“Why don’t you stand back, and let us impress you?”
Given the reaction to the Neil Gaiman-penned The Doctor’s Wife this past weekend, the episode that followed it was always going to be facing a tougher than usual job. And with that in mind, The Rebel Flesh takes a different tack altogether, offering a far more traditional Who adventure. It’s very wise to do so.
It’s a new two-parter, that opens up by heading off to the future, to an earth where the dangerous jobs in life are tackled by doubles. We discover this in the pre-credits sequence, with the help of a big bath of acid, and come the other side of the titles, there’s a bit more of the series’ ongoing plot, a big monastery, and a drop of Dusty Springfield.
We also get to meet the workers in the factory that’s occupied the monastery, including Sarah Smart, Marshall Lancaster (Ashes To Ashes) and Mark Bonnar (Paradox).
And there’s also Raquel Cassidy. You may remember her from her standout performances in Channel 4’s Teachers (amongst many other credits), and she’s delivering welcome, borderline snidey exposition in the early part of the episode. She’s one of a team of pretty disinterested contractors, just going about their business, before inevitably, things start to go not quite to plan.
In line with the usual format of a two-parter, there’s a lot of scene setting and exposition to get through, particularly in the early stages. But the two episode format does also give the story space to breathe. Naturally, too, it leaves its key narrative threads for picking up next week, ending with a cliffhanger that might just have some further ramifications down the line.
Writer Matthew Graham (of Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes vintage) likes his movies, and he cites both The Thing and The Name Of The Rose as influences on the episode. It’s the former that comes through the strongest here, especially as the monsters of the story gradually become unleashed. In line with the Moffat era of Who, every monster has a good and proper motive, and in this case, they also look spooky, too. I thought some of the make-up work did the story proud, and again, I can’t help praising the production values of the show, that continue to push the budget, and what you can do with it, extremely hard. The effects work, with one exception, is extremely snazzy, too. Graham sets a good tone, pacing his episode well, teasing enough, and delivering a story with a very different feel to his maiden Doctor Who outing, Fear Her. Credit to director Julian Simpson, too, who appears to be a fan of the movies as well. He makes a lot of the damp, dark corridors of the monastery, building up sufficient intrigue and tension as he does so.
I enjoyed this one. And what’s more, it sits, for my money, at just the right time in the series run (unlike The Curse Of The Black Spot, where I was, perhaps unfairly, crying out for more on the cliffhanger from the episode before). After this two parter, after all, we head off into the last episode before the series takes its break until the autumn, and with the ongoing build-up of the wider series-wide narrative arcs, this is the last standalone adventure for a while. And it’s a welcome one.
The Rebel Flesh is inevitably lower key than three of the four episodes that we’ve seen this series thus far, but it’s right that there’s space for a good, solid, enjoyable two-part story, and The Rebel Flesh is half-way to delivering that.
Roll on part two…
Our spoiler-filled review will be live once The Rebel Flesh has aired on Saturday 21st May.