Archive for the Series 6 Category

6.13 – “The Wedding Of River Song”

Posted in New Who, Series 6 with tags , , , , on September 17, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 6 - The Wedding Of River Song

Time is seriously broken, what with Churchill being Emperor of Rome and everything being stuck at 5:02pm April 22
nd 2011. Luckily, Churchill notices and has a chat with his captive Soothsayer, The Doctor with a beard. Since River Song failed to kill him when she should have at Lake Silencio, time has gone a bit screwy. The Silence are still hissing around, so The Doctor needs to find River and sort out a big reset and cop-out before time collapses once and for all (like at the end of Series 5).

The actual story here, being The Doctor sorting this bloody mess out, is thin stuff. As Who fans we know we shouldn’t look too closely at the plot; there’s often enough fun stuff going on to obscure the more glaring plot holes. Last year’s series finale, “The Big Bang”, is a bunch of fast, fun and occasionally quite moving set pieces which disguise the fact that it was just our four main characters running around before hitting the big reset button. “The Wedding Of River Song” is nearly a direct copy. It soft opens with a bunch of quirky shots (pterodactyls in Hyde Park, Dickens on TV, the Roman Empire stuff) before we get our non-surprise as the Soothsayer turns out to be The Doctor. Young Amy finding adult Amy in the Pandorica WAS a cool surprise. A bearded Doctor is not. And the opening titles roll.

Like “The Big Bang”, we’re thrown straight into a flashback as The Doctor explains to Churchill what happened. Carnivorous skulls in the Seventh Transept are neat but, really, none of these scenes have much substance to them; it’s just exposition. We sort of get the reason why the Silence wants The Doctor dead – all about him answering THE question at the Fields of Trenzalore. All very portentous and up itself. So back to the start of Series 6 and the big moment when the Impossible Astronaut kills The Doctor – except, River has managed to override the space-suit programming and not kill The Doctor so, like in Series 5, the act meant to make everything all right causes everything to go very wrong. And here, our story really begins.

What follows (Amy and eyepatched chums rescuing The Doctor from the Silence, the pyramid/ Silence prison actually being a big trap, eyepatches going fizz-pop etc) is not very exciting or interesting. The Doctor doesn’t have to sort anything out or do anything clever, he just has to grab hold of River and reset the whole thing. It’s good to finally see Amy get seriously angry about losing her baby and the Silence referring to Rory as “the man who dies and dies again” – but then we’re reminded, AGAIN, that Amy loves Rory (because, even though they barely know each other in this screwed up timeline, they are still in fucking love).

At the top of the pyramid, The Doctor marries River, supposedly tells her his name and they kiss and everything flips back to normal again. At this point we finally get the clever bit – it’s NOT The Doctor at all who gets shot but the Tesselecta thing with a micro Doctor inside it, thus enabling the fixed point in time to happen and The Doctor to escape while everyone thinks he is dead. That is until River turns up in Amy’s garden and tells her exactly what the Doctor told her not to. The final scene, dropping off Dorium’s head is typical of Series 6 – it sets things up, adds in a big fan-tastic mystery (Who? Doctor, WHO?) but is ultimately a bit pointless. The Doctor wants everyone to think he’s dead, until he decides that he wants to hang out with the Ponds again, and one assumes the Daleks never believed it or they wouldn’t have nabbed him at the start of the very next series.

So endeth Series 6 and “The Wedding of River Song” is a suitable finale. It’s full of the big, mysterious plots that have squatted on top of the whole series; it sort of wraps them up but really just hits a big reset button. Perhaps if it really had been the Ponds’ last episode and the Universe had been left to think The Doctor was gone, then maybe this episode would have some resonance. But, of course, none of this was followed up.

If you’re going to make the show about great big events that shatter everything you’ve ever known, then you should be having great big events that shatter everything you’ve ever known. When normal service is just resumed, it’s all a bit of a let-down. Series 6 – the series that died and died again – and this finale is the epitome of it all. A disappointing 4/10.

Written and edited by Richard Barnes


6.12 – “Closing Time”

Posted in New Who, Series 6 with tags , , , , on August 20, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 6 - Closing Time

The Doctor drops in on Craig, who is now living with Sophie and their baby, Alfie. Craig is looking after Alfie on his own for the first time and is stereotypically crap at it. His poor parenting hits a low note when he, with his baby, willingly follows The Doctor into a shop full of Cybermen.

