Review of Doctor Who ‘The Rebel Flesh’
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.
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