the long shadow of Harry Kim



“Huge surprises!” “Massive bombshell.” “Big twist.”

TV Almost, no, in fact, every preview of this episode, from Doctor Who Magazine, through Radio Times through to Uncle Tom Cobbly with a website and a preview disc mentioned that The Almost People features one of the above that there’d be a gigantic, “game changing” revelation leading into “mid-series finale” (which doesn’t flow in the same way as “mid-season finale” because of where the stress falls but I digress). As we’ve discussed before, in a fair few ways, such things are almost as insidious as actual spoilers since we can, if we’re not careful, spend much of the ensuing episode, with the mammoth shocker, attempting to work out what the mammoth shocker is going to be.

Well, no I’d rather not have known that Amy was a ganger (despite confirming what I said last week about us all being gangers). But at various points the half of my brain that isn’t used to creepily lust after Karen Gillan on a weekly basis (I’m 36) was raging through a list of potentials which went something like: “The Ganger Doctor regenerates into River Song.” “Rory’s a Ganger. The Doctor’s replaced him Fitz Kreiner in Interference style after one of his many deaths turned out to be a bit too permanent and he’s looking for a way to stabilise him.” “Amy’s an imposter and she’s going to turn evil, kill Rory (again) and steal the TARDIS.” “It’s the Master.” (which has always been a decent back up plan in the past usually because it was).

At no point did that occur to me even though it makes perfect sense, neatly explaining the interpolation of Frances Barber not as hallucinations but interruption from the base station. It also explains why Amy didn’t see her in the bubble universe – the signal couldn’t carry out of time and space towards this ganger-host. When was she replaced? Presumably during the Day of the Moon, the Doctor having rescued the sensory-linked duplicate from the chair rather than the real Amy, who we must have last seen in that haunted care home. The Doctor says this was a “long time ago” which implies that all of the Doctor Who Adventures and spin-off novels, not mention the short Time/Space are set in this period and feature the flesh Amy.

Not that it intrinsically matters since it’s still Amy’s spirit that experienced them, even if her body was somewhere else. Rewatching this episode (as I did straight afterwards) (well, bits), now that we know about the deliberate wardrobe malfunction, we see that it was the real Doctor who treated his companion roughly, his “Why? Why? Why?” perhaps a test to see if she was the real Amy, or a pure ganger duplicate which would presumably, in the face of this brutality, undergo a breakdown, demolishing the walls around her sense of self.  As with all the episodes in this season (and the whole of franchise thanks to The Doctor’s Wife) whole scenes mean something else when watched again thanks to new information acquired later, the “continuity error” in Flesh and Stone writ large (and that's another old episode title gaining new resonances).

But you know all of this. You saw it. Unless not a fan or you’re in America and it’s on next week, in which case, what are you still doing here? It is the kind of episode in which it’s almost impossible not to drift, when writing about it, towards an “in-universe perspective” ignoring that all this chatter springs from Matthew Graham interpreting the needs of Steven Moffat’s grand narrative, ganger style. Doctor Who Confidential hasn’t really explained how this differs from the previous situation in which Russell rewrote with abandon. Are the arc elements all Graham’s work, or does he leave gaps for Moffat? This doesn’t seem to be a Pericles situation, where the quality increasing after a couple of acts after George Wilkins hands off to Shakespeare.

That’s for future scholars to decide. Instead, let’s talk about Matt Smith’s performance, since I’ve been remiss lately. In The Almost People, Matt is faced not just with challenge of playing against himself playing the same Doctor (somewhat like David Tennant in Journey's End), but also having to deal with each Doctor pretending to be the other one. Of course, he succeeds. Notice how, in the scene following the angry “Why!” moment, the being we now know to be the Ganger Doctor subtlety supports the real one as he turns his test into a way of distancing himself from Amy and the rest of the group, Julian Simpson’s direction making the most of his delicate glances and physical arrangements.

It’s another occasion when we’re thrust into the companion’s point of view and we have many of the same prejudices as Amy. The opening squee through iconic dialogue (Tom’s voice! Tom’s actual voice!) is supposed to underscore that what we’re getting is the same Doctor, yet like Amy, throughout first viewing we can’t help trying to work out which is the original, you might say, and which has just been manufactured. Unlike Amy we can watch it again and because Simpson is careful to only show us the feet and so leather shoes of the real Doctor (I think), we’re able to track and reinterpret his performance (of both the actor and character) second, third and however many more times around (see paragraph four, above).

Such shenanigans almost make us forget that this also has to function as the back end of the two/four parter; like the Weeping Angels tale in Moffat's opening run, this is a story which at first seems like it’s going to be structured in the classical sense (for all the hints that the Doctor’s taking notes) but quickly becomes knitted into the fabric of the season. Yet unlike the angels which ultimately just became a “threat” to be “overcome”, the story of the gangers has been set up and resolved in a meaningful way and still within the Troughton/Davison mode with a moralistic ending in which the human race learns something about their follies, before the Doctor disappears back into time (albeit with a few nu-Who related caveats).

Perhaps the way in which gangers replaced humans was a bit too tidy, with Trekkers playing away noticing the long shadow of Harry Kim across the scenes in which the equally valid duplicates assume the lives of their sources (cf, Star Trek: Voyager’s Deadlock).  Like the Doctor, the universe presumably isn’t big enough for two Raquel Cassidys. It certainly isn’t big enough for three Sarah Smarts, who on being called upon to be the psychotic contrast and given lines like "who are the real monsters?" began channelling Joseph Fürst in the least subtle performance of the two parter at least until she's replaced by the unfortunate reminder of The Lazarus Experiment (hopefully commenting on those sorts of monsters rather than actually trying to be one), the action falling back into type with corridors and running and sacrifices.

The climax also oddly brought to mind The Waters of Mars, another story in which the Doctor uses the TARDIS to save a bunch of people from a base under siege. During the podcast commentary for that story, Russell explains that in writing the Doctor breaking all the rules, he was breaking the Who writing rules himself. If the Doctor can simply usher all of the characters into the TARDIS and whisk them away, there is no story. Graham’s get out of stormcage free lipstick here is sinking the TARDIS, making it inaccessible, yet the Doctor had already decided that would be his methodology early in the jeopardy. Perhaps, as I suggested then, such rules can only be broken if the Doctor doesn’t know the original outcome of events.

If we’re in a really unforgiving mood and want to slam Amy for being oblivious or the many men in the crew on the basis of leaving their relative bosses to do all of the thinking, about the only character who comes off badly in all this is Rory who fulfils his Jamie/Adric role rather too successfully. After finally looking like he was going to take the lead in a storyline, Arthur finds his thunder stolen again, and as was often the case with his third wheel predecessors, his character ultimately looks a bit stupid in the face of some fairly huge emotional signposting, not really excused by his empathy for manufactured beings. At least he didn’t die this week for a change. There’s always next, which’ll be the first episode in which he properly becomes the “main” companion. Expect him still to be left off the cover of the Radio Times.

We’ve been reliably informed that yet again, next week's A Good Man Goes To War will be replete with vast bolts from the blue or some other variation thereof. Given the pictures which have been floating around, I’m guessing it's going to be the Doctor and Rory flying through time and space looking for Amy, visiting some old friends and foes in the hopes that they’ll be willing to offer some clues presumably because The Silence are an even bigger risk to the cosmos than the Doctor since it was they that blew up the TARDIS and not him, Pandorica be damned. Lord knows what Amy’s giving birth to, if it’s River or the Time Lord child or something else (assuming they're not the same thing). Welcome to my thought processes for the next seven days…

Next Week: Chasing Amy

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