Jun 8 2011 6:02pm

The Almost Plot: Doctor Who’s Ganger Two-Parter Was a Big Fake-Out

Spoilers below.

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 and—briefly—new 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  He does a great Rory impression.

Steven Halter
1. stevenhalter
I, also felt disolving gangerAmy with the sonic kind of did away with the basic intent of the plot that Gangers are people too.
It would have been way more cool if the Doctor had used the sonic to sever the link between "real"Amy and gangerAmy and then we had two ponds. Two ponds are better than one, right?
Bryan Rasmussen
2. Bryan Rasmussen
he did sever the link, and because the link was severed ganger amy dissolved.
Steven Halter
3. stevenhalter
Yes, what I mean is that he could have somehow fixed the link such that there was a gangerAmy and an oldAmy. How--well, the sonic is essentially magic and can do pretty much what the plot calls for in terms of technical wizardry.
The writers chose the path of gooping the gangerAmy non-sentient shell in order to wake up whiteRoomAmy. The rest of the episode was all about gangers are people too. If we had two Ponds both of which are real, then a different set of things could be explored. They chose not to go that way.
They are probably going to use that gangerDoctor is a real Doctor later in the show. That hooks us back up with deadDoctor is a real Doctor just not the original Doctor.
By treating gangerAmy as essentially not important they missed out on some stuff that could have added (in my opinion).
Josh Kidd
4. joshkidd
I find the first point compelling and the second point less so. They went a long way to get us to believe that the gangers are people. And not even just the specially animated gangers, even the discarded gangers had some level of feeling and sentience. It definitely felt weird to me that The Doctor would just turn the ganger Amy into a puddle of goo.

As for the second point, I think that there is some disregard for the acid miners here, but there is an episode like this almost every season. The doctor + companion(s) stumble on a crack team in a dangerous place. One by one the team members die in order to raise the stakes of the episode. (see: "The Impossible Planet" / "The Satan Pit", "42", "Vyage of the Damned", "Silence in the Library" / "Forest of the Dead", "Waters of Mars", "The Time of Angels" / "Flesh and Stone") True, it seems afwully coincidental that they would end up someplace that would show The Doctor exactly what was going on with Amy, but again, Who fans should be used to this. The human making device that The Doctor uses in "Human Nature" / "Family of Blood" just happens to be the one that The Master uses in "Utopia." Is it a deus ex machina? Sure, but one of the things about Doctor Who is that it's never really clear why he and his companions go anywhere. The fact that they just happen to show up, week after week, in just the place where they are needed is one of the conceits of the show. After watching "The Doctor's Wife", I'm inclined to believe that the deus ex machina is the TARDIS who, with all knowledge of time, takes The Doctor to exactly where he needs to be. But that's just my thoughts.
Bryan Rasmussen
6. Slybrarian
In this case, it wasn't a coincidence that the TARDIS landed there, although the Doctor probably didn't intend the timing. He told Rory and Amy at the end that he wanted to go there specifically to investigate the very beginning of Flesh technology, so that he could figure out how to safely disconnect the link between the ganger and real Amy.

I thought it was pretty clear that the Amy ganger was different from the others because it was still purely a teleoperated version, while the others got zapped into self-sufficiency. Jenny's rantings did make the 'normal' state of gangers less clear, but I don't think her point of view is reliable, as several of the other gangers clearly disagreed about feeling any different from their originals. The Flesh itself might be a living, and possible sapient, creature, but I don't think the actual duplicates are normally anything but remote-control robots.
Samuel Walker
7. lambada
The thing is that the Flesh in the factory is a rough, early-model - they don't fully understand it themselves. One of the side-effects is that, with some wizadry, they could become sentient themselves.

The Flesh Amy is a different kettle of Flesh. She is made from a more developed version. Flesh 2.0 if you like, at some point in the future. They may have fixed that 'bug' that could result in sentience. But more to the point is that Amy's ganger is still entirely reliant on Amy's consciousness. Without wizadry it wouldn't become sentient.

Keeping something that is sentient alive is a different ethical issue from destroying something that could become sentient.

It's similar ethically (can of worms here) to the difference between killing a person, and taking the morning-after pill.

Personally I don't see any problem with killing something not yet sentient, especially given what was happening at the time.

