Recap: Doctor Who S32 E5 "The Rebel Flesh"

The show decides to take another crack at a clone story...

"I've to get to that cockerel before all hell breaks loose!

(Beat)

...I never thought I'd have to say that again."
The Doctor

Written by Matthew Graham.
A solar tsunami sends the TARDIS hurtling towards a 22nd Century factory on Earth, where human Doppelgängers ("Gangers") are used to mine dangerous acid. They use the white clone goo to create avatars, which can safely mine while the people are controlling them with their thoughts.

The Doctor would much rather have this adventure alone, but Amy and Rory insist on coming along. The factory is dangerous. Dangerous enough, in fact, to dissolve the ground around the TARDIS with acid and cause her to sink into the earth. It also dissolved the Doctor's shoes, so he has to borrow a pair of boots.

The second wave of the solar tsunami, causes the Gangers to separate from the people they're being controlled by. The clones are now separate, independent people, retaining all of their original memories. They are horrified by the fact that they're not "real". They can remember every second of their "original's" life and feel every emotion they've ever experienced. The white Flesh rebels against the change, and causes their faces to distort.

The Gangers quickly feel threatened enough to start a rebel faction against the real humans. This escalates into an all-out battle, cut off only when it turns out that the Flesh has also made a copy of the Doctor.


Tropes:

