Given how the rest of the season has been so far, I was actually feeling fairly pleased with this episode. Up until the end. But we’ll get to that.
At first we’re presented with some fairly stock Doctor Who plots in the set-up for this episode: isolated location, science gone wrong, “who is the real monster” moralizing. It’s pretty typical “base under siege” territory for Who. The Doctor brings Amy and Rory to an “acid mining” factory off the coast of England, but remains cagey about his reasons why. The mining is done not by humans or cost-effective robots, but by remote-controlled “Flesh” clones of the miners, which are identical in every way to the minors on the biological and genetic level. Under normal circumstances, in past seasons, this would prove to be the set-up for a new origin for some pre-existing monster, like the Autons or the Sontarans or some other clone/mass-produced enemy the Doctor has encountered. But no, not this time. This time it’s just a set-up for a story about humans coming into conflict with shape-changing clones.
Which isn’t actually a bad story. Yes, it’s a very by-the-numbers story on many levels. There are monsters in the base and no one can leave. The TARDIS has sunk into the ground and is not accessible. There are duplicates of all the guest actors running around making it impossible to tell who the good guys are from the bad guys. (Except, of course, that the sonic screwdriver can detect the difference, which rather renders the whole point of the duplicates being genetically identical to the originals moot.) But even rote Who has its own charms and nuances. We all know that order will be restored in the end and that there is probably going to be a small pile of bodies tucked away into the corner by the end of the episode (quite literally in the case of this episode). We hope that the bits in between the TARDIS landing and the TARDIS taking off will be entertaining and hopefully clever. We expect the Doctor to act like he knows what’s going on, make an avoidable mistake and then pull off an eleventh hour victory. That’s mostly what we got here, all in all, and mostly I was happy with it.
But in keeping with the trend of the season so far, there were…issues with the episode. Mostly related to how the episode was used to build up to the mid-season finale. For all the episode tried to emphasize that the humans and their Flesh counterparts are identical, and that the Flesh aren’t actually monsters, the main antagonist was, well…pretty much a monster. Her arguments against the humans go beyond immediate self-preservation and into plans for full on genocide. When one side of an argument is making the self-evident point that “I’m the original and you’re still a copy” and the other is calling for the death of every human on the planet, a “are the humans the real monsters” plot rings pretty damn false. That was a minor problem, though, in relation to the utterly infuriating conclusion to the story in which we find out that Amy has actually been a Flesh duplicate of the real Amy all along. And the Doctor knew this. And this is the resolution to both the Schrodinger Pregnancy problem and the Eyepatch Lady hints.
Presenting a situation where information has been held from the audience for six episodes feels like an enormous cheat, as the only reason to not provide the audience with clues regarding this is in order to have a “shocking” surprise twist ending to act as a cliffhanger. We’ve already had plenty of cliffhangers this season as it is. It’s also something of a problem because it sets up another dark/manipulative Doctor situation. I don’t have the problem with dark/manipulative Doctor that many fans have, hell Seven is one of my favorite Doctors, but that kind of characterization doesn’t really feel like a good fit for Eleven. Hints that the Doctor drops to his clone further suggest that the Doctor is well aware of his future “death” and has been for some time, possibly as long as he’s known that Amy has been swapped. I suppose this behavior could be justified if its used as an explanation for why the Doctor was so uninterested in finding out who the girl in the astronaut suit was or what became of her. But it’s more likely that what we have here is a series of “thrilling” moments strung together into a narrative without enough consideration given as to if they hold together.