[A revised and improved version of this essay appears in my book The Eleventh Doctor: a critical ramble through Matt Smith’s tenure in Doctor Who.]
It’s part of the essence of Doctor Who that it drops bombshells on us. It’s a show where things are not always as they seem, and where trying to figure out exactly what’s going on is an important part of the fun. Back in the day, we were shocked by the revelation in The End of the World that the Time Lords were gone; we all guessed wrongly at the identity of The Doctor’s Wife; we were chilled by the sight of Daleks on our side in Victory of the Daleks.
The one constant that makes these constant twists and turns work is that the character of the Doctor himself is reliable and consistent, even as his personality changes between incarnations. He himself is the bedrock against which all the waves of the universe break, the ground against which we evaluate the changing figures.
MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW THE BREAK
And then the Doctor killed Amy.
The Doctor. Killed. Amy.
She was alive; and then he shot her with the sonic screwdriver, which as it turns out is a gun; and then she wasn’t alive any more.
And whatever else happened in the episode, that is what we’ll remember.
I’m not fond of hyperbolic reviews that say things like “That wasn’t Doctor Who“, but if I were ever to write one, this would be the time. This is not the kind of thing the Doctor does. It just isn’t.
Yes, the Amy in question was a ganger, not the “real” Amy. But, come on, we’ve just spent two whole episodes establishing that the ur-flesh from which gangers are made is alive; not alive like moss, but sentient. Establishing that gangers are people, dammit. So what can the Doctor possibly have been thinking in killing one? Even if we say that this particular ganger did not have an independent life, and was only functioning as a prosthesis for Real Amy — it seems we are supposed to conclude this, from the sight of Real Amy waking up — what’s the urgent cause for what he did? Even if you can persuade yourself, contra everything the Doctor told us last time, that the ganger is not “really” alive, then all the ganger-termination has achieved is to restore consciousness to “real” Amy, alone and trapped in an alien world, giving birth the baby she knows nothing about, terrified out of her wits. If Ganger Amy truly needs to be disposed of for Original Amy to regain consciousness, why not wait until Real Amy has been found first?
There’s much more that could be said about The Almost People. Some of it’s good, but much of it is bad, as it muffed most of the issues raised by The Rebel Flesh, treating the Gangers as plain-and-simple Bad Guys for most of the episode. I could quibble with the stupid scene with the eyes in the wall, which didn’t connect with anything else and would have been meaningless even if the effects had been convincing. But I’m not going to bother going there. All of that seems an irrelevance in light of the utter lack of humanity that pervaded the whole episode.
The whole episode? Yes, not just the coda with Amy. Throughout, people were dropping like flies, and the Doctor seemed bizarrely unconcerned. Even if we assume his position on the humanity of gangers had flipped 180° since last week, his completely meh response to the death of Real Jen, and near-total lack of engagement with Real Jimmy’s acid-through-the heart death scene, didn’t chime with the way I have always thought of the Doctor — far less, the way Matt Smith has always played him. And the utter disregard for the deaths of gangers ignores the whole of last week’s episode.
So I will leave everything else unsaid this time, and leave it at that. I’m very disappointed. I rate this by far the most unsatisfying episode of Series 6, and below any Series 5 episode.
So now, after such an excellent start, we find ourselves relying on Moffat himself to redeem the first half of Series 6, with his mid-season finale A Good Man Goes to War.
Come on, Moff. You can do it.
Elsewhere on the web
Gavin Burrows is kinder than me, and more analytical, but more or less agrees.
Update (two days later)
More thoughts on the Doctor’s behaviour in The Almost People, redux: let’s see if we can sort this out.