The problem with Matthew Graham’s previous story `Fear Her` is that of a strong idea just not translating as a television programme and would be far more rewarding as a book or short story. `The Rebel Flesh seems to have some of the same issues though at least possesses a visual momentum to make it more watchable. With two episodes to play with, the story should be slowly paced building to a tense cliffhanger in the middle but it rattles along so quickly that one vital ingredient is missing.
For a story of this type - the familiar `base under siege from within` - to work satisfactorily the characters need to be more varied and interesting than the group we meet here. Give or take a regional accent and a certain haughtiness from Cleeves there is little to distinguish them or crucially to make us care whether they survive. You don’t need tons of back story to make this work, just a bit of light and shade, something to make them seem real. In this particular case you need something to distinguish them from their clones (apart from just weird noses) who otherwise seem faintly silly with their villainous demeanour.
Graham also flounders when translating his intriguing idea of a living Flesh soup into a convincing one. These Instants reviews will miss the odd moment but on one viewing basic facts should be shouted from the rooftops; however I missed why the five of them are faffing about in an unprotected monastery when an outfit like this should surely be in a top secret high security sort of place? Admittedly most viewers won’t have watched as much Doctor Who as me, but within a few minutes the twists were unsurprising and the climax predictable.
To the episode’s advantage some creepy camera work and interesting cinematography make the best use of a charismatic location plus great visual fx depict the solar storm. The story strand involving Rory’s interest in Jennifer is rather arbitrarily started but nicely played nonetheless allowing Karen Gillen to further enhance her much broader work this year.
|Once the gangers started singing they had to be stopped.|
Matt Smith though seems back on `Black Spot` autopilot here, the quirks that engaged last season are wearing thin now, as if he’s shown us all his tricks too soon. He gets too much dialogue, shoving everyone else to the sidelines as they stand about watching him and further emphasising their own lack of character. When this happened with early David Tennant episodes it was corrected- presently Smith is becoming so overbearingly dominant that it’s hard to remember anyone else from his episodes. It’s not really the actor’s fault- if Steven Moffett is so appreciative of the likes of Peter Davison and Patrick Troughton why not incorporate some of their quieter, whimsical attributes to this Doctor?
There’s no doubting the effort that went into the making of this episode - it’s atmospheric in places, quite dynamic in others but overall lacking a spark to fire it up. Hopefully part 2 can light that fuse.