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Doctor Who XXXII.5: The Rebel Flesh - Further speculation and commentary

May 24th, 2011 (03:50 am)

This programme keeps me awake.

I suspect I'm thinking along the right lines regarding 'The Rebel Flesh' and 'The Almost People' which is to come. Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times has blogged that he had a theory about what was going on and had written a paragraph about it, only for the preview disc for 'The Almost People' to arrive, and he found that his predictions were correct. I don't know what those were, of course, but the trailers suggest further ambiguities surrounding who exactly is what, and the Doctor - but which one? - attacking Amy, whose storyline must take a vital turn next week. The recovery of the TARDIS perhaps has some significance too. Is the Doctor (accompanied by the original Rory?) already inside, waiting for events in the monastery to take their course? The design of the crucible in which the Flesh is kept has some echoes of the TARDIS interior, too, and this sort of detail is often deliberate.

I've missed a lot of the allusion through not being a great science fiction reader, but it appears that Matthew Graham might have done some sort of literary review before writing this story from the references to the work of others - David Brin, David Mitchell and John W. Campbell and of course Mary Shelley - which have been made in other reaction posts and reviews. Televisually, Matt Hills at Antenna has pointed out how Matthew Graham used the monastic setting to flag up his own authorial status - his production company is Monastic Productions - as well as importation of his signature devices such as TARDIS-as-pub. Given Ian Hepburn at Tachyon TV has argued that the structure of 'The Rebel Flesh' was that of two twenty-two minute episodes joined together - with the first cliffhanger coming as Cleaves-Ganger turns on the Doctor to reveal her unformed face - and Matthew Graham has in the past expressed his belief that Doctor Who is essentially a cliffhanger serial as he knew it growing up, the TARDIS-as-pub might also recall the obsession of the early 1980s that the console room should function as a discussion area or holding bay for characters like the vets' surgery at Darrowby in All Creatures Great and Small. Writing of Cleaves, her role as foreman makes her chief magician over the Flesh cauldron, so it's not surprising really that her forename is Miranda, though her Prospero is (so far) the machine itself, and there is no Ferdinando in sight, unless we read Cleaves herself as Prospero and Rory as Ferdinando to the newly assertive 'daughter' Jennifer. Still, one could contrive Shakespearean parallels all night.

Comments

Posted by: sensiblecat (sensiblecat)
Posted at: May 24th, 2011 08:23 am (UTC)
awkward moment

She was an awfully stock character, I felt - tough lady in a tough job who ignores safety protocol under pressure to keep output up, with predictable results. In a line that includes Ida in TIP/TSP and Myra Seel in Hungry Earth (can't remember that character's name) she was the least complex and interesting.

TARDIS as pub? Well, what do you expect from the writer who gave us the Doctor recycling used chewing gum as fixative, in canon?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 24th, 2011 01:55 pm (UTC)
DavidIcon

I'd not made the connection with Ida, who was a much less obsessive character, I thought. Cleeves can't let her vulnerability show, leading to her deploying increasingly brutal methods of control - and whereas her disoriented Ganger initially shows a contrite, softer side, she too later clings to the hard edge her 'original' does to help her get through life.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: May 26th, 2011 09:57 am (UTC)

Isn't Cleeves the bog-standard Troughton (or Pertwee) 'commander of base-under-siege who won't listen to the Doctor'? She's very similar to the commander of the oil rig in "Fury From the Deep", or Stahlmann in "Inferno". Except they've made her a woman.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 26th, 2011 11:27 am (UTC)
Troughton

Yes, you're right - I think I was too busy being scared this week to pay attention. The two examples you've given are appropriate, because in the cases of Robson in Fury and Stahlman(n) in Inferno not only did they not listen, something unpleasant happened to them, though Robson at least recovered and for once the Doctor stayed to have dinner with him rather than running off.

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: May 26th, 2011 07:36 pm (UTC)

Which one is TIP/TSP?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 26th, 2011 07:45 pm (UTC)

'The Impossible Planet'/'The Satan Pit' in the 2006 series. The Doctor and Rose arrive on a planet remarkably close to a black hole. There they find a base staffed by humans and their Ood servants, and the baleful influence of a mysterious entity imprisoned below the planet's surface - the Devil itself?

