Doctor Who: A Good Man Goes to War

River: 'This is the day he finds out who I am.'

Tonight's episode was a mid-season finale, which is something of a first for us here in the UK, as our seasons are seldom long enough to cut in two. As such, despite answering some of our questions, it left most of the main plot threads hanging. We now know who River Song is, but the central mystery remains tantalisingly incoherent. Emotionally, tonight's episode had some effective set pieces, but I'm going to start off with what I didn't like. There weren't many things, so bear with me.

Tonally, it felt a little too similar to 'The Big Bang'. It had that epic end-of-the-world feel to it, and was infused with the now customary 'everything's so much worse than it's ever been before' type hyperbole we've come to both know and love. (And sometimes loathe). It's never true, of course. The Doctor's nadir must surely have been the genocide of his people. Even if Rory, Amy, and River were to explode, and fish fingers and custard ceased to exist—depressing though that may be—it would still pale in comparison to the sheer misery of losing everyone you know and love. However, we get the gist, things are bad, and the Doctor's world's crumbling. No need to go overboard.

We were also subjected to the now seemingly mandatory slew of random returning monsters. Captain Avery's cameo was particularly worthless—he hardly did anything. And the spitfires were tiresome in 'Victory of the Daleks'—whose idea was it to bring them back? I'm quite partial to the odd splash of subtle (and even not-so-subtle) continuity, I just like it to have purpose—which really wasn't the case here. Commander Strax, however, was responsible for some of the funniest quotes of the episode ('I can produce magnificent quantities of lactic fluid' being a particular favourite), and Neve McIntosh should be in every episode. I loved the idea of Madame Vastra being some kind of 19th Century Ninja—responsible for bringing down serial nutter, Jack the Ripper—and I liked that both Vastra and Strax were descendants of the Doctor's old foes.

I can't make my mind up whether the method by which the Doctor deduced Song's identity was deliberately ambiguous, or whether it was too subtle for my tiny brain to comprehend. Whose name was on the cot? The Doctor's? Song's? There were different markings on the side and front, so maybe both? If it was the Doctor's, that would explain how River knew his name back in 'Forest of the Dead'—but it doesn't explain how the Doctor knew Song's identity. Did I miss something? I even watched the director's commentary, and it completely glossed over it.

The internet was alight on Saturday night with people claiming they'd known River's true identity all along. No you didn't! You guessed, that's all. The information wasn't there until the very end. Since the people of the Gamma Forest have no word for pond ('The only water in the forest in the river'), it stands to reason that Lorna's prayer leaf would reflect this linguistic anomaly. I also enjoyed the Doctor's bonkers reaction to it: he was all childish air kissing, giggles, and guilty grins. I wonder how Rory and Amy will react when they realise the Doctor's been 'doing' their daughter? He'll probably end up with the Last Centurion's sword up his bottom.

I was a little puzzled as to why River couldn't remember being in the space suit. A memory lapse due to her regeneration? Wibbly-wobbly time-wimey spacey-wacey stuff? If River does possess a full 12 regeneration cycle, that opens up all manner of opportunities for her return. We may even get to see one of her previous incarnations. (If so, how much do you want to bet there'll be a 'Hello Sweetie' cliffhanger somewhere down the line?) Initially, I was confused as to why she didn't regenerate in 'Forest of the Dead', then I remembered that connecting to the library's core meant certain death even for a Time Lord. River died so the Doctor wouldn't have to. Potential problem solved.

Was anyone surprised to see the Doctor disguised as a monk? We've all seen Return of the Jedi, right? And, as is so often the case these days, the Cybermen were cruelly underused. They were nothing more than cannon fodder for a pissed off Doctor. Not that their ships exploding wasn't spectacular, but the Cybermen (like the Daleks), are desperately in need of a strong outing. Sadly, this wasn't it. Admittedly, it didn't harm them terribly, and there was none of that 'delete, delete' nonsense which often made the Russell T. Davies era so painful to watch, but having the Cybermen in the story did feel a little like someone had raided the monsters cupboard, picked out costumes at random, and then chucked them into the story. There was no reason for any of them to be there. It could have just as easily been Daleks, Autons, and Slitheen, stomping around, farting the place up.

