The Cinematography of The Rebel Flesh: Part Two

Matthew Graham’s second contribution to Doctor Who, The Rebel Flesh, might not be considered critically acclaimed, but it still has plenty going for it.

One such thing is its cinematography. Directed by Julian Simpson, the episode looks wonderful – as we’ve already begun to discover.

Part One saw a solar tsunami affecting St. John’s Monastery in the 22nd Century, and the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith), Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) become embroiled in events. As one Jennifer Lucas (Sarah Smart) reveals herself to be a Ganger, different moralities threaten to divide the group…

Returning to the Doctor as he puts food into the microwave, the room is once again lit by a cold light with religious allusions. And it really is a cold light: the crew were beset with terrible weather during the shoot, including snow that hampered them attending relatively remote locations. The episode was filmed at Cardiff Castle, Neath Abbey, Caerphilly Castle, Atlantic College, and Chepstow Castle (aside from TARDIS scenes at the BBC Upper Boat Studios, Cardiff) between November 2010 and January 2011.

The chilly atmosphere might’ve been horrible to work through, but does add to the isolated feel of the Monastery.

In case you can’t see it, the microwave is called C.H.E.F., and was subsequently exhibited at the Doctor Who Experience for a short while.

A very effective close-up here as Cleaves (Raquel Cassidy) drops the hot plate. It’s a very swift cut, and further shows the work of the design team in attaching a Morpeth Jetson logo to the plastic box.

Cleaves suddenly turns around to reveal she’s a Ganger, and in a surprisingly brutal moment, Buzzer (Marshall Lancaster) grabs a screwdriver. It’s a very violent second, probably missed by many – but fair play to them for including it in a family show, albeit in a perfectly understated moment.

The Flesh make-up is straight out of a horror movie. It’s expertly done. And the way Cassidy delivers that line – “we are living” – is fantastic. Almost as a beast, suddenly struggling to remain human at all.

“Always with the Rory”: we sweep around the castle, echoing the TARDIS team’s arrival earlier on. All these shots build it up to be quite a labyrinth, making it a more dangerous place. Enemies might lurk around any corner. This is a lovely shot, peering through two holes in walls to find Rory.

Following on from a warning about acid spilling everywhere, here’s another understated shot that you may have missed on first viewing. It warns your subconscious that this place is seriously hazardous, and foreshadows the scenes of the cast choking in The Almost People.

As we pan across, you can really see the mist and frost clinging to the walls. It’s rather fortunate that the terrible weather tied in so well with the story.

Another great shot with the acid pipe in the foreground and focus shifting to Rory as he evades Jennifer.

This shot was foreshadowed earlier, as Rory peers through pallets at the Flesh. I love how unearthly Sarah Smart makes Jennifer here. Add in some spooky-yet-tortured music by Murray Gold and you’ve got a distinct, disturbing sequence.

A beam of light cuts through the comparative darkness, mist rising in the middle: the hole made by Jennifer. Breaking down walls, showing the enlightenment of ethical treatment? Or just reminding us that Jennifer’s capable of sudden bouts of violence? It’s probably both.

The Doctor goes to the mirror, and it’s a rare instance of Matt facing his broken reflection – also an echo of events still to come – and not checking his teeth (which he notably does in The Vampires of Venice (2010), The Lodger (2010), and The Snowmen (2012)).

This is followed by Jimmy (Mark Bonnar) questioning why the Doctor is really here – just as the Time Lord’s looking at Amy.

Jennifer guides herself down a corridor, steadying herself against the wall, and so highlighting how vulnerable she is. It might also pre-empt the Ganger Jennifer leaving eyes in the wall in the next episode.

Excellent jump-in-your-seat instance, this time courtesy of the Doctor himself, after Jimmy gets out the Pyrotechnic Flares. Smith and Bonnar have particularly good chemistry in this two-parter, the latter never quite trusting for the former – until he essentially “saves” him with that pre-booked phone call.

A solid shot establishing the corridor that’ll be revisited later on. Dicken (Leon Vickers) is the one to open the door first, and it might be that very door that gets him killed later on.

It’s Rory’s turn to sneak up on Jennifer. She seems to share this extra sense humans have, knowing when someone’s watching them – which we’ll come back to. As Lucas bangs on her chest and explains she is “me, me, me!”, there’s a great bit of CGI, as her two forms fade into one another. It’s nice to see her in this state, seeing as, later on, her unbalanced identities turn her, quite literally, into a monster.

At first, you might figure the scene of the Doctor going back to examine the Flesh is merely to foreshadow the cliffhanger. And it is, but, after the ending of The Almost People, it also demonstrates that the Doctor is there for a purpose.

Differentiating the two Doctors because the original has lost his shoes (and the subsequent subversion of this) is genius. It’s handled very well too. Seeing the Doctor in his socks: is this a first for Doctor Who…?

The cutting between this and Buzzer and Dickens’ realisation that the acid suits have gone is really nicely handled too. The material risks being slowed down by morality questions – arguably, The Almost People suffers slightly from this – but Simpson’s direction keeps the pace up beautifully here.

A very rare intimate moment for Dicken as he realises the danger they’re all in. He’s quite a nice character, really, for someone so severely underused.

We’ve seen the Flesh versions of Cleaves and Jennifer before, but this is the first time we’ve got actual confirmation that all the Morpeth Jetson employees have duplicates running around. Tellingly, they’re huddled together, looking for leadership. Cleaves seems to initially offer this, but Jennifer’s less-peaceful attitude, expressed later on in this same room, speaks volumes about our humanity in the face of such peril.

