Doctor Who #898: The Man Who Never Was Part 1

"Mister Serf seems so warm, so real, so natural. I'm sure my readers would like to get to know such a... genuine human being."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.17 2011.

IN THIS ONE... A holographic man is hypno-selling lame computers.

REVIEW: The premise of the The Man Who Never Was is an intriguing one, but the "aliens backdoor some kind of invasion through a product" is pretty tired at this point. Not that we know it's an invasion, but a money-making ploy seems even less interesting. Writer Gareth Roberts' sense of humor is sometimes a plus - all the innuendo flying during Sarah's interview is truly amusing - sometimes a minus - the contrast between the sleek tech upstairs, and the terribly analog way Mr. Serf is controlled (by Jawas!) is incongruous to the point of breaking our suspension of disbelief. Ok, not Jawas, they don't have enough eyes for it, but whoever these diminutive cyclopic gremlins are, they make me half-believe the Graske just weren't available. Seems they're way better making Serf go through pre-programmed material than improvising, and the glitches become worse and worse as Sarah lays on the traps. She's known to be shrewd and one of the top journalists in Britain, so though we haven't seen a lot of that, all of her articles can't be for the strange and unexplained pages of the tabloids.

This story marks the first (and as it turned out, only) face-to-face meeting between Luke and Sky, who obviously have a little rivalry going, but it's not the kind we expect. Both kids share an innocence from having no childhood, and the abandonment issues you'd associate with fostered children, which they both are. So there's an uncertainty and a melancholy coming off them. Has Luke been replaced? And can Sky empathize? It's still too early to tell, I suppose, but I do take issue with the abilities Roberts gives Sky. That her electrical powers would allow her to notice the glitch is fine, but then Luke shouldn't. Rather, and from later evidence when Sky is able to dictate the precise second the glitch happened on a tape from memory, she's been made into the same kind of brainiac character Luke is. They have a lot in common - and like Serf, they are people who "never were", in a sense - but their powers should have been more distinct, each contributing a unique feature to the episode.

At least Luke and Sky have the benefit of being Sarah's adopted kids. Clyde and Rani (or "Clani") are more or less sidelined in this adventure, though they thankfully get to do things, like open the Serf Board, etc. What I love about this pairing is that they talk things through. They don't have the magical solutions Sarah and Luke often do, they have to question, theorize, debate and compromise. Luke calling them "Clani" may be an indication that everyone in their lives considered them an item, even if they hadn't taken it to a romantic level yet. So the nickname is a little cruel, though Luke doesn't realize it is. Ellie rates a mention, and if you read between the lines, it seems his romantic feelings for the girl he kissed in the previous episode has thrown an awkward wrench into their evolving relationship. Very true to life - you know, when you've given someone your attentions and then hooked up with someone else before that attraction ever bore fruit - and while the show doesn't let itself be about that, I think the way it's addressed adds texture and subtext to the series. We don't need to overt soap opera.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium
- A somewhat ridiculous plot saved by some fun character moments, including light comedy from Sarah Jane.

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