I was surprisingly moved by Lorna Bucket's (it's Bouquet!) death. Another human willing to lay down her life for the Doctor. Despite claims that he never forgets a face, he couldn't remember Lorna's. Maybe they meet in the Doctor's future, or maybe there's just been too many to remember. In the end, Lorna realised her dream, and dying beside her hero, with her face in his hands, was a fitting conclusion to her story. Let's not forget that she was also instrumental in revealing Song's true identity. Without her prayer leaf we'd probably still be none the wiser—so kudos to young Lorna.

Acting accolades all around tonight. Matt Smith was as brilliant as ever. His emotions during those final scenes, where he wrestled with failure, uncertainty, confusion and, ultimately, revelation, were all magnificently handled. Even Arthur Darvill managed to elevate Rory from drippy (but marvellous) sidekick, into the kick-ass Last Centurion of future legend. His face (along with Karen's) on hearing Song's bombshell was just perfect.

Karen also had a strong episode. Her character had to cope with the loss of her child, the recovery of her child, the loss and recovery of Rory, and Melody turning into a puddle... all in the space of 48 minutes. I loved the way she looked at the Doctor at the end. Although losing Melody wasn't strictly his fault, in reality, the Doctor's always to blame. It's a companion's lot—the realisation that, despite the Doctor's innate goodness and many sacrifices, he's so dangerous to be around. None of them are untouchable. There'll always be someone out to hurt the Doctor. They're part of that now, and they'll always be targets. It's his one weakness. He knows it. We know it. His enemies know it. Amy knows it too, but for one fleeting moment, she blamed him anyway. And didn't it hurt him?

So, are we any further forward? Not enormously. We know why Amy's baby is half Time Lord. Apparently, knobbing aboard the TARDIS can effect human DNA. Apart from that, we're pretty much in the dark as to the whos, whys and wheres. At least we know that Melody will be safe, as we know that River survives until 'Forest of the Dead'. So we know that the Doctor prevails. The question is: how and at what cost?

Other Thoughts:

—The next episode's called 'Let's Kill Hitler'. I wonder what that subtly titled episode will be about?

—The Doctor was oddly evasive answering Amy's question about him having children. Why? We all know he has.

—How did Kovarian know to take a fake baby along as a decoy? These evil types are always so wise. Just not wise enough to shoot the Doctor when he's unarmed and standing right there in front of them.

—I thought River's reaction to Rory in the Stormcage was peculiar. Sometimes I wonder whether the 'good man' she'll end up killing will be Rory. He's getting bigged up a lot lately.

—We now know when Amy was taken. Sometimes before America. Which would make it between seasons, presumably?

—'That's a whole different birthday.' Hints at a two Doctors scenario, methinks.

Quotes:

Amy: 'Rory, no offence to the others, but... er... you let them all die first, okay?'
Rory: 'You're so Scottish.'

Rory: 'Where is my wife?'

Amy: 'I wish I could tell you that you'll be loved. That you'd be safe and cared for and protected. But this isn't a time for lies. What you are going to be, Melody, is very, very brave.'
Doctor: “Amelia Pond! Get your coat.”

Cyberman: 'What is the Doctor's message?'
(Cyber Fleet explodes)
Rory: 'Would you like me to repeat the question?'

Boy: 'Will I be okay?'
Strax: 'Of course you will, my boy. You'll be up and around in no time. And perhaps, one day, you and I will meet on the field of battle and I will destroy you for the glory of the Sontaran Empire.'
Boy: 'Thanks nurse.'

Strax: 'Captain Harcourt. I hope some day to beat you in the glory of battle. When I will crush the life from your worthless human form. Try and get some rest.'

Dorium: 'Why would you need me? I'm fat, I'm blue.'

Doctor: 'Good men don't need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many.'

Doctor: 'Hello Melody Pond.'
Rory: 'Melody Williams.'
Amy: '....is a geography teacher, Melody Pond is a superhero.'

Amy: 'I knew you were coming. Both of you... my boys.'

Doctor: 'And really, you should call her Mummy. Not big milk thing.'
Amy: 'Okay, what are you doing?'
Doctor: 'I speak baby.'
Amy: 'No you don't.'
Doctor: 'I speak everything.'

Doctor: 'Look, I'm angry. That's new. I'm really not sure what's going to happen now.'

Madame Vastra: 'When did this baby... begin?'
Doctor: 'Oh, you mean...?'
Madame Vastra: 'Quite.'
Doctor: 'Well how would I know? That's all human, in private, stuff. It just sort of goes on. They don't put up a balloon or anything.'

Strax: 'It's strange. I've often dreamed of dying in combat. I'm not enjoying it as much as I'd hoped.'
---
Also posted at The Time Meddler.

