close menu

“A Good Man Goes To War” Review [SPOILERS!!!!!]

For an episode where a lot was going on, nothing really happened until the last few minutes.  “A Good Man Goes to War,” the mid-series finale of Doctor Who, was full of action and cool new characters, but there wasn’t, strictly speaking, a “plot.” Yet this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The whole episode was leading to the big reveal at the end, indeed a game-changer like Moffat had been saying all along, which worked well, I think.  Truth be told, this episode did not need to be about a grand plot or a timey-wimey event. This episode was all about characters and how characters relate to and perceive the Doctor, and how he perceives himself.  To do an episode like that as the midseason finale was a bold choice, especially for Steven Moffat, whose whole bag has been complex plots and stuff. And still, questions ARE answered in a satisfactory way.


At the beginning of the episode, we know Amy and child, called Melody, are being held by Eye Patch Lady, who is leading the Clerics, militarized Anglicans whom we last saw in “Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone.” The Eye Patch Lady’s name is “Madame Kovarian,” but I’m going to keep calling her Eye Patch Lady.  There’s a moment in the prologue, while Amy is telling Melody they’ll all be okay because her father is coming to save them, that we think yet again she’s talking about the Doctor, but, of course, it’s Rory.  Rory, The Last Centurion.  Moffat loves creating heroes, real proper superheroes, and I think it’s really great that Rory went from a sad sack, a pushover, to literally being awesome enough to stand up to a fleet of Cybermen. Also, the fact that Cybermen are in this episode simply as a way for Rory to look badass is pretty cool. I like Rory.

The Clerics have a whole army waiting for the Doctor, and they’ve even brought in the Headless Monks, who are basically Jedi with no heads. They don’t make sense.  Are we supposed to believe that their faith is so strong they can exist without heads? If that’s the case, how do their hoods stay up? Don’t say “the Force,” because that’s your answer for everything. We’re also introduced to Lorna Bucket, a cleric who has met the Doctor before when she was a child.  She doesn’t want the Doctor to be harmed, but this is the only way she can think of to see him again.  Kind of a dumb plan if you ask me, but it works.  Lorna is another in a long line of companions who never were.

While they wait impatiently, the Doctor is compiling his own army, comprised of people who owe him a debt.  I feel like the Doctor wouldn’t collect debts because he wouldn’t keep track of them.  “Favors for favors” doesn’t seem to be his bag, but it’s really just a means of getting more cool characters together.  How else would we get a Silurian samurai from the 1880s and her human life partner and a helpful Sontaran in the same place at the same time?  He also recruits Dorium Maldovar, the big, bald, blue guy whom River barters with briefly in “The Pandorica Opens.”  He definitely does not want to go fight, but he does, evidently because he also owes the Doctor something.

And what about River?  Rory goes to collect her, on her birthday *wink wink*, right after the Doctor had taken her to the early 1800s and had Stevie Wonder sing to her.  River is visibly stunned to see Rory and tells him she can’t go with him, because this is the day the Doctor finds out who she is. More on that later. Spoilers.

I like and have always liked the idea of teams of good guys and moreover the idea of recruiting them.  This episode really felt like Doctor Who’s answer to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the book, of course, not the abomination of a film they made).  The Doctor himself doesn’t actually appear for 19 minutes, and he does with a boom.  The Eleventh Doctor has an interesting way of dealing with large threats which is to act like he doesn’t give a shit.  He’s supremely confident and doesn’t need to bluster or shout (until later). Maybe slightly too confident? He almost immediately makes the Clerics look like fools, despite their persistent assurances that they are not, and his “army” takes control of Demons Run in 3min 42sec.

While I can totally buy and enjoy the fact that the Doctor can gather a Silurian samurai and a Sontaran nurse, I have a hard time believing he’d be able to mobilize an entire legion of Silurian warriors and Judoon officers just like that. It’s a cool visual, but the logistics of it are a bit off. I liked the small throwback to “The Curse of the Black Spot” with the quick shot of Captain Avery and Toby implying that his ship of space pirates has taken control of Eye Patch Lady’s ship.  I did NOT appreciate the return of the Spitfires in space from “Victory of the Daleks.”  I can maybe, MAYBE, understand Spitfires in space in the context of that episode because they’re pretty close to Earth, but here they’re light years away and hundreds of years in the future. Did the Doctor fit both of those Spitfires in the TARDIS? And where do they go once they’ve blown up the communications array? Anyway, hairs split.