Last season’s quirky little companion-lite filler was the mildly charming “The Lodger” – a sweet-ish romcom where eccentric weirdo (The Doctor) helps shy Craig find love with shy Sophie, while taking on an alien threat. This year’s quirky little companion-lite filler is a sequel where a sweet-ish romcom is replaced by the hilarious notion of a man (imagine it, a man!!) having to look after a baby. Having frequently looked after my two children on my own I find the so-called comedy implied by a Dad’s incompetence at caring for their own child somewhat offensive. It’s offensive to men, implying that we’re a bunch of morons who can’t emotionally connect with a baby, can’t understand how feeding works and don’t know how to change a nappy. It’s offensive to women, implying that they are somehow genetically wired to look after babies in ways that men are not, which merely backs up the misogynistic narrative about how a woman’s true role is as child-rearing home-maker. And even pushing aside why I find it offensive, it’s just not original or funny. For Christ’s sake, this is an Adam Sandler storyline. The Doctor and Craig even get mistaken for a gay couple.

From the moment Craig whinges about how crap at looking after Alfie he is and how the baby merely thinks of him as “not Mum”, this episode almost lost me, but I’m a fan so we stick it out. There are some amusing bits – The Doctor being able to speak baby and Alfie thinking of himself as “Stormaggedon”, The Doctor shushing everyone but claiming it only works once and on undeveloped brains. Once again, Smith brings the comedy in these scenes and when he breezes through the shop loved by all it’s all reasonably fun. James Corden as Craig is much the same as he was last year, but without an endearing storyline.

So unlike “The Lodger”, “Closing Time” has a lousy comedy story – how do it’s sci-fi elements rack up? People are going missing, strange power drains occasionally make the lights flicker and there’s a silver rat running around. There’s nothing surprising here at all. There are a couple of nearly tense moments when Craig and The Doctor get teleported to the Cyberman ship and only just manage to escape and if it wasn’t for the daft looking teeth in the cybermat, it would be quite exciting when it’s trying to kill Craig. Cybermen as a credible threat though continue to get undermined – the battered Cybermen can barely snatch one person at a time and the poor bloody Cybermat seems to be doing the bulk of the work. It’s slow going, getting their ship up to full power and I really doubt that these half dozen spare parts Cybermen could really conquer the world. In contrast, back in “Dalek”, one lone last Dalek ripped its way through hordes of heavily armed troops, sucked up the entire Internet and was about to murder everyone in Salt Lake City. I know which one worries me.

And as if Mondas’s finest hadn’t been emasculated enough, when they try to convert Craig his crying baby is able to provoke emotions that overwhelm Cyber-conversion technology, kill the Cybermen and blow the ship up. “You shall be like us…unless you feel strongly about it…”

The story with Craig fizzles to an end, after some first class tidying up from The Doctor and young Alfie accepting Craig as his Dad. It’s all a bit sad though because The Doctor knows he’s going to get shot at Lake Silencio the next day so he says some stuff to a bunch of kids who will remember it for ever, as opposed to telling their parents about the strange man in the alley. This leads us neatly to Doctor River Song doing some research before getting nabbed by Madame Kovarian and shoved into the Astronaut suit – but, if Kovarian can just turn up and make River become an automated assassin, was there any point in going through the rigmarole of engineering the Silence to take over the world so they can design a spacesuit that will fit River Song, kidnapping Amy and somehow programming River to kill The Doctor? I know he’s THE Doctor and so on, but surely, there are less complicated ways to shoot a bloke in the chest?

Dumb, unoriginal so-called comedy and Cybermen who actually arouse my pity, not fear and excitement – the poor buggers have not just been drained of energy, they’ve had every mark of their power sucked away. Cordon and Smith do their double-act to no great effect and we get a tacked on cliff-hanger. Young Alfie (or Stormaggedon) was quite cute, but not cute enough to give this uninspired offence any more than 4/10.

