The Almost People, redux: let’s see if we can sort this out

[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.]

A few days have passed since I watched The Almost People, and I have calmed down a bit — just a little bit.  I am sure it wasn’t Moffat’s or Graham’s intention to have the Doctor do you-know-what.  So what was going on?

If you know what I’m talking about (i.e. if you’ve seen the episode), read on.  If not, then skip this article: it’s DEEPLY SPOILY.

Here below the fold, I’m assuming that everyone has security clearance, so I can say that the thing I am talking about is of course that The Doctor. Murdered. Amy.

The first thing to say is that this was by no means the only moral problem with The Almost People.  Even if we can explain away the Doctor’s actions at the end of the episode — and we probably can, just — it still leaves deep problems with the trail of bodies along the way.

To recap: we have an unusually large cast of fifteen:

  • The Doctor, Amy and Rory
  • Ganger Doctor
  • The factory staff: Cleaves, Jen, Jimmy, Buzzer and Dicken
  • The Ganger versions of Cleaves, Jen, Jimmy, Buzzer and Dicken
  • The second Ganger Jen

At the end of the episode, six of these have survived: The Doctor, Amy (let’s be generous and count her), Rory, Cleaves, Ganger Jimmy and Ganger Dicken.  So we have a proportionally huge body-count of nine.  In itself that would not make the episode a disaster, but the Doctor’s complete lack of concern is appallingly out of character.  He even goes so far as to describe the 40% survival rate as a “happy ending”.  It’s not exactly “Everyone lives!”

Let’s review the deaths.  In chronological order:

  • Ganger Buzzer electrocuted by Cleaves in The Rebel Flesh
  • Second Ganger Jen thrown into acid by Ganger Jen
  • Real Jen found lying outside, having died literally one or two seconds before the Doctor reached her
  • Real Buzzer eaten by Ganger Jen
  • Real Jimmy killed by acid burning through to his heart
  • Real Dicken killed by Mutant Ganger Jen
  • Ganger Jen exploded by the sonic screwdriver
  • Ganger Doctor and Ganger Cleaves dissolved by the sonic screwdriver, apparently as a side-effect of exploding Ganger Jen.

(It’s notable that the only one of the Real factory staff to survive is Cleaves, who is the one responsible for all the carnage in the first place.)

To give the Doctor due credit, he is horrified by the first of these deaths, and not present for the second and fourth.  But for all the others, he’s there, he knows exactly what’s happened and why, and HE KNOWS THAT ALL THOSE WHO DIED ARE PEOPLE, as he so clearly expressed when Cleaves cattle-prodded Ganger Buzzer into oblivion.  Yet there is no reaction.  Not even a “Darn it, we arrived too late” for Jen.

I don’t get it.  Why did the Doctor not make even a token attempt at preventing Real Dicken’s completely pointless sacrifice as he stupidly tried to close the door from the outside?  Why did he allow his own ganger and Cleaves’s to throw away their lives sonicing Mutant Ganger Jen when he, as a non-ganger, could safely have done it with no side-effects?  What happened to the relentless respect for life and sentience that has always characterised the Doctor?

So although I started this article thinking I was going to try to defend him against the charge of murdering Amy, I find that instead I am condemning him for everything else that happened.

Still, let’s try and get the Doctor off the hook for the bit where he kills Amy.

We can say that Ganger Amy is not independently sentient, as the gangers of the factory staff are; that her ganger is merely a meat puppet that is being controlled (unwittingly) by Real Amy, off in her maternity ward somewhere.  I suppose in retrospect, this was part of the purpose of the opening scene of The Rebel Flesh, where a ganger of Buzzer casually dissolves in a vat of acid and is unconcerned about it: to establish that ordinary gangers, having not been activated by a solar tsunami, do not have independent life.

(Let’s pretend for the moment that we’ve forgotten about the Doctor’s insistence that the Flesh itself is alive, the pool of half-dissolved gangers, the wall of eyes, and Ganger Jen’s insistence that she remembers every single time that another instance of herself was killed; let’s imagine that those scenes never happened, and that Graham gave us a good, consistent model of what a ganger is.)

All right then: so why did the Doctor have to dissolve Ganger Amy?  To “break the link” and so allow Real Amy to control her own body again, I suppose.  But that makes no sense, either: she’s much happier in the TARDIS with the Doctor and Amy than alone in an alien maternity ward, so why not just leave her there until they find her?