One of my favorite scenes happens when the Doctor tells Col. Manton to leave, in what has come to be known as “The Col. Runaway Speech.”  Matt Smith is truly wonderful in this moment and it displays this Doctor’s short temper quite nicely.  I am, however, growing slightly tired of him always saying “That’s new,” after he experiences some emotion. He’s not Data, he can emote once in a while.  It worked in “The Doctor’s Wife” because he truly didn’t know what to do which he surely never felt before, but he’s angry ALL THE TIME, why would he be surprised at being angry?

It’s been hinted at a lot lately that the Doctor, above and beyond being a time-traveling do-gooder, is the most feared thing in the universe.  Last year’s “The Pandorica Opens” illustrated this beautifully, with a combined group of all of the Doctor’s worst foes banding together to stop him.  Now, it seems, it goes beyond his stable of monsters.  The Clerics and Eye Patch Lady seemingly have no reason to fear the Doctor other than that he is something to be feared.  There’s a moment when Lorna mentions that to her people, the word “Doctor” means “Great Warrior” because of their brief time with him.  He has to come to grips with the fact that, while he always tries to do good from his and our point of view, he’s universally known as a threat.  It’s like Richard Matheson’s original novel I Am Legend, where (SPOILERS) at the end the lead character is captured by the vampire people and accepts execution because, to them, HE is the monster. The Doctor is being forced to accept the same thing.  To the Daleks, Cybermen, and, I guess, the Clerics, he is the monster. I think he’ll start to make amends for this soon.

Everything seems fine very quickly and Amy and Rory are reunited with their daughter Melody Pond. There’s a very funny exchange with the Doctor where we learn that he speaks baby (of course he does), and he gives them his cot from when he was a baby.  They won! The Doctor begins to learn what they’d been doing to Melody.  Apparently, because Melody was conceived on the TARDIS, she was born with some sort of strange time-energy in her DNA, which it seems the Eye Patch Lady has been enhancing for quite some time.  So the child is partially Time Lord, which makes sense in context, but we never knew it could happen. Of course, there’s no precedent for it. To our knowledge, no child has ever been conceived on the TARDIS.  It lends to the theory that not all Gallifreyans are Time Lords.  It’s an enhancement they’ve done to themselves through “billions of years” being exposed to the Time Vortex and the Untempered Schism.  I think that stuff is super fascinating and I’m excited to see where Moffat goes with it.

But, of course, Eye Patch Lady has another trick up her sleeve, and, once she is long gone, the Headless Monks attack the small remaining heroes. EPL tells the Doctor that they plan to use Melody as a weapon against the Doctor.  She also informs the Doctor that he’s been fooled a second time, leading to the horrible realization that the baby Amy has been cradling is actually a Flesh duplicate. It’s one of the most heartbreaking reveals the show has ever created and Amy is understandably despondent afterwards. The Monks are eventually defeated, but Dorium, Lorna,  and Sontaran nurse Strax are killed in the process. As Strax dies, he tells Rory that while he looked like a warrior, he was just a nurse, something that hits Rory like a punch in the sternum.

And then River arrives. She’s finally here to tell the Doctor, and us, who she is.  The answer lies in the cot. For a moment we, or at least I, thought she was going to say she was the Doctor’s mother, but that would have been gross and ridiculous.  The Doctor realizes the truth and sort of cheerfully heads to the TARDIS.  Amy is still totally unaware and River calmly explains it by showing the whatever-that-thing-is that Lorna had sewn. It’s Melody’s name in the language of her people. They don’t know the word for Pond, because the only water in the forest is the River.  YES! River Song is actually Melody Pond. She is Amy and Rory’s daughter!

I think that was a wonderful reveal, personally. I sort of saw it coming, but at this point it’s nice not to have to speculate.  Why would she be some kind of strange third-party character when the most poignant and pertinent thing would be that she is the child of the Ponds (Williamses)? So the little girl we saw in the space suit is likely River Song and she can regenerate.  But, there are a few questions that need answering and things that don’t quite add up yet.

1)      If the little girl we saw in the suit and regenerating is River, why wouldn’t River have remembered it while she was investigating it? Unless she’s just “spoilers”-ing again.

