[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?
“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.