“A Good Man Goes To War” Review [SPOILERS!!!!!]
By Kyle Anderson on June 13, 2011
For an episode where a lot was going on, nothing really happened until the last few minutes. “A Good Man Goes to War,” the mid-series finale of Doctor Who, was full of action and cool new characters, but there wasn’t, strictly speaking, a “plot.” Yet this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The whole episode was leading to the big reveal at the end, indeed a game-changer like Moffat had been saying all along, which worked well, I think. Truth be told, this episode did not need to be about a grand plot or a timey-wimey event. This episode was all about characters and how characters relate to and perceive the Doctor, and how he perceives himself. To do an episode like that as the midseason finale was a bold choice, especially for Steven Moffat, whose whole bag has been complex plots and stuff. And still, questions ARE answered in a satisfactory way.
At the beginning of the episode, we know Amy and child, called Melody, are being held by Eye Patch Lady, who is leading the Clerics, militarized Anglicans whom we last saw in “Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone.” The Eye Patch Lady’s name is “Madame Kovarian,” but I’m going to keep calling her Eye Patch Lady. There’s a moment in the prologue, while Amy is telling Melody they’ll all be okay because her father is coming to save them, that we think yet again she’s talking about the Doctor, but, of course, it’s Rory. Rory, The Last Centurion. Moffat loves creating heroes, real proper superheroes, and I think it’s really great that Rory went from a sad sack, a pushover, to literally being awesome enough to stand up to a fleet of Cybermen. Also, the fact that Cybermen are in this episode simply as a way for Rory to look badass is pretty cool. I like Rory.
The Clerics have a whole army waiting for the Doctor, and they’ve even brought in the Headless Monks, who are basically Jedi with no heads. They don’t make sense. Are we supposed to believe that their faith is so strong they can exist without heads? If that’s the case, how do their hoods stay up? Don’t say “the Force,” because that’s your answer for everything. We’re also introduced to Lorna Bucket, a cleric who has met the Doctor before when she was a child. She doesn’t want the Doctor to be harmed, but this is the only way she can think of to see him again. Kind of a dumb plan if you ask me, but it works. Lorna is another in a long line of companions who never were.
While they wait impatiently, the Doctor is compiling his own army, comprised of people who owe him a debt. I feel like the Doctor wouldn’t collect debts because he wouldn’t keep track of them. “Favors for favors” doesn’t seem to be his bag, but it’s really just a means of getting more cool characters together. How else would we get a Silurian samurai from the 1880s and her human life partner and a helpful Sontaran in the same place at the same time? He also recruits Dorium Maldovar, the big, bald, blue guy whom River barters with briefly in “The Pandorica Opens.” He definitely does not want to go fight, but he does, evidently because he also owes the Doctor something.
And what about River? Rory goes to collect her, on her birthday *wink wink*, right after the Doctor had taken her to the early 1800s and had Stevie Wonder sing to her. River is visibly stunned to see Rory and tells him she can’t go with him, because this is the day the Doctor finds out who she is. More on that later. Spoilers.
I like and have always liked the idea of teams of good guys and moreover the idea of recruiting them. This episode really felt like Doctor Who’s answer to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the book, of course, not the abomination of a film they made). The Doctor himself doesn’t actually appear for 19 minutes, and he does with a boom. The Eleventh Doctor has an interesting way of dealing with large threats which is to act like he doesn’t give a shit. He’s supremely confident and doesn’t need to bluster or shout (until later). Maybe slightly too confident? He almost immediately makes the Clerics look like fools, despite their persistent assurances that they are not, and his “army” takes control of Demons Run in 3min 42sec.
While I can totally buy and enjoy the fact that the Doctor can gather a Silurian samurai and a Sontaran nurse, I have a hard time believing he’d be able to mobilize an entire legion of Silurian warriors and Judoon officers just like that. It’s a cool visual, but the logistics of it are a bit off. I liked the small throwback to “The Curse of the Black Spot” with the quick shot of Captain Avery and Toby implying that his ship of space pirates has taken control of Eye Patch Lady’s ship. I did NOT appreciate the return of the Spitfires in space from “Victory of the Daleks.” I can maybe, MAYBE, understand Spitfires in space in the context of that episode because they’re pretty close to Earth, but here they’re light years away and hundreds of years in the future. Did the Doctor fit both of those Spitfires in the TARDIS? And where do they go once they’ve blown up the communications array? Anyway, hairs split.
One of my favorite scenes happens when the Doctor tells Col. Manton to leave, in what has come to be known as “The Col. Runaway Speech.” Matt Smith is truly wonderful in this moment and it displays this Doctor’s short temper quite nicely. I am, however, growing slightly tired of him always saying “That’s new,” after he experiences some emotion. He’s not Data, he can emote once in a while. It worked in “The Doctor’s Wife” because he truly didn’t know what to do which he surely never felt before, but he’s angry ALL THE TIME, why would he be surprised at being angry?
