Review: Doctor Who – 6×7 – A Good Man Goes To War

And I enjoy an episode of Doctor Who this season

A Good Man Goes To War

In the UK: Saturday 4th June, 6.45pm, BBC1/BBC1 HD. Available on the iPlayer
In the US: Saturday 11th June, 9pm/8c, BBC America

Well, we’re here already – the previously almost unheard of on these shores “mid-season finale”. Finally, we’re going to get some answers about River Song, understand what’s been happening all this season with Amy, learn who eye-patch woman is, see Rory grow a vestigial scrotal sack for almost a minute and finally discover what happens at the fabled “Demon’s Run”.

Except for viewers in America, who have their own programming. Tee hee.

Plot
The Doctor assembles an army to face the Battle of Demons Run – and River Song has something to tell him.

Was it any good?
Well, after droning on about how rubbish and uninspiring each episode has been for nearly a season, I have to say I almost unreservedly loved it. This was almost a perfect amalgam of Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat: fun, dynamic colourful supporting characters, emotion and a proper dealing with the main characters’ emotions, coupled with clever plots and ideas, all wrapped up in a veil of darkness and horror.

So we have the Doctor raising an army of people he’s previously helped, including a lesbian Silurian who’s been off solving crimes in Victorian London, a Sontaran nurse, Hugh Bonneville from that rubbish pirate story, the Spitfires from the very rubbish Victory of the Daleks, and the big blue bloke from The Pandorica Opens. But not River Song.

Rory expends his entire testosterone level for a year on intimidating some Cybermen flying Invasion-era spaceships into telling him where Amy and his baby are and the Doctor takes his army to Demons Run, which is populated by creepy headless monks and an anti-Doctor army of clerics (as seen last in The Time of Angels) that contain two gay clerics and a Doctor Who fangirl. The Doctor fools them nicely, except it turns out all to have been a trap (à la The Pandorica Opens) and the Doctor’s left holding the Flesh baby, not the real thing.

Then River Song turns up and reveals that the magic baby of Amy and Rory that’s filled with weird Time Lord time-wimeyness, thanks to having been conceived in the TARDIS, is in fact her – she is the mistranslated Pond, Melody.

And then the Doctor buggers off for no really good reason. Huh. Okay.

What was there to love
So in the plus column, there’s an awful lot. Suddenly, we’re getting a combination of excitement and originality that we haven’t been getting all season. We’re starting to care about Amy and the Doctor again. Rory, for just a glimmering moment, seemed less half-man, half-advertisement for a nice, warm pair of slippers and more like an actual person, before returning to being a handy plot necessity. I loved the lesbian Silurian (a spin-off series, “Tipping the Scales”, is already being requested, I understand) and the Sontaran nurse was brilliant. Not exactly sure where Bonneville and boy went to after their 10 seconds in a lift appearance, but they were actually welcome returns. The actual menace from the idea of the anti-Doctor army, as well as the scary Headless Monks, was very well handled, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when they return as a result. And I liked the fact that the TARDIS’s translation circuits do actually translate and make best guesses and that they can’t be bothered with Gallifreyan.

We don’t really understand yet what’s happening with eye-patch woman and the anti-Doctor army – or even what the trap really was, beyond a possible attack by Headless Monks – but at least some of the answers seem to have been in the first two episodes this season – no returning Silence yet or explanation for the exploding TARDIS, but Stevie still has a little time.

And then there’s River Song. Now, there’s still a lot to be sorted out here. So at last we know she’s actually Amy and Rory’s kiddie, infused with Time Lord timey-wimeyness and possibly able to regenerate – and have neatly side-stepped the whole issue of whether she ends up being the Doctor’s wife.

But how much you could have guessed that coming is a tricky one because you’re never sure when Stevie’s going to double-bluff you and leave you holding the Flesh baby, so to speak. Some people reasoned she was either Amy or Amy’s daughter the first time Amy’s surname was mentioned. Others guessed as much as soon as Amy became pregnant.

And still others guessed just as soon as they realised that Stevie was doing The Time Traveler’s Wife and to do The Time Traveler’s Wife, you obviously have to have a bit where the Doctor encounters his wife-to-be as a young girl so he can groom her. Ugh.