Written and edited by Richard Barnes

6.11 – “The God Complex”

Posted in New Who, Series 6 with tags , , , , on August 20, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 6 - The God Complex

The Doctor, Amy and Rory arrive in a hotel. A big, scary hotel. There’s a group of other randomly trapped people there and, sooner or later, everyone will find the one room containing the one thing they fear most. When that happens, they will start to praise him. And “him” will come for them…

Whereas much of Series 6 wants to be deep and profound but is ultimately fairly shallow, “The God Complex” just appears to be a bunch of horror clichés strung together but there’s actually more going on in the background. Nothing is ever quite what it seems.

We start with the horror clichés. We know that Lisa is possessed by something creepy. There are quick jumps between screams and smiles (which made me think of Brian from Spaced). There’s some trippy camera work and ominously long corridors which lengthen and shrink at random. When The Doctor and chums arrive, we get stairwells, fuzzy CCTV shots, laughing dolls and even a sad clown. Basically, our heroes have stumbled into The Shining.

These are all clichés but they are done well and do make sense in the context of the story and the characters are mostly strong enough to rise above them. In particular, Amara Karan’s Rita shines, jumping straight in as a substitute companion (which, as Rory points out, usually ends up being fatal). She’s so good though; The Doctor fires Amy in favour of her in a deft show of breaking up the horror tension. It’s a sharp laugh and, of course, Smith carries it well. Dimitri Leonidas’ Howie is a little less well developed being a skinny geek with a fear of girls. Daniel Pirrie as Joe has a fairly standard fear of laughing ventriloquists’ dummies and, while he’s suitably creepy when possessed, he’s really just monster fodder. It’s Rita’s shrewd summing up of the place they’re trapped in that sparks The Doctor’s admiration. Her decision that they are in hell reveals she is a Muslim. Her courage comes from her faith in her faith. It’s an elegant summing up of the appeal of religion – it’s a handy way to containerise all the questions that are impossible to answer, a good way to get reassurance against the darkness if you (like Rita) have led a good life.

David Walliams, as a sort of celebrity guest star, plays Gibbis from Tivoli, the most invaded planet in history. At first this is a comic turn but Walliams is able to slide from funny scared to cunning cowardice in a moment. When Amy comforts him after they see the Weeping Angels in a room, he takes a sinister delight in telling Amy that her fear is still out there. His idea to let the others die in order to save himself has a certain black humour to it, but also reveals the true nature of this supposedly, weak and constantly oppressed species. As The Doctor points out, it’s cowardice that means the Tivoli live on while others species have been swept away, fighting to survive.

The monster itself, the Minotaur, should be disappointing – instead of some ethereal, supernatural being (or at least something that appears supernatural), we get a flesh and blood beast. However, the strange nature of the creature, feeding on faith and nothing so clichéd as fear, makes it more than it appears. It’s similar to the Krafayis from “Vincent and The Doctor” – brutal and murderous, but more to be pitied than hated. And it’s definitely a wee redemption of the much maligned Nimon.

While some of the best running around in corridors that New Who has ever done is going on, Rory and Amy don’t really get that much to do. It’s only when The Doctor finally realises that the Minotaur is out for faith that Karen Gillan gets to work. This is where the episode really swings around – the fate of Rita hammers home the cost of unquestioned faith in The Doctor and it’s pushing Amy to let go of that faith that breaks the Minotaur’s prison and allows the creature to die. It’s a subtle, but powerful way to break up The Doctor and his two companions – a sense that by letting them go, The Doctor lets them grow up and have a life, as opposed to the inevitable descent to their death that staying with The Doctor seems to bring.

The final parting (which of course, is NOT the final parting) is moving without being hysterical. If only the wonderful Doctor/companion team of Eleven and Amy had finished here…

A subtle and clever episode. On the surface, it’s all fairly standard but well played horror, but a succession of well-thought out elements raises it up. Praise this! 8/10.

Written and edited by Richard Barnes

6.10 – “The Girl Who Waited”

Posted in New Who, Series 6 with tags , , , , on August 11, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 6 - The Girl Who Waited

The Doctor takes Amy and Rory to the planet Alapalucia for a holiday but, conveniently for the plot, the place is quarantined because of a plague that affects the two-hearted locals. Amy gets separated and locked into a different time-stream, so when Rory and The Doctor turn up to rescue her, 36 years have passed.

I nearly hate this episode. It has all the hallmarks that I can’t stand in Moffat Who; a so-called story that is just contrived to set up some big, over-wrought excuse for lots of emotional outpourings. It is, essentially, just 45 minutes of the Amy Loves Rory Show. And a bunch of poxy catchphrase “monsters”.