Jennifer kisses Rory as Cleaves looks on, lurking in the dark. Their kiss represents the temptation of acceptance: Cleaves sees how easily her human peers can be swayed, perhaps pushing her into finding that taser (although she’s likely on her way there already) and taking extreme action based on her prejudice.

Judos to Graham, too, for giving Rory a love interest, something not really seen before, unless you count the Siren from The Curse of the Black Spot (2011), or indeed since (with Oswin Oswald’s flirting in Asylum of the Daleks (2012) a sole caveat). Amy’s been faced with plenty of temptation – frequently the Doctor and the opportunities he can promise – but Rory’s eye has never strayed. How fitting that this sole exception is with someone who genuinely seems to be looking for someone to take charge, or at least reassure her.

Of course, Jennifer is more capable than she’s immediately given credit for…

As Amy makes her way through the Monastery, there’s a great example of shaky footage, courtesy of a handheld camera. The cut into the room is similarly uncertain, but when Madame Kovarian (Frances Barber) makes her appearance, the shot is perfectly still. It’s an ideal shift in focus, from the nervousness of the current situation, to the mystery of the future, the intrigue juxtaposing against the clarity of the shot.

Rory and Jennifer are approached on all sides by antagonists. Interestingly, one of those opposing forces is Amy, although it soon becomes clear that Rory’s picked the wrong side to pledge his allegiance.

The Gangers are still sticking together, and Cleaves has joined their number. They’re still looking for someone to lead them. The Doctor momentarily takes this role, but obviously it’ll never last.

Again, let’s applaud the make-up department, even making the Flesh’s ears look strange. It must’ve been horrendous to wear, though, especially taking cues.

The pay-off to Cleave’s lurking and the Gangers exhibiting an extra sense, in knowing when they’re being watched. The Ganger Cleaves demonstrates another creepy skill: an elasticity that Ganger Jennifer will make use of at the conclusion of The Almost People. It also shows that, while she knows someone’s watching them, Ganger Cleaves is happy to let it go and move on. Already she’s showing herself to be the bigger person. Mind you, it’s a scary visual, with her glaring just to one side of the camera – but very nearly straight at the audience.

The Doctor’s willingness to find the peaceful solution contrasts beautifully with Jimmy and Buzzer’s inability to accept Ganger Jennifer immediately into the next scene.

A comical shot, panning up towards the Doctor, starting with his feet. And yay, someone’s lent him some shoes! It’s humorous in a sea of seriousness, but becomes more significant later on.

This part starts with a gorgeous tracking shot. It’s the first usage of motion control cameras in Doctor Who since The Trail of the Time Lord: The Mysterious Planet (1986), and the first ever in the show to feature actors instead of models/props. This involves hooking a camera to a robotic arm that’s programmed to move precisely the same way, and at the same speed, time and time again. The numerous “passes” can then be composited together in editing to form one smooth, uninterrupted sequence.

Vickers’ timing, promoted no doubt by Julian Simpson, as he sneezes and blesses himself is particularly impressive.

A nice composition here, again melding of Simpson’s talents with the CGI team’s.

The comparisons between this and The Hungry Earth/ Cold Blood (2010) are surprising: both centre around major moral dilemmas; fear of “The Other”; dominance and submission; militant elements metaphorically poisoning the water and turning each side against them; and a woman killing someone else with a glorified cattle prod. At least here, Cleaves has a good reason to have a taser, and has put in some effort to make it work.

Buzzer’s the first to die, and you might be shocked that Matthew Graham’s friend, Marshall Lancaster (having worked together on Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes) doesn’t make it out alive at all. Still, perhaps this is pay-off for his violent streak, which earlier saw him threaten Ganger Cleaves with a screwdriver. Nasty.

Except it’s the Ganger Buzzer who is murdered first, and he’s pretty innocent. Even nastier.

And Ganger Jennifer takes charge.

None of the following events might’ve happened if Cleaves hadn’t killed Ganger Buzzer: aside from acting as the catalyst by proving what humans are capable of, now the Ganger Cleaves is more reticent than before – if she’d not been so shocked by her own (sort of) actions, she might’ve assumed control.

Notice that this is the same room as before, and it’ll be used again, as Jimmy is killed in The Almost People.

The drama is heightened further by this brief glimpse of the Ganger Doctor’s hand.

A particularly impressive tracking shot, with focus shifting between the different groups within this faction. You also get a brief moment of Rory and Amy trying to reconcile. It begins with Buzzer looking to the right, eyeing up the rest of the room, before finding the Doctor at the front of shot.

Here we are: the stuff of nightmares. The Ganger’s ability to sense when someone else is watching, clearly not shared by Jennifer. The Flesh Ganger clings to the ceiling, again establishing the idea that they can do things we simply can’t. Especially the monstrous Jennifer. Brrr. Chilling.

The Gangers have acid suits. Rory is split from his friends and is left to wander the dangerous corridors of St. John’s Monastery. And trapped, there’s danger from within.

We dive into the cliffhanger. It was inevitable, but nonetheless effective. A big part of its efficacy is Matt Smith’s performance, duplicating the Doctor’s mannerisms perfectly, despite being under layers of make-up. All this bodes very well for The Almost People.

But even separated from its concluding episode, The Rebel Flesh remains a feast for the eyes. It’s about time we celebrated it more!