2)      I don’t think River is the one in the space suit that kills the Doctor in “The Impossible Astronaut,” BECAUSE grown-up River looks genuinely shocked and sad when the Doctor dies. However, this could just be her lying again, or it could be the Silence making her forget. I just think it’s someone else entirely we haven’t met yet.

3)      The scene in Stormcage at the beginning of this episode where River looks really surprised and wistful about seeing Rory. This is what I think: River, at that point in her life, hadn’t seen Rory in a very long time and I believe that’s because Rory is the “Good Man” whom River kills. She says she kills “The best man she’s ever known,” and that HAS to be her dad, the Last Friggin’ Centurion. The whole series has been making us think someone’s talking about the Doctor but are actually talking about Rory. It only stands to reason that this is just the last instance of it. While I don’t want to see Rory get killed, it will probably be in some heroic fashion and it will inform River’s whole life and relationship with the Doctor and Amy.

4)      Who blew up the TARDIS? I know this is an old question, but the TARDIS exploded in “The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang,” and we still don’t know who caused it or why. What does it have to do with the Silence falling?

Now we have a good few months to wait and watch Torchwood while we mull over these and other important questions.  Boy, for an episode I claimed didn’t have much plot, there was a whole lot to talk about.

Later this week, I’m going to be featured on an episode of the excellent podcast, Two-Minute Time Lord, with two other fantastic bloggers/critics talking about Series 6. Follow me on TWITTER and I’ll link you once it plops.

Until next time, Whovians!

-Kanderson speaks nerd.

Comments

  1. Mike says:

    The doctor that gets killed by the astronaut is his flesh duplicate im guessing.

  2. Katie says:

    Are we really going to be concerned about Rory dying? With his track record, he’ll probably just come back anyways. Or maybe they’ll actually KEEP him dead for a twist.

  3. Derek says:

    What if Moffat’s been continually pulling the Doctor/Rory bait-and-switch so we start to think River means she killed Rory, but she really DID kill the Doctor instead. It would be a brilliant misdirect. (I really don’t want Rory to die; can you tell?)

  4. Sexy O'Sullivan says:

    That’s really brilliant the theory about Rory being the “good man” River kills. I hadn’t thought about it too much. I did the obvious thing and thought the Doctor but you’re right when you think about how Moffat has been revealing that 99.9% of the time it’s Rory he’s talking about, it makes a ridiculous amount of sense. <3 I think I love you o_O

  5. TardisStowaway says:

    Definitely agree on Rory’s character. As far as wimp-to-somewhat-badass character’s go he reminds me a lot of Wesley from Buffy and Angel later on. It’s nice to see character development done on such a high level again, which is another testament to moffat’s writing skills. I’m curious to see if we learn more about the two thousand years he spent guarding the pandorica or how it affected him at least.

  6. Lokey says:

    @Trenton — My own theory is that the little girl didn’t break out of the astronaut suit, but regenerated at some point while inside the suit blowing it to pieces.

  7. Red says:

    Hmm.. TARDIS exploding.. isn’t the TARDIS exploding in ‘The Big Bang’ at the center of the ‘sun’ that isn’t really a sun?

  8. Wesley Marshall says:

    @KyleAnderson You should have posted this by now http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qv7iZy7TJz8&feature=youtu.be

  9. Brittany says:

    I don’t know if the person in the Spacesuit is River or not, but I must say that she has repeatedly proven herself as having precise marksmanship when shooting at an enemy – so she suddenly misses every shot as she is shooting at the Spaceperson when they slowly descended into the lake? And then she says “No, of course” (or similar) to herself after the round is over… it’s suspicious to me.

    As for the final episode, your reviews are great and the episode was fantastic. Matt Smith portrays the emotions of the Doctor in such a great way, he really deserves to be the Doctor.

  10. Gangstamuppet says:

    KaleighElms, I could see your confusion. She didn’t call her mum, like “mom”, she called her “ma’am.” It comes out sounding a bit like “mum” when the Brits say it. :)

  11. Red says:

    @Joey – The Ganger Buzzer that Cleaves kills didn’t melt when he died. She stopped his heart. The Doctor was very upset about that, and emphasized that it was a real human. Ganger Buzzer’s body was still there. Gangers that are still hooked up to the real person definitely melt (Amy, Melody), but the independent ones, effected by the solar radiation, only melted when the Doctor used the sonic on them (himself and Cleaves). But he also said that exposure to the TARDIS stabilized them (end of the episode). So it’s possible Ganger Doc is picked up by Real Doc in the TARDIS and made stable.

