If company can define a good man; the people he loves, the lengths he will go to protect them and also the suffering he will endure because of who he was and what he now has to become then A Good Man Goes to War teeters between both the legend and the inevitable debt.
On the one hand, it’s an exciting call to arms, an episode reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back designed to show off the epic spectacle and drama of a man pushed to the edge.
On Demon’s Run, an asteroid base where eye-patch sporting Madame Kovarian holds Amy, the proud mother of the galaxy’s most sort after child – Melody Pond – the Doctor is coming.
The events of Demon’s Run were long in the making, and as we learn, the Doctor has arguably been sowing those seeds ever since Sexy took him out for a spin across the universe. We have seen echoes of his legendary status in every season since the Ultimate Regeneration of the series but none have really probed this far just why we might call the Doctor a good man. Is the battle of Demon’s Run a fixed point in time? A period of history that the Doctor willingly or unwillingly cannot change?
River was adamant that her presence would make no difference to the outcome and without Gallifreyan hands marshalling time with the rigour of a dusty grandfather clock how would the Doctor know where to tread.
In the episode’s outstanding moment River attempts to show the Doctor the legacy that comes with his position as a man capable of toppling races.
The term Doctor, once a soothing and healing title for a wise man or healer has become synonymous with ‘warrior’ – his reaction to the revelation that the Time Lords were viewed as ‘weapons’ by many races is one of total disbelief. No wondered he was incapable of guessing what was encased inside the Pandorica, a prison designed for the most feared being in the galaxy.
In the early scenes, the oncoming storm maintains a distant presence, corralling all of the creatures in his debt inside the ominously glowing doors of the TARDIS. In one of the early standout moments a Cyber-fleet is cut down to size by a question and a fortunately timed message. It appears not everyone is so willing to cash in their debt.
Those members that do, the emasculated Sontaran Commander Strax and the Silurian Madame Vastra, who, rather outlandishly has found a niche market (and rich food source) in Victorian Era assassinations are both given their moments to shine.
It’s only when the episode becomes bogged down with extraneous characters like Lorna Bucket who has the unenviable task of reaffirming why the Doctor is such a wonderful person and why he is also capable of cold hearted revenge within the space of a few scenes and the ‘fat man’ ‘thin man’ who turned up, told a few cutting jokes then disappeared for the rest of the episode that the plot threatens to fold in on itself.
The Headless Monks, mention in passing in The Time of Angels are given form but were lacking in substance, though they did provide A Good Man Goes to War‘s single nasty moment.
Plaudits most go to Matt Smith. In the midst of this seasons twists and turns he has been the one constant throughout and again has delivered an impressively rich performance. He even appears to have altered in appearance slightly from season 31 to 32: he appears older, more comfortable and settled in a role that he’s made his own.
During the moments where the Doctor struggles to come to terms with the very human emotion of anger, it’s hard not to watch his quivering lip as he attempts to comprehend the lengths he’s been pushed to. His standout moment comes with bitter malice as he forever saddles the title ‘Colonel Runaway’ on the assured shoulders of Colonel Manton.
Karen Gillan brought steely determination to Amy Pond and utter desperation (again resulting in her reaching for a gun) and Arthur Darvill who seems to becoming more lovable every time he plays dress up.
Another standout player from this season has been Alex Kingston and again she continued to find more layers to the now slightly less mysterious River Song. This time there were no ‘sweeties’ , no coy ‘spoilers’ as she finally lays her cards on the table and a warm and touching moment of realisation between all the actors involved.
The ‘game changing’ status maybe an over-the- top description but where Rose, Martha and Donna all had their lives changed by the times they spent travelling in the TARDIS and have equally affected their welcoming host, the Ponds are now intrinsically fixed, there lives entwined with his – the ‘lonely Doctor’ of that other Moffat classic The Girl in the Fireplace now has a family, a real family rather than the cosy nuclear one that had been in place – for better or for worse – and a reason to hope the Time Lords can fix their damaged reputation… along with several hundred other questions that still need to be answered.