BBCHD - 28th May 2011 - 6.45pm
"I've reversed the jelly baby of the neutron flow"
Primarily, he takes the initial idea of Jimmy's role as father, which his duplicate has awareness and memories of, and uses this to, pardon the pun, flesh out the exploration of sentience, consciousness and will at the heart of the story. He then adds further to this with what we discover about Miranda Cleaves. When the Doctor scans her he diagnoses an inoperable blood clot, the symptoms of which both her human and ganger form share.
What Graham seems to be saying with these two sub-plots is that for the gangers to truly become sentient they must accept the burdens of human emotions, specifically their weaknesses as well as their strengths, and the body's physical frailty. With sentience comes responsibility for the self and others and an acceptance of mortality, as we see both in Cleaves's challenge to her duplicate with, "Of all the humans in all of the world you had to pick the one with the clot. But, hey, them's the brakes. Welcome to the human race" and Jimmy's death by acid where the flesh-Doctor hands over the symbol of patriarchal rebirth, the ring, to the ganger version and confirms, "Jimmy Wicks... you're a dad."
Both Jimmy and Miranda are effectively redeemed, along with the flesh-Dicken, by the end of the episode. After the flesh-Miranda sacrifices herself along with the flesh-Doctor (and it wouldn't be Doctor Who now without these ubiquitous moments of self-sacrifice) the TARDIS stabilises the flesh versions of Jimmy and Dicken, Jimmy is then reunited with his son, Miranda's clot is sorted out with something "small and red and tastes like burnt onions" and, more importantly, the Doctor's rationale for coming to the factory is revealed.
This redemption is all part of the episode's meditation on "being in the world" and about how physical and emotional connections to the concept of the self are not fixed, much as the gangers may want interpret the self as such. They remain unstable even after the freak storm that imbues them with an individual status and a life that is divorced from the psychic link to their human counterparts. They may be raising their consciousness, and towards revolution as far as Jennifer is concerned, but they will still have to deal with the consequences of this emancipation. As Harold Fromm explains in The Nature of Being Human, our lives as humans are shaped by rhetorical triggers and, "people are changed, unwittingly, willy-nilly not by "self", not by choices... the possibilities look open-ended but you can't will them into being for yourself."
... a Miltonesque Satan railing against God
This eventually sees her as separate from the developing self-realisation of the other gangers, as a Miltonesque Satan railing against God, with the problematics of attempting to be human a familiar trope in many stories about doubling and doppelgangers. What this also intimates is that the flesh copies of the originals can only become truly sentient when they admit their existence as copies and, once the copy stops thinking of itself as the original, it becomes an a person with a 'soul'. When Jennifer remains soul-less, as a raging monster attempting to kill everyone, then morally it is the only way to accommodate the flesh-Doctor's destruction of her, perceived as 'other' than human.
This trajectory for the characters neatly dovetails with the introduction of the flesh-Doctor as an intriguing way to test Amy's loyalties to, and perception of, the Doctor himself, and with Rory's empathy (perhaps as a former Auton) directed to the multiple Jennifers and her horror, as demonstrated by the pile of discarded flesh bodies and the tunnel of accusing eyes, at the way their innate sentience has been disregarded by the 'inhuman' capitalist ambitions of the company, Morpeth Jetsan. Incidentally, that's an anagram for Phantom Jester which is itself an ironic little wink to the themes here as well as a Doctor Who series that's obsessed with doubles and duplicates - two Doctors here and in The Impossible Astronaut and now, two Amys.
If you remember last week, the Doctor was very cagey about his knowledge of the flesh and the factory's technology. He let it slip that he was aware of this technology and that this was an early form of the flesh. With the delegation of Miranda and Dicken arriving at Morpeth Jetsan's offices to lobby for changes in the way the technology unfortunately creates the side-effects of sentience in the gangers, the Doctor has been seen to deliberately ensure that both human and ganger understand that these side-effects are dangerous and need to be resolved. As he says "I needed to see the Flesh in its early days. That's why I scanned it, that's why we were there in the first place" and he's already suspected that Amy isn't quite who she seems to be with his suspicions aroused by the quantum pregnancy on the TARDIS scanner, her confession to him (cleverly fooling her into believing she was imparting this information to the flesh-Doctor) about the visions of the Eye-Patch Lady and, most importantly, the invite to witness his death in The Imposible Astronaut.
... the Doctor's morals are of a shade of grey
What must have been a daunting technical challenge is carried out with great subtlety, timing and humour and it even allows him to channel the previous Doctors - from quoting the First Doctor's desire to return to his own planet, trotting out that old favourite "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow" and to actually plonking Tom Baker's own voice onto the soundtrack proffering jelly babies. It's again clear why Moffat cast him as he progresses through this (even hinting at Cybermats for future episodes perhaps) and onto those later powerful scenes with Amy in the monastery and in the TARDIS.