28 comments:

migmit said...

That was definitely good.

I have to say, I really liked Jenny. At first she appeared as just a nice maid, open-minded enough to accept her mistress's unusual exterior and weird eating habits. Which was quite cool already. When it was revealed that she is a fighter, a swordswoman - she became even cooler.

There is a well-known Russian short story by Anton Chekhov, named "Fat and Thin", about two old friends meeting unexpectedly; there names are not revealed in the story, they are called "Fat" and "Thin" instead. So, this episode made me smile even before I watched it.

Amy's description of Rory was fantastic - "looks young, but lived very long", "an army can't stop him" etc.

Anonymous said...

I do love Moffatt (semi) season finales if only for their huge amount of fabulously quotable lines (the Stevie Wonder reference was also hysterical, to add to the list). This one also had a nice ream of new secondary characters that were introduced (and despatched) efficiently, but definitely tugged the heartstrings. Nope, it wasn't perfect, but it was a pretty damn fun slice of Who - note to the Doctor: if it feels like a rescue is going too easily, it's always a trap!!

The second time I was watching without my head spinning quite so badly and came to two conclusions: either he was looking at the prayer leaf, which was still sitting in the cradle the whole time for Amy to also see afterwards, or the Gallifreyan characters (which only the Doctor and River can read, because they have the whole Time Lord DNA thing going on) also spelled River's name for some reason as it was now her cot too.

I won't even go into the whole meeting as a baby thing (why yes River, you were *very* young when you first met the Doctor!) except that it was a lot less icky than the Breaking Dawn version of that plot, lol! Absolutely loved the pitch-perfect baby talk as well :o) those two are just never not adorable...

Anonymous said...

I do love Moffatt (semi) season finales if only for their huge amount of fabulously quotable lines (the Stevie Wonder reference was also hysterical, to add to the list). This one also had a nice ream of new secondary characters that were introduced (and despatched) efficiently, but definitely tugged the heartstrings. Nope, it wasn't perfect, but it was a pretty damn fun slice of Who - note to the Doctor: if it feels like a rescue is going too easily, it's always a trap!!

The second time I was watching without my head spinning quite so badly and came to two conclusions: either he was looking at the prayer leaf, which was still sitting in the cradle the whole time for Amy to also see afterwards, or the Gallifreyan characters (which only the Doctor and River can read, because they have the whole Time Lord DNA thing going on) also spelled River's name for some reason as it was now her cot too.

So River has known this all along? I'm trying to remember her reaction to first meeting Amy in the Byzantium episode, but nothing's leaping out at me... Alas, I couldn't help thinking Melody is a bit of a daft name for Amy to suddenly come up with, and it certainly doesn't suit River... so I'm guessing we're really thankful the Gamma Forestians translated that badly. Except that the real baby Melody certainly doesn't have her mistranslated prayer leaf with her right now, so how *does* her name end up changed again exactly?!

I won't even go into the whole Doctor/River meeting as a baby thing (why yes River, you were *very* young when you first met the Doctor!) except that it was a lot less icky than the Breaking Dawn version of that plot...! Absolutely loved the pitch-perfect baby talk as well :o) those two are just never not adorable...

The Dark Shape said...

I'd like to direct you to the Day of the Moon comments, where I correctly guessed River's identity and why she was Time Lordy. Just ignore my positive/negative explanation. :)

The Doctor read the prayer leaf, so says Moffat on Twitter. And River was lying about not recognizing the astronaut suit, just like feigning not knowing Rory in The Big Bang.

Paul Kelly said...

Yeah, you nailed that part, Dark Shape. Congrats. And thanks for the Twitter heads up. Moff's comment didn't show up in my feeds because it was directed @someone. I had to do a search.

That explains it then... although it's a terrible piece of misdirection. When River says "Can't you read?" the camera focuses on the name on the cot, not the prayer leaf. That wasn't obvious at all

Mark Greig said...

Paul, maybe the director was just so in awe of everyone's amazing acting that he misunderstood the stage directions for that scene.

Patryk said...

There is a mistake here:

Doctor: “Hello Melody Pond.”
Amy: “Melody Williams.”
Melody: “....is a geography teacher, Melody Pond is a superhero.”

It should be Doctor, Rory, Amy speaking in order. ;)

Paul Kelly said...

Nice catch, Patryk, and thanks. All corrected now :o)

Kathy said...

