Monday, June 13, 2011

Doctor Who Monday: A Good Man Goes To War (review)

Okay, I said I wasn’t going to do this but I think after some rumination, and more than one person asking me to do so, I will.

Last Saturday (in the UK) and just this past Saturday in North America, the mid-series finale of DOCTOR WHO aired. Titled A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR, it was supposed to leave us all gasping from revelations, and change everything we thought we knew.

Does it?


(spoilers below)

For a show that is an hour long, it was like writer-showrunner Steven Moffat, was pulling an RTD (Russell T. Davies, the showrunner for the first 4 seasons) and throwing EVERYTHING in plus the kitchen sink. The problem is he was doing it in HIS writing style and not RTD’s writing style. So what we ended up watching was like what would happen if Sofia Coppola directed a movie trying to emulate Michael Bay. We’d get an interesting, but ultimately frustrating movie with a number of cool things that don’t quite cohere into a proper narrative.

A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR, which mainly concerns The Doctor and Rory gathering friends to them in an attempt to rescue the real Amy (the last episode revealed that Amy has been a fake Flesh version since sometime around the sixth season premiere) from the clutches of the Clerics and Madame Kovarian (eye-patch lady). It would seem they are holding her on an asteroid base called Demons Run. The plan is simple, go in guns a blazing with a number friends in tow, including (completely inexplicably) the space-modified Spitfires from last years VICTORY OF THE  DALEKS (don’t ask me how they came through time to help). So the Doctor has a lesbian couple of Silurian Madame Vastra and Victorian maid (Jenny), a disgraced Sontaran nurse named Strax, the (now) space pirates he helped earlier this season, the spitfire guys (Danny Boy et al), Big blue dude Dorium Maldovar, and Rory in Roman Centurion-mode with him as he destroys a Cyberfleet (easily?!) and then infiltrates the base after Amy has given birth to her daughter Melody Pond to rescue them.

So in and amongst there is some very cool stuff. Aside from making little sense, the Cyberfleet destruction with Rory not even turning around was cool before the opening credits. The various helper warriors (most especially Madame Vastra the Silurian with a Samurai Sword, and Strax the Sontaran) are super cool and a very good way to have an “army” at your disposal. Even the plot aspects that happen within the base, though at certain points ludicrous, happen in a manner that is at least entertaining.

The holes and problems though begin with the fact that all these various “cool” plot points and characters never get the chance to fully fuse together into a proper narrative. The whole thing felt very much like a dog’s breakfast. It was all over the place. The headless monks for example, while using the cool Moffat-ism of "looking or not looking" at your enemy can cause you harm, are entirely wasted as said enemy. The Cleric leader spends SO much time setting them up as these mythical, and forbidden creatures, only to have their actual reveal and use be completely hum-drum, up to and including the pseudo-Lightsabers (someone get Lucas on the phone! Haha!). Well it turns out that the entire thing is a trap for the Doctor to be swindled into believing that Melody and Amy are safe, but the old switcheroo happens and Madame Kovarian is able to whisk the real child away (to be raised as a “weapon”) and the baby Amy has explodes as a Flesh copy.  Then through a sequence of flashbacks to the child from the opener two-part episode (in the found torn spacesuit) we learn that this will be the child that appears asking for help in that episode (who subsequently regenerates in the 1960’s after being wounded). Then we go one further as after the child is taken away River Song finally appears and reveals to us that…dun dun dun…she’s actually Melody Pond grown up and is Amy and Rory’s child. We are lead to believe that since she was conceived in the TARDIS that she has some sort of Time Lordy powers and can at least heal herself or possibly fully regenerate.

Wow. That was. Boring.