Well, let’s say that the Doctor somehow knows that Real Amy won’t be able to give birth successfully unless she’s conscious of the body that’s doing it.  How does he know that?  Never mind, we’re trying to cut him some slack here, remember?

All right, then: why not explain that to Amy?  Instead of having her suddenly appear in a pregnant body, frightened out of her wits, giving birth and not knowing how or why or where, why not tell her what’s happened and why it’s necessary to break the link?

Come on.

“Amy, I’m sorry about this, but your real body is far away about to give birth, and unless you go back to it it will die in childbirth.  To save you, I have to break the link, which will dissolve this body, but don’t worry because unlike those other gangers, it’s not conscious itself, despite what I told you right back when we first saw the Flesh in the previous episode.”

That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Why am I so upset about this?

It’s because clearly the real reason that the Doctor. Murdered. Amy. instead of sitting her down and explaining it all was just because It Makes A Smashing Cliffhanger.  And that won’t do.  That is a reason why Moffat/Graham did it, but not a reason why the Doctor did it.  And we want and need and deserve story-internal explanations for everything that happens.

And that is the real problem with The Almost People.  In trying to wrap my head around what happened and why, I’ve been rudely jerked out of the world of Doctor Who, and into the world of the BBC’s Light Entertainment Ratings Generator department.  When I watch Who — or anything, for that matter — I want to be thinking about the character, not the author.  And there is NO story-internal reason why the Doctor behaved the way he did, either towards Amy or towards all the corpses earlier in the episode.

The bottom line is that the Doctor in The Almost People feels like a character who’s wandered in from a completely different story.  The casual disregard for death is appropriate for Bruce Willis’s character in Die Hard, or Arnie’s in Terminator, but absolutely not for the Doctor.

It just isn’t.

It won’t do.

19 responses to “The Almost People, redux: let’s see if we can sort this out

  1. Pingback: The Almost People (Doctor Who series 6, episode 6) | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  2. Possibly of significance:

    Right before DoppelDoctor and ClevesGanger vaporise whilst defeating Jen (in a way that is, note, exactly like what the doctor does to Amy. Down to the mechanism), they have the following conversation:

    Doctor: “There may be a way back from this”
    Cleves: “From being vapourised? How?”
    Doctor: “I don’t know. Let’s find out, shall we?”

    I’m not sure of the significance of this, but if I had to hazard a guess, next episode will start with the ganger Amy reconstituting and the three of them all going off together to rescue the original Amy.

  3. I agree with David. I’m so used to this sort of thing, though usually as imminent danger, not post-murder, happening in Doctor Who I really didn’t think anything of him vaporising River. At the start of the next episode we’ll see him bend down and pick up some listening or tracking device out of the goo, and then reconstitute her.

    I think The Doctor’s detachment from all the death in the second part was probably necessary for his duplicity in swapping places with his ganger. If neither one really reacted, it would reduce chances of suspicion. As for having two gangers stay back to do a man’s job, I can only guess it’s a setup for some deus ex machina rescue by the presumably dead Doctor and Cleaves gangers, though there really is no reason the Gangers couldn’t hide in the Tardis while the real Doctor jellied the Jen monster. All in all, these will probably go down as “that couple of episodes I skip” – almost every season has one or two episodes I skip on the season rewatch, unless they prove themselves to be very important.

  4. Stephen Moody

    From the story point of view i can see why Amy’s ganger is different to the others as i mentioned before but you’ve made some good points.

    If he knows it’s only Amy’s mind in a controlled body than a living entity then he could have explained it to her, but treatment of the gangers has been inconsistent throughout the episode.

    The doctor and cleaves dissolving when they destroy Jen does seem like lazy writing, the original doctor could have done that and it would have been a better story. The initial thought when we see the ganger doctor is that he’s the one that dies in The Impossible Astronaut. Even if it wasn’t him that’s killed it could have been more interesting a story to follow rather than a might survive comment. Which doctor is it that is killed?

    I can sort of understand the Doctor killing Amy’s flesh body to protect the real Amy as it’s been shown that the Doctor can be ruthless and the wrong person to get angry, but up until the end of the episode there was no indication that this was the case.

    I enjoyed the episode, but i think a bit more thought and consistency could have made it better. I’m quite sure there’s a few things that are going to be relieved about this that we will look back on and see the significance. Until then i’ll see if next weeks episode makes up for this one.