The story starts off reasonably well with a bit of mystery about what’s actually going on with Amy through the big lens. This gives way to irritation with the handibots being yet another faceless threat with a catchphrase (“this is a kindness”). A hospital with bare white walls is hardly an original piece of design work either. This is Series 6’s “Doctor-lite” episode and with a disease that only affects beings with two hearts it couldn’t be more sign-posted. The BBC’s budgetary demands mean they have to squeeze in 13 episodes for the price of 12 so I can let that wee bit of contrivance pass by. Soon enough, we’ve got Rory dropped off on his own to rescue Amy. When Amy turns up, we get the excuse for the contrivances – OMG, she’s been stuck here for 36 years on her own! WTF?!

Wrinkled ninja Amy deals sword death to handibots. She’s clad in scavenged armour and has even knocked up a sonic screwdriver of sorts. Amy always had an undercurrent of latent anger waiting to go off but 36 years left on her own in a world of white walls and killer robots with an irritating catchphrase have made her seriously furious. She hates The Doctor and she can barely look at her husband. Once Rory finds old Amy, The Doctor figures out how he can adjust the TARDIS and they can go rescue young Amy – but it will mean that old Amy will cease to be. This is the BIG emotional crux of the whole thing. This could all be so bloody annoying. A ridiculous set up just so we can have some “serious” friction between the characters and show the audience (once a-bleeding-gain) how The Doctor fucks up his companions.

But Karen Gillan is brilliant. Simply bloody brilliant.

The make-up is superb; of course we know that Gillan’s been made up but if this was the first time you’d tuned in, you would never know. It’s not just wrinkles and lank hair; Gillan’s performance is a physical transformation. She moves without the light step and bounce of her younger self, but she still has the brutal grace that comes from spending your life having to fight and fight and fight. Her face is granite; when Rory first arrives and realises just how wrong The Doctor has got it, she can’t look at him, but she still wants to look good for him. When Rory compliments her, she runs her hand through her hair – hair that has lost its vibrant, alive colour. She fumbles with her lipstick. Her avoidance is part emotional defence mechanism, part warrior coldness and part fragile embarrassment. Gillan has it all. When Rory makes her laugh, you can believe that it really is the first time in 36 years.

Once again, Arthur Darvill holds up his side of the double act. Naturally, Rory is shocked but we all know he’s got strength in spades – only he could make this hardened, bitter woman laugh. He doesn’t care that Amy got old, just that they didn’t get old together. Her pet handibot is called Rory for a reason. The moments when the two Amys share their memories of Rory and his stupid haircut are simply superb. Gillan playing two versions of Amy talking to each other. Great writing, great direction, great acting. It gets even better when the two Amys finally come together, saying the same things at the same time, getting angry at the same rate and Rory stuck in the middle (“Two Amys together, can that work?” “I don’t know. It’s your marriage”).

But the finale with Rory and old Amy on either side of the TARDIS doors pushes it all a little too far – the hand at the window, the declarations of love are all a bit too mushy for my tastes. There’s not too much story here and it’s another sodding reminder that Amy loves Rory, but it is saved by a handful of very good scenes that outshine the contrivances and clichés.

As a character piece it doesn’t reach the heights of “Vincent and The Doctor” – we may find ourselves or loved ones struggling with mental illness, but it’s harder to empathise with getting caught up with a time paradox of old and young versions of our partners. However, take a bow Karen Gillan, who turns in a performance (two performances really) that elevate this episode from over-contrived character piece to something far more emotionally engaging. Let’s not confuse this with previous examples of one actor playing two characters. This is not Sarah Sutton playing Nyssa and Ann or even Troughton playing The Doctor and Salamander – this is Karen Gillan playing Amy and Amy and it’s possibly the best performance that she gives in the show. This is a kindness – 8/10.

Written and edited by Richard Barnes

6.9 – “Night Terrors”

Posted in New Who, Series 6 with tags , , , , on August 11, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 6 - Night Terrors

The Doctor, Amy and Rory make a house call to George, an 8 year old boy who needs help dealing with the monsters in his cupboard. The Doctor meets George’s father who reveals that little George is scared of everything. When Amy and Rory (and a few other neighbours) find themselves pulled into a dolls house, The Doctor realises that what’s in George’s cupboard is indeed something to be scared of…and that George himself may be the source of all the monsters.