Namely, Amy's consciousness was in the Flesh. And she was just about to go into labour. Somthing tells me that would have put both her baby's and her own life at risk if she hadn't been forced back into her own body as soon as possible.
Nick Rogers
8. BookGoblin
As a note, the first half finale "A Good Man Goes To War" has already aired in the UK and is available on BBC iPlayer for those in (or VPN'ed to an IP address in) the UK.

While I won't spoil anything about it here, I do feel that at lest one of your points is mitigated by the overall events when seen "from the other end of the periscope."

I also feel that the Deus ex Machina argument is a bit of a red herring. Everything about Doctor Who is about the god in the machine; it is a show about a semi-omnipotent (and quite possibly crazy) man in a blue box after all.

I don't watch the Doctor for new plot resolution methods, I watch for the brilliant execution of an established theme. It's not about "is this another God in a Box story," it's about finding out what the god and his box get up to this time.

It's perfectly fine if you don't care for Deus ex Machina in your sci-fi, but watching a show about a space wizard with a magic wand that is actually neither sonic nor a screwdriver no matter what it's called, seems to imply that you've bought into at least some narrative hand-waving carte blanche.

There have been some who have decried the current direction that the show runner/head writer has taken, but let's not confuse a preference for Russell T Davies' penchant for more "in your face" resolutions (ala The Parting of the Ways or Doomsday or Journey's End) with Steven Moffat's penchant for survival horror (The Empty Child, Silence in the Library, Time of Angels) and the Timey-Wimey abstract stuff (The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink, The Eleventh Hour) which is both more subtle and more prone to narrative hand-waving.

Also, to the argument that Moffet has taken the series in a darker direction, I don't think that makes much sense. Doctors 4, 5 and 6 all had arcs as dark as this one, and both times Davies brought out The Master the stakes were high and the body counts were right behind. The utopians final reward in The Sound of Drums was squicky and horrific...

Dark and complex themes with a healthy dose of Deus ex Machina and silly hats might not be your favorite kind of sci-fi, but it's pretty much the hallmark of Doctor Who for the last 30 years at least.

One might even say it's to be expected.
Bryan Rasmussen
9. Mndrew
Well, ok, you have a couple of points there; but allow me to counter with my trump card.
Man that was cool.
Ron Hogan
10. RonHogan
"Dues s/b deus."

Well, really, it should be dei ex machina, or dei ex machinis, depending on whether you want the gods coming out of a machine or machines.

And now I have officially put my Classical education to use in 2011.
Ryan Britt
11. ryancbritt
@Book Goblin
Yes yes of course! But I just felt it was all a little too transparent and meta this time.

Point taken!

@Ron Hogan and DPZora
My head is going to explode/what would I do without you?
Peter Hollo
12. raven
I think they handled it somewhat worse than they could have, but I do think they tried to show what really happened by showing the Flesh Doctor with the sonic screwdriver facing CGI-Jennifer: I assume he breaks the link with the Doctor, and splashes into a non-animated pile of goo.

I think what the Doctor did on the Tardis was not goo-ify gangerAmy: he says he was doing a test with gangerDoctor, and has concluded that the link can be broken. That's what he does with the sonic screwdriver - he severs the link between realAmy and gangerAmy, and thus the Flesh reverts to its gooey form.

I agree that the heavy-handed moralising (quite rightly) about the independent gangers' personhood interferes with this - but it's not an ethical issue so much as a problem with the scriptwriting and (probably moreso) the directing of the episodes.

I agree that the following episode mitigates some of these problems a little bit, and I think they have quite a bit more up their sleeves as regards Flesh and duplicates. I just hope they don't screw it up with a whole lot of nonsense...
Bryan Rasmussen
13. fizzel
My personal self-told justification for all the doctor deus-ex-machina, luck-based invincibility, out-of-the-hat knowledge and occasional out-of-character action, is that the power he acquired by watching into the time vortex is remembering his own future.
A bit like Nicholas Cage in "Next", only more fun, or like Paul Atreides but less gloomy..
Ian Gazzotti
14. Atrus
I don't see the moral cop-out for the reasons that have already been explained: Amy's ganger was a future version of the Flesh, it was controlled by a signal, and the Doctor simply severed the link then it dissolved by itself. Had she been alive and indipendent like the gangers in the monastery, I think she would have survived and become a separate Amy.

Also, having two of Amy, both of them "original" and both of them married to the same person, was an awesome storyline in Farscape but I don't think it would be a very good fit for Doctor Who.

