This felt like a mishmash of old Who and new sci-fi. I say ‘new’ – Battlestar Galactica – dying and having your memories transferred into a fresh body – was the first thing that sprang to mind. My dad thought of Blade Runner. But it has the base-under-siege plot and the sensibility of an old-Who episode. My original sentence-long-summary was ‘The Hungry Earth’ done right. Indeed, it does bear a similarity to the stultifyingly awful Chibnall episode from the last series. However, unlike that debasement of the programme, this was quite good. Not great, like last week, but comptent, solid, workmanlike. Good, in short.
Well, for the most part. I have a (probably deserved) reputation for finding problems with things. Yes, I had some problems with this episode as well, chief among which is the amazing elasto-head. Bad idea, bad implementation. The whole episode was good, but bits of it were… well, predictable in places. Doctor-by-numbers might be going a bit far, but there was a lot of “standard” material in here. As the Graun’s review noted, this is the episode set in the Grimy Industrial Near-Future, which is to say, the setting in which most if not all Near Future Doctor Who stories are – a bit grim, people in jumpsuits, some generic industrial decor (aside from the monastery exterior). This is writer Ashley Graham’s second attempt at Who – his first, the tepid Fear Her, had a premise with good potential, but got waylaid by tiresome grandstanding – and while undoubtedly better than his previous attempt, coming of the back of last week’s episode, it still feels a little disappointing.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, before I’ve even started to assess the episode in minute, granular detail. We begin with someone turning on the lights. No, really. That’s something they seemed keen to establish, that the lights were voice-activated. That’s going to be relevant later, I suspect. Some people work on an island somewhere, and they collect acid for some reason. They wear what look like spacesuits crossed with Sontaran armour, even though they’re wearing, in effect, ‘disposable bodies’. So when the lady rather inadvisedly pushes her workmate (him off Ashes to Ashes) into the acid, it’s all ok, because it’s not actually him, he’s lying in a telepresence rig upstairs, and can just hop right into a new body, and if you think that sounds like Battlestar Galactica, as I said, believe me, you’re not the only one. The Flesh, a living material which can be used to generate surrogate bodies, stands in for the Cylon Resurrection ship (though The Flesh is a great name for a horrible living goo).
A few bits of business in the TARDIS – with more of that pregnancy nonsense, which we’ve all seen at this point, so you can stop doing that shot where it goes positive-negative-positive-negative-positive-negative, thank you – and there’s a ‘solar tsunami’ (whatever happened to the TARDIS travelling in the Vortex, eh?) and after some emergency manoeuvres, we arrive on Craggy Island, for the Doctor to drop some thinly veiled hints about having been here before. After some wandering around, they manage to set off an alarm and the aforeseen workers, who are still carrying bloody great spears for reasons that still haven’t been made entirely clear (acid-stirrers, maybe?). After some more arseing around, the solar storm is coming, so the Doctor goes to mend the weathervane. Then it arrives, and everyone gets knocked out and wakes up later, to discover that the surrogate humans have become sentient, and have the memories and personality of the real humans. But what is real, and what is fake, hmmmmm?
My biggest problem with this episode (apart from the impromptu Mr Fantastic impersonation in the toilet (did I mention I didn’t like that?)) was that not enough actually happened. I mean, lots of stuff happened, but without anything actually happening. We had lots of the Doctor heavily implying that he knows what’s going on, the ‘gangers wandering around, alternating between looking creepy (incidentally, the best-looking humanoid monsters since Waters of Mars, which was a shit episode, but those mouths were scary. The Angels don’t count, by the way.) and just wanting to be loved. The gung-ho captain lady decides that the way she could best serve their interests while they’re all stuck on an island full of acid during a solar storm which inhibits all communications would be to start a fight, so she tazers the Marshall Lancaster ‘ganger to death for basically no reason. This prompts the Timid One That Like Rory ‘ganger to take her pals and go and hide in the acid room*. The Timid One, by the way, has a strident, outgoing ‘ganger. Wouldn’t have guessed, would you?
There are some inbetweeny bits – Eyepatch Lady, for the umpteen-bazillionth time, as if you weren’t heartily sick of her already, the Doctor going and finding the TARDIS has sunk and getting acid on his shoes, which was rather funny, and the Doctor’s ‘can’t we all get along’ preachy bit, redeemed by the ‘eee-by-by-gum’ gag at the end. Eventually, the ‘gangers get their shit together, and walk threateningly toward the most secure room
full of the Flesh with a rather flimsy-looking door, but what the hell, we’ll roll with it. Rory, who remembers what it’s like to be made of plastic, goes after the Timid One, defying Amy (he’ll get in trouble for that later) and then, the ‘real’ people find themselves locked in a room with a ‘ganger of the Doctor. First though was ‘that’ll be the death sorted out then’, but that’s a little too obvious. It’ll probably be more interesting than that.
Sorry, that wasn’t the world’s most coherent review, was it? I appreciate it was mostly redundant and obvious complaints, but I really did like the episode. It felt a little aimless and disjointed** – lots of disparate bits, without much drive overall*** – but it was suitably claustrophobic, and (with the exception of the bloody stretch face bit) the ‘gangers looked brilliant, and they’re a good new villain. Plenty to like, and I’m looking forward to the next episode. See you next week.
*I’d argue her actions here make very little sense, seeing as how it was the one grumpy lady with the electricity thing who did the killing, not the Doctor, who’d be trying to help them get along, and he’s the one who’s advocating staying together etc…
**It’s also probably a little rich of me to accuse this episode of lacking coherence when this review’s in the state it is. Well, there you go. Expect me to be nothing if not hypocritical at the best of times.
***and amusingly enough, that same summary could well be applied to the review.