I have two reactions to “The Almost People.” The first: It’s a pretty good follow-up to last week’s “The Rebel Flesh.” I don't know that it solved its predecessor’s pacing problems or developed its themes in any significant way (though the two Doctors proved both fun and poignant) but I liked it. The second: What? Huh? No, seriously. What? Huh?
First things first: After a brief introduction, we get to know the Ganger Doctor who, for the sake of clarity, I’ll just refer to as John Smith. Smith is the Doctor right down to, but not including, his shoes. Or at least we’re supposed to accept that as The Doctor himself has. Which makes sense. The Doctor has a big-tent view of what constitutes intelligent life and, though not human, his sense of humanity extends much further than those who created and used the Gangers as their slaves. It only makes sense that, far from being threatened by Smith, he embraces him.
Others aren’t so quick to do the same. I kind of saw the Doctor/Smith swithcheroo coming and I guess you did too. I think only Amy was reluctant to see Smith and the Doctor as one of the same. That also makes sense. She’s not jealous that Rory is spending time with Jennifer. She’s upset that he’s putting his life, and their life together, on the line for a creature she considers sub-human. (Little does she know how close to home that issue is, but we’ll get to that in a bit.) The Doctor forces her to think otherwise. Which is part of what The Doctor does. If his companions share a journey, it’s a journey toward making them think less like narrowminded, earthbound humans and more like the Doctor. Here Amy takes another step on that journey. (Or does she? Will she remember this? Again, more in a bit.)
So, apart from the last-minute twist, how was this episode? I’d put it about on par with the last. So much of the running around seems like it was there to fill time and the action and suspense weren’t nearly as compelling as the issues around them. (Same as last week, really.) But, like I said, the two Doctors were a lot of fun, and I enjoyed seeing Matt Smith send up his own performance a bit when he played John Smith. It also created some memorably horrific imagery, with the pile of discarded flesh and Jennifer’s monstrous transformation.
Then, the end: What is going on? So, the Amy who’s been traveling around all season is now and has been Ganger Amy, presumably all season, since that’s when the positive/negative pregnancy readings began. And eyepatch woman Amy has been seeing from time-to-time throughout the season, whom The Doctor dismisses as a “time memory,” is actually overseeing the real Amy, who’s about to give birth. Is she there to help? Smith… Or as it The Doctor?… Tells Amy to push when the woman tells her to push. That has to be good advice, right? So why does she look so malevolent? Also, does the Doctor kill Ganger Amy?
Then there’s this: If the Doctor and John Smith swapped identities, that means Ganger Amy told the real Doctor about witnessing his death. That has to have implications, right? The mind reels. Or at leas my mind does. If you’ve got it all sorted out, please explain it to me in the comments below. But I suspect we’re not supposed to understand the implications of what we’ve seen at all as we head into next week’s Moffat-penned half-season finale “A Good Man Goes To War,” which sees the return of River Song and presumably the overarching story this season has been telling all along. (And previous seasons as well.) Though some of “The Almost People” tried my patience, it also left me eagerly awaiting what’s to come.
• Callback: The TARDIS gets called sexy.
• I recognized a little bit of Tennant’s 10th Doctor in the rebooting John Smith. I suspect there were other impressions in there as well, but I’ll let fans more experienced with the classic series say who they were.
• Jennifer’s gaping maw and labored walking of the latter owe a bit to J-horror tropes, an influence I’ve never seen on Doctor Who before.
• Neela Debnath’s review in the Independentsays of Smith’s performance that he manages “to be reassuring and threatening, hilarious and sinister all within the same few scenes.” She’s right, but I’d go even further. What makes Smith such a great Doctor is his ability to be all that within a few seconds.
• Hey, are you a UK reader or someone who’s found a way to timeshift and see next week’s episode already? No spoilers, please. We’re American.