REVIEW: Doctor Who - "The Almost People"
After a bit of searching last night, I was able to find the latest episode of Doctor Who online, as it isn’t airing in the U.S. and Canada until this Saturday. Upon watching, it seems that the episode, “The Almost People” had a conflicted purpose. The writer, Matthew Graham, was tasked with the responsibility of concluding the events set in motion by the fifth episode, “The Rebel Flesh”, along with giving us a big cliffhanger to lead into the mid-series finale “A Good Man Goes to War”. While the resulting story was entertaining, there were a few issues with the structure and pacing, which I’ll get into below. We still got a sprinkling of enjoyable moments - but it was all in service of the big reveal in the last five minutes.
Read on for my full, spoiler-free review of “The Almost People”, including my ranking out of four stars. As always, share your thoughts about the episode in the comments!
The story picks up from where it left off at the end of “The Rebel Flesh”. The Doctor’s doppelganger has been revealed, while the angry factory workers’ gangers are bearing down on the humans. Rory, meanwhile, is still trying to track down the frightened Jennifer Lucas, the worker who is lost in the monastery somewhere. The episode preserved the claustrophobic castle atmosphere from “The Rebel Flesh”, but there were times when I got tired of seeing the same dank corridors and rooms. Occasionally, the group was supposed to be moving through the environment and it didn’t look like they were going anywhere – just more stone walls and assorted machinery.
The Doctor’s ganger had a cool moment where he painfully remembered all the Doctor’s past regenerations – and dropped a few lines from previous Doctors like “Would you care for a jellybaby?” and “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow!”. After that, it was funny how cheerily the original Doctor went about working with his ganger on the problem of escaping the crippled factory, but there were one or two shots with two Matt Smiths in frame that needed some work. The lighting and compositing looked a bit rushed, so it was harder to suspend my disbelief.
I liked the sequence where the two Doctors were popping up and down as they worked on a communications console and spoke to Amy – witty banter is one of my absolute favourite parts of the show, and it was used effectively here. Amy’s only way of knowing which Doctor was which was by their shoes, the real Doctor having lost his usual footwear last episode to a puddle of acid. Other than this scene, there was little chance for humour, unfortunately, but perhaps more jokes might have felt out of place in this story – I’m not sure.
The Doctor’s ganger served more of a narrative function, actually, as a relateable example of the treatment of the gangers by humans. He was singled out by Amy as an “almost” Doctor, an accusation that Matt Smith played well against – I sincerely felt sorry for the Doctor ganger at times. Matthew Graham touched on the “humanity” of the gangers a few more times in this episode, most noticeably in the reunion of the Jimmy ganger with his son, and in the Jennifer ganger’s statement that a group of ten million free gangers have grouped together in India (which might be a reference to the historical British colonialist presence in that country). Other than that, the action-oriented storyline steered the episode away from the kind of philosophical moments seen in “The Rebel Flesh”.
The villain of the arc turned out to be the ganger of Jennifer Lucas, who was established from the beginning as being the most fragile and irritable of the gangers. I don’t know why she was the only ganger who was able to mutate and stretch her body – I would have expected the Cleaves ganger to acquire this ability, too. I guess the story needed a more monstrous enemy than just the pale-faced gangers, so we had a rushed confrontation at the end with the spindly-legged “evil” Jennifer.
Unfortunately, this episode was mostly a big setup for next week. It feels as though Graham went in knowing where the series was going for episode seven, and wrote a filler episode to get us there, much in the way “The Curse of the Black Spot” brought us up to “The Doctor’s Wife”. The ending of this episode is a huge link to next week, and it seems like the whole “Flesh” storyline of these two episodes has been one big preamble to “A Good Man Goes to War”. This results in problems with story structure and pacing. The Doctor’s group runs about the monastery with no defined goal, until the very end and the showdown with “monster Jennifer”. It was though we stalled for forty minutes until the last chase and the cliffhanger ending.
The other problem was the big bait-and-switch with the Doctor’s ganger. We sort of see it coming from the beginning: Amy is adamant that she knows which Doctor is real and which is the ganger, so it follows that it’s really the other way around. It turns out the Doctor switched shoes with the ganger to “test” Amy on her prejudice surrounding gangers. This would not be so much of a bother if it weren’t for the ending (which I won’t give away here). Let’s just say that the ending makes the Doctor’s attempt to teach Amy to accept gangers pointless – suggesting that Matthew Graham was thinking more of the big twist than how it links up with the body of the episode.
Overall, this episode was a less-than-ambitious prequel to what looks like an epic offering next week. The ending was fairly awesome, and I’ll be sure to actually talk about it in my review of next week’s episode. It’s one of those puzzling reveals that will be fun to connect with other episodes, like trying to find references to the Silence in Series 5. “The Almost People” gets two and a half stars out of four for being a competently-made, but mediocre, entry in the series. There was too much riding on the great twist at the end instead of on the story at hand.
What did you think of “The Almost People”? Did I miss an important element that you enjoyed? How excited are you for next week (or whenever you see “A Good Man Goes to War”)? Sound off in the comments below, and share the review with other Whovians!