Yes, the miners were plot fodder and the impact of their death is not really long-lasting, but alas, that has usually been the norm for everyone but the Doctor and companion(s) in both old and new Who.
Bike Baykara
15. Amarie
I felt that way about the way Doctor deal with Amy Ganger too. It is a "improved" model since Flesh in this episode is the early days of it but even from the beggining Doctor made a point about how the Flesh was not just a tool when they though it was just used with remote control. He said it is still sentient so if they "improved" it to remove the capacity of thought from the Flesh in time that's actually quite horrible too isn't it? So eithet it is sentient even if not to the degree of other ones or the taht capacity is taken from it either way it is bad.

I also think that they took the easy way out with Gangers and the problem who lives and dies. I understand since I watched the episode after this one that there are imporant matters to handle with the overall plot but it is certainly easier to deal with a doppelganger as a person when one of the pair gets killed. How do you deal with it when they are both existing in everyday situations now that's very complicated and if one can deal with would be rather brilliant. I would like to see how they would tackle that problem.
Ursula L
16. Ursula
I agree completely that the "independent animated gangers are real people" made seeing ganger-Amy dissolve when the connection was broken quite difficult.

One thing worth noting is that with the Doppelganger 1.0 software, the gangers retained form for a considerable amount of time after the connection was broken. That gave the opportunity for sentient-gangers to develop.

It also meant that if you used gangers to do dangerous work, cutting the connection when they were injured, you left something behind that could suffer. This is what upset ganger-Jennifer so much, having memories of all the times she suffered and died when real-Jennifer cut their connection and just left her behind.

The Doppelganger 2.0 version corrected this. When you break the link, the consciousness is truly gone, and the body instantly dissolves. Nothing is left behind that could suffer.

That's why, when breaking the connection, the Doctor said he was doing so "humanely."

The point that these episodes made for the larger story arc was a more subtle one. If you had Amy being a ganger going all the way back at least to the first time she saw eyepatch-lady in DOTM, then what does it mean?

The fact that, when you incorrectly break the ganger-connection the ganger becomes a real, independent person, happens because when the connection is correctly in place, the ganger is the original in almost every way that matters - she is Amy's mind and soul, with all of Amy's memories.

If the ganger weren't real, then the weight of all the things Amy did this season is broken, because she wasn't really doing them. She wasn't really terrified when captured by the Silence. She wasn't really heartbroken as she tried to revive Rory, etc.

It's an oddly subtle distinction, to keep ganger Amy both real and not real in full and equal measure. They pulled it off, but in a disturbing way, where you know that if the Doctor had broken the connection in a different way, Amy's soul would have twinned itself, rather than moving back and forth between two bodies.
Iain Cupples
17. NumberNone
@15, Amarie: I think the episode was trying to make a more subtle point about the gangers' right to life, which was that both the 'originals' and the gangers had a right to life - but they couldn't have the right to the same life. This was made pretty clear in the case of the conflict between Jimmy and his ganger. And indeed, it really lay at the root of the conflict. The gangers didn't just want to be alive, they wanted the lives they knew, the lives they believed were theirs. And the humans didn't object to the gangers being alive, they objected to the notion that they would be supplanted. (The Doctor was quite comfortable with having two of himself around, but his life is somewhat different to the lives of the miners, of course. And would he really have been OK with it in the long term?)

So, I think having either the ganger or the original killed off in each case was inevitable. To leave that problem unresolved, though it would be interesting, would distract from the reveal about Amy. In its own right, it's a question that demands a fuller treatment than the episode could give it: but that doesn't mean it should never have been raised at all.
Bryan Rasmussen
18. a-j
While I agree with the Flesh 0.1 and Flesh 0.2 argument, it is a shame that this was not fully made apparant in the episode. I suspect that slightly sloppy (sorry!) writing may be the culprit and there is a rumour that the script was a last minute replacement for a commissioned script that turned out to be unworkable.
Ryan Britt
19. ryancbritt
@ All of the great analysis about the two different versions of the Flesh technology. Here’s the thing: the distinction isn’t made clear enough. Now, I know Doctor Who isn’t hard SF or anything, and frequently you kind of just need to “go with” certain concepts. Maybe this whole discomfort many of us felt about ganger Amy being blown apart (by the DOCTOR!) could have been avoided if ganger Amy simply dissolved on her own. Giving the Doctor agency to destroy the flesh was dramatic and exciting, but it was just a little bit too far for me.

A lot of this stuff is splitting hairs, because overall, I don’t usually mind the hat-trick method of solving problems on the show. (For example, I like the sonic screwdriver!) But the point that I keep harping on here is that some of this stuff can become a little too transparent when the actual story deals with the notions of deception and duplication.

