Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Note to BBC Americans: Spoilers abound.
The Steven Moffat-penned mid-series finale, “A Good Man Goes to War,” is perhaps the coolest space fairy tale that “Doctor Who” has yet produced since its revival. It will have Whovians properly Moff***ed with nerdgasms 777 times over. As the seventh episode of the current series (and the 777th since the show started its run in 1963), it had me watching (and rewatching on my iPlayer, probably seven times now) in genuine wonderment like a little boy of seven all over again (I grow ever convinced that how much a “Doctor Who” episode can reduce a grumpy old adult comme moi to his child self is probably one of the best metrics for gauging its success).
There’s an epic feel to it right from the off, with the Last of the Time Lords and the Last Centurion blowing up a Cyber fleet just to prove a point to Amy’s kidnappers. Through the course of fifty minutes, we see an army of Silurians, Judoons, the Spitfire pilot “Danny Boy” from “Victory of the Daleks,” and Henry and Toby Avery from “The Curse of the Black Spot” converge on the Church’s military base on Demon’s Run. It’s like “The Pandorica Opens” in space (but even cooler), teeming with an even more colorful cast of characters. (A Victorian lesbian samurai Silurian! Yeah!).
I took a liking to the nearly 12-year-old Commander Strax, a Sontaran warrior who as a result of the Doctor, takes on the role of nurse as penance. He delivers some of the episode’s funniest dialogue, including a scene in which he offers his nursing services to the Ponds’ fretting baby (see “Quotables” section below). His death scene is particularly memorable: Rory, also a nurse-warrior, tells him to stay strong, but Strax’s identity as a nurse is too deeply imprinted in him; “Rory, I’m a nurse,” he tells him before bowing out. (I wonder if this is foreshadowing for Rory, who himself has suffered a bit of a split identity since joining the TARDIS team).
I was also very taken by the character of Lorna Bucket, played by Christina Chong. I actually kept thinking she would make for a profoundly wonderful companion. I do hope that the Moff rewrites her timeline and brings her back as a proper companion for next series (speculation has abounded, based purely on their shooting schedules, that Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill will say their farewells at the conclusion of series 6 in the fall).
We also see the return of the clerics, which is one of the Moff’s coolest (not to mention rather sacrilegious) ideas. As we learned in “The Time of Angels”/”Flesh and Stone” two-parter of last series, the 51st century Anglican Church has evolved into a military organization, with bishops and vergers making up its ranks. I love how the Moff plays with religion, through mentions of a “transept” level in the military base, “conversion tutorials,” the “Papal Mainframe Herself,” and “attack prayers.” We also have–count ’em–two gay couples, one of which is comprised of two marines. (The 51st century–what a long way off from DADT!). Oh, and yes, we have the gruesome Headless Monks (“Do not interact with the Headless Monks without Divine Permission”) who follow their hearts instead of their, umm, minds.
All seems lost at the end when the Church’s carefully concealed trap becomes evident to the Doctor (the Headless Monks ambush what’s left of his army, and the Ponds’ baby turns out to be a Flesh avatar), but everyone’s favorite space archaeologist River Song times her arrival to provide hope for everyone. Were she not to have revealed her identity by this point, the Doctor would have given up, as observed by Madame Vastra (it provides a necessary hope to know that that child will be River, the one person the Doctor trusts more than anyone in the world), and his best friends Rory and Amy might have just as easily resigned their titles as his best friends. The Church is positioning their baby as a weapon after all, all in fear of the Doctor for having built up a reputation as a mighty warrior.
Though I didn’t see the aforementioned Flesh baby twist coming, I unfortunately knew the cliffhanger centered around River Song’s identity, with a little help from a certain spoiler-dispensing blog. There’s a reason River Song says “Spoilers!” It really is all for the viewer’s own good. Moffat said it best: “Stories depend on shocking people. Stories are the moments that you didn’t see coming, that are what live in you and burn in you forever. If you are denied those, it’s vandalism.” So the lesson: Never invite vandalism. Why opt after all for a premature ejaculation? (Teasers are okay, though; those are more like foreplay). Yes, my analogy is vulgar, but hopefully it drives home the point: Leechblock doctorwhospoilers.com!
But setting aside having been spoilered, how cool to finally get confirmation of my theory that River is indeed a Time Lady (well, half-Time Lady, half-human; though we still don’t know about her marital status). As it turns out, the Ponds conceived of her on their wedding night in the TARDIS, exposing her to the time vortex (which is how Time Lords are essentially “cooked”). It does change everything for everyone. How must that be like for Amy, realizing she had pointed guns at her daughter on two occasions already (in “The Impossible Astronaut,” and now “A Good Man Goes to War”). How must that be like for the Ponds seeing their daughter in prison? To know that she will kill a “very good man?” I definitely will be rewatching every River Song episode differently now.
