Saturday, 4 June 2011

DOCTOR WHO, 6.7 – "A Good Man Goes To War"

Saturday, 4 June 2011

The mid-series finale was in the exact same mould as Steven Moffat's other tent-pole episodes; a big, cluttered, exciting, ludicrous, exhausting, riotous, wantonly confusing, propulsive spectacle. It was the kind of episode that hid its deficiencies behind all manner of fairly extraneous moments and setups, as the story didn't really begin to take shape until The Doctor (Matt Smith) made his belated entrance almost halfway through. There's no denying Moffat's got a very cinematic attitude towards the show, which is very often a delight to bask in (especially when you remember how cack-handedly Russell T. Davies attempted the same), but it's a shame his enthusiasm and talent isn't on some kind of leash—as there were moments when "A Good Man Goes To War" resembled a feverish child's video-game.

Picking up from last week's terrific but overrated (and certainly widely confusing) cliffhanger, we met the inhabitants of militarized asteroid "Demon's Run", under the command of the fearsome Madam Kovarian (Frances Barber), the so-called Eye Patch Lady who somehow managed to smuggle Amy (Karen Gillan) off the TARDIS to give birth to her baby, replacing her with a psychically-operated "flesh avatar". From there we saw The Doctor amass his own personal army, calling in favours from a variety of familiar and unfamiliar faces—Rory (Arthur Darvill) in his Centurion costume, Sontaran nurse Commander Strax (Dan Starkey), a Silurian (Neve McIntosh) vigilante living in Victorian England, Captain Avery (Hugh Bonneville) from "The Curse Of The Black Spot", Danny Boy the Spitfire pilot from "Victory Of The Daleks", etc.—and hatching a plan to swoop into the Demon's Run base to run circles around the army of Clerics who've come to believe The Doctor's a legendarily dangerous foe who needs to be killed. Conspicuously absent was River Song (Alex Kingston), who refuses to leave her Storm Cage prison, aware of future events and that the only role she must play will come at the very end of The Battle of Demon's Run when The Doctor's at his lowest ebb...

Like a great many of Steven Moffat's episodes since he was handed the reigns of Doctor Who, it was definitely guilty of over-egging the pudding. If you took away all the flourishes and irrelevant moments, the actual plot could probably have been told in less than half the time—particularly as so much of it was just building up to River Song finally, finally revealing who she is. Undoubtedly this final scene, much like last week's, will come to dominate discussion of the episode because it was the only moment actually gave the audience a solid answer instead of juggling mysteries. River Song is Amy's daughter Melody Pond—being the closest translation of her human name from the planet she'll grow up on. I'm sure many people will be slightly underwhelmed by this explanation, because the mystery's been teased for years now, which means fans have been able to hypothesize every single possibility available. Having River be revealed as Amy's child is definitely the nicest answer, however, whether you predicted it or not. It may be interesting to go back and watch the interaction between River and Amy/Rory in previous episodes now, too, as Alex Kingston apparently knew in advance of her co-stars what River's big secret was. And in remembering back to her debut in "Forest Of The Dead", that somehow makes River's death even more poignant and heartrending.

It also poses lots of further questions, too. If the little girl in the astronaut outfit was Melody/River, was she abducted by The Silence and ordered to kill The Doctor? Is he therefore the "good man" River was jailed for killing? And if Melody's part Time Lord because she was conceived inside a TARDIS (okay, sure) and was seen regenerating into, I'm guessing, a more recognizable form at the end of "Day Of The Moon", why couldn't River regenerate at the end of "Forest Of The Dead" instead of dying and having her consciousness uploaded to a super-computer by David Tennant's Doctor? Does River have less regenerations than a Time Lord and had run out? Or will Steven Moffat come clean and admit that, actually, he had no idea River Song was half Time Lord when he first introduced her?

And what are we to make of the oddly-named Lorna Bucket (Christina Chong), the young soldier who joined the Clerics but took pity on Amy and helped The Doctor's friends in their hour of need? She was a very strange character to introduce just for that meager purpose, so I'm guessing The Doctor will be meeting her as a little girl (as she remembers meeting him) at some point in the future—perhaps relating to the search for baby Melody...

Overall, "A Good Man Goes To War" was an exhilarating mess that will perhaps get worse on reflection, mainly because it was so reliant on visuals and pizzazz to cover a lack of actual story—and certainly story that hasn't, in some way, been tackled before by Moffat. All writers have hallmarks and flavours, but there's definitely a sense that Moffat needs to find a new bag of tricks soon. It was also a disappointment that Matt Smith didn't quite sell some of his big speeches, and I'm personally a little irritated that people keep berating The Doctor for being "arrogant" and unwittingly creating a dangerous mystique about himself that causes his friends' lives to be put in danger. I mean, really? The man's saved the goddamn universe multiple times and nobody becomes his companion unless they really want to—what do you want from him? Sorry, but River's bitchy speech designed to humble The Doctor and make him see everything's his fault was built on shaky ground. As if that was meant to symbolize this great fall from grace the mid-series finale has been teasing for The Doctor, which wasn't anywhere near as convincing and shocking as hoped.

Still, let's not end on a big negative. There was plenty to enjoy here and it was a remarkable feat in terms of production design and special effects, together with a brilliant performance from Karen Gillan, who appears to have really found her characters this year. The pace didn't flag for a second and most of its later surprises worked well, even if the impact of learning River Song's identity was perhaps lessened by having predicted it for yourself ages ago. Let's face it, it was always a tossup between a companion's daughter and The Doctor's wife.

What did you think? Did "A Good Man Goes To War" satisfy you on most levels, or were expectations just too massive? Did the River Song reveal cause a surprise or a shrug? And what are your hopes for the rest of series 6, when Doctor Who resumes in the autumn?


  • The next episode is called, rather hilariously, "Let's Kill Hitler." Best. Title. Ever. But how will killing Adolf Hitler factor into The Doctor's plan to rescue Melody Pond? And why is he doing this alone suddenly?
  • Thinking ahead, it'll be interesting to see how Moffat handles the rest of this season. I assume most of the questions posed by the two-part premiere (regarding Melody and The Silence) will be kept simmering until the series 6 finale, but can you really have "standalone" episodes like "Curse Of The Black Spot" and "The Rebel Flesh" going on while a child's in jeopardy, and these big important things are on everyone's mind? I do worry that the standalone/mytharc balance is being screwed with too much this year.
  • I missed this, but apparently a "skeleton holding a sonic screwdriver" appeared at the end of the credits. Do you think that could be The Doctor's remains after his Viking funeral from the premiere, somehow still able to live—like those Headless Monks? (Update: video embedded below.)
  • Cybermen are cool again—incredible what some better direction, CGI and lighting can achieve.
  • Stevie Wonder was taken to sing under London Bridge in 1814 but doesn't know it happened because he's blind. Genius.
  • What is it with Moffat and military clerics? They also appeared in the "The Time Of Angels" two-parter last year. A little dig at organized religion? Enjoyed the mention of a female "Papal Mainframe", too.
  • So what did River whisper to The Doctor in "Forest Of The Dead"? It was always assumed she told him his real name, proving she's someone very important to him—possibly his wife. But now we know that's not true, so what did she whisper?
written by Steven Moffat / directed by Peter Hoar / 4 June 2011 / BBC One

Next time...