Saturday 4 June 2011

A Good Man Goes to War. Review (Mahoosive spoilers).

Dr Who, A Good Man Goes to War, Frances Barber, Madame Kovarian
Dr Who's first mini-series of 2011 comes to an end with a story that no one with any sense ever thought would tie up all its loose ends, and surely everyone knew would create new ones.

Having decided to rescue Amy from the evil eye-patch woman and her lackeys, the Doctor recruits an unlikely army of Silurians, a Sontaran, a blue man and some pirates before setting off to get her back. After a daring raid on the bad guys' asteroid, it seems he's succeeded but, while he frees Amy, in his over-confidence he fails to realise until too late that he's not rescued her baby, leading to the deaths of a number of his accomplices and giving River Song a chance to hand him a Davros-style lecture about his nature before she finally gets round to revealing who she actually is.

Dr Who, A Good Man Goes to War, Rory, Amy and River Song
To be honest, the River Song revelation's not that big a shock - there weren't that many people she could be and still have it mean anything in context of the show, and I think most viewers had noted the similarity between the names Pond and River. So, when it comes, it feels a bit lame especially as we're exposed to the unlikely sight of Alex Kingston claiming to be Karen Gillan's daughter. Still, at least we've finally got that mystery out of the way.

Dr Who, A Good Man Goes to War, Madame Vastra
If the thing has the air of an epic and is clearly in some places in debt to Star Wars, its main triumphs are ones of characterisation, as we're introduced to what must be the only Sontaran nurse in the universe, a lesbian Silurian Victorian super-sleuth and a young woman who's joined the bad guys purely so she'll get the chance to meet the Doctor again after once encountering him as a girl. Steven Moffat really does like to have the Doctor first encounter characters when they're children, doesn't he?

Dr Who, A Good man Goes to War, Rory and Commander Strax
Did we ever think we'd encounter a likeable Sontaran? Probably not but Dan Starkey plays the part of Commander Strax beautifully, fully exploiting the ludicrousness of a character who cheerfully threatens to kill you while also giving you helpful health advice, and you have to love his dying words to Rory; "A warrior? Rory, I'm a nurse," giving Rory as much of a reality check as the Doctor's had to receive. The episode's full of such neat ironies, including Amy's part Time-Lord baby being put in the Doctor's old cot. There's also the revelation that the Doctor can allegedly speak Baby Language.

That aside, the amount of build-up the Doctor gets in this episode's quite startling and there's no denying that, clearly starting to believe his own publicity, he needs to be taken down a peg or two - although it's hard to see how the writers can possibly turn the Doctor away from seeming like the deadliest being in the universe after all the triumphs against ridiculous odds he's had over the decades and all the ones he'll inevitably have  in the future.

Probably the weakest element character-wise is the sight of Rory being bad-ass with the Cybermen. It doesn't matter how hard Arthur Darvill tries, it's still impossible to see him as anything other than amiably inept.

If Russell T Davies got accused of sometimes trying to cram too much into his epics, Steven Moffat takes it to a whole other level as he tries to pack an entire RTD style two-parter into just 45 minutes. Largely he succeeds. Despite so much having to be fitted in, the pacing mostly feels right. At times it all seems a bit too pumped up for Dr Who - especially the Doctor enjoying the Spitfire attack on the base a little too much for comfort - but, in fairness, that issue's addressed with River Song's lecture.

So, the Doctor's succeeded and he's failed. What next? We still don't know who's actually behind the scheme to nab Amy's baby - although there's an obvious set of suspects - and how does Hitler fit into it all? We'll have to wait a couple of months to find out.

But just what was that post-credits shot all about?


Kid said...

The 'revelation' was a bit of a damp squib I thought. The bad guys have got the baby? So what? She clearly survives the ordeal - look, there she is, all hale and hearty, standing in front of Amy. Far too contrived to the point of absurdity. Moffat is now clearly catering mainly to geekdom it seems.

Steve said...