All the same, no matter when you guessed, EVERY OVER SINGLE PERSON IN THE ENTIRE WORLD guessed as soon as the baby’s name turned out to be Melody. There were people watching who couldn’t speak a word of English who guessed at that point. In fact, everyone probably assumed it had to be a bluff it was so obvious. Problematically, for example, why didn’t River go all squidgy with her Daddy the first time she saw him in The Pandorica Opens or even at the start of this series, rather than now? But that was a Stevie double-bluff. He’s so cunning.

Is this a satisfying revelation? I think so. It makes River special; it gives her an essential humanity while giving her enough Time Lordy-ness that all but the most Loom-obsessed, anti-sex Who-er could find her an acceptable partner for a Time Lord. We still have the little issue of whether the Doctor really is grooming River – there’s liable to be a little memory work needed for everything to fit together, because if that’s young River Song in the spacesuit in The Impossible Astronaut, that’s something she should have known was coming as her older self and could have prevented. In that case, River could still end up meeting the Doctor for seemingly her first time later on.

But we’re going to have to watch Stevie like a hawk or else eww.

Possibly my one complaint with A Good Man Goes To War is as with all British action TV, playing the “this was too easy” card isn’t a good plan and merely highlights the fact whenever British TV tries to create a “hard” military engagement, it still looks like a game of pat-a-cake and wooden guns. Next time we have Amy playing at pirates and we’re supposed to believe she wouldn’t get eviscerated in three seconds, we’ll all be going “that was too easy”.

But, yes, in short, loved it, particularly River’s analysis of the Doctor and how he’s becoming this warrior, even though he never wanted to be. And Let’s Kill Hitler? I actually can’t wait until the next episode – Are they just going to leave Amy’s baby with the baddies, knowing that they’ll see her again, all grown up in 1963? Where has the Doctor gone? And what next for River and the Doc? – which is exactly how a mid-season finale should leave you feeling.




  • Oh Rob: I think you, me and (with some minor reservations) Frank Collins are about the only people seemingly satisfied with this episode.
    I watched it about 11.30pm after a rather squee filled day (see blog for details: the DW ep review is just the third of three squee posts http://rullsenbergrules.blogspot.com/2011/06/squee-squee-squee-part-3-saturday-4.html)
    I thought it was great fun and brilliantly dark – and even my friend gasped “that’s cruel” in an admiring way when the baby Pond Amy was holding turned out to be a flesh ganger. I must confess though that even finding out baby Pond’s name was Melody didn’t send my alarm bells ringing out RIVER SONG. Am I dense or what?! (do not answer: like I say, end of a long squee-filled day)
    Glad you finally got on board with liking DW more; I suspect though few will join you by the looks of some of the horror and disappointment I’ve skimmed so far…

  • Oh Rob: I think you, me and (with some minor reservations) Frank Collins are about the only people seemingly satisfied with this episode.
    I watched it about 11.30pm after a rather squee filled day (see blog for details: the DW ep review is just the third of three squee posts http://rullsenbergrules.blogspot.com/2011/06/squee-squee-squee-part-3-saturday-4.html)
    I thought it was great fun and brilliantly dark – and even my friend gasped “that’s cruel” in an admiring way when the baby Pond Amy was holding turned out to be a flesh ganger. I must confess though that even finding out baby Pond’s name was Melody didn’t send my alarm bells ringing out RIVER SONG. Am I dense or what?! (do not answer: like I say, end of a long squee-filled day)
    Glad you finally got on board with liking DW more; I suspect though few will join you by the looks of some of the horror and disappointment I’ve skimmed so far…

  • Anna

    I loved it too! I liked the opening double parter, loved The Doctor’s Wife, but could take or leave the rest, but this was the sort of Doctor Who I actually get *excited* about. And it’s precisely because of your first observation here – that it was the perfect combination of RTDness and Moffatry. Emotional – sentimental even – funny, dark, timey-wimey, and finally some questions answered. Lovely.
    And all topped off with the best ‘next episode’ title ever…

  • Mike Stamets


    I enjoyed this episode of Doctor Who and hadn’t figured out the identity of River Song. I was moved by the revelation. Then I started thinking…River seems to have been raised in the southern US for the first part of her life, and should probably speak a dialect closer to that of an American southerner. Remember the lovely Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind?
    River:”Oh fiddledadee Doctah, I will nevah be hungry in this TAHDIS agayin.”
    Amy: “You don’t sound Scottish to me, are you sure you’re my daughter?”
    River: “Show ’nuff mammy mine!”
    I get used to The Doctor every week, and hate waiting all summer for a new episode. I wish there were 26 episodes to a season, but I suppose the quality might suffer.