I think the reveal turns the entire two-parter into a “ganger episode” of the episode that follows it.
Iain Cupples
20. NumberNone
@ryan: see, there's the thing. I don't think the episode is about deception and duplication: at best those are subsidiary themes. It's about identity. As such, the revelation about Amy fits right in, thematically.

But I agree that the writing isn't really clear enough, and that it could have been done better.
Ryan Britt
21. ryancbritt
@Number None

I think that is a perfectly reasonable point. Sort of glass half-full to my half-empty. Wait is this a ganger gin and tonic I'm drinking? Is my real gin and tonic somewhere else? (Does this mean the glass is always full?)

(Who is moving now?)
Bryan Rasmussen
22. Geoffrey Paulson
I'm sure this has been covered, but the Doctor didn't melt the Flesh Amy per-se, he merely cut off the signal connecting Flesh Amy to Real Amy. If she persisted after that, I'm sure he would have treated her the same way he treated the other gangers.

And remember, he cut off the signal AFTER all the other gangers traveled in the Tardis and were converted into flesh-and-blood humans.

Just saw that Moffat also covered this on his twitter.
Ashley Fox
23. A Fox
@16 excellently put.

There is some further explanation in part two re developed flesh. I rather feel that the shock that is evinsed at flesh Amys disconnection validates the Doctors insistence that the flesh be treated as a lifeform in and of itself.

Also it increases the drama of the moment, and after all is said and done this is an entertaining & dramatic programme.
Bryan Rasmussen
24. Beachy
One more thought I had throughout the whole episode,
especially after the scene with the discarded Gangers.

All these smooth peaces of Flesh with faces on them somehow looked
similar to Cassandra, the last human, from Season 1 or 2.
(For those who need to remember, this was the piece of streched skin which was plotting against the doctor :-) ).
i wished they would have put a reference somehow in there, or maybe I missed it.

Any thoughts?
Bryan Rasmussen
25. beket
On the Jennifer ganger-- from her early conversations/babbling with Rory, I got the impression that Jennifer (human) had a split personality-- the Jennifer who cried and then the "strong" Jennifer who would come along. I was under the impression that this 'strong' Jennifer personality was the dominant personality in the ganger.
Luis Milan
26. LuisMilan
I think killing the sentient Flesh miners would be akin to disassembling Johnny 5, whereas gooefying FauxAmy was just like disconnecting a chat session.
Bryan Rasmussen
28. Bryan Rasmussen
"All of the great analysis about the two different versions of the Flesh
technology. Here’s the thing: the distinction isn’t made clear enough"

Well the thing is, the distinction was made crystal clear for me. I was watching it and thinking, hmm that's what the whole earlier form of the technology from the first episode was all about. hmm yes she's not sentient therefore he needs to sever the link, oh she wakes up that's what eyepatch lady has been all about this whole time - how clever - Moffat basically did a 'the whole thing was a dream' episode in a new way that meant all the actions in the 'dream' were still important.

Then I went out on the internet and found out there were people freaked out that the doctor had basically melted a bit of plastic to break a comlink and wake up Amy on the other side.
Bryan Rasmussen
29. Pendard
1) I agree with previous posters who said the ethical questions in deactivating a Ganger that is being controlled by a person are different than the ethical questions of deactivating a Ganger that is living independently. I'd also point out that the Doctor doesn't kill Amy's Ganger, just disconnects it from Amy. The Flesh is still alive, it just can't maintain its copy of Amy without being linked to her. It can only maintain the copy while it's connected, which means its right to keep copying Amy ends where Amy's rightnot to be connected to it against her will begins. The Flesh in the monastery seems angry that the workers are destroying it or discarding it uncaringly, but it never expresses any anger about being disconnected. The Doctor is "as humane as possible" (his words) when he disconnects it, which is about the best he can do under the circumstances.

Which choice is morally worse? Choosing to leave the Ganger connected would be the same as choosing to let Amy give birth without her knowledge and leaving that baby in the hands of their enemies without even the protection that its mother could provide if she were conscious. The safety of Amy and the baby clearly outweighs the Ganger's right to keep using Amy's form.

