In the seventh episode of the sixth series of Doctor Who, the Doctor assembles allies across space and time to enact a bloodless coup in order to get Amy Pond back. And then what the hell is going on. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finally review the mid-season finale of Doctor Who.
Well, that’s certainly the longest I’ve gone between watching something and then reviewing it, right? It’s now been twelve days since I totally broke US law in order to watch “A Good Man Goes To War” in my hotel room before I managed to get a poor amount of sleep prior to the start of my AIDS/LifeCycle ride. It didn’t help that I had a poor stream with out-of-sync sound and the wi-fi connection was a total bust, so I had to watch it in two painful sittings. And of course, that final scene had me squirming and shouting like a fool and I almost fell off the bed because apparently I am that ridiculous when watching shit these days.
In those twelve long days, I’ve had a chance to not only think long and hard about the events of this mind-melting episode, but I did watch a proper LEGAL version from my iTunes season pass to help me sort out all of the thoughts buzzing through my head.
Dear Watchers: It did not help.
I have never seen an episode of television that made me feel so….not smart. Not good at comprehension. As if I’m watching an episode in a language I do not speak. No, not even that. As if I’m watching something that takes place 40 billion years in the future when virtually everything we know has changed and mere gestures I am familiar with have been eradicated from human society.
Ok, I’m exaggerating. But, like “The Rebel Flesh,” there’s a part of me that doesn’t feel quite that satisfied with everything because we are seeing just one tiny part of the whole. (That’s actually an important thought I’ll return to.) And I’m not sure that’s a bad thing at all. We’re not being told a full story, so I’m inclined to wait it out before I start whining or cheering to the heavens.
In the meantime, the unbelievably complicated ramifications of that end reveal….i just can’t. I cannot figure it out.
So let’s start with the battle of Demon’s Run. Let’s start with what I (and other’s) do know. We get that fantastic opening monologue from Amy as she speaks boldly to her newborn daughter, Melody, assuring her that her father is coming to save them. There’s a nice misdirect that made me believe for just a few seconds that Amy meant the Doctor, but, of course, she’s referring to the Last Centurion. And OH RORY. You are such a gorgeous BAMF in this scene, speaking to the group of Cybermen (WHERE THE HELL DID THEY COME FROM AND WHY ARE THEY NEVER SEEN AGAIN) as the other ships explode and you demand to know where your wife is. RORY, PLEASE NEVER CHANGE.
The Doctor assembles so many of the people we’ve come across since Eleven started his run and I loved that it wasn’t just characters from series six, as both Dorium and a Silurian return to the screen. On top of that, I felt it was a neat dynamic that it was all beings that owed the Doctor in some way or another and, thinking about what River tells the Doctor later in the episode, it fits with the direction his character is headed. I even enjoyed that the Doctor himself never even appeared on screen until the big reveal during Colonel Runaway’s huge speech. (You can’t stop me from calling him that it is his name gosh.)
And this whole set-up certainly is something that’s a tad familiar. Obviously, it was a different context, but “The Pandorica Opens” also had a gathering of past Doctor Who villains and characters. For a second, I thought to myself, “DON’T REPEAT YOURSELF MOFFAT,” and then wonderfully he seemed to obey my command as if it was sent through time.
There are a few reasons why this was so pleasantly different than “The Pandorica Opens,” and the main reason is that Moffat actually spent time developing these side characters. We’d seen bits of Dorium back in series five when River Song interacted with him, but Commander Strax, Lorna Bucket, Madame Vestra, and Jenny are all given enough time for us to appreciate that these people have much fuller stories than some past supporting characters on the show.
And look, I have to say it, but ever since RTD left the show, it’s been decidedly less queer than it was during his reign. I was very surprised and happy to get TWO homosexual pairings in one episode, one fairly over-the-top and the other much more touching and nuanced. (Seriously, someone write me a fic with Madame Vestra and Jenny having badass adventures in London I WOULD READ THE SHIT OUT OF THAT.) And it truly didn’t feel like a creepy, tokenized thing either. Also, seriously, Who fandom. Get on that. Vestra/Jenny fic. Now.
