DOCTOR WHO – Series 6 Episode 7
“A Good Man Goes To War”
A review by Timothy Harvey
Warning! This review contains spoilers for “The Almost People”! If you haven’t already seen that episode step away from the review slowly, making no sudden moves, and go watch it.
Spoiler Free. Ish. Well, sort of.
As “The Almost People” came to an end, and the discussion of what it means to be human was somewhat answered, The Doctor reveals that the Amy Pond of this entire season so far isn’t actually Amy at all, but a Flesh copy. The real Amy is being held prisoner by the Eye Patch Lady who has popped up over and over, and as for that “is she/isn’t she” pregnancy? Well yes, the real Amy is. Swearing that they will find her, the Doctor destroys the Flesh copy, and he and Rory set out to rescue her.
Here is a bit of a SPOILER, but it’s part of the pre-credits sequence, and well, it was pretty awesome.
As Amy is given a few moments with her new daughter, Melody, by Eye Patch Lady and her soldiers, she tells her that someone is coming, someone who will rescue them both. Someone who will never let them down, even against an army.
Meanwhile, a Cyberfleet is under attack and an intruder has boarded the command ship.
Amy tells little Melody that the man is the last of his kind, who looks young but has lived for hundreds of years.
And this man is her father.
As the Cybermen face the door to command deck, the door opens, revealing a man…
The man who is known as… The Last Centurion.
“I have a message and a question. A message from the Doctor, and a question from me. Where. Is. My. Wife?”
There’s more to it, but c’mon, it’s a great moment, and while Rory has been the butt of a lot of humor in this series, as well as becoming more of a full fledged companion, we haven’t seen him like this before. Strong, focused, and determined to find his wife at any cost. It’s a fantastic moment for the character. And it’s a nice tease for those who have speculated about the parentage of Amy’s baby.
It is, in fact, the first of many great moments in this episode and therein lies the problem. This mid-season finale is FULL of great moments! Answers are given, new mysteries begin to unfold, and the Doctor faces his greatest enemy. But it’s when looked at as a whole that the big build up to this episode leaves something lacking. We’ve heard that the Doctor will rise higher than he ever has and will fall further than ever before, but based on this episode, neither is strictly speaking true. Of course it’s a cliffhanger, so when put together with the next episode maybe it will work better, but for now…
One of the strengths of this season, in my opinion, was the willingness to NOT wrap everything up at the end of an episode, and more so than before, it’s been one story over the first half season arc. But the trick is the payoff… it has to be worth the buildup. Whether it pays off for you depends on your reactions to the answers this episode delivers, and for me… ah.
Yes, we get the answer to who exactly River Song is, although there are even more questions raised by the answer.
River’s are some of the strongest moments of the episode, and while speculation has run rampant about who she is, if you’ve been reading the speculations on the internet, you’ve seen the answer. Alex Kingston’s performance here is wonderful, and as a fan of the character since her first appearance, I’m quite satisfied with the answer, and with the new questions it raises. It’s nice that the answer opens up far more story possibilities than it closes. River also has the critical speech of the episode, the one which addresses a trend of the series since it returned to the air, and one that I think has been far overdue. Any more would be major spoiler-age, but it’s important stuff. Again, Kingston does a wonderful job here, and the more she’s around, the happier I am.
Aside from the badass moment before the credits, Arthur Darvill gets to give the best performance of his run as Rory to date. As a husband and suddenly a father, he’s come into his own. Gone is the nervous, frazzled, hesitant Rory, and in it’s place is the man the year and a half has been shaping. He’s Amy’s husband, and her equal. He’s a Companion of the Doctor. He’s the Last Centurion.