I loved it because I love Rory, and he completely rocked this episode. Forget the Doctor being someone I wouldn't want to make angry (and I wouldn't want to make the Doctor angry), I absolutely wouldn't want to make the Last Centurion angry.

However, the army the Doctor gathered struck me as "we have the costumes and the prosthetics. Let's use them."

Also, just a thought about the name of the next episode (because I really don't think it's as simple as everyone makes it out to be):

Say you're a time traveler, and you want to go back in time to kill Hitler. You want to stop him from starting World War II.

When would you go? When he's Chancellor of Germany? When he's a struggling artist trying to get into art school? When he's a World War I soldier who got injured? When he received his equivalent to a Medal of Honor? When he was a child? When he was a baby?

And, say you succeed in killing Hitler. That doesn't prevent someone else from rising up and actually causing Germany to win World War II.

But, say you succeed in killing Hitler. And no one rises up in his vacuum. World War II never happens. Excellent. Except, now you no longer have a reason to go back in time to kill Hitler.

I think the next episode is going like this. I don't know what. But, I don't think it's as simple as people are making it out to be.

Kat

Iago said...

"Melody Pond is a superhero" - truer words have never been spoken.

I'm sorry, this is going to be mostly a River rave but Moffat has been setting up her story for nearly 3 years now and did anyone really expect her reveal to be so satisfying and powerful? There's still some unanswered questions and big scenes to do with her but Moffat took a huge gamble on such a big arc and it paid off magnificently. I didn't guess River's identity - the ambiguous 'old man' line in Day of the Moon made me suspect but I didn't know and found the reveal just a little bit satisfying.

I *loved* the juxtaposition of the heroes the Doctor creates (Rory, Vastra, Strax and particularly Lorna Bucket) with the evil the Doctor creates. I don't think River has ever been better than she was absolutely wiping the floor with the Doctor. Alex Kingston was beautiful in that scene, so understated, none of the over-the-top cockiness and no "spoilers" but incredibly powerful.

I think this episode was a lot more set-up than closing stories and I reckon a big part of the second set of episodes will be the Doctor changing because of what River said.

I also wonder if the 'good man' is Rory: the Doctor explicitly rejected that title this episode and Rory was also seen going to war. River was seriously weird with Rory in her first appearance though it could just be because she was drunk or because she was disappointed with her dad not knowing who she was.

The rest of the episode was very good - Madam Vastra was just amazing - but I think River's last 10 minutes blew it all out of the water.

Kathy said...

You know, I have seen it on other forums where speculation is that it's Rory who was the good man (like Iago said). Rory's the first one we see actually demanding information, and Amy was talking about him to Melody.

Kat

The Doctor Donna said...

I'm totally gunning for 'Let's Kill Hitler' to be a crossover between Doctor Who and Inglorious Bastereds, but seeing as how that's doubtful (however epic), I guess I'll just have to wait and see like everyone else.

As to the 'good man' being Rory, the only reason I'm highly doubting it is because they've already killed Rory an ungodly amount of times and overdid the emotional play each time it happened. Even if Rory were to stay dead, I think most of us would just roll our eyes and mumble something about how you know time-traveling isn't your thing when you die no less than three times over the course of your travels.

Admittedly, I was a little (no, strike that, VERY) disappointed that was the big River Song reveal. Amy and Rory's daughter? Sorry, but considering the buildup has been lingering since Season Four, I'm not accepting that. They executed it well enough, but I was really, really hoping there was a more clever answer, like she was a future Doctor or something a lot more grandiose.

I pictured a very awkward moment with The Doctor telling ten-year-old Amelia 'I bang your daughter in the future, so you're my Mummy-in-law!' I'm just screwed up like that I guess.

General Strax's lactic fluid quote became my facebook quote very, very quickly.

Still, looking forward to Part II of Season 6.

zob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gavrielle said...

Excellent review, Paul! I'm still laughing at "knobbing aboard the TARDIS".

(Incidentally, you have Neve McIntosh as "McMcIntosh". I don't think she's THAT Scottish:).)

Gavrielle

Paul Kelly said...

Thanks, Gavrielle. I've changed it to McNeve McTavishintosh ;o)

shawnlunn2002 said...

Loved this episode. Definitely can't wait to see how the second half of the series fares.

Josie Kafka said...

This was a great episode, but I would have loved 15 more minutes. Not at the end--sandwiched into the middle somewhere so the pacing didn't feel weird. Then again, I've thought the pacing of the last three episodes felt off, so maybe something is wrong with my internal clock.

