Doctor Who 2.7: A Good Man Goes to War review

Review

A Good Man Goes to WarA Good Man Goes to War review

Rory: Oh don’t give me those blank looks.

Production Code: 2.7.
Doctor Who Season: S32 (Ep7).
Story Number: 218. (Footnote [1]).

In the Doctor Who story The Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead, the Doctor exclaimed “Books! People never really stop loving books” – this episode really does hark back to that story in more ways than one…

Books are the roots of the half-season.

BOOKS

A Good Man Goes to War review

The mystery of a character’s identity is used as a central mystery to propel the narrative of many books.

It’s one of Dickens’s favourite ideas he uses across many of his novels, often with orphans or apparent orphans in the central role – such as Pip of Great Expectations[2] or Oliver of Oliver Twist[3].

Great slab-sized novels of the 19th Century such as those – it’s what these two seasons of Moffat’s Doctor Who seem to be modelled upon. (Though with half a season still to be broadcast in later in this year.) And the prelude to the Moffat era, 2008’s Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead certainly gave us some clue books might be central to the era.

Consider Day of the Moon and The Almost People – although they both formally are seen as the concluding episodes of a two-parter, the fact that both end on a massive cliffhanger (the Day of the Moon one that wasn’t quite answered in the traditional “what happened next” way) means that 5 of the 7 episodes this season emphasise the serial nature of this era in an emphatic way.

Of course Doctor Who broadcast this year isn’t the only serialised television programme, but it’s this aspect and more which means weighty and long 19th Century novels seem to be the roots of this half-season, and the preceding season with its continuing plot-lines.

Dickens would first publish the content of his weighty tomes in a serial fashion, in weekly or monthly magazines. Sometimes the cliffhangers wouldn’t necessarily be resolved the next week. Day of the Moon contributes, then, to something like the dense sprawl of the serialisation of 19th Century slab-novels with a cliffhanger that really only begins to make some sort of sense after the revelations of this episode, and episode broadcast six weeks later.

Speaking of 19th Century literature, for the first instance of the Doctor raising his “army” (shown after the pre-credits and the introduction of Lorna and the “fat” ‘n’ “thin” ones and the Monks) it seems to have provided inspiration.

This scene shows the Silurians, or rather a Silurian, as emerging from a lost world into the Victorian era much like Journey to the Centre of the Earth[4], it recasts them as having their roots in that particular century just as Doctor Who has roots in The Time Machine[5]. The idea of Victorian tunnel diggers disturbing a world beneath the Earth is mixed with another “Victorian” novel – not an actual Victorian novel as novel but rather a modern novel telling untold tales of the era: Tipping the Velvet[6] by Sarah Waters.

The next instance of the Doctor raising his army is like something from War and Peace[7]. In Space. The greatcoats and general dress recall the Napoleonic Wars, even with the laserpistols. There’s a touch of the style of Douglas Adams though too to this part of the screenplay with the absurdity of the Sontaran Nurse, and his rigid adherence to the social niceties of his society.

When Rory tries to recruit River from her Stormcage she also continues these 19th Century ideas as she’s dressed appropriately for the London Frost Fair of 1814 which the Doctor has returned her from after a birthday-celebration together (a Doctor that’s further along the timestream of the Doctor Rory knows).

“He needs you!”

[Consulting her diary-book] “Demon’s Run.”

“How… how did you know?”

“I’m from his future. I always know.”

“…but he needs you too.”

“I can’t. Not yet anyway.”

“I’m sorry?!”

“The is the Battle of Demon’s Run. The Doctor’s darkest hour. He’ll rise so higher than before then fall so much further. And I can’t be with him till the very end. “

“Why not?”

“Because this is it. This is the day he finds out who I am.”

Standing by her prison-cell, she says this – and it makes the audience think we’ll find out the “why” of the prison-cell that defines her, defines her for us, her crime will be revealed.

FEAR ME

A Good Man Goes to War review

Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead – “Look me up!” the Doctor told the Vashta Nerada as they swarmed around the collected books of the universe: that story, the prelude to the Moffat era, including this instance of the Doctor using his legend that precedes him. The past season and a half has featured many more such instances. The two Anglican Clerics remind us of one as they mention how the Doctor faced down the Atraxi in The Eleventh Hour.

The Pandorica Opens portrays an ancient box supposedly containing a terrible figure of legend, a goblin, a trickster, a warrior, before we’re shown it’s the Doctor the legends refer to.

“He is not a goblin or a phantom or a trickster” Colonel Manton tells his troops, “he is a man”.