    In this last episode, the Doctor says it’s possible for Melody to regenerate. So I don’t think it’s completely impossible for River to have regenerated. And she’s not a typical partial Time Lord. She’s human, but exposed to the Time Vortex, and then EPL enhances that. So maybe she’s got special circumstances? Who knows. We’ll see. ::shrug::

    Anybody else wondering why, in The Impossible Astronaut, both Amy AND River feel sick? Amy could be explained by her Ganger feeling Real Amy’s morning sickness (since she also felt the contractions later). But then why was River feeling sick? The Silence don’t make anyone else sick, even though they’re exposed to them the same amount of time, if not longer, than Amy and River, so it’s not them. Hmm..

  12. Joey says:

    First of all, the girl in the suit could not be River, because she regenerated. According to “Journey’s End,” half Time Lords do not regenerate. Also, the Doctor purposely blew up the TARDIS which was not related to the fall. As mentioned in “Doctor Who in America,” what was thought to be “Silence will fall,” was actually “Silents will fall.” which occured in episode 6.1.2. The Doctor on the beach could not have been a ganger, because he did not melt like every other dead ganger.
    Nitpicking Alert: I do not understand how Rory could still have been the last Centurian since Big Bang 2 corrected time.
    Do not argue against my theories about River due to her hair color. She probably just had the condition that I had where one goes bald and grows a different color of hair as a baby.

  13. Red says:

    @Nichelle – Yeah, Ganger Doctor melted, but Real Doctor told him it might not be the end of him:
    Ganger: “My death arrives I suppose.”
    Real: “But this one we’re not invited to.”
    Ganger: “What?”
    Real: “Nothing… Your molecular memory can survive this, you know. This may not be… the end.”
    Ganger: “Yeah, well if I turn up to lick all your biscuits, you’ll know you were right, won’t you?”

    So I’m really hoping it was the Ganger at the lake. He’s fully Time Lord too, because he’s like the other guy who Cleaves killed, who had a heart. So independent Ganger Doctor must have the same bodily structure as Real Doctor, so he’d have two hearts that died. Thus when River scans his vitals he registers as dead Time Lord, and not as solidified goo. And that’s why he still has to be burned. Because he is a Time Lord body, even if it’s not THE original Doctor.

  14. TimeKiller says:

    At the end of The Big Bang, I genuinely thought the villain for this season would be revealed to be the 12th Doctor who is supposed to be evil. I’m still really curious how they’re going to work that in to the story when the time comes!

  15. Nichelle says:

    wasn’t the ganger doctor melted at the end of “almost people”, though? [although i hope not; i’d love for that to have been a fake Doctor that died in utah…) lol

  16. Red says:

    I have to say, this episode was beyond epic. While I’d already guessed at the River reveal before I watched it, it still was crazy good. Matt’s acting has always been insanely good, but I think he reached a whole new level with this one. Unbelievable! The Doctor and Rory were both seriously badass. I would hate to ever get on the Doctor’s bad side. Dang! I loved the Col. Runaway speech, and the blowing up of the Cybermen fleet just to make a point. Phwew! Don’t ever piss off the Doctor! While I also thought it was a bit of a stretch for the Spitfires to be able to fly out to an asteroid, I still liked that they showed up in this, no matter how unfeasible it is. One of my favorite moments was when the Doctor does the arm spin like an airplane. What a rock star!

    @KaleighElms — The human was saying “Ma’am”, but in the British pronunciation it sounds a bit like “mum” to us Americans.

    I also have my own theories/questions to posit:

    – I think it’s almost certain (or at least highly possible) that the girl in the spacesuit is indeed River. When Amy goes to the orphanage and ends up in the girl’s bedroom, she finds a picture of her (Amy) with Melody, among the spacesuit girl’s other photos. Madame Vastra says that the baddies (EPL, etc) likely sent the girl to Earth to raise her in the right environment, and the Doctor replied “Yes. They did.”, referring to the spacesuit girl. So I think Eye Patch Lady (eventually) sends Melody to Earth to be looked after by The Silence, and perhaps they put her in the self-sustaining, life-support suit because they can’t really take care of a little kid. They’re massive, extremely long-fingered monsters. I doubt they can watch over a toddler. And the fact that she has an American accent…. she could lose that once she regenerates. As to why River seems to not know who the spacesuit girl is could be explained later (if she is the spacesuit girl) by some event, maybe the Silence doing something (prolonged exposure to them messes with your memory), or… she could just be a really good actress and is purposefully acting like she doesn’t know because, since she’s going in the opposite direction, she knows that the Doctor finds out about her the next time he sees her (in her past), so she can’t mess with history and tell him ahead of time (to his point of view). Don’t know if that makes sense. Hard to explain that. But that’s just one of a bagillion theories in my head about that.