  • Acting for Two: Most of the characters in this episode have a corresponding Ganger, and share scenes with them. Including the Doctor.
  • Agony of the Feet: The Doctor loses his shoes to acid.
  • Alien Sky: The sky turns bright orange during the solar storm.
  • Arc Words: Or Arc Person — Eye-Patch lady is seen again.
  • Blade on a Stick: The workers are armed with what look like pole-axes.
  • Body Horror: Jennifer's ganger grotesquely stretches its head and limbs when it first attacks Rory.
  • Buffy Speak: "Yes, it's insane, and it's about to get more insanerer. Is that a word?"
  • Captain Obvious: The Doctor determines that "something corrosive" is flowing through the pipe marked "DANGER: CORROSIVE." And again after the storm causes leaks. To be fair, he did just almost get a face-full of Hollywood Acid.
    Doctor: It is too dangerous in here with acid leaks!
  • Ceiling Cling: Ganger Jennifer pulls one off when stalking human Jennifer.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The Ganger Doctor still wearing the right shoes after the Original stepped into the acid and had to replace them might turn into one, as well. Remember — The Flesh mimics the clothing worn by the original the instant it is scanned, and the Doctor walked out into the acid after that.
  • Cloning Blues: The Gangers, upon becoming independent, are scared, angry, and desperate to confirm that their memories are real. The Doctor is the only one to understand this.
  • Clones Are People Too: Once again, the Doctor insists that the Gangers are no less valuable than their originals and plans to save both.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Creator Thumbprint: Matthew Graham likes the image of a weathervane foreshadowing something important, characters playing darts, using '70s music in his shows, and casting Marshall Lancaster as a bumbling type of character.
  • Fantastic Racism: Humans think of Gangers as "monsters" and "mistakes". It doesn't take long for the Gangers to think of Humans as cruel and oppresive.
  • Funny Background Event: During the scene where the humans meet up with their Gangers, behind the Doctor you can see Rory react strongly to Jennifer squeezing his hand too tight.
  • Genre Throwback: Basically, Matthew Graham set out to write a Second Doctor story: small cast, minimum amount of effects (mostly practical and make-up) and a very dark, tense tone. Among the Second Doctor tropes on display: A near-future setting, an isolated base in a remote location, an external threat and the possibility of internal treachery, lots of corridors, a trigger-happy paranoid base commander, and a junior member of staff with Photographic Memory who gets compared favourably to a computer.
  • Glamour Failure: The Gangers aren't stable yet so they shift back and forth between the gooey Early Flesh and the human Finished Flesh.
  • Hollywood Acid: The acid they're mining dissolves things very quickly - to the extent that they were losing a worker every week before they had gangers.
  • Insistent Terminology: Cleaves objects to the statement that the Flesh can "grow". All they can do is "divide their cells".
  • Ironic Echo:
    • "Trust me, I'm the Doctor."
    • "It's us and them."
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing:
    The Doctor: It's interesting you refer to [the Gangers] as "it", but you call a glorified cattle prod a "she".
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: "A lot can go wrong in an hour."
  • Let's Get Dangerous: Usually timid Rory pounces on Cleaves when she kills Ganger Buzzer.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: Causing a power surge is hardly the silliest thing it's ever accomplished in fiction, it's also what causes the Gangers to become self-aware and independent.
  • Meaningful Name: "Ganger" comes from both "doppelgänger" (a duplicate of a person) and "ganger" (a menial labourer assigned to a large work gang, i.e. on old-fashioned railroads).
  • Never Say "Die": Gangers, being considered implements, are not killed but "decommissioned". Justified in that the originals don't consider them alive to begin with. They like driving a fork lift; you can't "kill" a fork lift now can you?
  • Nice Guy: Rory is seen this way by the Jennifer-Ganger, who says he has "kind eyes".
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Despite the Doctor starting a peaceful dialogue between the humans and gangers, human Cleaves kills Ganger Buzzer, starting a war between the two factions.
  • Nightmare Face: An incomplete Ganger is goeey and has strange eyes.
  • Noodle Incident:
    The Doctor: I have to get to that cockerel before all hell breaks loose. I never thought I'd get to say that again!
  • No OSHA Compliance: Justified in that military facilities and their contractors are usually exempt from many environmental laws. Not to mention that using the Gangers is a safety procedure. They are considered mere tools by the humans, so if one is destroyed it's no different to them from a pair of rubber gloves getting damaged.
  • Oop North: The monastery is an island off the Yorkshire coast. The Doctor even tries to use Oop North humor.
  • Percussive Maintenance: A weird example. Ganger!Jennifer at one point emphatically beats her fist against her chest; with each hit she instantly shifts between looking normal and look semi-Ganger.
  • Planar Shockwave: The solar tsunami.
  • A Rare Sentence:
    The Doctor: I have to get to that cockerel before all hell breaks loose! [...] I never thought I'd get to say that again.
  • Remote Body: The Gangers are supposed to be empty vehicles for the humans to operate in dangerous circumstances
  • Rubber Man: The Gangers can stretch their limps. Rory gets a nasty stretchy punch.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To Blade Runner: Humanoids, created for work, which become more human, and one of the workers "decommissions" a Ganger just as Deckard "retires" replicants.
    • To The Thing (1982): The flesh can mimic anyone or anything, and can stretch body parts. Buzzer even refers to a ganger as "you thing".
    • To Avatar: The workers control clones of themselves from harnesses, and the clones (supposedly) become inactive when not being controlled.
    • To Full Metal Jacket: One of the workers calls Jennifer "Twinkletoes" for making a mistake.
    • To Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956): the early shots of Ganger!Jennifer slowly taking on definition are rather... familiar. There's also the general idea of exact duplicates killing and replacing their originals.
    • The Gangers' Voldemort-esque appearance seems to be lampshaded when Ganger!Jenny says she'll take care of "the spare one".
    • Along with Voldemort, the design (and abilities) of the Gangers is likely a shout out to Odo and the other Changelings.
  • Skintone Sclerae: Inverted — the Gangers' skin resembles the white of a human eye.
  • Sleep Cute: Rory and Amy wake up on the floor next to each other after the tsunami hits.
  • Space Is an Ocean: "Solar tsunami."
  • Steam Vent Obstacle: The lower levels of the factory suffer from this. For bonus points, it's Hollywood acidic steam to boot.
  • Title Drop: For next episode: Both the Doctor and Rory refer to the Gangers as "almost people".
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Gangers may not realize they are Gangers until they experience something non-human like stretchy limps.
  • Used Future: It is the 22nd century, and the acid mine in the monastery is very dark and battered.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The Gangers are designed to be expendable — their purpose is to mine the acid, a horribly dangerous job, without putting humans at risk. Naturally, they aren't happy about this.
    The Doctor: We're not talking about an accident that needs to be mopped up. We're talking about sacred life. Is everyone clear on that? Everyone clear? Good.