• 19th June 2011 • Review by Julian Hazeldine •
[The basement of Unlimited Rice Pudding! Towers. A large man, with shoulder-length blond hair, sits tied to a small chair, illuminated by a single light bulb. At the edge of the visible area, a slender figure sits on a box of unused Noise To Signal stationary, toying with a antique cricket bat. Both the bat and the blond man’s hair have dashes of crimson smeared across them. The slender figure speaks.]
“Well, let’s ‘review’ the situation, shall we, Mr Capps?”
“Before I left the country for a period, I was assured that URP!’s review of A Good Man Goes To War would be posted in ‘two shakes of a lambkin’s tail’. My words, admittedly, but your sentiments. Instead, on my return from a literal and metaphorical holiday, I find no review, despite the episode reaction thread receiving more comments than any other this year.”
“Buh ah did… review…. it!”
“Yes, but the words ‘It was teh bit gOOd, sorT of’ on the site’s back-end CMS aren’t really the sort of rigorous critical commentary that we’re looking for. Let’s start with the positives, shall we? Firstly, the visuals. What did you make of the episode’s aesthetics?”
“Lucky guess. There’s clearly been some wise spending of money here. The Demon’s Run base is a clear triumph, with some of the best CG we’ve seen in a while, but what really impresses is the attention to detail in the less-used settings which we glimpse. The Victorian drawing room and the like only briefly feature, but there’s a commendable willingness to use multiple rooms where only one would have done. When the TARDIS comes to pick up the Doctor’s debtors, the fact that the ship lands in a differing place to that were we’ve been introduced to them considerably adds to the scale of the story, and is a welcome contrast to the moments in Series Five when the show started to feel a little confined. All those squads of Clerics wouldn’t have been cheap, either.”
“Bang on the money again, lad. Arthur Darvill’s performance as Rory is the other great strength of the episode. Right from the start, he brilliantly gives the impression that the new macho Mr Pond is a deliberately assumed identity, and that he’s not comfortable in the skin which circumstances are forcing him to wear. With Amy a far less interesting character (as we’ll discuss in a minute), it’s very much Rory’s episode. In view of the Doctor’s disowning his own virtuousness, it’s probable that the story’s title refers to him. When it comes to the crunch, it’s always the reluctant companion who says what the audience is thinking, particularly during the second half of the episode. Despite all the dramatics at the close of the story, the most heartbreaking moment is clearly Rory’s line ‘I was going to be cool’. There’s some excellent work from Matt Smith, and Danny Sapani gives a convincing military presence, but it’s Darvill who takes to the limelight like a fish to water. Speaking of which, what did you make of the cliff-hanger?”
“Oh dear, and you were doing so well. The most interesting thing about the keystone of Rover Song’s identity is not how out-of-the-blue it has come to causal viewers, but how inevitable it feels to fans. It’s easy to forget that the idea of Amy Pond having a child was only introduced to the series a few weeks ago, given how seamlessly River’s origin has been rooted through recent events. The idea of exposure to the time vortex is a little fan-ish, but as Steven Moffat remarked at the start of the series, it’s time that the programme stopped pretending that people don’t watch it. What should be an outlandish cheat feels like a logical progression, and gives River’s existence the slightly incestuous feel which we’ve somehow been lead to expect through her intimate knowledge of the Doctor. On the other hand, mind, it does lead us to one of the main problems with the episode, in the form of its slightly grating gender politics.”
[The blond man looks almost to be on the point of uttering the words ‘Your stupid degree’, but a movement of the cricket bat somehow dissuades him.]
“Motherhood seems to have sadly robbed Amy Pond of the gumption which has always defined the character, leaving her a sadly passive presence in the narrative. Given the magnitude of what’s been done to her, you might expect revenge to be on her mind, but she seems strangely reliant on others to deliver retribution to Madame Korvian. Can you REALLY imagine Rory as the avenging warrior she’s describing? She’s also still dressed only in pyjamas a month after giving birth, for no other reason than to endow her with an aura of vulnerability.
“A more serious issue is raised by the character of Lorna Bucket, easily the most unconvincing solider to appear in the programme since Battlefield. It isn’t just that she manages to remain completely spotless despite living in a grimy space station, but that it’s virtually impossible to imagine her in combat. Bucket’s main contribution to the story, a bit of plot-aiding needlework aside, is to make us feel sad at her demise, and that’s not a good place for the show to be. It’s as if Moffat was so focussed on crafting the fall of the Doctor that he wasn’t able to pay any attention to the cumulative impression of story elements which are in support of this. We could have coped with a passive Amy or a feeble guest character, but not even the literally man-eating Madame Vastra can block out the rather unpleasant cumulative aftertaste that results from a combination of the two.”
“Fall… of the… Doc-ah?”
“I’m coming to that. It’s striking how perception of the episode changes on a second viewing. Where I originally thought that the comedy of the first half of the episode overshadowed the tragedy that follows, a re-watch has to opposite effect, making the opening ring distinctly hollow in light of what follows and the magnitude of the Doctor’s failure.
“What’s unexpected is that Moffat doesn’t just post the question of what happens when the Doctor loses his self-control, but also answers it; he makes mistakes. With every other character imploring him to stop underestimating Madame Korvian and her cranium-challenged forces, the Doctor’s refusal to believe the obvious in young Melody’s medical details is the most striking part of his failure. That said, it’s a shame that we only get half the picture. We get that the Doctor has straight-forwardly failed, but for this episode to really work, we would have needed more to go on in terms of why the Clerics have taken a stand against the Doctor. Doubtless Korivan’s motivation will be explained at a date in the future (if that missing eye of hers turns out not to have been the Doctor’s doing, I’ll be surprised), but the moral dimension of the Doctor’s position, and the reason why River is so strident in her criticism of him, is left so understated to evade the viewer.”
“By no means. What’s probably Moffat’s weakest script to date is still a perfectly good Doctor Who story, which achieves its two main objectives of showing the Doctor misjudging a situation in anger and explaining River Song’s origins. There are both laughs and heartbreak here, but it is a pity that some of the potential hasn’t been realised.”