This week ...
The situation grows steadily worse on the island for the Doctor, Amy and Rory as the humans and Gangers clash with no sign of either backing down. But who are the true monsters here? Will the Doctor be able to work out who is in the right and save all concerned?
What's good about it?
As I suspected, things do not end well for all involved this week. How could it with two sets of identical people vying for the right to exist, when both have an equal right to that claim? The episode begins with the Doctor(s) and company trying to escape from the Gangers but it quickly becomes evident that there is no obvious bad guy here. This is neatly illustrated with Amy questioning the authenticity of the Ganger Doctor - something which both versions of the Time Lord dispute as in their eyes they are the same person. The Doctor accepts he has a duplicate and sees no problem with this but Amy fixates on the fact that one of them can't be 'real'. This will ultimately lead to her undoing but more on that later!
Ambiguity about where the true danger lies grows as the story progresses with strong evidence to condemn and support both sides. The most moving example of this comes when Ganger Jimmy is made to face his 'son' Adam, having just condemned his original to death by acid. Stricken with guilt he tries to save human Jimmy, but he has been mortally wounded and asks his copy to live on to be a parent to their son. A special mention to Mark Bonnar in these scenes, a lovely performance amid a uniformly strong guest cast.
Similarly, when Jen shows Rory the pile of rotting but conscious flesh - a pretty macabre sight for Saturday teatime - the company's maltreatment of the Gangers is exposed and elicits much sympathy for their plight. This, however, does not excuse Jen's desire to rise up and stage a revolution against humanity. As Cleaves points out, the original Jen was a kind and gentle person and her copy wants to carry out violent acts the original never would.
The running question of what defines our humanity is asked once again and the answer presented here is rather sweet but rings true nonetheless. An ability to show compassion and mercy makes us human, but seeking revenge and waging war makes us monsters; the difference of being grown in a vat or another person being largely irrelevant.
So after the deranged and mutated Jen (nice visual reference to John Carpenter's The Thing) is destroyed in an act of self sacrifice by the Ganger Doctor and Cleaves, the audience is left with an optimistic ending. Ganger Jimmy is left to be a parent to Adam while Cleaves and Ganger Dicken vow to expose Morpeth Jepson's immoral treatment of the flesh to the rest of the world. Top marks to director Julian Simpson for maintaining a doom-laden atmosphere throughout and to writer Matthew Graham for not letting all the characters off the island alive. This underscores how dangerous the Doctor's adventures are with a dash of gritty realism that Nu Who often shies away from in favour of a softer approach where 'everybody lives'.
Just when it seems the adventure is over a major twist awaits during the story’s epilogue. The Doctor has been playing a very long game indeed. He suspected that if Amy had been a Ganger for some time she would feel a stronger affinity for the Ganger Doctor, which she did and thus revealed herself to be Amy's copy. I found the Doctor's calm in confronting Ganger Amy quite unsettling and the realisation that the original Ms Pond has been missing for some time was a genuine and audacious shock. The final shot of Amy incarcerated, about to give birth and face to face with Eye Patch Lady is a thrilling pay-off for the build up during this year's story arc and a fantastic teaser for the final episode for this half of 2011!
What's wrong with it?
Now don't get me wrong, I love a darker episode but I got the feeling that this may have been a shade too brutal for some members of the general audience. Since its return in 2005, Doctor Who has added broad splash of warmth to the thrills and scares of time travel; yet aside from the two Doctors larking about at the start, there was little humour on offer. The ending was uplifting and redemptive, but overall this tale came across as rather cold and bleak in tone.
I was also a bit disappointed by the handling of Jen's character. How exactly did she stray so far from the true nature of her original to become someone consumed with hatred? Was this anger and frustration something inherent within her original? Was this the flesh evolving? Or did Ganger Jen miss the point of the person she was supposed to be? I'm sure Rory would agree with me in saying she certainly didn't turn out to be the person I was getting to know and love last week. Alas, love is a fickle thing and you never really know if a person you start to like will end up being a big monster that eats people. Speaking of people not being what they seem, if Amy has been a prisoner of Eye Patch Lady since the beginning of the year does that mean Rory has been effectively committing adultery with her copy? Rory Pond, you naughty man!
There are times when the Doctor's travels leave a bloody legacy in their wake. Like The Almost People, Peter Davison's Resurrection of the Daleks is another tale where few of the original cast make it to the final reel. The fifth Doctor and his friends become involved in the attempts of his deadliest enemies to re-establish themselves after losing a war. It's a bleak tale of suspicion and mistrust featuring rebellious human duplicates, a dash of body horror and a high mortality rate. Sound familiar?
The bottom line
'Who are the real monsters?' An excellent conclusion to a challenging and morally ambiguous tale. The audience is not handed cosy answers to the question of which party has a right to survival and instead is forced to tackle the issue head on and witness lives being lost along the way to reach the lessons learned - a tough approach which makes this two-parter all the richer for it. The final scene yanks the story in a completely new direction, namely the search for Amelia Pond. Taken from the two men who love her most, the hunt is on and a battle is coming next week in A Good Man Goes to War.