2) I disagree with you that the story that happens in the monastery is made less important by the fact that the Doctor originally went there to learn about the Flesh in its early stages. All the Doctor needed was some place where he could scan some Flesh. The TARDIS, in its infinite wisdom, took him to the place where he could do that AND be the most helpful by setting human beings on the path to ethical treatment of the Flesh. Even independent from the subplot with Amy, I thought that the story was fascinating. I disagree with you about Jennifer's Ganger also -- I thought she was a very interesting character. Jennifer's Ganger (who is very vulnerable and endearing early on but become villainous later) and the human Cleaves (who murders Buzzer's Ganger in the first episode and then redeems herself) are two sides of the same coin. They show that, whether you're a human or a Ganger, you get to decide whether you're going to be a person or a monster. Cleaves starts on the monstrous side of the spectrum and becomes human by the ending. The Jenn's Ganger takes the opposite journey -- she uses the fact that she is technically not a human as an excuse to turn her back on her humanity. I thought this was an exceedingly compelling story, made all the more so by the fact that we could visually see her becoming less human as she spread herself thinner and thinner by making doubles, disembodied eyes, or changing her shape.

3) I think you're using the term deus ex machina wrong. A lot of people do. Many people seem to think it means any story that is resolved in a convenient way, and they throw it around very liberally because it's a matter of opinion which endings are too convenient and which ones aren't. (I don't find this conclusion too convenient, for example.) A true deus ex machina is when an entirely external plot element is introduced at the end to conveniently resolve an otherwise unresolvable situation. If an alien space ship arrived out of the blue in the last five minutes of the episode and said, "The Gangers can come live with us on another planet where you'll never have to think about them again," then THAT would be a deus ex machina. The Doctor, as the protagonist of the story, by definition can't initiate a deus ex machina -- it has to be a resolution that is handed down out of the clear blue sky. (You probably already know this, but Greek theaters had machines that lowered the actors playing the gods onto the stage. Lots of Greek stories end when the gods get fed up with humans fighting and declare all issues resolved -- The Odyssey ends this way, for example. So the term deus ex machina -- "god from the machine" -- refers to lowering a god onstage at the end of a Greek play to decree that the matter is resolved, rather than allowing the story to resolve itself.)
Bryan Rasmussen
30. Lucy L.
(Mind, I haven't seen the latest ep of Dr Who - maybe that ep clears up some of my questions). These are very good thoughts you raise. Personally, I was confused as to whether the second Amy was a ganger or not. If she was, has she been traveling with them before they went to the planet with the gangers? If she had been, when and where did they pick up the second Amy? After all that moralizing about gangers being real people I rather thought perhaps the second Amy was some kind of projection of her mind or holographic image - not a ganger. The incongruence between the Dr's actions and the overall message was indeed very confusing!
Bryan Rasmussen
31. dana1974
I think the Doctor wiped out the Amy ganger because it was possible she was being used to spy on him in some way. Also because her existence meant that someone was broadcasting into the TARDIS, which was dangerous in its own right. I mean, who can do that? Seriously? Isn't that Time Lord-level technology? Dun dun DUN...
Bryan Rasmussen
32. Frypan
Nah, I'm pretty sure that the Doctor got rid of Ganger Amy because she was about to give birth to Melody. You could tell he honestly didn't want to, but he was forced to since her "real" self was going into labor and he had to wake up Amy's "real" self. After all, Ganger Amy wasn't pregnant, but she was still going into labor, but you can't give birth if you're not pregnant in the first place, yes?

So honestly, I saw no problem in fact that the Doctor dissolved Ganger Amy. In fact, maybe it was a kindness; I mean, you don't exactly want to be giving birth if there's nothing to give birth to.
Bryan Rasmussen
33. demi_food
1. First of all, the whole episode was not just leading up to Amy's reveal. The Doctor said to Amy that he "needed to see the flesh in its early stages." He goes on to say, "I needed enough information to block the signal to the flesh. (Amy: What signal?) The signal to you." He desintegrates her with his sonic screwdriver so that Amy could deliver the baby.

2. Another point of being there was to learn about the flesh through Amy. He wanted to see how she treated the flesh, especially not knowing that she is flesh. I quote this from when Amy was trying to get the ganger Doctor to go into the tardis and the Doctor reveals that they swapped shoes. "I'm the original Doctor, Amy. We had to know if we were treated the same; it was important, vital, we learned about the flesh, and we could only do that through your eyes."

3. They couldn't have two Amys because it was clear that there was only one consciousness between both of them. With the gangers and people in the factory, they could have two of them because they were zapped during the storm and they each had their own consciousness, not a shared one.

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