Doctor Who #876: A Good Man Goes to War

"A very old saying. The oldest. Demons run when a good man goes to war."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.4 2011.

IN THIS ONE... Rory rescues Amy, but the eyepatch lady still manages to kidnap their baby. River's real identity is revealed. First appearance of Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax.

REVIEW: Though The Big Bang could make that claim, this is really the first of what I call Moffat's "kitchen sink" episodes (as in everything AND the kitchen sink), where he throws all sorts of ideas at the screen without being able to explore them too closely. Here it just about works, but later, it becomes a problem for me. The conceit is that the Doctor's had this long life filled with adventure, so why not make overt references to those adventures even if the audience has never seen them. It builds on the Doctor's myth, but can leave some audience members confounded. A Good Man Goes to War, for example, presents with a number of characters as "faits accomplis" - the Cybussy-looking non-Cybus Cyber Legion, Madame Vastra the Victorian samurai detective lesbian Silurian and her gal Friday Jenny, Strax the hilarious Sontaran nurse, Lorna Bucket who met the Doctor as a child, and the Headless Monks (an absurd concept, but at least they rated a mention once before). Moffat also throws in River Song, Dorium the blue trader, the clerics previously seen in The Time of Angels, nameless Silurians and Judoon, and arc elements like the Flesh and the still-mysterious eyepatch lady. So much going on and lots of eye candy, it would be incredible if the story still stood up on repeat viewings.

But it does. Part of it is that the new ideas are so engaging. Madame Vastra had people asking for a spin-off within minutes of showing up. The juxtaposition of nurse duties and the Sontaran war code made Strax funny, but also touching (we think he dies at the end of this). We don't know how they originally met the Doctor or what chip he's cashing, but it doesn't matter because we like the characters. Even Dorium has a smarmy charm (we think he dies too). Part of it is the epic feel and all the POW moments. Rory is a total badass questioning Cybermen while their fleet blows up behind them. The Doctor appears out of nowhere on Demon's Run and takes the base over in less than 4 minutes. The poem read by River during the action scenes lends the whole thing the power of a legend. Getting caught out by the Flesh a second time. Seeing the Doctor's crib and finding out River is Amy's baby. It's one cool thing after another. And it probably needs to be. Once you see name Melody Pond, you should be able to guess she's River, but everything from there helps you doubt or forget that fact, and still plays as a kind of surprise. The first time you see it, anyway.

Take away all the bells and whistles, and at this story's core is the tale of two possible "good men". The title relates to the idea that River killed "a good man", which we can now infer is the Doctor if the baby is the little girl and the little girl is the astronaut and also grows up to be River. But the "good man" in this episode is really Rory. He's the husband and father coming for his family, he's the one Amy builds up as a legend, he's both the badass and the man openly weeping with a baby in his arms. The joke about Rory dying over and over across the series suddenly becomes a sense of dread (obviously, that sting is gone three years on). The Doctor doesn't want to call himself a good man, and I love the line about good men not needing rules. We don't want to find out why he has so many. His anger is so great, he doesn't know what to expect from it. In essence, though he's been commended for resolving the situation without bloodshed (which isn't really true), he only achieved his goal through bullying. And it's his growing reputation as the universe's most dangerous man that has created these events in the first place, just like the Pandorica. The cryptic prophecies smack of RTDism, but that's a relatively small complaint.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The DVD includes a prologue featuring Dorium warning the Headless Monks about who they might be angering after selling them a tiny Judoon brain (cheap shot).

SECOND OPINIONS: My original review, 10 and 1 Things About A Good Man Goes to War, had so much to say, I kept going the next day in Who Is River Song? Take Two.

REWATCHABILITY: High - It's one big mind-blowing moment after another, and yet finds time for strong emotional beats for most of the characters.

7 comments:

Freddy said...

The joke about Vastra's tongue I consider to be the dirtiest in Dr Who history, was totally amazed they got away with it.

Siskoid said...

By this time, they were doing threesome jokes at least twice a year, so I don't know what's more lascivious.

Timothy Brannan said...

One of my favorite episodes. Loved it, loved Vastra and Jenny and just a very satisfying episode.

Anonymous said...

Iliked this episode myself, but it was even more of a pleasure to watch it with my son (8 when we saw it). The plot-twists and revelations blew his mind.

- Mike Loughlin

Siskoid said...

That made me smile, Mike.

Sometimes I wish I had kids to share my passions with. And in a way I do, but they're not 8. Not the same.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Ugh. Vastra did *not* have me begging for a spinoff within minutes; one-note and heavily overused, I find her obnoxious. But, just like Rose, the 10th Doctor (and for my wife, River Song), it seems to be our fate to be grated on by things that fandom goes head-over-heels over and demands umpteen returns of, while our favorites sit unignored on the shelf.

Still, a great story (I know someone who tried and couldn't get into the RTD era, but watched this one with us and became a fan who's polished off the New Series and started in on classic Who). Love the teaser, love Strax; fantastic concepts. A bit annoyed at the small-wordiness of River being Amy's daughter. Like the finale's solution to Lake Silencia, all of the 'mysteries' this season seemed easily guessable, and in fact were guessed, by much of fandom beforehand. This one was definitely a let-down for me. But the revelation is done well, as is the rest of this story.

Simillarly, the apparent later ret-con that Strax had just fainted? Not buying it. Really dumb, not funny, doesn't fit with the character. Sorry, someone brought him back to life as the Doctor told Clara, before Vastra and Jenny found him- we just haven't found out who yet. And I'm sticking to that.

"He's the husband and father coming for his family, he's the one Amy builds up as a legend, he's both the badass and the man openly weeping with a baby in his arms."
Well said. To me, nothing gets me when watching Doctor Who more than seeing this portrayed. 'Love conquers all' doesn't have to be a dues ex machina ending- it can be a way of life. Which is, again, why Rory is probably my favorite character from new Who- and you nailed exactly the reasons.

Siskoid said...

I find it unfortunate how many fans dismiss Rory as just another nerf fulfillment fantasy. So much more than that.

 

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