  5. I’m willing to bet that by the 10 minute mark of the next episode, all the questions about this will be answered. How well they’re answered remains to be seen.

    But, yes, that does validate your point on it being a cliffhanger for cliffhanger’s sake.

    I do, however, believe that the ganger Doctor is a giant red herring as a stand in for the Doctor that is killed in The Impossible Astronaut.

  6. WyrdestGeek

    Hi. [warning: I have not fully read your post yet, but I intend to go back and do that when I have time. Right now I have to go make dinner and my battery is low too.]
    I agree with you about Amy at the end. I mean, sure it was dramatic, but I just don’t get it. It seems like the show was willing to sacrifice all of that Doctor-y morality just to be dramatic. That’s not cool. I’m hoping next week’s episode will have some explain-y thingie for that. But even if it does, and even if it’s a really “ah-hah!” style explanation–then still it should’ve been crammed into this episode instead of waiting for next week’s. You can’t crow over and over about how the Flesh people are people, then go and liquefy your best friend just to be dramatic. … I think that should be a quote.

    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  7. You keep saying that he murdered Amy, but no matter which way you cut it I don’t think he really did.

    Thinking about this more. It is quite possible he freed the flesh that was being held in Amy form by severing the link. Maybe the flesh is alive and sentient, but in controlled form, it is a slave. Perhaps thats what the Doctor needed to know from her, that she was in FULL control of the flesh, that would make it not be free. That also explains some of the dialog between the flesh Doctor and Cleaves about what would happen when they dissolve.

    Remember Odo’s people had a natural state of being liquid and not solid form….

  8. Generally, yes. This series has a bit too much ‘death as dramatic event’ – back to the series opener.

    As for the ending – Gangers good, Flesh bad?? There’s the speech about him ‘needing to see the Flesh in it’s early days’, and ‘that was why we were there in the first place’ – so it is something he recognised / knew all along – I think you might have been onto something with the Sontaran comment on episode 1.

    Also I don’t think the Sonic is quite a gun, yet – the visuals imply that (despite them being physically identical clones) it made the flesh lose form. Which is still basically killing conscious beings though.

    And it doesn’t make any sense with what was said earlier – either they’re physically identical or something else, surely?
    (Equally, is the ganger a Timelord? In which case, why no regeneration?).

    Even if it does prove to be consistent with the wider series story, it still seemed a bit internally inconsistent.

  9. WyrdestGeek

    Yeah these two episodes (The Rebel Flesh and the The Almost People) both have problems. Both failed to provide a coherent, understandable explanation as to how the Flesh actually operates. Both seem to have problems partly stemming from over-editing. And when it comes time to deliver the dramatic moments, both sacrifice plot or even character consistency in order to deliver the dramatic punch.

    That’s bad because these episodes are not self-contained “throw-away” adventures but are instead supposed to form a part of the larger series-long story that’s being told. So when future episodes refer back to the Flesh (as they no doubt must), it’ll break whatever suspension-of-disbelief we might have had going at that point.

    And anyway, which episode number are we at? This Saturday’s will be #7, so we’re running out of series pretty quickly. I’m wondering how they’re going to be able to tie together so many threads in a way that makes any sense by then. So far we’ve got a regenerating girl, the Silence, a woman with a metal eye patch thing, and a pregnant Amy. So the Silence have access to Flesh I guess?

    Oh well. At least this Saturday’s episode is written by Moffat. That should help some. But Wikipedia indicates this Saturday’s may be a two parter and the 2nd part is not to be aired until September! The pain, the pain.

    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  10. That’s right — this year’s Doctor Who is in the form of two semi-series: one in the spring (seven episodes) and one in the autumn (the concluding six), with episode 7 promising a “mid-season cliffhanger” which IIRC Moffat has described as “game-changing”. So we only have ONE more episode coming up now, then a looong wait.

    Making the pair of episode either side of the break the halves of a two-parter seems just plain mean.

  11. Mike,

    Well, if you want to talk “mean” mid-season cliff hangers, Battlestar Galactica is the undisputed king there. Hopefully Who will back off of this split season idea. Although the split seasons of Psych and White Collar didn’t bug me as much this year as they have in the past. Maybe I’m getting desensitized to them.