“Come on George,” says his Mum, “there’s nothing to be scared of”. Of course there bloody is! After all, this is an episode of Doctor Who. The fears of a child are fertile ground for horror (The Shining for example) and George is a suitably traumatised kid in this respect. Is the horror all in his head? Or are there real horrors to be faced? There’s nothing very original going on here, at least not at first. When George is scared of what’s in the cupboard we can be pretty sure that there really is something scary in the cupboard.

The episode builds up well. The nightmare 1960’s council estate where George lives is horrible enough – a place of endless concrete landings, tiny flats and piles of bin bags. There’s a scared old lady and a nasty landlord with a savage pitbull. It’s clearly a rotten place to raise a child. Daniel Mays as Alex, George’s father, is great – love for his son, despair at the difficulties that George’s fears cause, awareness of how his anxieties become even more reflected on the kid – Mays carries it all with sensitivity and strength. Jamie Oram as George is one scared little kid and all those fears are brought to life so well. Creepy shadows and silhouettes; the haunting groaning of the lift – we experience all this through George and his trauma is made very real. Andrew Tiernan as Purcell the nasty landlord and Leila Hoffman as the scared old lady don’t have huge roles, but they help contribute to the overall air of misery and fear.

Amy and Rory don’t have much to do, apart from get sucked into the Doll’s House and get menaced by lurching, silent peg dolls. The Dolls house is dark and creepy; the peg dolls with child-like giggles are scary – however, this has all been seen before. Amy and/or Rory getting chased around scary corridors is a bit of recurring theme at this point. In Series 6 they’ve been chased by the Silence in a rotten children’s home, menaced by the House in the TARDIS and the antibody things in the Teselecta. The real action takes place in the flat with George, Alex and The Doctor. Smith is in his element, able to talk to George as only a fellow kid can, yet able to bring his weighty age to Alex. These are good scenes but, again, it’s nothing terribly original and is more frightening for being reminiscent of the far less effective “Fear Her” from Series 2. It was a real worry when The Doctor finally opened the cupboard.

Fortunately, writer Mark Gatiss does pull something better out of the bag – George is not merely menaced or possessed by some kind of alien nightmare factory – he IS the alien nightmare factory! Alex’s realisation that his memories have been changed and that George is not his biological child is properly distressing; it’s George’s real fear of being separated from his adopted parents that plunges The Doctor and Alex into the doll’s house. For once, the power of love to sort it all out seems to actually make sense. George may not be Alex’s biological child, but there’s more to parenthood than just supplying the chemistry and it’s fitting that Alex embracing his son saves the day.

If there’s a bum note with this episode, it’s more to do with its placing in the series than anything wrong with the story itself. Coming after “Let’s Kill Hitler” and the Ponds losing their child, you’d think that a traumatised child would have more of an effect. Apparently “Night Terrors” was supposed to be part of the first half of the series which only reinforces my general annoyance at the clumsiness of Series 6.

On its own merits, “Night Terrors” is a solid slice of New Who, despite the poor placing in the series. The good performances all round and the creepy sets and effects all overcome any lack of originality.  A positive 7/10.

Written and edited by Richard Barnes

6.8 – “Let’s Kill Hitler”

Posted in New Who, Series 6 with tags , , , , on July 4, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 6 - Let's Kill Hitler

Amy and Rory build a crop circle of The Doctor’s name (it takes a lot to get his attention) in hopes of getting an update on his search for their baby daughter. Amy’s BFF Mels, turns up in a stolen car and with the police in hot pursuit. Mels has also got a gun and The Doctor has a time machine, so she forces them to head back to 1938 in order to kill Hitler. But there’s more to Mels than anyone realises and there’s more than one bunch of time travellers in Nazi Berlin.

I’ll say this; it starts well. Mels (Nina Toussant-White) is sparky and mental and gets a killer line: “I’ve got a gun, you’ve got a time machine. What the hell, let’s kill Hitler!” I’d have liked to see more of this version of Mels, The Doctor’s “bespoke psychopath”, but like so much of series 6, the character is a tease and not followed up on. The flashbacks are fun; it’s always good to see young Amy and this time we get the young Rory mooning around after her. Then, thanks to a mere bullet sending the TARDIS into a tailspin (really, it only takes a bullet to the console?), our chums come crashing into Berlin in 1938, face to face with Hitler himself. The real story starts here…well…sort of.

