Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Peter Hoar
The Doctor and Rory gather an army as they search for Amy Pond.
“I hope one day to meet you in the glory of battle where I shall stomp the life from your worthless, human form. Now get some rest. “
I realize that everyone and his mum are podcasting about Doctor Who these days, but this week was one in which I regret not doing so myself. My wife and I were on fire as we discussed this episode and I know that my attempts to recapture the conversation will be a pale comparison. She has, however, told me to price the equipment and we’ll consider it.
But by way of reviewing this episode, we were somewhat split. She really enjoyed it, I thought it was good enough with caveats. I’ll start with the positives.
We both really enjoyed the supporting characters. While my wife took the admittedly optimistic view that Moffat is populating the Doctor Who universe with compelling characters that future writers could craft episodes around, I was a bit more apprehensive, feeling that the back stories of any of these characters would have been an interesting story, but they were merely used for humor and expediency in submission to Moffat’s arc. There is something almost Holmesian (as in Robert not Sherlock) in how Moffat brings in these characters with little proper introduction, being instead fodder for fanfiction or licensed material. In fact, this aspect of the episode felt quite a bit like the opening scenes in The Pandorica Opens, where characters we met over the preceding season picked up on a threat to The Doctor. Only in this case, we didn’t meet the majority of these characters until this episode. So, while we have only had about half a season so far, this episode felt like the culmination of an entire season worth of stories. And yet despite this, it still felt half-formed, like the conclusion to a two-parter. More on that in a moment.
The Headless Monks are an interesting idea that I would like to see fleshed out somewhere else. They make a great image, but I hope Moffat doesn’t just leave it at that. As my wife pointed out, The Weeping Angels worked just fine in Blink and they didn’t need to return, but they did. The Headless Monks are a striking image and more interesting concept so they have to come back. There just isn’t enough motivation for them.
And there’s the rub for me on much of this episode: motivation. I don’t buy that this entire operation, the kidnapping of Amy, the abduction of Melody to be raised as a weapon against The Doctor, is formed merely out of fear of The Doctor. Yes, in the real world fear can motivate atrocities and war, but in storytelling and drama, we need to see that in a personal way. Armies are formed out of the prejudices and fears of a group of individuals, indeed The Doctor’s army in this story was formed at his and Rory’s behest. Somewhere behind Madam Kovarian and Colonel Montan is a small group (and make no mistake, Madam Kovarian may be a part of this group) that either fears or hates The Doctor. Demon’s Run and the abduction are a reaction to The Doctor, but not merely to his legend. They are a response to his actions and actions are personal. So, either Moffat is showing us the effect prior to the cause (again), or we have already seen a part of what The Doctor has done to make people afraid of him. Is it possible that The Silence are behind this? We still don’t know why The Doctor ordered genocide. Perhaps they felt they were wrongly persecuted. However, if the regenerating girl from the opening two-parter is truly River Song, then does that make any sense. This would make a causal loop, and while Moffat isn’t beyond this type of time travel trope, I’m not entirely sure it would hold up to much scrutiny. So for the moment, I’ll wait and see.
Wait and see. I’m beginning to wonder if this is a theme for the Moffat era. I find this story somewhat hard to review in part because if feels like a type of linking material, concluding a min-arc, while advancing the overall arc half a step. So we know who River Song is. While this reveal fits the clues we were given and is satisfying overall, I’m not convinced it changes much yet. Sure, River is Amy and Rory’s daughter . . . but she was also kidnapped to turn into a weapon. She may have been in the hands of The Silence for a period of time. How much can we trust a woman who is, admittedly, a weapon? I think part of me still wants to hold on to the idea that River has become an unreliable narrator to The Doctor’s future and one reason why she refuses to reveal “spoilers” is more self-preservation than Doctor-preservation.
Wait and see. But if River is not unreliable, there is something gratifying to this classic series fan in hearing River chew-out The Doctor over his reputation, his legend. I can’t help but wonder if Moffat is moving toward dealing with this problem. He has said before that The Doctor has defeated his enemies so many times that at some point they must merely admit “Bugger it all, The Doctor is here. Let’s pack it up and go home.” And while Moffat would certainly be justified in ignoring the apotheosis of The Doctor during the RTD era (an apotheosis that did advance quite a bit in some of Moffat’s stories), he has chosen not to do that. Doctor Who has always played fast and loose with continuity, so ignoring swaths of the RTD era or Cartmel Master Plan would certainly fit tradition, but Cymru-Who does not exist in the same television environment as pre-JNT Doctor Who, and these days the science fiction audience loves its continuity. Moffat understands this (and Doctor Who fans can be a particularly pedantic lot), and I think (or hope) he is working his way toward dealing with The Doctor as legend and bringing that reputation to a close so one day we can go back to smaller scale stories. But this may all be wishful thinking on my part. We won’t know until the Moffat era comes to a close.
I mentioned earlier that A Good Man Goes to War feels half-formed, like a conclusion to a two-parter. I think this is due to the pacing in the episode. It was wall-to-wall adrenalin. And yet, I’m having difficulty with the urgency in this episode compared with how leisurely the season unfolded. It makes perfect sense to me that Curse of the Black Spot would be placed in this half of the season, but after A Good Man Goes to War, it certainly feels like Curse of the Black Spot, and to a degree The Doctor’s Wife, are inappropriate interludes. Yes, the TARDIS takes The Doctor where he needs to go in-universe, but the real driving force behind where The Doctor lands is Steven Moffat and his commissioned writers. If Moffat is making modern serialized Doctor Who, then I almost feel that the stories explored in Curse and Wife would have been better suited toward setting up A Good Man Goes to War. As it is, they don’t. They merely provide rests in the cacophony. The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People did advance the arc, sacrificing their own conclusion to do so. Curse and Wife add nothing more to the arc than a brief appearance by Captain Avery and a cryptic clue from Idris that wasn’t really necessary.
In the end, my wife came away from the episode more optimistic than I. She likes seeing all the plot threads and where they could potentially go. I admit to being a bit pessimistic. I’m not sure that the threads will go where she hopes. And in truth, pinning my previously mentioned hopes on Moffat is unfair to him. He is telling a story on his terms and in his own way. If everything in his era is contingent on his final episode, the final pieces of the arc being revealed and put into place, then I can’t be too critical until I have all the pieces I need. Only then can I evaluate whether or not it truly works.