(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! this is a love fest only — all complaints and bitching must come from a place of love / previous: “The Doctor’s Wife”)
I started off thinking, Oh, hey, it’s like an episode of classic Doctor Who: Go to a place where something dodgy is happening, do a thing, rescue some people, be responsible for the deaths of others, go home. But this turns out to really be about this:
A way for there to be a version of the Doctor who’s 200 years older than he is now but looks exactly the same — like he hasn’t aged a day — and is available to be conveniently killed by someone in a spacesuit.
He knows from the get-go, from the location of their arrival on the monastery island, that this place has something to do with the Flesh. Right after the intruder-alert warning of their presence, he says to Amy and Rory
There are people coming. Well, almost… –the Doctor
Almost coming? –Amy
Almost people. –the Doctor
He knows what he’s seeing is “the early stages of the technology” — implying that he has seen, sometime in his own past, the later stages. Yet it cannot be the future maybe-replica Doctor who sends TARDIS-blue letters to Amy and River, because that hasn’t happened yet, in the Doctor’s personal timeline. Yet what other reason could there be for the Doctor to clam up like he does when Amy asks him whether he knows something about the Flesh?
He doesn’t do his typical silly-ass thing to deflect questions he doesn’t want to answer. He doesn’t offer some rambling babble that sounds like it might contain an answer but actually doesn’t. He just stares at her, refuses to answer, almost the same way he stares at her and refuses to answer when she deflects his attempts to get her and Rory off the TARDIS at the beginning of the episode because he wants to go off and investigate her mysterious there/not-there pregnancy.
Whatever the Doctor knows about the Flesh, it is somehow connected to the big Everything that’s Going On… except it can’t be, because this Doctor is supposed to not know about the fact that he will arrange to be in front of the person in the spacesuit in 200 years of his subjective time so that he can be shot dead. Unless… could this Doctor already be a Flesh replica?
Could this Doctor have been a Flesh replica throughout his entire regeneration?
Has the Doctor been playing a really long game?
The Doctor insists that the Flesh duplicates not just the hair and clothes that Cleaves mentions but also “mind, soul.” So a Flesh replica of anyone could be indistinguishable from the original, so indistinguishable that the replica himself might not even realize he’s a replica (as we see with Jennifer and Cleaves here). Yet we are surely meant to understand that the Doctor has had experience being Flesh-replicated: when Cleaves says, about facing your own replica, “You don’t get it, Doctor. How can you?” that is surely intended to be retroactively ironic: of course he gets it, in the only way he can get it.
And yet he is surprised when the Flesh seems to scan him…
It’s pointless to take any speculation too far down any road, because it only becomes a teetering pile of increasingly unsupported assumptions, and we’re probably wrong about even the simplest assumptions at the base of that pile, anyway. But a few things seem certain.
1) We shall know the Doctor-replica by his shoes:
The real Doctor should be wearing these borrowed shoes:
Unless the man we’ve been assuming is the real Doctor is a replica. In which case the replica could have been the one to lose his shoes to the acid. In which case the real Doctor could show up wearing his usual shoes.
2) There may be more than one Jennifer replica. I lost track even after multiple viewings of this episode, but it does seem as if there’s a “nice” Jennifer replica and a “mean” one — one who says, “I’ll take care of the spare one runnin’ around out there,” and appears to be referring to the nice replica. Or did I miss something?
If there’s more than one Jennifer replica, there could of course be more than one replica of anyone. Including the Doctor.
Or this could all be a continuation of Amy’s nightmare, for we have this again, too:
Random thoughts on “The Rebel Flesh”:
• Hey, it’s DCI Chris Skelton!
AKA actor Marshall Lancaster. Of course, writer Matthew Graham is also a Life on Mars vet. I’m sure that’s not a coincidence.
• What a mess!
Empty food cartons, dirty clothes all over the place… Time to implement a chores roster for the TARDIS crew.
• Should we read anything into the fact that the song that’s playing in the TARDIS console room as the episode opens is called “Supermassive Black Hole”? Nah, probably not…
• From the department of You Learn Something New Every Day: Snowglobes can predict solar tsunamis!
It’s entirely possible, however, that the snowglobe is a special solar-tsunami globe the Doctor made himself to ignite solar tsunamis, and this is what he’s doing here.
• They’re still listening to vinyl in the 22nd century:
I can believe people are still listening to Dusty Springfield. I’m just not sure they’d be doing so on vinyl. Of course, a vinyl album rotating on a turntable is a much better visual than an MP3 executing itself on a motherboard.
• Hey, wait: If the Flesh can replicate clothes, why can’t it make new acid suits, the very expensive and very useful items that become major plot points?
• Has the Doctor ever been this violently grabby before?
He forcibly drags Cleaves away from her group to deliver one of his usual speeches about how everything has got to stop. But I can’t seem to recall him doing anything like this before… at least not in New Who. (Peter Davison’s Doctor did stuff like this a few times.)
• This cannot be good:
• So the Flesh replicas have Plasticman-type powers?
• I love that Rory has something substantial to do and think and feel, finally!
Rory is a kind, nuturing sort of man, but we’ve only seen snippets of that before. Now, here, the kind of man he is appears to be impacting the direction the story takes in a significant way.
• What’s the acid all about? Why is it being pumped around different places? How did an old monastery end up a dumping ground for dangerous acid? Or is the monastery somehow producing acid (Cleaves does call their work “mining”)?
• All the replicas look like Odo from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
Though they’re more like something out of Moon, aren’t they? Or Blade Runner…
• Is the Doctor going all religious on us? “Sacred life”? The “miracle of life”? Really, Doctor?
• Great quotes:
“Right, let’s go satisfy our rabid curiosity.” –the Doctor
“I’ve gotta get to that cockerel before all hell breaks loose. I never thought I’d have to say that again.” –the Doctor
“Amy’s a lucky girl.” –nice replica Jennifer
“Yeah, she is.” –Rory
(next: “The Almost People”)