My favorite part, though, is that now we know River Song's origins, but the details of her relationship with the Doctor are still up for grabs. They're obvious close friends, likely lovers, but she doesn't assume his actions are always just, and in this ep we saw two sides of her: the adulation (Stevie Wonder, Frost Fair) and the more adult-seeming sense of strict justice and even some judgment.

I nominate Jenny and Vastra to join my Mark Sheppard Fantasy Football Team.

Billie Doux said...

I've liked River from the beginning and I thought the reveal was lovely. Phhhttttt to BBC America, though, for making us wait a week longer than you guys. I very carefully didn't read the review and comments until now.

drnanamom said...

I loved this episode and your review Paul. I don't think I was as annoyed as you by all the bits and pieces of people who owed the doctor a favour - it was a bit awkward but it made me think about how many lives the doctor has touched and mostly in a positive way. I love that they have the doctor struggling with his superheroness, the whole absolute power corrupting absolutely thing. I hope River's words do have an effect on the doctor and that his death is not the solution. I was totally blindsided by the reveal of River as Amy and Rory's daughter - I had suspected but when they threw the crib into the mix I thought - she's his mom? his daughter? but then the kiss thing would just be creepy instead of fun. Like Billie I get the episodes later so didn't read the review until just now.

Mark said...

"Please... point a guy gun at me if it helps you relax.”

As far as the next episode's title, I suspect it is not literal, but about the idea. Almost any time that time travel is mentioned, the question is what would happen if you tried to undo some great event in the past (like kill Hitler before his rise to power). The title might refer to Amy or Rory questioning why they couldn't prevent the kidnapping, that already happened.

The Dark Shape said...

Billie, you should hate BBC America more for speeding up parts of the episode to fit in more commercials. I couldn't take it and clicked it off.

Josie Kafka said...

The Dark Shape,

Do they do that? I noticed that commercials came at odd times, but if they cut out bits--even just one or two seconds--that might explain why I've felt like the past few episodes have been weirdly paced.

The Dark Shape said...

They didn't cut out bits, but they did ramp up the speed of a few. Off the top of my head, the opening credits were sped up, the actual taking of Demons Run, as well as the battle with the Headless Monks and River's "a good man goes to war" voice-over on top of it. They played everything at like 1.5 speed to fit a 48 minute episode in without losing commercials.

Sooze said...

I loved this episode, but that darn "wibbly,wobbly,timey-wimey" stuff has me SO CONFUSED!!!

Did the Doctor just ask Rory to wear his centurion costume, or did he go back and get Rory when he was the centurion...in that case, where is the "current" Rory?

I thought I got why River couldn't be there until the end - I guessed it was because she couldn't be there at the same time as her baby self...but then the baby turned out to be the flesh Melody...

Can someone put this in some sort or order?

I remembered most of the Doctor's assembled team, except Jenny...where have we met her before (or have we)?

And I agree that the funniest lines came from Strax...

Paul Kelly said...

Hi Sooze. I'll take a bash at some of these questions. The reason Rory was dressed as a Roman Centurion is because the Doctor asked him to. It was our Rory, not Auton Rory. Maybe he wanted him in a warrior-like state of mind.

Re Flesh Amy: I'm sure when the switch was made. She wasn't flesh when Amy gave birth to her. So it must have been later than that. So she was real some of the time, hence, River not being able to be there. (Although Rose was there in Father's Day with her baby self, so I'm not sure whether the paradox thing works).

The thing that keeps biting me is, why did the Doctor say "How do I look?" before zipping off? Ganger Doctor? Off to meet River for the first time? Thoughts?

And I don't think Jenny was an old character. Some have tried to suggest she's a regenerated version of the Doctor's daughter, but that Jenny didn't change form when she regenerated... so I really don't see it.

Paul Kelly said...

Whoops... I meant I'm *not* sure when the switch was made.

Cesare said...

I just saw the episode today... and maybe because I am not a native English speaker (so I was somehow translating English words into concepts in the back of my mind), as soon as I saw the name "melody" written on the crib I realised that "melody" also means "song", and that "pond" can approximate to "river", so River Song had to be Amy's daughter.

Now I wonder, when did they think of it? Given that River was introduced a couple of years before Amy, was she named "Pond" just so they could eventually do this?

Kenneth Serenyi said...

When the "Headless Monks" were introduced, I kept on thinking about "Nearly Headless Nick" from Harry Potter. How can they be "nearly headless? :D