Spoilers for "The Rebel Flesh" beneath the video (this makes a point later)
(I'm probably going to get slapped for this review.)
When I was nine years old, my parents were in the market for a new car. At the time, my mom was pregnant with my youngest sister and she'd been driving this really old and crappy beater Chevy Blazer for as long as I could remember. I wound up going into Salt Lake with my parents to go look at cars and see if Mom could find something she liked.
We got to the car dealership and met with a salesman. Mom and Dad told him what they were looking for and he promptly led us to this 1993 Buick LeSabre and started talking it up like it was a shiny purple unicorn that crapped strawberry ice cream (Tape Deck! Working FM Radio! Interior Wood Paneling!) He even got my parents to take it for a test drive while I sat in the backseat.
Now, even at the tender age of nine, I knew how to count (shocking, really). There was no possible way that me and my three younger siblings (soon to be four at that time) would all fit in this five-seat (six if you lifted the front center console) sedan along with my parents. Oh, it'd be okay for Mom to take us to school in or to run to the store, but when the whole family was there? Not a chance. Once the baby was born, the car seat would probably displace at least two of us.
Long Story Short - the salesman conned my Mom and Dad into buying the car. And it was soooo not the car we needed. It didn't fit everybody and it was too nice of a car to drive on the dirt roads that we lived on. Luckily, my grandma's car soon went kerflooey and we gave her the Buick while Dad got Mom a nice Ford Explorer for her birthday (which turned out to be the perfect vehicle for running errands and ferrying kids to and from wherever - and that sucker was perfect for driving on the rough roads on the farm).
The point is that when someone's trying to sell you something, the more they talk it up and advertise, the more it disappoints when you actually get the product they're selling (which is why I got so sick of TV spots for "The Event" on NBC during football season - I could already tell it was going to be crap just by the way they were pitching it). This was how I felt after watching "The Rebel Flesh" for the first time.
Granted, anything that has to follow "The Doctor's Wife" is going to have a tough time living up to the high expectations. If there's anything worse than having to follow-up a Steven Moffat episode, it would probably be following-up Neil Gaiman. But "The Rebel Flesh" felt like they had to throw every gimmicky thing possible into the pot and it would up falling flat. This is not to say this was a completely crap episode - it was more of a "Meh…" episode. I never got the connection to the characters that is so key to enjoying a good story. Even Team TARDIS felt distant to me (what is this - the TARDIS Console Room is suddenly a pool hall? I half-expected Rory to have a cigar hanging out of his mouth while he was shooting darts). And why is Muse playing in the background? Don't get me wrong - I like Muse well enough and I'm sure many other Whovians do too (do you know how many DW fanvids are set to Muse?), but as background music in "Doctor Who," it was just… odd.
I usually take notes while I watch a show that I know I'm going to be reviewing later and so far this season, I have come out with pages and pages of notes. Even with "Curse of the Black Spot" there were at least some funny lines to comment on. But with "The Rebel Flesh"… not so much. My dad called me during a scene that was meant to be intense and edge-of-your-seat crazy. He asked me to go look for something for him and I actually paused the scene and got up to look for it because I just wasn't into what was going on. I did come back and finish, but the "So What?" factor just wasn't there.
That's my overall reaction to this episode. Now, it is a two-parter and maybe it'll pick up in the second half. These two-part stories do have a habit of setting up the characters and the world the Doctor has landed in before getting to the actual story. The one example that immediately comes to mind was the "Rise of the Cybermen"/"Age of Steel" (actually - no, that one was much better. Forget I brought that up).
Anyway, here's to my customary lists:
- One thing that bugged me so, so, SO much was the scene in the dining hall toward the end. The Doctor has the humans and the Gangers seeing eye-to-eye and they're just about to agree to leave together when Cleaves shows up in the most stereotypical fashion possible. I mean, this woman is over-the-top "I'm here to ruin the uneasy peace you've managed to broker here because I'm scared of these 'Other People'." I wanted the rest of her crew to say "Dude, get over it" and go with the Doctor anyway. Holy manufactured drama, Batman.
- Of all the things I could be down on this episode about, I do have to say some positive things about Rory. His "Welcome to my world" line was brilliant - nice to see some acknowledgement in-universe that the number of times he's died is getting a wee bit ridiculous. And helping Ganger!Jennifer was cute. I can just about buy into their friendship (needs a little more tightening up in the second part, but I'll go with it for now). For all the faults of this episode, Rory continues to shine.
- I called the Ganger!Doctor early on in the episode. Like, when he touched the ooey-gooey flesh at the beginning. I highly doubt I was the only one. There wasn't much to that reveal, sadly.
- However, it brought to mind a line from "The Impossible Astronaut," if you can believe it. When the Doctor gets shot by the lake and Amy's crying over his body, she insists that it has to be a clone or a duplicate of the Doctor that died. I'm not letting go of the possibility this may come back to the story in episode 13.
- Maybe it was the style of the sets or the costuming or something else, but I got a strong "Vengeance on Varos" vibe from this episode. Make of that what you will (I still don't know what to make of it, so whatever any of you come up with is fine with me).
I… really don't have much else to say, honestly. I don't want to be one of Those Fans - the people who love "Doctor Who," but always seem to find something to complain about. My longtime readers know I usually gush about the latest "Doctor Who" … but just not this time. Don't get me wrong - I like the premise and the idea, but the execution fell flat. Maybe TV wasn't the medium for this. There's a lot of backstory to go through and I think this might have been better as a tie-in novel. I'm hoping "The Almost People" brings this two-parter out of the dumps.
As an aside - If you have a different opinion, I'd be interested to hear it and why you think that way. I promise - I won't bite.