It probably isn't the best way to promote dramatic tension, by telling us all that everything's going to be fine. Then again, we know the baby survives but what about Amy and Rory? Frankly, I don't fancy Rory's chances - not after the reaction River had to him when he showed up at her prison.

Simon B said...

River may be "hale and hearty" at the moment but, as we now know, time can be re-written. I don't think they're off the hook yet...

Steve said...

Doomed! Doomed! They're all doomed!

fred said...

So River Song is Melody Pond, captured by unexplained enemies who for some reason have devoted their civilisation to killing the doctor, and ends up killing the doctor. And I'm sure Mr Moffat has some timey-wimey stuff that will 'explain' it, but I'm afraid I'm losing interest.

TitusGroan said...

Is nobody interested that we saw the Doctor's crib with his name written on the side (which is how River knows his name)?

Steve said...

Titus, have no fear. I'm interested that his name was on the side of the cot.

Then again, in Silence in the Library, in response to River knowing his name, he said there was only one time he could ever tell someone his name. I assume he didn't mean, "There's only one time I could ever tell someone my name - and that's when I light-heartedly lend my cot to a couple of mates for a while." Therefore I assume he told River his real name at an earlier point in her timeline than last night's story and she already knew it before she saw the cot.

For me, it's been a patchy series. Some of it I've enjoyed, some of it not. I can't help feeling it would've been better had it just been four episodes, all written by Moffat. The importance of the story arc's tended to make the guest writers' standalone efforts feel somewhat superfluous and meant the feel of the show's been all over the place.

RTD for the most part managed to make every episode feel like it was written by the same hand no matter who was credited as writer. Moffat hasn't shown the same inclination and I think the show's suffered for that. You've always been aware that different writers were writing different episodes, giving it all a strange stop-go feel.

Gavin Bollard said...

Right now, it's a long way from those "base under siege" stories. I don't mind. That's what Doctor Who has always been about - change... but I wish we could get thrown a few more simple stories which don't involve the fate of the entire universe.

It used to be that just saving a few people was enough.

Anonymous said...

Gotta disagree on the criticism of Rory as BAMF. I thought he pulled it off beautifully. If dressing up as a Centurion helps him get in touch with his inner bad-ass, then he should do it more often.

The more mysterious part to me is that it was implied that *River's* name was written on the cradle -- the cot, I mean. The Doctor wasn't looking at the prayer-leaf, was he? And what was all that "But this means..." "Yes, I'm afraid it does..." all about?

Steve said...

My reading of it was that the Doctor was looking into the cot rather than at its outside when he caught on.

I think the, "But this means..." stuff was the Doctor suddenly realising that it meant that when he'd kissed River at the end of Day of the Moon, he'd been kissing Amy's daughter, and he was therefore embarrassed by the discovery.

phantom_tiger said...

I thought the revelation took too long. It wasn't that surprising. The cot thing was confusing, though I'm really glad we didn't take a quick dash into some weird theory about the Doctor having a sibling or something. And I'm fed up of the whole giving the Doctor a lecture thing. I didn't think anyone could complicate a story and try to wrap it up faster than RTD but I stand corrected. The more complicated it got the less I cared. Which is a terrible thing for me to be saying. The pretentious voiceover thing has to go as well. This episode needed to be ruthlessly edited.

Steve W. said...

I do agree that I'd like to see them simplify the show in future seasons. It's hard to see how it can carry on getting more and more complicated without disappearing completely up its own backside.

It'd be nice to see it get back to basics for a while next year but I suspect such a hope may be in vain.

phantom_tiger said...


I hate when people think confusing is the same thing as deep.

I fear you are right.

Craig Smith said...

Good review Steve. May just be me. but Steven Moffat sure likes to repeat phrases in his episodes. "We are not fools!" Can't remember the others off the top of my head, but there are a few if I remember correctly, sometimes it works, but most of the time annoying. That aside the story was epic in its scope and enjoyed it a lot.

Steve W. said...

Thanks, Craig.

Taking a quick glance through the review again after all these months, what strikes me is we never did get to see what the post-credits shot was all about.

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