, yeah, if you don’t know that both of them were going to be gangers, then you’re probably as nice as Rory. Good for you. Call me anytime you want to play poker.
Random aside: Do you know how I learned how to play poker? I was probably 12 or 13 and had a sleepover at my friend Jacques’ house. We played poker all night, and our comic book collections were the stakes – one issue a hand. Yeah, he took me for about every single comic I had brought with me until I figured out halfway through the night what was going on and won most of them back. Let that be a lesson to you, kiddies: Don’t gamble until you know the rules. Because your friends will dick you over for a copy of X-Factor 1.
The setting for ALMOST PEOPLE is really fantastic, with the old monastery being converted into a factory, giving the place both a really positive classic vibe and rather negative sense of industrial decline. Director Julian Simpson did a solid job in some tight quarters, but he was much better (as is to be expected) in the bigger rooms.
As much as I wasn’t sold on having two Elevens running around, and as obvious as the swerve was here, Graham and Smith did manage to wring some funny bits out of having the two of them chatting with one another. We even got a bit of Ganger Eleven channeling Doctors of days gone by, even combining them by saying he reversed the polarity of the jelly baby flow.
Unfortunately, Graham repeats one of Russell T Davies’ biggest philosophical blunders by seemingly equating you with your copy. Here, the human version of, er, Whatever His Name Was dies and his doppleganger just steps into his life, and everyone is seemingly cool with not telling his wife and kid that they’re not getting actually Daddy back, but a copy. Raising that point that he’s a copy doesn’t paint him as a monster, but he is a different person, even if he’s the same person. It would have been nice to see some of the philosophy on this examined a shade more than it was during the episode.
Definitely an improvement over last week and definitely an episode worth watching (even if it would have been nice to see this episode extended and REBEL shrunk so we could have had more character pieces), but it all gets washed away in the face of the epilogue, which was almost certainly written by Steven Moffat, yes?
After the Doctor sends the last human and last ganger into a meeting with their corporation, the Doctor tells Rory to get Amy inside the TARDIS. Amy is hurting with severe stomach pains. Rory insists the Doctor tell him what’s happening.
“Contractions,” the Doctor says without turning back to them. “She’s going into labor.”
Amy becomes increasingly frightened as the stomach pains increase. Rory is caught between comforting his wife and pulling information out of the Doctor. “You’re going to have to start explaining this to me,” he tells the Doctor as he holds Amy.
“What? The birds and the bees? She’s having a baby. I needed to see the Flesh in its early days,” he explains and then reminds them that he was going to drop them off for fish and chips before everything started happening. “Shenanigans,” he says with a smile on his face and then catches himself. This isn’t the time for games and wordplay, so when he adds, “That’s a fun word, ‘shennanigans,'” it’s delivered on a come down. Excellent acting by Smith.
“I needed enough information to block the signal to the Flesh,” he announces, finally turning to them and getting all serious.
“What signal?” Amy asks.
“The signal to you,” he tells her and that’s when Amy becomes really frightened and the Doctor looks at her with this pained look of utter sadness. Calmly, he orders Rory to “stand away from her.”
“Why?” Rory asks, confused and hurting but starting to sense that something is wrong.
The Doctor explains in his fast-paced, academic voice that, “Given what we’ve learned I’ll be as humane as I can but I need to do this and you need to stand away!” As the line progresses the Doctor begins to lose his temper and shout.
Rory looks at Amy with hurt, but understanding eyes, and slowly backs away from her, holding her hand until the very last moment. Arthur Darvill play the moment brilliantly. This is the guy who waited 2,000 years for Amy and now, as she’s hurting and confused and scared, he does what the Doctor commands and leaves her standing there, exposed and alone.
Amy is center stage now, and her wet eyes turn from Rory to the Doctor and in a quivering voice she tells him, “Doctor, I am really frightened. I’m properly, properly scared.”
“Don’t be,” he says, now moving towards her. “Hold on. We’re coming for you, I swear it. Whatever happens, however hard, however far, we will find you.” His hand comes up to touch her face and she holds it to her. “I’m right here,” Amy insists.
“No you’re not,” the Doctor rebukes her, his voice turning cold. “You haven’t been here for a long, long time,” he says, backing away and raising his sonic screwdriver. The green light comes on and Amy gets turned back into Flesh goop.
We snap cut to the real Amy in some kind of white, hospital bed with the Eye Patch Lady looking down on her. She’s ready to give birth.
It’s such a great sequence that it will undoubtedly leave people thinking this episode is a lot better than it actually is, and when you combine this with the fact that the episode was already actually better than last week, THE ALMOST PEOPLE might be one of those episodes that people end up remembering more fondly than it deserves.
The ending raises a whole batch of questions, the foremost being why did the Doctor have to kill Ganger Amy? To break the signal? Seems a bit harsh, especially since we just watched two episodes where the message was, “Gangers aren’t necessarily monsters.” It also seems to me that, you know, if there’s a signal coming to the Flesh, maybe it can be backtracked? I don’t know – maybe I missed something but that seemed like a rather harsh ending for a very frightened creature, human or not.
The revelation of the Two Amys also seems to confirm that she was stolen away during DAY OF THE MOON, but maybe it was even earlier than that if Ganger Amy really doesn’t believe she is pregnant. (Regardless, we’re in full Scully mode again, with the whole abduction and pregnancy bit.) The Silence did tell her in MOON that she’d been there for a very long time, so it does make you wonder when, exactly, the kidnapping took place. (Maybe if it wasn’t 2:30 in the morning I’d have a better guess.)
It seems the Eye Patch Lady was appearing to Ganger Amy through her connection with Human Amy, and that Human Amy is definitely going to give birth next episode. Again, this harkens back to MOON, where we saw the picture of Amy and the Astronaut Girl looking all mom and daughterish. It’s all set up to make us think that the girl is Amy’s daughter and the Doctor is the father, but I’m guessing that’s just a bit too easy. So let’s go ahead and say that Amy was impregnated with Time Lord DNA – maybe the Doctor’s but maybe from another Time Lord.
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