The Rebel Flesh/Almost People

This is the way my fandom ends ...

There comes a point when intentions don't matter, but only results. Now six 45-minute episodes into his second series in charge of Doctor Who, Steven Moffat has this year given us precisely one (count it, one!) episode that was entertaining in and of itself and that didn't insult our intelligence.

I'm not an uberfan — I don't read novelizations or write fanfic — but I've watched a lot of episodes, in black and white and in colour, some of a lot more than once. And I can't recall seeing as consistent a stretch of bad writing, slip-shod plotting and ludicrous mis-characterizations as that which Moffat's run has so far provided us.

The fault this time out isn't Moffat's missing moral compass (see my reviews of the recent Christmas special or this series' two-part opener for my thoughts on that score) but just the remarkable shoddiness of the product.

After being teased into hoping for something better by Neil Gaiman's expert workshop in the fine art of story-telling a couple of weeks ago, "The Rebel Flesh" and "Almost People" (hereafter referred to as "Almost Rebels"), returns us to the inconsistent characterizations and nonsensical plots that have been the Mark of Moffat.

Now I can't bring myself to believe that Steven Moffat actually hates Doctor Who, but the on-screen results of his stewardship make that hypothesis as evidentially plausible as that which posits that he just doesn't understand the fundamentals of story-telling. (It shouldn't need saying, but for the record, I do know Moffat didn't write these episodes — direct responsibility rests with Matthew Graham, from whose keyboard came what was arguably the weakest episode of Series 2, "Fear Her". But Moffat is the show-runner and so ultimately responsible for what appears on our screens.

And what we do see once again leaves us — the viewers, the fans — with two choices. We can ignore the idiot plot in favour of speculations about the none-too-subtle clues About! Future! Episodes! or we can do the hard, unhappy work of picking apart the lousy construct.

(Yes, we could also turn off the set and go for a walk, or catch up as-yet unwatched episodes of Treme, but we are fans; walking away is not something we're willing to do, not yet.

So let's talk a bit about the basics of story-telling (again). Let's talk about such niceties as consistent characterization and internal logic as if they matter — even when slumming in the bastard field of children's science fiction.

(Why yes, I am kind of pissed off. There's cussing and spoilers both behind the link.)

The idiot plot strikes again

I must have been in a good mood last week. "The Rebel Flesh" didn't seem so bad the first time I watched it. Not good, but not bad, either. It seemed a plodding, mildly entertaining episode that had the potential to improve in its second half.

Or so it I thought. The second episode was all kinds of stupid and, when I made the mistake of re-watching both, I realized the signs had been there right from the start.

While not suffering from the moral idiocy of the series opener, "Almost Rebels" is almost as remarkably inept as was "The Curse of the Black Spot" a few weeks back.

The problem begins with the setting; consider the "acid mine".

Okay, this is Doctor Who, and we accept that our hero is 900 years old and that his little blue box flies through both time and space; we're not expecting rigorous scientific extrapolation. So we tell ourselves that maybe they do mine sulphuric acid on some other planet.

But wait! We're not on some other planet! We're on earth! Less than two hundred years in our future!

First sign of Viewer's Cognitive Dissonance sets in. We know the Earth doesn't have huge deposits of sulphuric acid lying to be mined; sulphuric acid is a byproduct of other mining. And while were recovering from the first concussion, there's a second.

We know that even the worst solar flares don't and never have caused wind-storms, let alone earthquakes. They just don't. We need some kind of justification for these remarkable new states of affairs. We are Doctor Who fans so it doesn't have to be much, but we need something to explain this radically different state of affairs. Or ...

Or the episode could have been set on another planet Where Things Are Different. And problem solved, no cognitive whiplash.

But all this is just Minor Stupid. Much worse is to come.

Such as the dialogue. Take these painful samples.