    – I think it’s possible that the Doctor at the lake was the Ganger Doctor (as I’m sure many of you are considering). Now that The Doctor knows about what is to happen to him in the future (because Amy told him), he sends the Ganger in his place, maybe? AND, if you look closely (helps to pause the screen), there is another person there at the lake, over by the shed. While it is totally possible this is an Oops and some guy from on set accidentally got in shot, it is also … possible .. that someone else was there. The Real Doctor maybe? Or someone else who is supposed to witness The Doctor’s death – as verification that whoever is in the spacesuit carried out their ‘orders’ to kill him. Or.. something?

    – There are tons of possibilities of who could be in that suit. But do find the “Of course not.” line from River to be very intriguing. And it must be someone the Doctor knows, or will come to know. Perhaps the Doctor learns that River is to kill him (she is being raised as a weapon, after all) and in order to save her from actually killing him, sends his Ganger in so that it looks like she carried out her order to whoever ordered his killing, but doesn’t actually kill him. She’s constantly saying that she has a “promise” to keep by staying in/returning to prison. So what’s the “promise”? But, knowing Steven Moffat, whoever is actually in the suit is gonna be completely unexpected.

    – While it is certainly possible that Rory is the “good man” River kills (and I’ve been thinking about that possibility even before I figured out he was her father, since the only man we’d been presented with as an alternative to the Doctor as a ‘good man’ is Rory), I don’t think we should be too quick to eliminate the Doctor just yet. Because, while Rory is definitely a good man, in this episode the phrase “A Good Man” is constantly being used to refer to the Doctor. By Maldovar, when he’s speaking with EPL, telling her to watch out who she’s pissed off and ‘Demons Run when a good man goes to war’, referring to the Doctor. Then during the Col. Runaway speech, EPL talks about the Doctor’s anger as the anger of a ‘Good Man’, and ‘Good Men’ have rules, etc. So.. I think Moffat’s keeping it ambiguous as to whether Rory or The Doctor is THE “good man”… and then, just for kicks, will throw in a 3rd man.. or something.

    – When River has the Doctor read to figure out who she is, is he just reading the prayer leaf inside the cot? Or the Gallifreyan writing on the outside? Because I wonder (if he was reading the outside Gallifreyan writing) if it says something about River/Melody being his wife or has their kid’s name on it, or something to that extent? He also knows where to go to get her after reading it, so maybe it has info on that on there too, somehow? I mean, it’s totally possible he’s only reacting to the news that River is Melody and thus part-Time Lord (meaning he only read the leaf) and knows where to go based on that info, but it seems like there might’ve been more he figured out than just that (meaning he read something interesting on the cot).

    – As to where the Doctor took off to at the end, I think it’s possible he went to A) the Gamma Forest, B) the orphanage, or, of course C) somewhere else entirely.
    A) There must be a reason why River goes by the Gamma name River Song and not her given name, Melody Pond. So perhaps she is raised at some point in the Gamma Forest (she seems to know the language and a lot about it)? So maybe the Doctor heads there, and that’s when he meets Lorna Bucket (though I’m not sure how the timeline works for that), because I feel like Lorna may have more to her than just being a minor character in one episode.
    B) The little girl in the space suit was able to break out of it. Maybe the Doctor is the one who tears her out? (or do semi-Time Lords have super strength?) Since he knows where/who she is now, he goes back there and gets her out? And then gets thwarted so she has to run on her own, ending up in NYC 6 months later?

    Gah! I cannot wait until September!!

  17. Magnoliafan says:

    Just because River looks genuinely shocked when the Doctor dies doesn’t mean that she couldn’t be the person who killed him.

    It could be that the River who was called to the lake along with Rory and Amy hasn’t experienced any of this in her timeline yet.

  18. Moni says:

    @trenton

    The Doctor was looking at the prayer leaf, not the crib. They just didn’t show it so that the reveal would work.
    The TARDIS translated it.

    That’s all, rewatch the rest.