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: May 26th, 2011 07:59 pm (UTC)

Ta.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 24th, 2011 10:55 am (UTC)

the structure of 'The Rebel Flesh' was that of two twenty-two minute episodes joined together

I seem to recall that a lot of episodes from the first season or two of new Who seemed to have a cliffhanger-type moment halfway through. Of course, this could be a new iteration of Dennis Spooner's "dramatic W".

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 24th, 2011 01:58 pm (UTC)
Eccleston

I wondered whether that structure was to allow them to be tagged on to old syndication packages as two- and four-parters...

Intriguingly the new Radio Times offers that there will be a huge twist which those paying attention will have seen coming; and Den of Geek report that they are unable to publish a spoiler-free review as the BBC have restricted the number of preview discs. DWM won't release their new cover until after 'The Almost People' has aired either, as it reveals too much...

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 24th, 2011 03:12 pm (UTC)

Are people still showing old Who like that, rather than re-edited into the modern standard? The USA usually edited it into feature films. In fact, are people still showing old Who at all?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 24th, 2011 03:15 pm (UTC)

When I was in New Hampshire visiting emily_shore in 2002, season 21 was being run episodically in the early hours on New Hampshire Public Television. I think that until very recently there was always somewhere in the US showing old Doctor Who, often episodically; the Australian repeats a few years ago were, I think, episodic too.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 24th, 2011 03:18 pm (UTC)

Then the question is: why aren't BBC3/4 showing old Who more often? (And as I said on my own blog, why aren't the Radio 4 Extra Big Finish broadcasts being plugged after the BBC1 episodes?)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 24th, 2011 03:20 pm (UTC)

Issues of brand management in both cases, I suspect.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: May 24th, 2011 07:58 pm (UTC)
K9

Further parallels I have spotted, which may or may not be intentional, are the resurrection tubs (BSG), the makeup of the unstable Gangers (DS9, especially when Odo is unwell) and the way pleople plug into the harnesses (The Matrix). The shape of the harnesses is also reminiscent of the Great Machine in B5, but so faintly that I think it is probably coincidence...

Will have to consider the Tempest some more. A the moment I think Jennifer as Miranda could work, but I have not seen the trailer. Has Caliban been spotted?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 24th, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC)

We've already had two crossovers this series from Babylon 5; the appearance of the Gangers owes much to Odo in DS9 as you say. I don't think these are necessarily coincidences - the Flesh owes a lot to the Sontarans' cloning procedure seen in the 2008 series too.

It's open as to whether there is one Caliban, or several!

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 24th, 2011 10:37 pm (UTC)

We've already had two crossovers this series from Babylon 5

What were you thinking of?

To be honest, with some exceptions, Doctor Who (old and new) often come across to me as not particularly au fait with science fiction. Although I think Babylon 5 was one of the first series to do story arcs in the modern style, so that's an influence.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: May 24th, 2011 10:49 pm (UTC)
b5

The one that really struck me recently was the mysterious space suit in the season opener - remember Babylon Squared/War Without End?
It's the kind of thing where you can't be sure whether it is coincidence or not. It is a simple enough idea, jms (of B5) took it to extremes, but IMHO that does not mean he was the onnly one who ever had it.

Not sure if there was anythinge lease this season, but the Ood have some interesting similarities with the Gaim (especially when we get to see the ambassador without her mask, at the beginning of season 5).

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 24th, 2011 10:57 pm (UTC)
Eccleston

I'd not thought of either of those, and had indeed forgotten them...

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: May 25th, 2011 08:38 pm (UTC)
b5

...and I hadn't spotted yours

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 25th, 2011 12:24 pm (UTC)

I didn't think of the spacesuit, although I'm sure Steven Moffat is planning the same trick of the person in there not being who we might think.

I thought the Ood looked more like the pak'ma'ra! Although I'm always a bit hazy about most of the League of Non-Aligned worlds and can't remember what the Gaim looked like without the mask.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 25th, 2011 01:50 pm (UTC)

I'd forgotten about the Gaim entirely, and had to look up both suited and unsuited versions. I'm with you on the Pak'ma'ra looking more like the Ood, though it's the Gaim who have the translators.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: May 25th, 2011 08:33 pm (UTC)
b5

There is an episode at the start of season 5 where someone kills the Gaim ambassador and takes the mask as a disguise to attempt to assassinate Sheridan.
We get to see the ambassador without the mask on as she is followed into her quarters where she can breathe without. The face is much less extreme than the Pak'ma'ra, and even than the Ood actually, but in a similar vein.
I wouldn't have remembered if I hadn't seen the episode recently, but it struck me when I rewatched it.