Amy… well this is interesting. The writers have kind of been unkind to our girl this season, trapping her far from her loved ones, traveling with them only through the Flesh link, forced to go through a pregnancy without knowing it. Fairly brutal in a way. I’ve seen some mothers in the blogs really upset about the reveal that she’s been Flesh for months, and that she’s been completely out of control of her pregnancy the entire time. They have a point. It’s quite dramatic, but it’s also pretty horrible, and we’ve never seen a Companion go through something like this. To be honest, there’s a pretty horrible moment in this episode for her too, and her reaction is perfectly understandable. Karen Gillan delivers in every aspect here, covering fear and anger and joy and heartbreaking sadness. The rumor is she and Darvill are leaving at the end of the season, and that’s a shame. This is Amy’s best episode of the season so far, and she’s quite believable as a mom.
As for our Time Lord, Matt Smith gets TONS to work with here, and in a season of great performances as the Doctor, this may be his best work. We’ve seen the Doctor angry before, we’ve seen the Doctor’s vengeful side before, we’ve seen him be the most dangerous man in the universe, but never like this. This time we see what happens when the Doctor nearly loses it… and that’s important. Treading lightly here, to avoid spoilers, but this episode has at it’s core a question: with all the Doctor has done, with all the legends that have arisen around him, with the threat he poses to all the villains of the series, what does it mean to be that feared? What does it say about the Doctor? And what does that kind of power, that level of threat, mean to those whom the Doctor hasn’t yet faced? It’s a question that is overdue, so I’m glad to see it asked, because if the Doctor is so feared, so god-like, then we are backing ourselves into a story corner. Who can challenge such a man?
Back to Smith… we also get the most important part of this performance: We see the Doctor looking hard at the consequences of his actions, and it’s those quiet moments that Smith shines in. Watch for when he says “They’re always brave.” We also have nods to the Doctor’s family, or rather the many questions about the Doctor’s family, and Smith’s delivery says it all. Sure there’s humor here, where Smith always does fantastic at, but his serious moments are gold.
And then there are our villains: The Clerics, the Headless Monks and Eye Patch Lady herself, more accurately known as Madame Kovarian. Let’s start with her, played by Frances Barber as a cold, ruthless and driven woman, and here a match for the Doctor in the one way that matters. Many mysteries still surround the character, but what we see is someone obsessed with bringing the Doctor down, and she’s a lot scarier than many of the foes the Doctor has faced.
The Headless Monks are a bit of a disappointment to be honest, but creepy. More would be spoilers, I’m afraid.
The Clerics. Hmmmmm. We’ve seen this militarized Catholic Church before, and I’m curious if these events take place before or after the two part “Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone”, but here the Clerics are definitely NOT the Doctor’s friends or allies. Clearly they are working under Kovarian’s command, and know a great deal about the Doctor. I’m sure we’ll see more of them. Well, maybe not of Colonel Manton…
There are some quite nice supporting characters here, with standouts being Christina Chong’s Lorna Bucket, Silurian Madame Vastra played by Neve McIntosh, and her maid Jenny, played by Catrin Stewart. The first of those ladies is the cause of the Doctor’s “They’re always brave” line, and the other two are a team that I wouldn’t mind seeing a spinoff of. It won’t happen, but if the writers are wise, we’ll see them again. Mention must also be made of Strax, the Sontaran with an unlikely career, played ably by Dan Starkey.
So! Clearly I enjoyed the characters and performances, and the questions and reveals, but it’s the way it all comes together that doesn’t quite gel. It’s close… but not quite. The great moments need more time I think, and the battles between them more weight, even if resolving the same way, to justify the rise and fall we’ve heard about. But again, we’ll see what the second have of the season brings.
Now, just because it’s fun to tease sometimes, here’s a few more lines to watch for:
“We’re the Thin Fat Gay Married Anglican Marines. Why would we need names as well?”
“He said… run.”
“He said it a lot.”
“Jack the Ripper has claimed his last victim.”
“Oh turn it off, I’m breaking IN, not OUT.”
“Stevie Wonder sang in 1814?”
“No! Not Me! I’m old, I’m fat, I’m blue!”
“Don’t slump. It’s bad for your spine.”
“And when people come to you, and ask you if trying to get to me through the people I love, is in any way a good idea, I want you to tell them your name.”
“Good men don’t NEED rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many.”
“I speak baby.”
Ahhhh, so many more good lines… you’ll just have to watch it for yourself.