But River Song steals the show. Doesn’t she always? She’s probably the best reoccurring character this show has ever had (I’LL FIGHT YOU FOR THAT) (JACK HARKNESS DOESN’T COUNT SINCE HE HAS HIS OWN SHOW) (that being said this mid-season finale needed more of that man) (what is wrong with me), and her tease in the opening of “A Good Man Goes To War” certainly makes her a whole lot interesting. It wasn’t surprising, per se, since we all sort of knew one way or another that this was going to be the episode where we found out who she was. I was actually far more interested in her claim that this would be when the Doctor would fall further than ever before. what does that mean river. Oh god, what if it was literal. Well, she would have used farther in that case but still maybe he falls into space.
somedays my thoughts should remain in my head.
But on that note, River tells Rory she can’t go with him. She has to wait until the end. Is this because of her rigid spoiler policy? (Oh my god we are twin spoiler brigades.) But then I know that even asking that question at this point is completely futile: We are being given half of the story. Or a third. Or a fourth. Hell, maybe even less of that. (And now my brain is going to explode because we still haven’t had the huge mystery from “The Impossible Astronaut” answered yet either.)
That frustration can be good. It fuels our discussion. It fuels our interest in this show. It’s fun. And it can also get in the way of enjoying a show or an episode for what it is, too.
Thankfully, despite that I do feel impossibly frustrated, there’s a lot that I can like about “A Good Man Goes To War,” and when the narrative at Demon’s Run kicks into high gear, this is unmistakably an episode of Doctor Who. The pacing and the staging is grandiose and over-the-top in precisely that manner that I really like about this show. We have an entire army base on an asteroid preparing to launch an attack on the Doctor, but he has already infiltrated your base. And seriously, bravo timing on that reveal, because the whole “Hey-the-headless-monks-are-actually-headless-and-really-creepy-and-also-they-sort-of-look-like-jedis-and-Jawas” thing was both confusing and totally frightening and my conflicted heart nearly exploded but OH MY GOD THE DOCTOR WAS ON STAGE ALREADY. And look at that joyous face of his. I like Matt Smith’s joyous face, okay? There is nothing wrong with that. As I said, this plot is very much what the Doctor does: He finds ways to use that big ol’ brain of his to trick and manipulate the worst parts of people to get exactly what he wants. In the name of doing good? Well, I mean, I can’t imagine rescuing Amy and Melody Pond as anything but good, but that’s not really the point of this story here, is it? This is about methodology, the means to the end, not the end of it all.
Which is why River’s warning that this is the Doctor’s darkest day hangs over every bit of what happens here. The Doctor certainly is clever, and he can certainly trick everyone, even that creepy Madame Kovarian to an extent (OH GOD BUT NOT ALL THE WAY OH MY GOD). He uses the fear of the Headless Monks and a switch of the lights to cause chaos and in just minutes, Commander Strax, the Silurians, the Judoon, and Vestra/Jenny have successfully infiltrated the base and taken it over. just like that doctor you are so brilliant.
The tenderness arrives and it is much-needed. After the horrifying conclusion to “The Almost People,” the “reunion” of Amy and Rory (and the introduction of Melody to Rory!!!!) is just SO FANTASTIC. Seeing Rory walk in all majestically, adorned in that Roman outfit once more, is honestly one of the best of series six. I believe this is the first married couple that’s ever traveled with the Doctor and had a child? And it works SO PERFECTLY WELL! The Doctor waltzes in after being ordered by Rory (ew KISSING AND CRYING ew), claims to speak baby, calls the baby Melody Pond, and basically everything is perfect forever.
Until Madame Vestra arrives to tell the Doctor that the retreat is a success, not a drop of blood has been shed, and that he has never risen higher. Gosh, watching this scene again and paying special attention to Rory’s face….Arthur Darvill, your expressions are brilliant. It’s such a subtle realization of River’s words and you can see the fear spread across his face.
It seemed too quick, didn’t it? And I don’t just mean that I was thinking of River’s words. This was about the speed and the ease with which this all went down. Dorium even spells it out at one point: Wasn’t this too easy? It’s at this point that the pace of “A Good Man Goes To War” becomes incredibly strange. I don’t know if this is a full-formed criticism yet, but before the River reveal, this episode is just strange. The Demon’s Run “battle” is very, very Who, but it’s started and over in perhaps…twenty-five minutes? And maybe I’m just being selfish here, but I felt that “A Good Man Goes To War” could have been at least twice as long as it ended up being. The plot in the final third feels incredibly compacted and there’s no time to breath.