  • MediumRob

    @Rullsenberg: They may disagree with me, but as is always the case, I am right and they are wrong in that case. Bad luck them.
    @Mike: But if River can regenerate then with each regeneration comes a new accent. [cf Sylvester McCoy (Dunoon), Christopher Eccleston (Salford), Paul McGann (Scouse), David Tennant (Mockney)]

  • TemplarJ

    I think it’s been a good year for Who so far, bar the odd pirate (although The Black Spot was my daughter’s favourite, so what do I know).
    It’s great to see Who fandom melt down once again into a joyless puddle of middle aged men desperately unable to find any perspective in their lives. I love a bit of geek rage!

  • I loved it. And I don’t have a problem with the Doctor knowing River as a baby as he’s met her as an adult first, and if anything would run away from her coming on to him if he thought it inappropriate – witness his reaction to Amy in the last series.
    My only beef was the Doctor will go higher then before/fall lower bit, as I think that was overegged. I did like the fact he realised it was all his fault, and hope that Amy gives him a very hard time about that in the next half of the series, because he deserves it.
    Thought it was pacy, exciting, emotional & I felt very smug because I got River’s identity right.
    @Mike I thought the little girl originally sounded like she had a Scottish accent and thought there was a connection to Amy.
    Didn’t think much of the pirates episode or first gangers one, second gangers one better & brilliant end, but loved eps 1/2 , The Doctor’s Wife and this one. Think Steven Moffat really really needs to work harder on his script editing. Then we might not moan so much about the duff episodes.

  • The other David

    Well, I’m going to be the spoilsport here and say that I didn’t like this episode. Yes, I liked Rory showing a bit of backbone (something that would have looked weird if he didn’t since he was on the hunt for his wife), the lesbian Silurian was interesting, and I was really disappointed to see the Sontaran bite it (you gotta love a guy who says to your face, “I hope someday to meet you in the glory of battle. For I shall crush the life from your worthless, stupid form.”), but all the rest of it felt like I was having the contents of an overstuffed attic thrown at me. The Cybermen had all of 5 seconds and were dispatched like dust bunnies, the Judoon made an appearance (for all that was worth), and those stupid Spitfires made a flyby (which pisses me off — an air-fuel fired engine operating in space! A craft designed to operate in an atmosphere turning and banking in the void of space without any sign of maneuvering thrusters!). I was almost expecting a clown car to show up and an impossible number of clowns to spill out. The reveal about River was a bit of a clanker (I prefer to think that the lines were written badly, because I think Alex Kingston has great acting chops, but she could have been reading a menu for all the verve the lines were delivered with — although I did like the Doctor’s reaction afterwords). As far as I was concerned, it had all of 30 seconds of story with 47.5 minutes of flash and bang. Bit of a damp squib in my book.

  • Now that we’ve finally seen this in American, I can chime in…. I completely agree with you on this one, Rob. I really liked it! What I don’t get is all the hatred for the pirate episode. I wasn’t crazy about this season, but thought that was one of the better ones. Certainly way, way better than either of those wretched, stretched-out ganger episodes! Sure it was inconsequential and throwaway, but it was fun. I liked Part 1 of the premiere, thought Part 2 was OK, and liked (but didn’t love) The Doctor’s Wife… but A Good Man Goes to War was definitely my favorite of the first half of this season!

  • Mark Carroll

    This really wasn’t one of my favorites. Parts of it seemed so cheesy that I wondered if I was watching “Blake’s 7” at times, eye-patch woman especially, and I concur about the series’ general difficulty with “hard” military engagements, the silly Spitfires being icing on that rather large cake. Though, I’ve not been too thrilled with this new take on the Doctor (however unwittingly) becoming some intergalactic superstar, rather than slipping around with more quiet discretion as he used to.
    Despite seeing plenty of other clearly-signalled things coming in other episodes, I didn’t actually get the glaring “Melody” hint. And, while I’d guessed that perhaps Amy might be of the Flesh, it didn’t occur to me that perhaps only-the-baby is, and, whatever eye-patch woman’s plan/trap turns out to be, I’ll be (pleasantly) surprised if it really did warrant something so elaborate at that stage.

  • Mark Carroll

    I should have added, my wife did rather like it, though I’m not sure she was too thrilled with the River Song revelation.

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