    Oh, who am I kidding, I’ll probably be back here after the next episode whining about the cliffhanger and having to wait months….. ;-)

  12. WyrdestGeek

    The only good thing about this cliffhanger thing is that my kids can’t blame me for it. I don’t need that, heh.

    “IF only we had an Index File we could look it up under Index File.”

    If only we had a TARDIS we could travel in time to Sept to see what she was up to.

    Of course, if we had a TARDIS, we’d probably just go off and have some adventures in it instead.

    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  13. Actually, just to add to the body count… there is the case of the missing shuttle, which (last we heard of) was landing in the courtyard without knowing the facility was about to blow. But, like much of the episode it disappeared once its script purpose (proving ganger Cleaves is clever) was served.

    I’m actually willing to give them a pass on the doctor ‘murdering’ Amy – there are enough suggestions that the Doctor felt he had to do it and that he didn’t think dissolving her was necessarily killing her or the flesh.

    But, geez, there were just so many issues with this episode from the disappearing sneeze to the here-one-minute, gone the next sense of impending doom to the Jen-zuarus to Rory’s ethical qualms… honestly, apart from the fact that the character he met that day convinces him to lock his wife in a room, what does it accomplish? Who is he trying to convince that the flesh-pile is bad? The Doctor or Amy, both of whom would probably react fairly badly to a pile of still-living Flesh, or the crew who knew they were there since the crew had done the dumping?

    Definitely agree with NoobixCube that this one doesn’t get watched again unless there are some really big reveals…

  14. WyrdestGeek

    Yeah. I feel like these two episodes are as butchered as the Flesh-pile itself. I can see where there were good ideas in there somewhere, but in the end it all turned into a messy blob of unclear story telling. And that’s really too bad because bits of the adventure were good.

    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  15. I don’t think he “murdered” Flesh-Amy any more than waking someone up from being hypnotised into believing they’re a duck is murdering a duck – he mentions he’ll be as humane as possible, and proves that by using the sonic to release the Flesh from the signal, rather than for example dumping it into a vat of acid.

    And if the Flesh remembers each death even though the seperate Gangers it happened to are thoroughly dissolved, that goes more to the idea of it being a hive-mind that can occasionally experience things seperately and have its offshoots make free-will choices when contaminated with human consciousness – but not as single entities as such, in the bigger picture. If you want an example, think of the way the human body is made up of seperate organs which will compete for resources, and even become hostile to the whole (in the case of auto-immune illnesses) but still be under the purview of one ruling consciousness, in the brain.

    The Doctor says that the Gangers taken aboard the Tardis at the end have BECOME people now, and that presumably means they were seperated from the Flesh consciousness, and he’s also blocked the signal to the Flesh-Amy, so the dissolution is that of an amputated piece of the Flesh, which he may or may not have stashed away somewhere later on… (I’m reaching a bit there, I know)

    Oh and btw first time commenter & LOVE the blog! I don’t think I’ve answered everything there but it does address a few of the issues.

  16. Hi, Hunter, great to hear from you — I hope it won’t be the last time!

    I’m sympathetic to your argument, but it doesn’t quite wash for me, for two reasons. Firstly, your duck analogy isn’t actually analogous in that the host Amy-body is physically destroyed; and secondly, the Doctor has told us again and again and again that Flesh People are People. For the ending to make sense, he’d have had to have worked out something like your hive-mind theory.

  17. WyrdestGeek

    Hunter: I think you make a good case. I think that’s probably the idea the show was going for, it just didn’t execute on it very well. I suspect it was one of those deals where the script was maybe clearer but wound up way too long. So stuff was lost in the editing process.

    Mike Taylor: You’re right too, of course. And that’s sort of the problem with the adventure–it keeps wanting to have it both ways. One moment the Flesh is the Flesh. Then it’s separate entities. Then it’s all one again.

    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  18. This is old but I’ll throw in my two cents.

    The Doctor is mentally so focused on rescuing Amy that he isn’t emotionally present by the second of this two-episode arc. He’s already gone to war. So all of his unconcern at the deaths and his murder of puppet-Ganger-Amy have to be seen through that light. He cares so deeply about Amy that he already has his blinders on to the side effects of his quest to rescue her — this is borne out by the next episode which you have not yet reviewed.

  19. Pingback: The Bells of Saint John (Doctor Who series 7, episode 7) | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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