It’s been hinted at a lot lately that the Doctor, above and beyond being a time-traveling do-gooder, is the most feared thing in the universe. Last year’s “The Pandorica Opens” illustrated this beautifully, with a combined group of all of the Doctor’s worst foes banding together to stop him. Now, it seems, it goes beyond his stable of monsters. The Clerics and Eye Patch Lady seemingly have no reason to fear the Doctor other than that he is something to be feared. There’s a moment when Lorna mentions that to her people, the word “Doctor” means “Great Warrior” because of their brief time with him. He has to come to grips with the fact that, while he always tries to do good from his and our point of view, he’s universally known as a threat. It’s like Richard Matheson’s original novel I Am Legend, where (SPOILERS) at the end the lead character is captured by the vampire people and accepts execution because, to them, HE is the monster. The Doctor is being forced to accept the same thing. To the Daleks, Cybermen, and, I guess, the Clerics, he is the monster. I think he’ll start to make amends for this soon.
Everything seems fine very quickly and Amy and Rory are reunited with their daughter Melody Pond. There’s a very funny exchange with the Doctor where we learn that he speaks baby (of course he does), and he gives them his cot from when he was a baby. They won! The Doctor begins to learn what they’d been doing to Melody. Apparently, because Melody was conceived on the TARDIS, she was born with some sort of strange time-energy in her DNA, which it seems the Eye Patch Lady has been enhancing for quite some time. So the child is partially Time Lord, which makes sense in context, but we never knew it could happen. Of course, there’s no precedent for it. To our knowledge, no child has ever been conceived on the TARDIS. It lends to the theory that not all Gallifreyans are Time Lords. It’s an enhancement they’ve done to themselves through “billions of years” being exposed to the Time Vortex and the Untempered Schism. I think that stuff is super fascinating and I’m excited to see where Moffat goes with it.
But, of course, Eye Patch Lady has another trick up her sleeve, and, once she is long gone, the Headless Monks attack the small remaining heroes. EPL tells the Doctor that they plan to use Melody as a weapon against the Doctor. She also informs the Doctor that he’s been fooled a second time, leading to the horrible realization that the baby Amy has been cradling is actually a Flesh duplicate. It’s one of the most heartbreaking reveals the show has ever created and Amy is understandably despondent afterwards. The Monks are eventually defeated, but Dorium, Lorna, and Sontaran nurse Strax are killed in the process. As Strax dies, he tells Rory that while he looked like a warrior, he was just a nurse, something that hits Rory like a punch in the sternum.
And then River arrives. She’s finally here to tell the Doctor, and us, who she is. The answer lies in the cot. For a moment we, or at least I, thought she was going to say she was the Doctor’s mother, but that would have been gross and ridiculous. The Doctor realizes the truth and sort of cheerfully heads to the TARDIS. Amy is still totally unaware and River calmly explains it by showing the whatever-that-thing-is that Lorna had sewn. It’s Melody’s name in the language of her people. They don’t know the word for Pond, because the only water in the forest is the River. YES! River Song is actually Melody Pond. She is Amy and Rory’s daughter!
I think that was a wonderful reveal, personally. I sort of saw it coming, but at this point it’s nice not to have to speculate. Why would she be some kind of strange third-party character when the most poignant and pertinent thing would be that she is the child of the Ponds (Williamses)? So the little girl we saw in the space suit is likely River Song and she can regenerate. But, there are a few questions that need answering and things that don’t quite add up yet.
1) If the little girl we saw in the suit and regenerating is River, why wouldn’t River have remembered it while she was investigating it? Unless she’s just “spoilers”-ing again.
2) I don’t think River is the one in the space suit that kills the Doctor in “The Impossible Astronaut,” BECAUSE grown-up River looks genuinely shocked and sad when the Doctor dies. However, this could just be her lying again, or it could be the Silence making her forget. I just think it’s someone else entirely we haven’t met yet.
3) The scene in Stormcage at the beginning of this episode where River looks really surprised and wistful about seeing Rory. This is what I think: River, at that point in her life, hadn’t seen Rory in a very long time and I believe that’s because Rory is the “Good Man” whom River kills. She says she kills “The best man she’s ever known,” and that HAS to be her dad, the Last Friggin’ Centurion. The whole series has been making us think someone’s talking about the Doctor but are actually talking about Rory. It only stands to reason that this is just the last instance of it. While I don’t want to see Rory get killed, it will probably be in some heroic fashion and it will inform River’s whole life and relationship with the Doctor and Amy.
4) Who blew up the TARDIS? I know this is an old question, but the TARDIS exploded in “The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang,” and we still don’t know who caused it or why. What does it have to do with the Silence falling?
Now we have a good few months to wait and watch Torchwood while we mull over these and other important questions. Boy, for an episode I claimed didn’t have much plot, there was a whole lot to talk about.
Later this week, I’m going to be featured on an episode of the excellent podcast, Two-Minute Time Lord, with two other fantastic bloggers/critics talking about Series 6. Follow me on TWITTER and I’ll link you once it plops.
Until next time, Whovians!
-Kanderson speaks nerd.