“Talking like he’s famous. The Doctor isn’t famous” Amy tells Lorna as the Colonel’s speech to the Clerics continues, but as we’ve already seen with Dorium discussing the Doctor with Eye Patch Lady and the Colonel, the Doctor is the stuff of legend.

“The man who talks, the man who reasons, the man who lies” continues Colonel Manton.

The “Hello everyone! Guess who!” surprise appearance of the Doctor is an echo in this episode of the speech in The Pandorica Opens before the crowds in the sky leave. In that episode, and this one, the Doctor is then fooled by a trap.pic

Once the Doctor has fooled this army into putting down their arms, he demands that the Colonel rename himself as “Colonel Run-Away”, another occurrence of a character with two names.

The most startling sequence of this spectacular episode is Matt Smith’s performance of the Doctor’s declaration to Madam Kovarian that today would not be a good day to find out why he has so many rules – the implication being that the Doctor doesn’t consider himself a good man.

“The anger of a good man is not a problem. Good men have too many rules.”

“Good men don’t need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many.”

Which casts doubt on which of the duo of the Doctor and Rory is the “good man” of the episode title; of River’s apparent reason for being in the cell.

Amy is reunited with both Rory and baby; the Doctor provides a very very old cot.

LOOK WHO’S TALKING

pic

River wore her spacesuit in Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead.

This Doctor Who episode began with a “PREVIOUSLY”, starting with the Doctor’s dialogue from the end of Day of the Moon – “This little girl, it’s all about her, who was she?” over a montage of spacesuit-girl raising her visor which continues: Amy seeing a vision of Eye Patch Lady through a spectral hatch; with Amy’s avatar disintegrating and her waking to give birth.

So Day of the Moon’s question, the regenerating spacesuit-girl – “who was she?” It had already half-answered that by suggest she was Amy’s baby by the photographs in the Silence’s orphanage.

Earlier in that two-parter, before spacesuit-girl was even introduced, when’s it’s just the spacesuited figure of The Impossible Astronaut – the fact that River is already defined (in the previous season) as a prisoner imprisoned for “killing a good man”, (hinted to be the Doctor) meant that it was a strong possibility that an earlier version of herself could be in that spacesuit.

So already there was a thin thread from Amy’s baby to the spacesuit-girl to the Astronaut of the lake

The ending, the final moments, of Day of the Moon though suggested to this reviewer to depart from that train of thought, as River was surely human and the spacesuit-girl was: Time Lord?

“Now I have a question, a simple one. Is Melody human? “

The question is posed by the Silurian Madame Vastra, as the duo of Dorium and the Doctor listen to her theories, a “fat one” and a “thin one” reacting as comedy foils to her ruminations.

Vastra and Dorium leave.

The flashback to Day of the Moon’s scene of River scanning spacesuit-girls’s spacesuit seems a window into the Doctor’s thought process.

The Battle of Demon’s Run – the “fat one” of the comedy duo dies first, in this war. Like the other “fat one”, by the hands of the Monks.

The Laurel and Hardy film, The Flying Deuces[8] – the “fat one” of the comedy duo, the duo who have joined an army, dies. In that film though there’s the promise of the “next life”.

In the Impossible Astronaut the Doctor doesn’t make it to the “next life”.

“So they took her anyway. All this was for nothing”

“Amy… it’s not his fault” says Jenny.

As an aside – at this point I was thinking there was a possibility the big reveal would be this was River at an earlier point in her timestream. Jenny? Why? I mentioned “outside texts” in the review of the previous episode.

On bbc.co.uk/doctorwho the “big four” characters they were displaying in a short animation before the ep on the main page were, in order: the Doctor, Jenny in a martial pose, Amy-and-her-baby, Rory as Centurion. The fact that I’d also watched “preview clip 1” from bbc.co.uk meant that I knew there was an early scene that meant River had already arrived at Demon’s Run (in that Stormcage River’s past). Those puzzle pieces put togther meant, for me – Jenny was a young River.

“They’re always brave”. The scene with Lorna is very poignant.

Jenny and Vastra are the only ones of the Doctor’s band (apart from the departed Judoon and Silurians) to survive this encounter.

DOCTOR SONG – DOCTOR WHO?

pics

“Well then soldier – how goes the day?”

Although River Song was presented as a Professor rather than a Doctor in her first broadcast story Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, she’s soon presented as a mirror for the Doctor in her next story, being at that point in her earlier time as “Doctor Song”.

