After the amazing, outstanding and superlative previous episode of Doctor Who – The Doctors Wife – it would be very difficult for anything that followed to measure up. Thankfully, The Rebel Flesh does not try to recreate the wheel or give us any life shattering moments (well, there are a couple of life altering moments …), but simply gives us a good, solid Doctor Who storyline that helps to advance the underlying story along.

In the Rebel Flesh, The Doctor and crew crash-land on the shores of a monastery in a future time. Here some workers are utilizing a new technology called “flesh” to assist them in the performance of difficult, dangerous and arduous tasks. With the flesh, you simply step into the alcove, strap yourself into the harness, and the Flesh can take your form. You can control the cloned drone like a puppet, performing dangerous tasks without putting yourself in danger.

While “flesh” is meant to be inanimate and essentially an unfeeling tool, as we see in the first introduction sequence when one of the workers falls into a pool of bubbling acid – the “eyes” of the flesh Avatar are the last to dissolve and perhaps these unfeeling tools are not as unfeeling as we would like to believe!

The Doctor upon his arrival quickly surmises that the flesh is actually alive and learning from its human drivers – while the workers continue to think of their doppelgangers (“Gangers“) as nothing more than machines, The Doctor informs them that there is a lot more to the picture and that they need to be significantly more careful in how they react and interact with the flesh going forward. The Doctor is once again prove prophetic when an electric strike from a storm animates the flesh avatars and enables them to move and react on their own (very “Frankenstein-esque” with the reanimation by lightning element!).

The Avatars – while knowing they are not the originals, still have all the memories, hopes and fears of the originals and wish to have a life of their own also, unbound by the strictures of serving as nothing more than sacrificial lambs.

Problems

One of the issues I had with this episode was in its similarity to other episodes. While it is a good one and does somewhat drive the story along a little bit further there are just too many things that we have seen before.

  • Indeed, as the gangers and the humans split into “us and them”, there were so many commonalities with last year’s The Hungry Earth it was getting a bit silly! In that episode humans again seemed to have a problem “sharing” (in that case our planet whereas here it is ourselves).
  • The appearance of the “monsters” themselves was very reminiscent of the monsters in the Waters of Mars. While they were not an exact match, they definitely did look quite a bit alike.

Bah Humbug

It’s extremely sad when a dream is shattered and left on the ground in pieces. Unfortunately that is exactly what happened with this years Christmas edition of Doctor Who. Right from the beginning as the Doctor plunged through the vacuum of space (apparently without needing to breath at all) struggling to make his way into a space suit as it plummeted towards the Earth it was bad and just got worse as the episode progressed.

While I know that generally the Christmas specials are even more camp and family oriented than other episodes of this show (it is in fact the one time when my wife and both children join me in watching one of my favorite shows) and that I definitely should not expect their to be any actual “science” in this iconic Science-Fiction show this most recent episode was just annoying from beginning to almost the end.

Science doesn’t matter!

In a nutshell – The Doctor plunges to Earth in the borrowed spacesuit and somehow manages to get his helmet on backwards … surviving re-entry with nothing broken or damaged and only a very small and shallow depression, he is succored by a passing motorist (I’m not going to bother with names really as none were that memorable … well that’s not really the case – like most specials, the BBC has managed to rope in some of the best talent in the UK, but I really don’t care about them in this episode so I’m not going to mention their names!) who helps him back to the Tardis. She somehow manages to pick the lock of the Tardis (I’m not sure if she is actually picking the lock or not as they do show a scene seconds later where the Doctor seems to indicate he’s in the wrong place … I hope not as if she can pick the lock of the Tardis with a bobby pin, this episode is even more wrong than it would otherwise be!), and the Doctor thanks her for her help and says if she ever needs any help, she just needs to “wish” for him.

Returning home, the lady/wife/mother meets her husband who is reading a paper about the war (the 2nd world war) and says he shouldn’t be talking about it. Jumping ahead 3 years we see that the husband/father/man is now the pilot of a British bomber on its way back across the channel. With one engine blown out, his plane crashes somewhere over the channel and the lady gets a telegram informing her of his death. With two children in tow, she sets off to her uncle’s home so that the children can have a happy holiday and not think of Christmas as the day when their father died.

The Caretaker

Arriving at the home, they meet the Doctor – or as he calls himself in this episode – The Caretaker (I have to ask … I know that at the end of this most recent season, he (The Doctor) indicated that he needed to be more in the shadows … but is calling himself by a different name sufficient? After all, with all of time and space, eventually people will just realize that “The Caretaker” seems to do the same things that the The Doctor used to??) – who leads them around the house showing them lots of weird and wonderful things. Honestly though, what was the point of the room with the dancing chairs and while the children’s room was nice … it was not exceptional … I also know that Matt Smith is meant to be a bit manic as The Doctor, but he was talking much too fast when he was describing this room – it was just annoying.

Anyways, eventually he shows them a big box which is their Christmas present and everyone goes to bed.

The little boy sneaks down to open the Christmas present early (I know that all kids want to do this, but mine aren’t allowed to? Christmas is fun when you open the presents together around the tree and throw the wrapping paper all over each other … I think that most kids realize this also!) while his sister is upstairs talking to the Doctor. Long story short, the little boy climbs into the box which takes him to a planet inhabited by Christmas (Pine) Trees that are sentient. The trees are about to be mined by a company and need to figure out a way to save themselves … eventually the Doctor, little girl and mother make their way to the planet also through the Christmas box/portal and it turns out that the savior of the trees is the mother … because mom’s are “strong”. Somehow she is able to navigate the ship that the trees have created/grown for themselves through the time vortex back to Earth indirectly saving her husband also (yeah, happy Christmas!!). There’s lots of stuff here about the trees creating a wooden King and Queen in human form (why?) and the company that is strip mining the planet using acid rain to do so – umm, ok? – but pretty much what I said earlier covers it.

Back on the Earth, the mom tells the Doctor that he needs to see his family as everyone needs to be with family on Christmas and the Doctor listens to her. Pure and utter horribleness throughout … the only saving grace to this episode are literally the last 3-5 minutes.

Finally – the good stuff!!

The Doctor knocks on the door of a house and Amy Pond opens it – they have a very touching reunion and when Rory joins them, he states that they always set a seat at their table for The Doctor. Rory looks a bit older but Amelia looks exactly the same and The Doctor has a tear in his eye as he closes the door to spend Christmas with his family.

I know that Christmas episodes generally have nothing to do with the overall story arc/mythology of the Doctor Who universe, but I really, really hope that they never show another episode that is as disjointed and annoying as this one. Please listen to a lifelong fan of the show and give us more. Matt Smith was good, I’ve liked him almost from the first, but he needs to have the right materials to play with and you have really not given them to him here.