  • "My factory, my rules." Cliches r us, Idiot Boss Who Won't Listen to the Doctor's Cryptic Warnings.
  • "I'll take revenge on humanity with or without you." Ooo-kay, first cliche's got nothin' on this one!
  • "Rory? Rory! Always with the Rory!" So many jokes, so few laughs.
  • "Boss, maybe if the storm's bad we should get underground. The factory's seen better days; the acid pipes might not withstand another hit." Who knew Star Trek's Scotty was an acid miner before signing up with Starfleet? And who would have guessed that the best place to hide from leaking acid pipes is right underneath them!

My head hurts.

What else? Why does Rory keep trying to help Snake Lady after she tries to eat him? He's a good bloke, is our Rory, but a wee bit thick.

My head doesn't hurt, it throbs.

The direction is incompetent. Outside of high-school drama-class have any of you ever seen a fight-scene so poorly-staged as that between Snake Lady1 and Snake Lady2? And pity poor Arthur Darvil, forced to shriek Girls! Stop it! like some B-movie heroine circa 1937.

And how about the Plot Phails? (Did I say throbs? It throbs and pounds.)

Remember Miranda, the boss? Remember when she shows up brandishing the electric thingie and announces its time for the Flesh to "be destroyed"? It's obvious to everyone in the room — human and Flesh alike — that she's lost it. And the Doctor and everyone else are saying No! Don't shoot, don't do it!, then she does it and then the Doctor soliliquizes about how the dead 'ganger "had a heart!" and then she's tackled.

And only then, after the lone nut has been neutralized, do the Flesh run away, as one mind, the better to plot their "war" against humanity.

Why run, when the threat is done? Because the plot requires it, that's why.

Speaking of Miranda, when she isn't psychotic, she's portrayed as tough and smart, yet she still uses her favourite password, even though she knows her 'ganger knows everything about her.

And meanwhile, Amy can't get over her bigoted conviction that one Doctor is better than an identical Doctor, despite her many experiences in time and space (hell, despite having seen at least one version of the big guy die).

Idiot plot. Idiot plot. Idiot plot. I can't go on much longer.

And meanwhile, the factory is gonna explode anytime, gotta hurry, gotta hurry ...

Except to take a phone-call from poor dead Jimmy's son (who for some reason can't keep his hands out of his pants), so that we can be manipulated into shedding a tear for the sheer pathos of it all.

And except again, during the climactic scene, when Snake Lady is battering at the door, barely held at bay by the shoulders of the Doctor and Miranda — except when they stop pushing and just casually lean against it as they stop everything to argue about who's going to sacrifice themselves and why it's vitally important that the TARDIS get enough "time to dematerialize" lest a long-necked monster who can't even batter down a door gets into the room.

Never mind, never mind, NEVER MIND!.

What is the bloody point?

My favourite escapist pleasure is in the hands of a puzzle-maker who doesn't seem to know what a story is. My suspension of disbelief has been slapped around, shot-up and sent to Davy Jones' Locker and I just don't care anymore.

I don't care that the Doctor "shot" Fake Amy after blathering on about how the Flesh are actually people, and I don't care that Real Amy is about to give birth and I don't care that Eye-Patch Lady looks like River Song in fright-makeup.

There is something profoundly irrational in the love of a fan for a franchise character. We can take an awful lot of abuse, if only because we know that this too shall pass. But I fear I'm reaching the limits. When my objections were philosophical there was at least room for argument, but when the problem is as fundamental as the basic craft of story-telling, there's little room left for love.

Spread the word!

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

I agree with you

I see that a lot of people are taking you to task for having an opinion. Oh horrors, hm?

I, too, have felt the decline of this season and it's nice to be able to see that others are feeling the same way. The plot holes and shoddy characterization (especially in the Black Spot episode and in the Rebel Flesh two parter) have been taking away from a show that I enjoy as a sci-fi romp with enjoyable characters.

Still, out of loyalty and nostalgia, I keep watching, the same as you. But I, too, am at the end of my run with this show. Still, while you keep reviewing, I am feeling some sense of satisfaction from being able to find my thoughts reflected here. Thank you for writing! :)

"And what we do see once

"And what we do see once again leaves us — the viewers, the fans — with two choices. We can ignore the idiot plot in favour of speculations about the none-too-subtle clues About! Future! Episodes! or we can do the hard, unhappy work of picking apart the lousy construct."