Mels is swiftly shot and regenerates into the more familiar form of Alex Kingston. Rory gives Hitler a solid punch to the jaw and shoves him in a cupboard. Here again is the kind of material that could make for a great story – The Doctor and co having to save Hitler? However, Hitler is just a contrivance to introduce the Teselecta, which reminds me of the Numbskulls from the Beano only meaner. The Teselecta’s motives are just plain sadistic, travelling through time and space to torture bad people. Yes, we’d all like to have seen Hitler suffer for his many many crimes but this is Doctor Who and I’m pretty sure that while defeating evil is encouraged, torture is not. The Doctor even tried to save Davros a few seasons ago!

Considering this is an episode about how Amy and Rory’s little girl grew up and how their best childhood friend turned out to be said little girl, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill don’t really get much more to do than run around. They get sucked into the Teselecta and meet a bunch of monosyllabic robot antibodies with a catchphrase (a favourite of Moffat’s) but get wristbands to hold them off. This proves to be a handy plot device, allowing them to set the antibodies onto the crew when the plot calls for it. Alex Kingston as the freshly regenerated Mels has much more to play with, more mature than her previous incarnation but still on a mission to kill The Doctor with as much flirting as she can muster. Smith is superb, bringing a splendid dose of physicality to the role. He never got the chance for it in the first half of the season. As he thwarts Mels’s repeated attempts to kill him at first, the scene almost degenerates into “The Curse Of The Fatal Death” with its I-expected-you-to-do-that-so-I-did-this gag, but Smith and Kingston have chemistry in spades so the scene crackles with energy. It’s a highlight among the rest of the forced excitement.

Eventually though The Doctor sort of dies, but in doing so inspires Mels to rescue Amy and Rory from the Teselecta (after the TARDIS teaches her how to fly it – clearing up another mystery of continuity on the way). She also gives up her remaining regenerations to save The Doctor which all indicates that Madame Kovarian’s devious plan to train someone from birth to kill The Doctor really was a complete and utter failure. How does seeing The Doctor trying to save his friends reprogram her brain just like that? I guess it just does. This is not a story – this is a backstory. It’s just exposition; a bunch of scenes to explain what happened to Amy’s baby and how she grew up to be River Song and how The Doctor cured her of being the manipulated psycho assassin who was meant to kill him. There’s nothing clever going on; Mels becomes River because The Doctor asks her to. All of these plot points that were raised up and up in the first half of the series amount to very little in the end, especially The Doctor’s promise to bring Amy’s baby back.

This is one particular point that I simply can’t get past. Amy gave birth under traumatic conditions, had her newly born child snatched away from her but because the baby grows up to be her childhood friend who regenerates into River Song we’re supposed to sit back and think that everything is OK now. In the normal course of his adventures, The Doctor frequently saves whole planet-loads of people, or on occasion the entirety of time and space, so the fate of one baby could be seen as small beans by comparison. Except it’s not. It’s Amy’s baby. Amy, supposedly the Eleventh Doctor’s best friend, the first face that Eleven’s face saw, the “Girl Who Waited” (I’ll use capitals there because. these days, a companion can’t be just along for the ride – they have to be a figure of DESTINY). AND IT’S HER BABY! The loss of a child is one of the worst traumas that can be visited upon anyone and it’s dealt with by a frivolous story about not killing Hitler and the Numbskulls driving around in an android. Either The Doctor saves Melody and delivers her back to her parents or surely the devastated Ponds would be walking away from The Doctor. Tegan walked away when it stopped being fun – are the Ponds still having fun at this point?

This episode is an exercise in bottling out. If you’re going to up the emotional ante to 11 (because a mid-season break demands a fuck-off cliffhanger), then you should have the balls to follow through. And herein lies the problem with series 6; it’s all ramped up emotions and cliff-hangers with little to no pay-off. A complete and total let down and a sorry 3/10.

Written and edited by Richard Barnes

6.7 – “A Good Man Goes To War”

Posted in New Who, Series 6 with tags , , , , on June 25, 2014 by Review The Who


DW Series 6 - 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