6.7 – “A Good Man Goes To War”
Across space and time, The Doctor and Rory are recruiting an army. On the planetoid ‘Demon’s Run’, the mysterious Madame Kovarian holds Amy and her newborn baby girl, Melody, captive. The religious troops and the strange order known as the Headless Monks stand ready, waiting for the onslaught that is to come from The Doctor, as a good man goes to war.
The problem with having a mid-season break is that you have to have a mid-season cliff-hanger. And when you’ve started the season with a story that’s top heavy with unresolved plot points (“The Impossible Astronaut”), then everything in between is just filling up time until you get there. This episode had better be good and it tries to be. It’s nearly epic, with troops and weird monks and Silurians and big sets and cool spaceships. There’s suspense and surprises and Kovarian (played with sadistic relish by Frances Barber) really is a nasty, but cunning piece of work – a great foil for The Doctor.
The cold open starts with Amy telling her baby that a legend is on his way to save her – are we supposed to be surprised now when she reveals that she is talking about Rory and not The Doctor? We then move to the legendary Rory, who is getting very angry with a bunch of Cybermen, who are further weakened as credible threats when The Doctor casually blows up their space fleet. Clearly The Doctor is just as miffed as Rory. Cue opening titles.
Then we meet dimwit gobshite soldiers (the Fat One and the Thin One), a girl who is still in awe of The Doctor and a bunch of other characters who tell us just how awesome The Doctor is and how scary its going to be when he turns up. Then there’s the Headless Monks, another voiceless “threat” (Smilers, Angels, Silence) who, without a great deal of surprise, are actually headless and wield blazing laser swords. The soldiers all seem to be in awe of them but really they’re not very intimidating. There’s a Victorian Silurian who’s just eaten Jack The Ripper and Strax, the comedy Sontaran who buries any hope that the Sontarans will ever be a real menace again. Oh Lynx, oh Styre, is this what you died for?
Eventually, The Doctor turns up, revealing himself to be clad as a Headless Monk but with his head still attached. And again, it’s supposed to be a surprise to us but it really isn’t. So yes, it’s all quite neat how he gets the troops to disarm themselves and takes over Demon’s Run without a shot being fired. But seriously, is this his greatest triumph? Better than re-booting the Universe? It is a decent surprise when Kovarian plays her final hand and show that she’s outwitted The Doctor (twice, it seems). The moment when the baby turns to slop is truly horrifying and Gillan plays it perfectly. Maybe it’s because my children were still very little when I first saw this episode, but Amy’s loss of her baby really did (and still does) hit me.
Up to this point the whole thing had been a mad rush of scenery, characters and overwrought non-tension. Finally we get some story, finally we get a reason for The Doctor to get really mad; the shit has hit the fan as his plans are all thwarted. And in that single, terrible moment where the most precious thing in Amy’s world shockingly dissolves, we’re served up a genuine emotional sledgehammer. If only that had been it. That would be a cliffhanger worthy of splitting the series up; The Doctor defeated, his closest friend distraught, a baby lost in time and space and in the hands of a madwoman. But then River Song turns up and gives us the big reveal that she is, in fact, the grown up daughter of Amy and Rory.
What a load of unmitigated bollocks.
Back at the end of “Day Of The Moon” we got that wonderful scene where The Doctor and River kissed for the first and last time (his first, her last). I loved their relationship – flirty, funny, tender and tragic. It was a treat getting a River Song episode; seeing The Doctor blunder through the romance with the far more experienced woman. How great it would have been to see that romance play out. At some point there’d have been their first and last kiss all over again. Except that now it’s been ruined by a stupid contrivance of plot. This appalling “twist” undermines the intriguing story of the great romance of The Doctor’s life. It jerks away the emotional resonance of Amy losing her baby and it binds the Ponds, River and The Doctor together in such a way that we’ll never be able to just enjoy being around these people again. Every time River turns up from now on we’ll have this needless weight of overwrought story hanging over the proceedings.
We get told that The Doctor will return in “Let’s Kill Hitler”. That’s a title that should have got me excited. Instead, I was that close to giving it up.
It’s a whole load of contrived non-excitement, but I could have dealt with it if they’d kept things simple. If only they’d left me hanging in suspense, wondering just how the hell The Doctor might outwit Madame Kovarian and bring that baby back home. But no, the Moff lays it on with a fucking trowel. A good show goes to pot. 4/10.
Written and edited by Richard Barnes