Seriously, of all the possibilities of her identity, and the notes by cast and crew alike that we were all going to be so utterly blown away that we’d need the summer to recuperate and drink in the info…this was about as by-the-numbers as Moffat could have gotten. Other than adding a significant couple of wrenches into the interaction between River, The Doctor, Amy and Rory as character developments, this actually doesn’t affect previous River Song appearances at all. In fact you don’t have to rethink anything you thought about her previous appearances in the timeline. It doesn’t actually change much at all form the rest of HER life. It makes the Doctor's future have a few things that we might look forward to, but again we haven't the foggiest "what that may be". Game changer indeed, I don't think so. I’m not going to lie and say that I was pissed off or anything. I was merely frustrated at how ho-hum the idea is.

Now, I will have to wait for the whole season to air before I make final judgements, but it’s starting to look like this may be the first series of the re-launched DOCTOR WHO that I won’t buy on DVD/BluRay…and I’ve bought all of them so far. Hell, when I bought the first few they were over $100/set! That said, nothing has happened this season that made me think “Oh, I MUST own that!” This mid-series finale actually casts that idea into bas relief showing me just how much I am watching simply for the sake of watching right now.I'm saddened by that.

That said, there does appear to be some interesting stuff on the horizon that sound as if things may perk up. What needs to happen (IMHO) is Moffat REALLY needs to up his game and finish MUCH stronger this year (with the finale for the whole series in October), than he did last year with THE BIG BANG. The fans seem to be divided over this season’s stories, with a number actually saying that they wish for the days with RTD in charge and Moffat doing a couple of self-contained stories, as that’s what he’s best at.

One note: When asking us for a suspension of answers for MORE than one season (like who River killed and the exploding TARDIS), then pimp it out to us on a continuous basis on the front burner and not deliver, and  don’t do a mid-series finale like this that just opens up more questions and gives us one, petering little answer that comes across as lackluster.

Some of the other things that happened in this episode were the Doctor getting mad again. Something that he does to show us not only he’s fallible, but that without tempering, he can run amok. But we were beaten round the head with the notion of the Doctor “rising higher than he ever has, and falling so much further”, up to and including a ridiculous line when Madame Vastra actually tells him “You’ve never risen higher” (Really?!?!). He rose somewhat high, but I would say he HAS actually fallen further before. I’d say Tennant in THE WATERS OF MARS “Time Lord Victorious” was a further fall to me. Hell, his punishment of the Racknoss in THE RUNAWAY BRIDE was a further fall. To me anyways. They also spoke of his anger and how he would have never been this angry. But to be honest, as angry as he was, he seemed angrier in the end of THE BEAST BELOW. Not to mention that Tennant got angrier on a weekly basis than Smith is in this episode.  It’s just not clicking on all cylinders.

As I said in a previous post I am waiting for Moffat to blow my doors off, but I’m starting to wonder if it’s in the future of this season for that to happen. I dearly hope it is.

So, A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR, had some cool ideas and stuff, but overall it’s kind of a mess narrative-wise and I’m hoping the second part, this fall’s LET’S KILL HITLER, makes more sense of it all and makes a better whole. I’m also, as previously stated, hoping that the various plot mysteries get wrapped up this season as I think it’s time for some fresh ideas.


  1. I finally saw this episode a few days ago.

    the all over the placeness - I completely agree. I felt like I missed an entire season watching the first 20 minutes. where did everyone come from, and why am I supposed to care? and weren't these some of the same peeps who locked The Doctor in the Pandorica because they hated him? gggrrr. and the big River reveal? saw it coming. the flesh baby? that was a surprise. Rory finally getting to be a bad ass? that was nice.

    I really did like a lot of the details, especially the crib with the gallifreyian writing on the side, the headless monks (silly but still a big scary), and the idea that all these people don't see someone with the name of Doctor as a helper or a healer, they see him as a destroyer of worlds. which, when you think about it, he is. and i like that.

    so yes, I am also very frustrated. details are nice, but details don't make a season or an ep. Moffat is writing everything backwards, which again is a nice fun detail, but there is a lot about this season that has annoyed the crap out of me. the 2nd half better be the awesomest thing ever.

  2. Agreed Red. My feelings exactly. I KNOW he's capable of more, and I'm hoping he delivers.



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