The ‘Who’ Crew tackles a familiar concept in science fiction--what is it that makes us human?
Here’s the description: “The TARDIS arrives in Earth's future at a factory where human doppelgangers, ‘Gangers,’ are used as manual laborers. A solar tsunami frees the Gangers, and the original people they are based on must decide whether to accept their counterparts or eliminate them.”
It’s unusual when ‘Doctor Who’ tells a story in several parts, so that makes this episode, the first of a two-parter, something different.
There are some important points to bring out about this episode. First is “The Flesh,” a programmable substance that can accept the personality and memories of a person, keeping the original person safe since he or she can be downloaded into another body.
When the solar tsunami hits, the connection between Original and Ganger is cut, leaving what seems to be two versions of the same person. After all, both have pretty much the same memories, the same skills, the same appearance.
Second is Rory’s role in this story. Matt Smith’s Doctor is pretty intellectual, which makes him very curious, but he doesn’t always feel much compassion for others. Rory, since he’s a nurse, really can be touched by the distress of others, and he grows attached to one of the Gangers who needs his protection.
This is a good development because it gives every member of the “Who” Crew his or her own role and personality. That’s important now that there are three people travelling in the TARDIS instead of the usual duo. Rory needs a reason for being there, and this is a good one.
Another cool part of the episode is the mix of old and new in a castle, always something that British TV can do much better than we can in the States. It adds a level of mystery, of oddity to the hour.
But the thing that surprised me the most was the development of a Ganger of the Doctor. That’s going to make things very interesting going forward because it levels the playing field. Normally, the Doctor is referred to as “the smartest person in the room.” How will he react when that’s not true? Should be interesting!
The pacing does drag at times, and until the Gangers’ appearance takes on its less-than-human appearance most of the time, it can be a little confusing as to just who is who. But it does become clearer near the end of the episode. The actors do a good job with the storyline, though.
But this is a story about a subject near and dear to science fiction for decades, and that is: Just what is it that makes us human? Is it our memories? Is it our appearance? Is it our experience?
I was fascinated that the one thing that both the Gangers and the Originals had in common is the ease in which they both want to go to war with each other. Maybe there isn’t all that much different between the two groups after all.
So what’s on tap for the next episode, which will air in the U.S. in two weeks? In “The Almost People,” as the solar storm rages, Jennifer, a Ganger driven mad by the memories of being "decommissioned." is seeking revenge, as the time-travelling drama continues. She can remember every excruciating second of every "execution" and is determined that the humans will pay. And she isn't just talking war; she's talking revolution. As the crumbling factory fills with toxic fumes and drips lethal acid, the "Originals" wait desperately for the shuttle from the Mainland to rescue them. But Jennifer has other ideas. Can the Doctor convince the terrified factory workers to embrace their own humanity and work together with their Gangers to overcome a monster of their own making?