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Published on June 4th, 2011 | by Andrew Reynolds

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A Good Man Goes to War

This review of the Doctor Who Series 6 mid-season finale contains spoilers – if you haven’t yet seen A Good Man Goes to War , beware!

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.

Doctor Who: A Good Man Goes to War
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.

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About the Author

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Everyone has a favourite Doctor and mine - just for his honesty, his fairness and his ability to not notice the Master's awful, awful disguises/anagrams (Sir Gilles Estram!?!) - has to be the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison. The stories didn’t serve him as well as his acting served those stories.




13 Responses to A Good Man Goes to War

  1. avatar ChrisL says:

    A good review, although I feel I must take issue with your dismissal of Fat/Thin Men & Lorna Bucket. I felt they were vital plot devices to provide background information about The Headless Monks, (in the case of the Marines), and of The Doctor’s alternate image, (in the case of the beautiful Lorna).
    The reason why the married gay marines vanished from the story was probably due to the fact that the fat one was beheaded! Always tends to slow down one’s career I find.

    I was rather unhappy at Lorna’s demise. She provided a possibly interesting alternative take on The Doctor’s galactic reputation, as well as lighting up the screen with her innate beauty. Of course River alluded to this darker reputation for The Doctor during her reveal, but it would have been good to have had a living witness to back this up. Sadly it was not to be.

    One thing I felt slightly let down by was the lack of the promised “game changing cliff-hanger”.
    River’s revelation as Melody Pond wasn’t a surprise to any of us and, apart from the sight of a skeletal hand clutching a sonic screwdriver, I didn’t notice anything even approaching a cliff-hanger.
    Last week’s ‘Amy melts’ shocker was much more ‘cliff-hangery’ than anything I saw at the end of this episode.

    All in all a great episode, especially Matt’s performance as ‘angry Doctor’, although I still don’t like the Spitfires flying in space.

    I’m just grateful that it wasn’t the end of River Song, she’s been the best companion for a long long time, possibly even the best ever.

  2. avatar ChrisL says:

    Oh yeah, forgot to praise the wonderful dialogue in this episode. I know Steven Moffatt is usually excellent in this regard but this episode was particularly wonderful I thought.
    I particularly enjoyed Madame Vastra’s brief ‘Lady Penelope’ moment as she dismissed ‘Parker’, who replied with the “Yes M’Lady” catchphrase and also the Stevie Wonder exchange between River and her Father.

    In fact this episode overflowed with wonderful dialogue and performances which it would be pointless to list here as we’ve all watched the programme for ourselves.

    Great stuff!

  3. avatar castellanspandrell says:

    Was the purpose of Lorna also to act as a kind of red herring for viewers, so that we might think she could turn out to be River Song and have our line of thought diverted away from thinking it was baby Melody?

  4. avatar castellanspandrell says:

    To clarify my thinking there, she ticked some of the ‘could be River Song’ boxes, namely the forest connection (echoing ‘There’s only one river in the forest’) and said that the Dr had landed from the sky into her life, similar to something River told Rory earlier this season.

  5. avatar TimeChaser says:

    A great episode. I have definitely noticed Matt grow into the role more this year, becoming more confident in his performance. He has some great moments, from his initial appearance to the ‘Colonel Runaway’ scene, his flustered reaction to the idea of Melody’s conception on board the TARDIS, his anger at River’s late arrival, to his giddy joy of realizing who she is.

    And while some people might not see the end of the episode as the promised “game-changing cliffhanger”… well, that’s entirely down to an entire internet full of fans sharing their theories so that many came to the same conclusion about River. However, it still changes the game for the characters, which in the end is what’s important to where the series goes from here.

    I also like how Moffat is addressing the Doctor’s god-like status that’s been building since the show returned. It wasn’t questioned much in the past few years, and it finally takes someone who’s life was literally shaped by it – River – to make the Doctor realize he’s gone down a very dangerous road since he first left Gallifrey.

  6. avatar Rick says:

    To the ending–there’s game changers and then their are game changers. TimeChaser makes a good point about the net and the thousands of theories. Thing is, until River gave the reveal, no one was 100% certain. And I think seriously the game changer is the realization of the doctor that Amy is his future mother-in-law! That’s what he was smiling and laughing about before he left. That is fun. Almost as much fun as that wonderful tension breaking moment about the title of the next episode!

    As for the rest of the episode, I liked that the Cybermen were basically a throwaway to make a point. I liked the Sontaran nurse and the Silurian from the 1800′s. Both of those races took a step up in my estimation of them thanks to Moffats writing.

    I like Rory more and more all the time and I even liked Amy here. They’ll be gone by the end of this year as there’s no good reason go stomping off into danger every week with an infant. I look forward to river joining in full time.

  7. avatar Dalek Space Marine says:

    In retrospect having characters called Pond and River was a big clue for us all, but I doubt anyone got it. It was a great way to end the series!

    • avatar ChrisL says:

      How about Jackson Lake and Adelaide Brooke?
      Are they linked as well? Who knows?
      The twisted minds of the writers of this great show seem to be planning arcs and threads years in advance and even though the obvious ‘water’ connection with some names has been speculated about for years only a couple have been resolved so far. Anything could happen, and I for one can’t wait!

      • avatar Dalek Space Marine says:

        They could all be connected in some way, you never know.

  8. avatar Rick says:

    I remember commenting at the time we first heard Amy’s name that Moffat seemed to have a “thing” for water names but I never read anything more into it. Until I saw Melody’s name for the first time.

  9. avatar castellanspandrell says:

    ‘Lorna Bucket’ is also a watery name.

    • avatar ChrisL says:

      So it is!
      Blimey, I hadn’t noticed that, thanks for pointing it out. Surely all these watery names must mean something… mustn’t they?
      As you say, Steven Moffat’s mind is a strange and wonderful place where fairy tales become manifest, universes are destroyed and replacements are created, while mere mortals such as I can only stand, stare and get carried along in the wake of his creative genius. This is why I refuse to believe that this succession of names with the watery theme are pure coincidence.

      Of all the possible names he could have picked for his characters, so many of them having what appears to be a connection cannot be a fluke. I’m convinced there will be a reason for this… what that reason will be, I couldn’t even begin to speculate.
      Unless of course it does turn out to be completely unintentional. In which case, I end up with egg on my face… and Steven Moffat books himself into the nearest clinic for some serious therapy.

  10. avatar Dalek Space Marine says:

    Mr Moffat does seem keen to have a link throughout the whole series, so I imagine that all the watery themes will have a reason.

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