Warning: this review contains spoilers.
6.7 A Good Man Goes To War
So, then, River Song. After the rampant speculation of the past months, it turns out that River Song is actually Melody Pond. That “the only water in the forest is the river” line back in The Doctor’s Wife did mean something. And that the discovery of River’s identity has put the Doctor in a very good mood.
Thus, with Amy’s baby many, many miles away, we see the Doctor zooming off to save her, en route to the second half of the series. It wasn’t quite the cliffhanger to leave us screaming that we’d been expecting (if the series break had come after episode 6, then there’d be umpteen extra ASBOs being handed out around Britain), but it’s hard not to be satisfied with a supremely confident seven weeks of Doctor Who.
A Good Man Goes To War was, at it turned out, one of the more straightforward stories of the run. In a couple of ways, it was Steven Moffat leaving the intricate story weaving to the side, and for at least half of the episode’s running time, just having some fun. It’s hard to argue with that at Saturday teatime.
It was, for me, the closest episode in feel since he took over to the Russell T Davies era on the show (and that’s not for the gay joke at the start), with a real blockbuster feel to large parts of it. That’s why we got spitfires, a nursing Sontaran and the Silurians all thrown into the mix.
Plus, and I imagine it wasn’t lost on many, there was a heavy coating of Star Wars, from the white birth room of Amidala through to the look of the headless monks. George Lucas would be proud.
He’d be suitably pleased with the production values, too, which were quite terrific here, with lots of action, lots of effects, and a very glossy look and feel. Plus, the weapons of the headless monks looked brilliant (citing Star Wars once more). Furthermore, just look at the effort put into blowing up a legion of Cybermen early on. With that much investment in their set, you can’t help but wonder if we might be seeing them again later in the year.
The main narrative thrust was actually quite conventional. The Doctor wins a very big battle, the rug is then pulled from underneath his feet. I never really got the sense that he had “never risen higher”, as we were told (although, arguably, the ease of his victory here was testament to that, with his reputation as much as anything else conquering all), but it was fun watching him call in his favours and bring together an army of his own, in a bit of a reversal from the ending of The Pandorica Opens.
But just as happened with that episode, I do wonder why every assembled person and creature couldn’t just fire their gun at the Doctor, rather than creating a big trap, or another Time Lord, to achieve pretty much the same aim? It does go a little hand in hand with the show. I do understand that. But many enemies do seem to have a growing habit of going the very long way around.
Also, much though I enjoyed the destruction of the aforementioned Cyber legion, isn’t that quite a malicious act for the Doctor? Mind you, it was a darker Doctor we got for a good chunk of the episode, and Matt Smith was on fine form. His taunting of ‘Colonel Runaway’ offered hints of a Doctor being pushed far harder than usual, and there was a rare hint of cruelty about him. It’d evaporated by the end, but maybe that’s one of the many threads for the second half of the series.
And there are more questions, too. If River Song is Amy’s daughter, then that far from resolves the Doctor’s relationship with her. Is Amy, who has always been special, effectively the Doctor’s mother-in-law? Because there’s been snogging going on, remember. Also, what impact does all this have on Amy? Because presumably, she tried to shoot her child at the end of The Impossible Astronaut. Right now, we’ve got an idea of just how impossible that astronaut may have been.
We also got a hint that a second version of the Doctor was still running around, with the line, “That’s a whole different birthday.” What’s that building up to, if anything? And where does Lorna Bucket fit in? She was a bit of an odd character to just appear and disappear in one episode, as it felt like she was going to have much more gravitas than she ultimately did. When did she meet the Doctor, exactly? When was her thirty seconds?
As it turns out, even the more seemingly straightforward episodes of Doctor Who these days come with an abundance of questions on top.
And this might be one of the big ones, for A Good Man Goes To War did also address the fact that the Doctor is getting too powerful for the universe, which has been a building undercurrent. Is Steven Moffat planning to bring him down a few pegs, perhaps?
I should take some time out here, anyway, to give a shout of appreciation to Karen Gillan. A Good Man Goes To War gave us her finest performance to date as Amy Pond, and I think she’s been improving week on week this series. Here, she shouldered the emotional lifting of the episode brilliantly. I thought she was on top form.
Arthur Darvill was good as Rory once more, too, although he’d been put in his Roman outfit as more of a red herring than anything, it seems. Likewise, there was the red herring-ish inclusion of the Cybermen, although I do like that Steven Moffat is willing to use them for small bits of work here and there, rather than making them the bigger threat (the monsters of old worked well this way, I thought).
Back to the story itself, though, and the clear and present danger here is another Time Lord, albeit one with Amy’s DNA. And it does make you suspect that a sacrifice of sorts is on the cards when the show returns in the autumn. I’d be a fool to try and second guess it all, though. I’ve proved that lots of times these past weeks.
After the weeks of quite brilliant, weaving storytelling, it did, in truth, feel a little different to have some of that taken away here, and A Good Man Goes To War, for all its many high points, isn’t up there with the best Steven Moffat-penned episodes on Who to date (some might argue it could be his worse, I’d suspect). That said, it still sets a high standard, and there’s some lovely writing and moments in it. It just, on reflection, felt a little like fifty minutes building up to a revelation that approximately 12.4 percent of the Internet (at least) had guessed at some point over the past year or so. The other 87.6% just had their heads blow, mind.
I did really enjoy it, though, I should be clear about that. Doctor Who remains terrific television, and I’m going to miss the show during its break. I love how confident this run has been so far.
As for this episode? It was a fun, let your hair down way to leave the show for the duration of the summer, with some excellent moments, and I’m intrigued to see just where things will go from here. Hitler killing, by the looks of it…
Read our review of episode 6, The Almost People, here.
All our reviews and articles about the first half of the sixth series of Doctor Who can be found here.