For some reason when Moffat had teased that this episode would be game-changing, I immediately thought he was going to have the Doctor kill mercilessly (at which point he would no longer be the Doctor, as he indicated in “The Beast Below”). It was interesting seeing the Doctor briefly get almost sadistic (especially with “Colonel Runaway”); but one of the principal rules of “Doctor Who” is that nothing too too serious as him being an actual proper killer could/should ever tarnish the Doctor’s storyline; leave the hardcore stuff for “Torchwood!”
With that said, “Let’s Kill Hitler” already!
- “He’s the last of his kind. He looks young, but he’s lived for hundreds and hundreds of years. And wherever they take you, Melody, however scared you are, I promise you, you will never be alone. Because this man is your father. He has a name but the people of our world know him better…as the Last Centurion. -Amy’s fake-out, explaining to her baby that her savior will be Rory, not that other guy (cf. later when Moffat cheekily has the Doctor say vaguely “It’s mine” to Amy and Rory).
- “We’re the Thin Fat Gay Married Anglican Marines. Why would we need names as well?” -The Moff is so amazingly camp, he should be made an honorary gay! Love a sympathizer!
- “Captain Harcourt, I hope someday to meet you in the glory of battle where I shall crush the life of your worthless human form. Try and get some rest.” -Commander Strax says goodbye to his human patient.
- “Oh, turn it off. I’m breaking in, not out. This is River Song back in her cell. Oh, and I’ll take breakfast at the usual time. Thank you!” -River Song, after a romp in 1814 for her birthday with a future version of the Doctor.
- “It’s my birthday. The Doctor took me ice skating on the River Thames in 1814, the last of the great frost fairs. He got Stevie Wonder to sing for me under London Bridge.” / “Stevie Wonder sang in 1814?” / “Yes, he did. But you must never tell him!” -River explains to her father what she did on her birthday.
- “I want people to call you Colonel Run Away. I want children laughing outside your door cos they found the house of Colonel Run Away. And when people come to you and ask if trying to get to the people I love is in any way a good idea, I want you to tell them your name. Look, I’m angry. That’s new.” -The transformation of Colonel Manton to Colonel Run Away.
- “Oh god, I was gonna be cool.” -Rory unable to hold in his tears upon being reunited with wife and child. (I can’t wait for more revelations to come about his heightened sensitivity in relation to his 2,000 years of being a plastic centurion).
- “It’s a geography teacher. ‘Melody Pond’ is a superhero.” -Her indoors shows who wears the pants; Amy comments on the blah name ‘Melody Williams’.
- “And really you should call her Mummy, not Big Milk Thing.” / “Okay, what are you doing? / “I speak Baby.” -The multilingual Doctor talks to Melody Pond in her language.
- “He doesn’t like the TARDIS noise. I asked him to turn something off, but it was all ‘But I don’t want to punch a hole in the space-time continuum’.” -Amy’s request of the Doctor to calm Melody down.
- “I have gene-spliced myself for all nursing duties. I can produce magnificent quantities of lactic fluid!” -Commander Strax, offering to breastfeed a whaling Melody Pond.
- “No offense to the others, but you let them all die first, okay? / “You’re so Scottish.” -Amy’s last words as she sends off her soldier to war.
- “Demons run when a good man goes to war…Demons run but count the cost. The battle’s won, but the child is lost.” -Parts of an old saying regarding the asteroid Demon’s Run, as recited by River in voice-over.
- “The man who can turn an army around at the mention of his name. Doctor. The word for healer and wise man throughout the universe. We get that word from you, you know. But if you carry on the way you are, what might that word come to mean?” -River, bringing the Doctor down a peg.
- “It’s your daughter’s name in the language of the forest. …Except they don’t have a word for ‘Pond’. Because the only water in the forest is the river. The Doctor will find your daughter and he will care for her whatever it takes. And I know that. …It’s me. I’m Melody. I’m your daughter.” -River reveals her true identity with the help of the Gamma Forest prayer leaf sewn by Lorna Bucket. (Nice reference back to “The Doctor’s Wife,” when the TARDIS told Rory the cryptic clue, “The only water in the forest is the river”). Oh, and I also love the moment right before this when Amy watches, with Rory looking on behind her, as the Doctor dematerializes in his TARDIS yet again (cf. “The Eleventh Hour”).