Dear Steven Moffat: The Rebel Flesh

Dear Steven,

“A lot can go wrong in an hour.” So spoke The Doctor in the first part of Matthew Graham’s double adventure and I was struck by how provocative a line it was. If critics, remembering Graham’s Fear Her, still bore a grudge, they’d jump on those words like Ed Miliband on a rogue adjective.

Do writers like to do that, Steven, tickle fortune’s scrotum? I’m going to resist Graham’s goad, because although his wasn’t a vintage adventure and was cursed, being an encore to a very strong instalment, it nevertheless explored three human illnesses with great insight; I refer of course to schizophrenia, reproduction and contempormania.

Having known a paranoid schizophrenic, whom I bred in a lab during a long summer at Whitfield House, and who sadly couldn’t cope with the man living in his mind and went on to murder most of Woad Village before pulping his brains with a bolt gun, I was fascinated by Graham’s literalising of the condition. These “Gangers”, named perhaps after Victoria Ganger, the landlady of The Hollow Ulsterman, whose face was sucked off by an elephant in an attack The Times called “incredibly rare”, were anxiety made rebel flesh.

No one enjoys the idea that they may one day lose control of themselves, enduring the hell of an out of body experience where they float in the corner of a field while a mad man or woman with their face (the gender is interchangeable if you’re a transsexual), does awful things to a pony’s undercarriage. None of us want that, Steven, and here was the episode that said it was okay to electrocute yourself if you thought it would help. Once again, Doctor Who’s beneficence to a family audience is a clear, positive message.

Still, if we take the concept of liberated clones at face value, there was still much to ply the mind. For many of us, life is only bearable because of the enjoyable fiction that we are in some way unique. C’mon Steven, it doesn’t matter what people tell you, we both know that the ego only functions because it thinks it’s a happy accident, similar to others perhaps, but not quite the same. There’s more than a few people out there, and we encounter them every day, that need to believe that they alone hold the right balance of insight, imagination, understanding, humour, experience and intellect, and this, above all else, gives them the edge over their friends, family and slaves.

That episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation with Scotty in it, taught us that humans need to feel useful but LIFE has taught us that we must stand out. If we cannot, a sense of disillusion, hopelessness and self-loathing promptly follows. I know that if I had a clone, inseminated with my memories and experiences; an abomination, whose subjectivity was indistinguishable from my own, then I’d want it destroyed. Alright, I might use it first, paying it to date ladies that I didn’t dare take a chance on to see if I/it got on with them (with a view to killing it and taking over if it did), or perhaps I’d bribe it to attend social events I couldn’t face or, depending on how amenable it was, coax it into the bedroom to fulfil a long held fantasy, but then I’d want it put down.

You may find that reaction unusual, Steven, after all isn’t the impetus behind reproduction, immortality? Don’t we seed a new generation so we can extend ourselves beyond this mortal shell and bestride the future with a living breathing copy, indoctrinated with our prejudices, our mannerisms and, following a period of tiresome rebellion, our life choices and mistakes?

I agree our aversion to clones is hypocritical for that reason, though maybe we don’t mind children because they’re living a different life, with a different name (mostly) and having fresh experiences. We’re not threatened by them, are we? Not in the same way as duplicates made of a malleable semen substitute. I suppose that’s why so few are smothered.

Then there was contempormania, the modern malady afflicting writers of popular science fiction series. It was brave of Graham to be forthright about his illness and I’m sure most viewers were quite humbled by what they saw. I read that this condition, whereby TV writers are compelled to use contemporary idioms and pop-culture references in an inappropriate setting in order to connect to an imaginary audience of dopes, affects one in five Doctor Who writers.

I recall that Russell T. Davis, who will surely succumb any day now, was a classic case, littering his scripts with all sort of present day pleasantries, no matter what the century, or planet. The poor fuck forgot that we watch Who to get away for that nonsense. Initially, with the band Muse playing in the TARDIS console room and Rory playing darts, possibly the thinnest and most effeminate man ever to do so, I thought this episode might be hard work but wrote it off as an attempt by the Gallifreyan ganglinoid to make his passengers feel more at home.

Later, with both ship and crew on terra firma, apparently sometime in the 22nd century, panic started to set in when everyone, including the natives, started to speak like characters from 90s American sitcom, Blossom. Does Graham really think that “my bad” will be a phrase in common usage a hundred years from now, or that the conspicuously non-conformist Doctor would use wording like, “always with the Rory”? No, of course he doesn’t, it’s the illness – I understand that, but what if some viewers didn’t?

Still, this wasn’t a bad episode was it, Steven? It didn’t always hang together well, maybe less than the sum of its creepy parts, but it was, as discussed, resplendent with interesting themes and not un-sinister. Graham, to his credit, has set up an interesting cliffhanger, worthy of a week long musing. After all, it was easy for The Doctor to wax lyrical about these duplicates being individuals in their own right, as legitimate as their originals and worthy of freedom, but what to do now he’s got one and, if next week’s teaser is anything to go by, it’s nuts? That’s a dilemma, innit.

Yours in time and cyberspace,


P.S: Congrats on not killing Rory this week. Let’s not say it will never happen but he deserved an episode off.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It was a colossal misstep today — I had a bad feeling about it as soon as I clued into the big cliffhanger a full 45 minutes before the end. I may actually miss the conclusion out of spite and move onto the mid-series finale instead.

    • You knew during the continuity announcement? Incredible.

      • Smart-ass.

  2. I’m so, so glad for your write up. I felt this was the worst episode of this season, and perhaps all of Matt Smith’s run.

    It felt like poorly written fan fiction with an interesting premise given a big budget.

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