Before “who is River Song” is answered, the legend of “Doctor Who?” is explained by River upon her arrival. The curious line from the Gamma Forests’ Lorna “Then why is he called the Doctor?” is explained: he’s known as a warrior to them, the word in their culture for warrior is Doctor, just as the word for healer is Doctor: both are from the legends and actions of the Doctor.

So the Doctor’s reliance on instances such as “Look me up!” from Forest of the Dead, his legend being enough to repel the Vashta Nerada; or the Atraxi from The Eleventh Hour has one problem: legends can be interpreted in different ways. “You make them so afraid”. It’s not just the people of the Gamma Forests that think this is a legend of a warrior rather than a healer. Melody has been taken. “And they’re going to turn her into a weapon just to bring you down. All this my love in fear of you.”

Warrior and healer. Rory’s a nurse, though he’s thrown on the mantle of warrior. Strax is a warrior who’s a nurse too. Eye Patch Lady – Madam Kovarian – is another Warrior-Nurse, a midwife now raising not a child but a weapon.

Virtually everyone has two names in this story, sometimes names that are never used such as the proper names for the “thin and fat ones” – that and being gay and Anglican in the Papal Mainframe’s army of Clerics is enough to define them.

What has defined River, for us, is that’s she’s in prison for killing a good man – that’s what we are wondering about.

“Who are you?” …

“Oh, look: your cot, haven’t seen that in a very long while”

The cot is the third misdirection of the episode, after Amy’s “The Last Centurion” while teasing the idea of “the Doctor”, (“this man is your father”), and the Doctor saying “It’s mine” (the cot not the baby.)

“Tell me… who you are”.

“I am telling you. Can’t you read?”

[pause] “Hello”

“Hello”

“But … But that means”

“I’m afraid it does”

“But you and I we, we…”

However, it’s not what the audience thinks, even though

Alex Kingston

The Doctor’s wife, mother…
and lover?

was the cover line for the Alex Kingston Radio Times interview of 1-7 May 2010.

“It’s the TARDIS translation matrix, it takes a while to kick in with written word”.

Yes, virtually everyone has two names in this story: Amelia and Amy, Pond and Williams, Pond and River, Melody and Song.

Like the locket in Oliver Twist, the small treasure given to an infant provides a clue to the identity.

Oliver Twist, Day of the Moon: a supposed “orphan” not alone on the streets of London but alone on the streets of New York – how did spacesuit-girl get to that point and what happens next?

So River was defined to us by the idea of an “imprisoned criminal” but her crime? The expectation of that mystery being solved was a distraction, and the question now how will the next chapter of this dense novel-like sequence of seasons of Doctor Who continue?

pics

Rating: 5/5 (for this part of this two-part story).
———

(A Good Man Goes to War iPlayer)

———
Footnotes (and links)

1. ^

Doctor Who Magazine has described this as both the first half of a two-parter and a one-episode story.

2. ^

Link for Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

3. ^

Link for Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.

4. ^

Link for Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne.

5. ^

Link for The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

6. ^

Link for Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters.

7. ^

Link for War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.

8 ^

The Flying Deuces – thanks to Jane Aire for mentioning the fate of the larger of the duo from that film and the parallels with other duos in this story.

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2 Responses to “Doctor Who 2.7: A Good Man Goes to War review”

  1. the master Says:

    This episode ranks as one of the biggest let downs I can think. We wait to see the doctor rise higher than ever before, and we get taking a space station without killing anyone. We wait for the doctor to fall, and we get losing the baby. We wait to see the doctor in his darkest hour, the man who ended the time wars at the expense of his entire race, and this is what we get.
    On top of that the episode was flat and emotionless. Mat Smiths chin quivers and thats him angry? I hate to say this about Steven Moffat as I am a big fan of most of his work, but maybe he should stick to writing the stories and lets bring back RTD.

  2. nero Says:

    “But… but that means…”

    “Yes. It does.”

    (Long pause. Eventually, the Doctor shrugs.)

    “Oh well. Anyway, things to do. There’s something interesting going on in Metatraxiad-4C9, so -”

    “Doctor, you don’t understand! I… I’m Amy’s daughter.”

    (Shorter pause.)

    “And?”

    “What do you mean, ‘and’? I’m Amy’s daughter.”

    “Yes, but how does that change anything?”

    “What?”

    “You’re exactly the same character you were a few minutes ago. Not even a very interesting character, to be honest. And let’s face it, since you’re a time-traveller who’s intimately connected with my adventures and yet who traditionally refuses to reveal her origins, it’s not much of a shocker. So does your parentage actually make the slightest bit of difference?”


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