“Would you like a jelly baby?” In normal circumstances, hearing the Eleventh Doctor utter these oh-so-precious words would give Doctor Who fans a small thrill of delight. At the start of The Almost People, we hear the Fourth Doctor’s voice spoken by the Eleventh Doctor’s doppelganger, and it’s distinctly unnerving. This sets the tone for an episode where much of the tension is brought about by not being quite sure who is who.
Having two Doctors should be a real bonus, we should feel reassured that our hero is working with doubled genius towards a happy resolution. The Doctor is, as he explains to Amy: “an optimist. A hoper of far flung hopes, a dreamer of improbable dreams.” But only a few minutes later one of the Doctors has pinned Amy up against a wall, and is shouting in her face. Not really knowing the Doctor’s true motivation, or actually which of the two Doctors is our Doctor is distinctly unsettling. Not being able to trust the Doctor is without a doubt the most scary aspect of this story.
What else is there to truly be scared of? The physical environment just doesn’t work. The Almost People is crying out for a high-tech industrial setting, but for no good reason has been plonked in a Thirteenth Century monastery. There’s corridors aplenty to run down, with yellow flashing lights, and doors that don’t close properly. In a monastery. I just don’t buy it, and that lessens the tension considerably. Then there’s the acid. It’s being mined, and shipped out to the mainland. What for? It must be important, because it’s clearly very dangerous stuff, necessitating pseudo-humans to do the dirty work. Late on in the story we find it’s not only acid, it’s boiling acid. Blimey. Again, it’s just nonsense. The accusing eyes on the wall just looked silly. The idea of the ghastly blob of rejected gangers is truly horrible – but again, I don’t buy it. We’re told that the flesh is programmable and can be moulded easily. So it would make sense that those gangers-gone-wrong could be melted down and reshaped into usable models. Without better explanation in the script, I find myself rejecting the whole idea, which is a shame.
The character of Jennifer Lucas requires special mention here. Initially sweet and vulnerable, she becomes the monster of the episode. She cleverly fools Rory by duplicating herself, as well as cruelly taking advantage of Rory’s nursey empathy and kindness. She’s a complex character this one (not least because there’s actually three Jennifers in the story!), and a memorable Doctor Who baddie because of that complexity. I think it’s rather a shame that she mutates into a weird Lazarus Experiment-esque beastie, as she was more effective as a duplicitous, seductive pseudo-human.
The true threat (and ironically, the catalyst for resolution) in the story is the notion of revenge. While the gangers are fighting to survive, they and the humans can easily say ‘it’s us or them’, but when Jennifer tries to convince the other gangers to start a war of vengeance, they quickly realise that peace is preferable. The Doctor is enraged by the callous disregard that the humans have had for the gangers, but he doesn’t give in to that in the same way Jennifer does. The Doctor’s faith in humanity is pivotal in this respect. His genius is in the understanding that a father’s love for his son can show the way. The phone call between ganger Jimmy and five year old Adam is one of the highlights of the episode, especially as it ends with Adam’s excited little dance when the Doctor tells the boy that his father will be coming home. Aww, bless.
The story is tied up rather too neatly at the end. It’s exceedingly convenient that the Doctor just happens to have a vial of brain tumour cure to hand, and that the TARDIS is able to convert the remaining gangers into bona-fide humans. We already know that self-sacrifice is in the remarkable Miranda’s makeup, so having her living bravely with her medical condition might have made a better ending. Or maybe I’m just a big grumpy pants.
Oh, but that cliff-hanger… I’m sure much will be written elsewhere about what’s going on, so I’ll not speculate here. But it’s a corker of a cliff-hanger and no mistake. What worries me is that we’re promised the mother of all cliff-hangers before the mid-season break. How will we bear the tension of having to wait yonks to find out what’ll happen next after we’ve watched A Good Man Goes to War? Now that’s a scary thought!