Review of Doctor Who ‘The Rebel Flesh’

Neela Debnath

5 DW1 300x185 Review of Doctor Who ‘The Rebel Flesh’SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen episode 5, series 6/32 of Doctor Who

Doctor Who tackled the ethical dilemma of cloning and artificial life in the first of a two-part story this week. ‘The Rebel Flesh’ took elements from Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, one of the earliest and best-known examples of science fiction writing. Just like in the novel, life was bestowed using electricity. In the episode the fully programmable matter was animated by a solar tsunami while Frankenstein’s creature is brought to life by a lightening storm, and just like in Shelley’s novel the humans reject their creations.

The fact that ‘Frankenstein’ has been referenced countless times both in films and television programmes highlights the continuing fascination with creating artificial life, and the question of whether or not humans have the right to play God. The themes and anxieties in ‘Frankenstein’ remain just as relevant today as they were back in 1818 when the novel was first published.

Given the ubiquitous references to ‘Frankenstein’ generally in popular culture, ‘The Rebel Flesh’ was reminiscent of other science fiction films that explore artificial life, most notably ‘Blade Runner’. The film focuses on a group of Replicants (artificial life) that have run away and need to be hunted down and “retired” which was essentially the premise for ‘The Rebel Flesh’.

As well as the strong plot similarities, there were some parallels in the smaller details. For example, the scene where Jennifer’s Ganger (Sarah Smart) was looking in the mirror and telling Rory about her memories was very much like ‘Blade Runner’, given that Replicants are implanted with false memories to make them seem more human. However, Doctor Who takes the idea one step further by creating clones of real people complete with their memories. The question then becomes a philosophical one. Who is entitled to live if they are both the same and which one is the “real” one?  The sympathy seemed to rest with the Gangers rather than the humans.

Another interesting notion is that over time Frankenstein’s name has been transposed to refer to his creature; the monster and the maker merge into one. So which one is which? In all of these creator-creation stories the plot always takes a tragic twist where both turn on each other. Although the Doctor is usually the voice of reason and diplomacy, the way in which he deals with his Ganger will determine whether it is he or his double that is the real monster.

Frankenstein references and philosophy to one side, the relationship between and Amy and Rory took an interesting turn this week. For the first time in the series, Rory, the under-appreciated husband, receives some attention of the female variety from Jennifer’s Ganger. There were tiny glimpses of envy displayed by Amy which was a refreshing change and showed some development in her character. The concluding part is likely to throw up further tension in this love triangle and possibly reveal more of Amy’s vulnerability.

With regards to the overarching storyline, the woman with the metal eye patch makes a third appearance and yet Amy is still choosing to ignore it. She has seen her three times now but why is she still not saying anything? Maybe it’s like a Silent and a person forgets it as soon as they turn away. Nevertheless next week’s teaser shows the woman popping up again, so perhaps something more will be revealed of who this enigmatic and bizarre character is.

Picture: BBC

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  • Lord Egbut Nobacon

    I enjoyed this episode. Of course there were obvious parallels to the original Frankenstein (even down to the gothic setting) and the use of electricity to kick start the new life form.
    The ending was particuarly interesting and I look forward to next weeks episode to see how the Doctor will deal with his own ‘ganger’. 

  • First L

    Parallels and interesting notions? The viewer was practically beaten over the head with the heavy handed morality and massively telegraphed plot development, unbelievable characterisation, reams of exposition and characters acting completely without motivation; topped off with atrocious dialogue. The plot is so thin and transparent it’s actually a struggle not to predict next weeks resolution. It’s truly appalling tv and inferior to Doctor Who of the eighties.

  • Sally Weston

    First L – At the risk of stating the obvious – do not watch it if you don’t like it! I loved it, my son loved it, can’t wait till next week This series (apart from the Pirate episode which stretched even my incredulity) is turning into a stunner. 

    It is not inferior to the 80s, just different – I do miss the wobbly sets and all the bubble-wrap covered monsters though ;)

  • Daniel Barnes

    Are those clones just a little bit Sontaran?
    Is Rory fully human now or still auton and plastic? 


    Telling someone to shut up and go away is no way to conduct an argument. This series is awful and so fans of the show have both a right and a duty to make that clear.

    And to think they still take the mickey out of the McCoy era…

  • Shege

    Come on! Let’s put away the rosy specs!

    Dr Who has always been about the balance between the playful interaction of the Dr with his cohorts and the tension of scifi horror. However, there has always been a slightly arch awareness by writers, directors and actors that it’s all a bit of fun really.

    What the Russell T Davies series have achieved is the injection of some credible emotional tension and character development by using storylines that span entire series. This is something that the 70s and 80s Dr Who series lacked.

    Like Buffy, Dr Who is filled with knowing winks and references to more “serious” films. However, the real impact comes not from any philosophical or art film style exploration of themes, but from the way that the overarching storylines pull the audience into the emotional development of the characters.

  • Steve Powell

    I thought this was one of the better episodes since Moffatt took over, although I feel it’s becoming increasingly clear that he isn’t exactly brimming with science fiction ideas.  We’ve had replication/replacement (Auton Rory/Gangers) & monsters who react to whether they can be seen (Silence/Weeping Angels). 

    As for the ‘overarching storyline’ – what overarching storyline?  All we’ve had is a series opening in media res and then the occassional mention of the same points in a poor attempt to weave a story arc into the series.  The appearance of the woman with the eyepatch is as clunky as product placement.  Compared to the relative cleverness of ‘missing planets’/'bad wolf’ – it’s very weak.  (I never thought sing RTD’s praises).

  • the_electrician

    At the risk of sounding like a total geek, I would point out that the ‘gangers are not clones. They are attempts at an ‘exact’ copy using ‘Flesh’ technology (whatever that is).
    Jenny (The Doctor’s Daughter) was a clone, since she was created from the Doctor’s own DNA.

    I could get even more geeky and point out that Jenny is not his daughter but is actually his identical twin sister, based on her source material, but I’d better stop here.

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