Or, if they hate the show as much as you do and it only makes them angry they could just stop watching and find a show that suits their idea of great entertainment better.

"(Yes, we could also turn off the set and go for a walk, or catch up as-yet unwatched episodes of Treme, but we are fans; walking away is not something we're willing to do, not yet."

What a shame. 'Fans' like you walking away from DW fandom and spare us real fans their bullshit would be a blessing.

You know, if I wanted to I could tear apart every episode of the RTD era and point out plotholes etc. but I won't because I watch Doctor Who and many other shows because I enjoy watching the stories, unlike other people who seem to enjoy picking them apart.

"Except to take a phone-call from poor dead Jimmy's son (who for some reason can't keep his hands out of his pants), so that we can be manipulated into shedding a tear for the sheer pathos of it all."

You're complaining about a child having his hands in his pockets? Seriously?

For someone who doesn't care about the show anymore you put quite a lot of thought into it...maybe you should find a show that's more suited to your level of intelligence if you don't understand Moffat's plot, that would also prevent your head from hurting.

Oh, and please don't generalize your opinions and speak only for yourself in the future. There are lots of fans who enjoy Doctor Who more than ever since Moffat took over and we don't want to be associated with 'fans' like you.


I agree with this completely. Just because the OP doesn't enjoy the show doesn't mean the rest of us don't. Frankly, I'm offended more by their tone than I am by Moffat's allegedly insulting our intelligence.

Sure, Moffat's done some strange things, but the last few episodes have been better than EoT, which was a shoddily-written mess which I could easily tear apart if I took even two minutes to think about it. At least the OP and I agree on that (which makes me get back at least a bit of the respect I lost for them from this post).

I'll admit that this season (and last season, for that matter) has been different than the Who we're used to, but I think that's a good thing. RTD-era Who never challenged my brain or made me think, not like the Moffat episodes do. Is that better for children? Well, yes and no, because they need their brains challenged but I'm not sure if they need them challenged as much as Moffat is doing. I know I'm loving it though! Granted, Moffat has made mistakes (I'll never be okay with Rory semi-dying being used as a plot device, but how about RTD's Rose obsession?), but he's brought the show closer to the roots it had before RTD, with puzzles and mind games and craziness and fun. It's not perfect, and it's not like Moffat has SAVED the show or done WONDERS for it, but as an adult, I appreciate his Who much more than RTD's bland comedy stylings and constant retcons (season five aside, because...what?) just so he doesn't have to actually deal with the messes he's created. I like the plottiness of Moffat, how he makes puzzles and then actually shows the characters sorting them out, rather than just having it be all better because there are only five minutes left and he needs a resolution. They both wrote my Doctor, they both have done things for the show, and I'll continue to like both eras regardless of a few negative voices (like this one) who insist that everyone who doesn't love RTD to pieces or doesn't hate Moffat is an imbecile.

This person (the OP) is not a fan. They can't accept change, they clearly disapprove of everything that makes the show the show, and they're trying to ruin the experience for the rest of us. That doesn't make a fan, that makes a troublemaker. And the point about the kid's hands is ludicrous.

(On another note, they think the worst episode of season two was Fear Her. They clearly missed out on the train wreck that was Love and Monsters. Talk about lacking in the sense department...)

I admit the almost people

I admit the almost people isn't quite up to the standard of day of the moon as it doesn't really screw with the mind enough (definitely better than the Doctor's wife as while that was a nice dollop of fanwank the plot was paper thin) but I feel you're missing the point, okay acid mine, bit oxymoronic but if they're getting hit regularly with solar flares maybe that's understandable, plus the Doctor didn't kill ganger Amy, he just severed the link, a tough choice sure but the Doctor told his other self the flesh could remember so ganger Amy might come back, (though probably not) As for the direction, that's hardly Moffatt or Graham's fault and I enjoyed it, as for character's acting strange? I presume you'd be perfectly fine if a duplicate of you wanted to walk off with your life?

In agreement again. I do

In agreement again.