What saves it from being a loss, though, is that we learn just how badly we’ve all been trolled by Moffat for like….jesus christ. Two years? Three years? Certainly since the last episode, definitely since Matt started, and I’m counting River Song’s introduction in 2008, too. Is this the longest con ever perpetrated like this?? (Actually…..oh god, I cannot even talk about it, but I think there’s technically a reveal in LOST that is five years in the making that might beat this.)
While I had a fleeting thought who River was a while ago (and dismissed it out of absurdity), I can say with certainty that there was not a thought in my brain that figured out even the tiniest detail of Madame Kovarian’s trap for the Doctor. I did not anticipate that Melody Pond would be PART TIME LORD. And I never imagined that the two parter “The Rebel Flesh” / “The Almost People” would be so important to this episode:
“Oh, Doctor, fooling you once was a joy. But fooling you twice, the same way, it’s a privilege.”
MELTY POND BABY. ARE YOU KIDDING ME HOW. HOW. HOW. oh my god the tragedy. OH GOD RORY JUST GOT TO SEE HER and she got taken away.
And what was once a victorious story about a bloodless success turns into an unimaginable terror, a future guaranteed to be full of that much more conflict and struggle. How does this group heal from this moment? The Doctor was tricked, Amy and Rory just lost their child, and in the chaos below, as the Headless Monks attack everyone, we lose Commander Strax and Lorna Bucket. Is Commander Strax the best Sontaran character of all time. YES. YES HE IS. Oh god, and how brilliant is it that he is NURSE. LIKE RORY.
I’m not sure I fully understand Lorna Bucket’s character enough to feel bad that she died. Well, ok, that makes me sound heartless, because it’s clearly sad that she died. But I mean that…I think Lorna’s death is a huge hint that River’s words about the Doctor’s downfall have not happened yet. We have just met her and all we know is that she met the Doctor as a child in the Gamma Forests, and there was running? LOOK I DON’T KNOW. Here’s my guess: The Gamma Forests are going to play HEAVILY into whatever comes next. River’s words to the Doctor when she finally appears are about how his name has a different connotation to those in the Gamma Forests. To me, that is when we will see the Doctor fall further than he ever has before. This, what we’ve just seen in “A Good Man Goes To War,” is merely a setback. Well, shit, that sounds like I’m trivializing the fact that people died and the Ponds’ child was just stolen from them, and I don’t want to do that!
But then….shit, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a plot twist like what happens at the end of “A Good Man Goes To War.” Even though I now know many folks figured out who River Song was from clues in the series (I DIDN’T LOL), the twist is still surprising because of what it means for this new focus in the story. What could have just been a shocking, mind-melting reveal now acts as a sign of assurance: Amy and Rory, your child is perfectly fine.
BECAUSE SHE IS FUCKING STANDING RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.
It is going to take a while for me not only to adjust to the idea (WHICH I DO LOVE), but to revisit River Song’s previous appearances with this knowledge. What does this do to everything? How does this recontextualize the series in a new light? HOW THE HELL WHAT THE FUCK OH MY GOD A;SLDKFJASD;LKFJA;SDLKFJA;SLDKFJA;SLDKJF;ASLKDJF A;SDKFL AS;DL AS; ;ADKF ;A KLSDFJKDFSA;S ;AOISERJ ;KLVMJ
I liked “A Good Man Goes To War” a great deal, but I’m left waiting for the other shoe to drop. Series six is far more serialized than anything we’ve seen in the past and I don’t like judging it as a whole when I haven’t seen the whole. But I know that shit is so real and we are all unprepared and god i am so in love with Rory as a character and River please be my friend
just holy hell. what an episode.
- “We’re the thin fat gay married Anglican marines. Why would we need names as well?” YES. YES. YES.
- “But what’s he like? The Doctor.” “He said, “Run.” “Just ‘Run’?” “He said it a lot.” HE DOES SAY THAT A LOT.
- “How did you find him?” “Stringy, but tasty all the same. I shan’t be needing dinner.” GOD HOW ARE THEY SO PERFECT
- “Captain Harcourt, I hope some day to meet you in the glory of battle, when I will crush the life from your worthless human form. Try and get some rest.” BEST SONTARAN EVER.
- The idea that Melody Pond also told the Doctor that his bow tie was ridiculous is just….I love it.
- “I have gene-spliced myself for all nursing duties. I can produce magnificent quantities of lactic fluid!” No, seriously best Sontaran to ever exist.
- “Well, how would I know? That’s all human and private stuff. It just sort of goes on. They don’t put up a balloon or anything.”
- WE HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL SEPTEMBER? where is my TARDIS