Together with the translators, that does seem interesting...

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 25th, 2011 09:03 pm (UTC)

And the Gaim are named after the author of The Doctor's Wife...

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: May 25th, 2011 10:20 pm (UTC)
b5

To my shame, parrot_knight had to point out the latter fact to me recently - although I was aware that the similarity between the Gaim masks and Dream's of the Sandman is no coincidence either

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: May 26th, 2011 07:37 pm (UTC)

I didn't think of the spacesuit, although I'm sure Steven Moffat is planning the same trick of the person in there not being who we might think.

The Mote in God's Eye, anyone?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 26th, 2011 07:50 pm (UTC)
ArthurElaineLetter

I don't know it, though I've read the Wikipedia plot summary...

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: May 26th, 2011 08:00 pm (UTC)

A spacesuit turns out to contain, not only not who we think might be inside, but not even what we think might be inside.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 26th, 2011 08:05 pm (UTC)

Thanks - not something I picked up from Wikipedia.

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: May 26th, 2011 08:06 pm (UTC)

It is only a passing mention; although come to think of it, it inspires nightmares in another character.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 24th, 2011 10:51 pm (UTC)

I was thinking of W. Morgan Sheppard, who played the Soul Hunter in Babylon 5, and the older Canton in 'The Impossible Astronaut'; and Neil Gaiman.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: May 24th, 2011 10:52 pm (UTC)
b5

The plot thickens...

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: May 26th, 2011 07:37 pm (UTC)

It does that if you add cornflour.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 25th, 2011 12:25 pm (UTC)

Ah, I thought you meant a plot influence.

I knew about Neil Gaiman, but I didn't know about W. Morgan Sheppard.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 25th, 2011 12:32 pm (UTC)

I realized after switching off my computer for the night that this was a sweeping and badly-phrased comment. What I should have said was that jobbing Doctor Who writers (new and old) often come across as unfamiliar with SF, particularly literary SF. Among production team members, it is more variable. Russell T Davies always struck me as someone who was familiar with SF ideas primarily through TV, films and perhaps comic strips, but not books (actually, he does not seem to be influenced by literature much at all).

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 25th, 2011 01:48 pm (UTC)

This is true, though Terrance Dicks was a great science fiction reader in his youth, and Philip Hinchcliffe and Douglas Adams knew the work of big name writers like Asimov and Heinlein, though neither would have considered themselves experts.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: May 25th, 2011 08:37 pm (UTC)
hamlet

Re Caliban:
I suppose it is easier to decide if one allows for several :-)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 25th, 2011 08:47 pm (UTC)

Though I am open to the accusation of cheating... then again, if the cauldron of Flesh is Sycorax herself - we have a mixed metaphor.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: May 25th, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC)
hamlet

Given it is not a deliberate allegory (I assume), it's not cheating :-)

A cauldron of life? Rings Irish mythology bells...

OK, where does influence end and archetype begin?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 25th, 2011 11:41 pm (UTC)
salmon

A good question... the Doctor's appeal to 'sacred life' is interesting as a character point (independently of whether it turns out this Doctor is Flesh himself, as well as the Ganger we saw at the end) but also flags up both the ethical dilemmas and the role cauldrons of life and rebirth have in Celtic legend.

Posted by: GaramondBophin (garamondbophin)
Posted at: May 24th, 2011 09:51 pm (UTC)
PB King

"It's a badger; I wear a badger now; badgers are cool!" (Sorry I can't come up with anything more erudite...)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 24th, 2011 10:49 pm (UTC)
Styre

I presume you saw Matt and his friend Charlie on Confidential?

Posted by: GaramondBophin (garamondbophin)
Posted at: May 24th, 2011 11:25 pm (UTC)
Me in Hats

Not only that, but I've ordered one from Amazon! Not sure if I should get the fez and the stetson as well... (though I've already got an order in for a kepi, which should trump the other two hats). I do have a couple of bow-ties, but they are a bit plain for anything other than formal wear and so not necessarily cool enough.