I do think that it was missing a moral compass—why did the Doctor shoot Fake!Amy? That made no sense. The pacing sucked. First Fake!Miranda wanted to kill the humans, then she didn't, and sat around looking bored and then died. Rory was dumb. I don't want a Time Baby. Everything was terrible.

I've read hand-waves for

I've read hand-waves for shooting Amy that I'm willing to accept (ie, "she" was a "real" doppelganger, being controlled by Real Amy ... who is (waitaminute!) drug-up by Eye-Patch Lady and About To Give Birth for days/weeks/months/all fucking series anyway) --- belay that thought.

Everything was terrible.

What's most baffling is that so much could have been made at least acceptable with a little handwaving. Acid mines? Well, no reason it has to be set on Earth, is there? Of course, the character-fixing stuff would take actual thought.


It's funny how people love

It's funny how people love him or hate him. This is your opinion. At the same time, I know a gal on LJ who has a literature degree and she takes a week to go through each episode and picks out the symbols and mythology behind it all. Her opinion is that Moffat has brought a consistent mythology to the show that was missing under RTD. You insist the opposite. It's so weird how people can have the exact opposite opinion on the same thing.

'Just so' stories

I suspect I know the blogger you're referring to. I've tried a couple of her essays, but haven't got far enough into them to say more than that her kind of analysis is the kind of analysis I can't stand — and that, on those few occasions its been applied to my own fiction, that even when the analysts made a good case, it had nothing to do with my actual intentions while writing.

It's so weird how people can have the exact opposite opinion on the same thing.

It is kind of strange, isn't it? These kinds of arguments are why hard-science folks think the liberal arts are a bit of a joke.

Don't follow your blog but

Don't follow your blog but your posts keep landing in my Google Reader because I happen to follow this site:

Normally I wouldn't comment, but this time I feel urged to tell you the essays from that blogger whose analysis you can't stand amount to much, much more than this collection of insults ("inept", "idiot") happily tossed around. I may disagree with her, but at least there's some substance there. And by the way, Moffat may not be infallible, but by considering him "a puzzle-maker who doesn't seem to know what a story is" you may be going a bit too far, especially when we're speaking about a guy who won Hugo Awards 3 years in a row, the only writer whose scripts wouldn't be touched by RTD, and has just received several awards for Best Drama. It may be your opinion, but its foundations are shaky to say the least.

I haven't actually seen the

I haven't actually seen the Almost People because Amazon hasn't posted up the episode, so I can't say whether or not I agree fully. (Though the acid mine thing was weird.)

Buuuut I think I can see where they're going with Rory's characterization. After all, artificially made body with the implanted consciousness of a human being. KIND OF FAMILIAR. He could have ended up just as bad, if not worse than the Gangers, if he hadn't had his mission to protect Amy and The Doctor telling him point blank he was Rory. And Rory seems like someone who would realize that, being concern about both physical and emotional wellbeing of people.

Thank God

I'm so sick of hearing how Moffat is the saviour of a dying show. Especially when he's the one who's killing it.

I miss the Doctor. Okay, yeah...I miss MY Doctor, but...I miss the Doctor in general. The ONLY time I've gotten a glimpse of the Doctor this season was in The Doctor's Wife. I don't know who this guy is, but he's not the Doctor.

And Moffat is responsible for that.

Thank you for saying what I've been thinking for a while now.

I pretty much agree with you.

I pretty much agree with you. Never more often in who have I been left scratching my head and wondering what they were thinking when they wrote it. I

Oh well...

I must say that while the

I must say that while the last two episodes were one of my (if not the) least favorite from Moffat's run I couldn't disagree with you more. It's fascinating how the same material elicits such a wide range of opinions. After Richard T. Davies run I was ready to give up on Doctor Who, but seeing the fresh and interesting stories and characters Moffat brought glued me to the seat and made me look forward to the episodes again.

Names are important....

Russell. Russell T. Davies, not Richard.

You're right. I always say

You're right. I always say RTD or RT Davies and never say his name. That plus watching Top Gear doesn't help. Thank you, anon.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.