“A Good Man Goes to War” – Review: Redux

River “Demons run when a good man goes to war. Night will fall and drown the sun when a good man goes to war. Friendship dies and true love lies, night will fall and the dark will rise when a good man goes to war. Demons run, but count the cost. The battle’s won but the child is lost.”

A Good Man Goes to War

“A Good Man Goes to War” is a very different kind of Doctor Who episode. It is stand-alone story in as much as it does not have a second part but in truth the storyline is essentially the tying together of many plot threads from previous Moffat era stories and the creation of many new ones that reach out in to Series Seven and perhaps, beyond. The revelation at the end of the previous episode that the Amy who has been travelling with Rory and the Doctor (since, as we discover here, before the beginning of Series Six) has been nothing more than a Flesh Avatar, meant that we now find out that the real Amy has been stuck on the converted Demon’s Run asteroid, being guided through her pregnancy under the beady eye of Madame Kovarian, played with delightful evilness by Frances Barber. The discovery of this deceit has clearly spurred the two men in Amy’s life into a massively complicated and not a little timey-wimey plan that is cleverly played out in the pre-title sequence.

I guess that this sequence is one that will divide fans of the show into two distinct groups: the Moffat-lovers (like me) and the Moffat-dislikers (as “haters” is far too strong a word). There are some who prefer their Doctor Who to be… Arrive somewhere interesting; get involved in a situation that requires guile and finesse and cleverness to resolve; sprinkle liberally with fun and adventure; and finally fly off in the TARDIS for more of the same somewhere else. To tie the plot up in knots about time travel and ongoing mysteries, and to have recurring characters who turn up now and again to help or hinder can be seen as superficial fluff getting in the way of the reason they became fans in the first place. However, I really enjoy the fact that Steven Moffat tried to do something that dared to be different, and that daring necessitates episodes like AGMGTW. A story in which the complex elements and strands of the story are knitted together like this. Of course, before the titles roll, we are introduced to the Doctor’s new army, a la Strax the Sontaran nurse, Vasthra the Silurian adventuress and her companion Jenny, along with the re-introduction of Dorium, and we also get a wonderful sequence as Rory, in his centurion garb, works his way into the heart of a Cyber-fleet to confront the Cyberleader for some vital information. All these little snippets juxtapose deliberately with one another to create a patchwork scene that successfully ramps up the tension.

Of course, the one thing that Rory was unable to do, was to persuade River to join in the Battle of Demon’s Run. Knowing, as we do, the reasons for River’s refusal actually made this scene much stronger: the look on River’s face as she sees her dad, Rory, and again when she realises that she can’t help, are subtly but well executed and another example of something being better on the second watch with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight. The role of Lorna Buckett, from the Gamma Forest, is also an interesting one. She reminded me a little of Lynda (with a “Y”) from all the way back in Series One, as someone who, if circumstances had been slightly different, might have turned out to be a good companion for the Doctor but who ultimately met her demise instead. Additionally, not only does she provide the gift to Amy that finally reveals River’s secret, but she has also met the Doctor before in those Gamma Forests, a place where, we also learn, that the name Doctor means ‘mighty warrior’. This theme that River expounds upon for a moment, that the Doctor has to be careful because of what he might become, is not really investigated to its full potential, [although we might be about to learn more about this in the 50th Anniversary episode featuring John Hurt as this “dark Doctor” character]. However, the comment that the word “doctor”, meaning healer, comes from him, rather than the other way round is a lovely little nuanced thought to ponder.

There are plenty of religious bits running through this as well, with another appearance, following “Flesh and Stone”/”Forest of the Dead”, of an Army that has an obvious religious underpinnings. Joining up with the Headless Monks, references to the Papal Mainframe, comments about being “soldiers of God” and so on. Again, this added a bit of depth to proceedings but there wasn’t any obvious reason as to quite why it was the case and there was no pay-off for it either. More than anything in this episode though, I’d like to point to the talents of Matt Smith. There is some degree of subjectivity in the appreciation of the quality of acting talent, but in the scene where the Doctor begins to angry at Colonel Manton / Colonel Run-Away is wonderfully done. Of course, just when you think you have a handle on where all this going and we’ve all finally found out who River is, we get that final sting… Doctor Who will return in “Let’s Kill Hitler”. What an episode title that is, and the beginning of Moffat’s reversion to a movie-of-the-week style for his take on Doctor Who

Highlight: Matt Smith confronting the Colonel

Lowlight: I speak Baby.

Talking Point: Are you a Moffat-lover?

Demon’s Run Rating: 18 out 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 4th June 2011

Marathon Status: 81 down, 21 to go

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