After running around in acid and sorting out multiple dopplegangers, the Doctor Who episode, “The Almost People,” served up the massive twist that Amy Pond has not really been Amy Pond. Well, she’s almost been Amy Pond, because the Pond journeying around in the TARDIS has indeed and in fact been a remote control faux ganger Pond the entire time. While this twist was exciting and in keeping with the cliffhanger nature of Doctor Who, I couldn’t help but feel as though the whole two-parter was a red herring. Though “The Almost People” had great moments, I feel like it betrayed its own premise. Twice.
A bit ago, I discussed how doppelgangers are traditionally portrayed in science fiction and how, for the most part, there’s always a “real one” and a “fake one.” Throughout “The Almost People” this trope feels like it’s getting subverted. The Doctor is adamant that these gangers are just as “real” and important as the original versions. He goes to great lengths to drive this point home by switching places with his own ganger in order to prove to Amy and the gang that a ganger version of a person is, for all intents and purposes, the same person. This was done pretty cutely by having the two Doctors switch shoes, but soon became demonstrative of a deeper theme; Amy felt genuinely guilty about initially treating the ganger-Doctor like a non-entity.
This is all great stuff, and by the end of the episode we’re supposed to recognize the Flesh/Gangers are special things to be respected, right? Wrong. Because when the Doctor reveals that the Amy hanging out on the TARDIS is really the Flesh, he dispatches this ganger brutally and quickly. Sure, this ganger isn’t fully animated the way the other ones were, but who’s to say the energy of the TARDIS wouldn’t perform some mumbo-jumbo on it and create a duplicate Amy Pond? The process by which the gangers came to life isn’t explained well enough for us to see the distinction. Further, the image of the faux-Amy splattering all over the place really renders any thoughts that the Flesh were basically as good as humans totally moot. We’d never think the Doctor would use his sonic screwdriver to blow-apart human beings.
The second way the episode betrays its premise is a total disregard for acid miners themselves. Because the entire episode was really leading towards the reveal of the gooey ganger-Amy, it feels like the story of all these guys was sort of a ruse. And if you think about it, it’s all just a little too convenient. They’re on a remote island, in a castle that’s hard to move around in, and there’s acid everywhere. Half of these characters are present simply to get killed so the ratio of humans to gangers evens out at the end. Their situation is preposterous and ultimately unearned because they are all just one big plot device for the Amy reveal. Jennifer was initially an interesting character, but as soon as she turns into a “kill them all!” sort of monster, we cease caring about her. And as much as the Doctor insists these people are important, in terms of writing conventions, all the miners and their gangers are just the rigging and the pulleys of a deus ex machina, which is being secretly lowered behind the scenes. In this way, the real miners are no more real than the gangers, rendering everyone but the Doctor and Rory relevant characters.
True, this two-parter explored a science fiction concept in a fun, interesting andbrieflynew way. But ultimately, all of that was taken away from us by the brutal reveal. Was there another way to introduce this concept? As a fan of the show, I’m totally on board to find out what happens next, but I’m a little concerned that more deus ex machinas are on the way. I’m certainly not the first person to point out this tendency in Doctor Who, (Terry Pratchett mused about it eloquently last year) Further, I don’t have a problem with plots on Doctor Who being solved this way all the time. However, this two-part episode specifically dealt with the notions of duplicates and deception. When the episode itself turned out to be a deception, I felt faked-out in a sort of meta-fictional way.
Because in a universe in which anyone can be a ganger, how can I care about any of these people?
Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com. He does a great Rory impression.