The gangers are not evil per se, they simply want their rights to exist acknowledged, and their origins, how they are made and their question of sentience, is certainly what feeds into the last scene where the Doctor confronts the flesh-Amy. Many fans have become rather concerned about this scene because they believe the Doctor was morally wrong to destroy this copy of Amy. But the flesh-Amy simply has no independent existence. It's just a conduit through which the real Amy, alive, well and pregnant and who knows where, is experiencing the events of these episodes.
The gangers created at the monastery, out of early flesh technology, are capable of sentience. Their autonomy only comes about because of the solar storm. The flesh-Amy, presumably a result of much later flesh technology, is not autonomous. It is completely unaware of itself as a copy. Like the humans operating their ganger bodies we saw in the first part of the story, Amy is psychically wired in to the copy, and as Matthew Graham explained on Doctor Who Confidential, it is the copy of Amy that has died and not Amy.
However, the scene does again show that the Doctor's morals are of a shade of grey. He is not the non-violent pacifist that fandom's received wisdom alleges him to be. As Piers Britton in Tardisbound suggests, "this assertion belies a massive weight of contrary evidence" and the Doctor often endorses "the idea that violence has its uses or at least in certain circumstances that it is unavoidable." As he severs the link between Amy and the flesh version of her, he even acknowledges that what he is doing isn't as morally appropriate as he would like and argues that he will "be as humane as I can, but I need to do this." It's a very dramatic ending to the story and certainly clarifies our understanding of Amy's visions of the Eye Patch Lady as impressions from the real world bleeding occasionally into flesh-Amy's perception. It also suggests the Doctor manipulated events at the factory in order to gauge the nature of the flesh-Amy (the real Amy having "not been here for a long, long time") in contrast to the independence of the gangers at the factory.
What's interesting here is Rory's reaction and how his rejection of Amy suggests the dynamic between him and the Doctor has significantly changed. He is horrified at what is about to happen but clearly trusts the Doctor and allows him to carry out his destruction of the flesh-Amy. There's something in his eyes, thanks to Arthur Darvill's performance, that really captures that instant realisation that the Amy he is stood next too is not the real one. This is a great climax to the sub-plot that has seen Rory's trust manipulated by Jennifer, still implying that he's easily led emotionally despite his fervent belief in Jennifer's cause when she shows him the pile of abandoned flesh. With this revelation we will hopefully see Rory properly defined as a character with greater physical and moral strength in the forthcoming A Good Man Goes To War as despite the convictions he displayed in this two-parter, he fell into Jennifer's clutches far too easily after a bit of ego flattering.
"the eyes are the last to go"
Again, we have more images of the shape-changing Jennifer, this time appearing as something of a cross between the ever morphing nastiness of John Carpenter's The Thing and the series's own beastie as seen in The Lazarus Experiment. The abject-Jennifer could be read, as Kelly Hurley suggests in The Gothic Body, as "a not-quite-human subject, characterised by its morphic variability, continually in danger of becoming not-itself, becoming other." It's characteristic of the story's depiction of the problems of stabilising identity, especially in the running themes of the gangers wanting to create a human self-hood and the monastery itself operating as a charnel house with extraordinary images of piles of ganger bodies rotting away and of accusing eyes embedded in its stone walls, emblematic of Jennifer's claim that "the eyes are the last to go" when a ganger's physical form is destroyed.
If there is a problem with The Almost People then it is the slight uneveness between the fascinating ethical debate about identity and free will and the requirements of the episode to rely on the 'running down corridors' and 'monster of the week' tropes that constitute much of the closing scenes of the story. There is also the problem of the under-developed characters Buzzer and Dicken. Dicken is probably the most underdeveloped of the two and yet we are asked to emotionally connect with his self-sacrifice at the end of the episode when all we've really found out about him is that he sneezes quite a bit. A little bit more development would then have made the flesh-Dicken's earnest mission to face Morpeth Jetsan with Miranda much more credible.
Apart from these quibbles, The Almost People asks viewers to contemplate some very adult moral questions and in its final scenes suggests that the flesh-Doctor knows more about Amy's pregnancy than he should and may make a further appearance if the suggestion of his "molecular memory" surviving the destruction of the monastery is anything to go by. Overall, a satisfying conclusion to last week's opener as well as a startling springboard to the mid-season finale.
Note: For more on Series 5, including all the expanded reviews from 2010, try my book Doctor Who: The Pandorica Opens - Exploring the Worlds of the Eleventh Doctor published by Classic TV Press and also available on Amazon.