Monday, June 6, 2011

Your Mileage May Vary

Okay, first things first. This post contains spoilers about the most recent Doctor Who episode (to air in America, anyway, the Brits are a week ahead of us), "The Almost People," and anything that has come before. It also contains links to even more spoilerific posts about said episode. Consider yourself warned.

Read on only if you desire to be spoiled...

So, "your mileage may vary." I have seen that phrase used in regards to this episode on two different sites already. What it means, basically, is that both commenters acknowledge that anyone watching this episode is likely to have a very different take on it than anyone else. Boy howdy is that correct. Just reading the discussion on Flick Filosopher's site, which has been going on for a week since the episode aired last weekend in the UK (grr, silly BBC America, now we are behind), is enough to show that there are several different interpretations as to what actually happened..

Here are links to that discussion if you are interested or curious, they are well worth the read, especially if the episode left you as confused as it left me.

Flick Filosopher's review of the episode.

Flick Filosopher's post (and ensuing discussion) pondering the ramifications of the episode.

io9's review of the episode.

I hesitate to call this episode "polarizing," because there seem to be way, way more than two reactions to it. I don't think this is necessarily a hate it or love it episode. There are so many shades of grey in this thing that I am amazed it is only credited with having one writer. Of course, I am sure the input of many many people went into the writing of this episode (as with every episode), but there are so many ideas in there, it just seems insane that one person could have largely been responsible for the whole story.

The big conundrum seems to be this: When the Doctor disintegrates Flesh!Amy at the end of the episode, does he, in fact, negate everything the episode (and the one before it, as this was the second of a two-parter) has been trying to get across about the sacredness of the sentience of the Flesh?

I will be honest with you. When I actually watched the episode, I was so caught up in the shock of the reveal (i.e., that Amy was actually not Amy but Flesh!Amy and that actual Amy was being held captive somewhere about to go into labor) that the greater implications of the Doctor's actions with regards to the Flesh didn't even occur to me. But reading the reviews and then the discussions (on Flick Filosopher, at least, I try to steer clear of the io9 message boards for my sanity's sake) I do think it is a fair question.

The Doctor spent much of the first episode trying to get the humans at the factory to accept that their Gangers, once released from their control, were in fact just as much real people as their template humans. He made more than one point about the fact that the Flesh was sentient even in goo form. He went through the whole charade of switching with his own Ganger to illustrate to Amy that the Flesh versions of people were pretty much identical to their templates in every way. He stabilized the surviving Gangers from the factory so that they could live the lives they felt they deserved as much as the humans. He even encouraged Miranda to speak to the corporation about recognizing the sentience of the Flesh so that the rest of the world could accept this truths learned in the factory. Then he turns around and zaps Flesh!Amy out of existence, just like that.

There has been much back and forth as to whether Flesh!Amy was sentient at all, just how sentient the goo version of the Flesh really was, and whether or not the suffering pile of discarded Flesh!Jens were actually a truth or a clever ruse set up by Flesh!JenPrime to get Rory on her side, yada, yada, yada.

For what it is worth, here is my take on the whole thing.

  1. I do think the way in which the factory workers utilized the Flesh and then discarded or "decommissioned" their Flesh Gangers after use was incredibly inhumane if the Flesh was at all sentient and able to feel the pain of the process, which seems to be indicated.
  2. It seems the way the Doctor disintegrated the Flesh with his sonic screwdriver was a slightly more humane and less painful process for the Flesh. I do think he was reluctant to do it, however, and only did so when he felt it was the only option available.
  3. It seems unclear what happened to the disintegrated Flesh. Did it return to goo state Flesh or was it just gone forever?
  4. It also seemed to be indicated that Flesh!Amy was later Flesh technology, so I agree with some of the arguments that it is likely the Flesh that made Flesh!Amy didn't feel the pain of being disintegrated like the earlier models because maybe Miranda's recount of the incident at the factory got the people behind the tech to iron out that wrinkle. I feel like this is likely because the Doctor seemed so surprised that the Flesh was sentient, and at the level of sentience, but he was clearly familiar with later versions of the technology. If the sentience was an issue in later models, he would likely have been aware of it.
  5. I suspect that the Doctor knew that, even if sentience was a possibility for Amy's Ganger once she was separated from Amy's control, he didn't have any means at his disposal of allowing the Ganger to remain intact once removed from Amy's control. To do that to the Gangers at the factory required a massive solar storm at the source of the controlling harnesses, which the Doctor doesn't have access to in the case of Flesh!Amy. So severing the link, restoring Amy's consciousness to her actual human body, was going to require decommissioning of the Ganger. So perhaps if the Flesh had to be decommissioned, doing so by sonic screwdriver really was the most humane way to do so.
  6. It is clear that the Doctor felt it extremely imperative that Amy's consciousness be returned to her human body as soon as possible (probably because she was in labor, but I suspect there were also a few other reasons).
So...I don't think that what the Doctor did in offing Flesh!Amy was quite the same as killing the factory Gangers would have been. I think he regretted it, especially in light of what he learned while at the factory. I also think that he truly believed he had no choice. Why that was the case, we are only left to guess, but I do think it was.

I also don't think that the ending of the episode necessarily undoes the groundwork leading up to it in regards to the independent Gangers. I think perhaps the point of that groundwork was to illustrate that those who are willing to use the Flesh to do their dirty work, knowing its possibility for sentience (and it is hard to argue that future generations could be unaware of this possibility) are the least moral kind of beings there are. I also think they serve to explain to us what the heck was going on with Amy and her quantum pregnancy. Then of course, this also seems to establish, and indeed emphasize, the differences between Flesh!Amy and the Gangers. The Gangers, once zapped, are completely separate entities from their template humans, able to exist, think, act, and feel independently from (though certainly similarly to) those humans. Flesh!Amy is not able to do any of these things. She is an avatar. She is, for all intents and purposes, actually Amy, who is unaware that she is not present with the Doctor and Rory in body as well as in mind and spirit. Without intervention, her Flesh body could not exist separately from her human body once her consciousness had been restored to her human body. Given the problems we saw faced by the independent Gangers, would not that kind of intervention be more cruel than simply allowing the Flesh to return to its natural state?

That is my take on it, at least. Maybe I am rationalizing because I, like many others, want to believe the Doctor acted with the best of intentions. I do not pretend he is incapable of cruel or mercenary acts, even murder. But I do believe that he does not perpetrate such acts unless they are the last resort, and almost always for the greater good. Or what he perceives as the greater good at any rate. It is, after all, entirely subjective.

But hey, your actual mileage may vary.

Next week though, dude! River Song's origin explained?!?! Rory out for blood! (Good lord, I hope they don't kill him again.) I do know one thing though. It is gonna be a hell of a wait after next weekend until the back half of the season starts back up.

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