Thursday, December 21, 2017

"A Good Man Goes To War" Assembles A Pretty Vast Doctor Who Team!

The Good: Good acting, Decent special effects, Moments of character
The Bad: Very basic plot, Plot-heavy with minimal character development
The Basics: "A Good Man Goes To War" finally begins to give explicit answers for what has been going on with Amy Pond when Melody Pond is born and abducted by a futuristic military organization.

Having come in comparatively late to the Doctor Who phenomenon, there are a number of elements that I have been eagerly watching for as I make my way through the series. Having seen Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax in "Deep Breath" (reviewed here!), I have been attentively watching for their origin story in Doctor Who. Indeed, when the Earth-based Silurians were explored in "Cold Blood" (reviewed here!), I eagerly watched for clues as to how Vastra would have been on the surface of Earth while the rest of her people slept for a couple hundred more years. It's not there (though there is a throwaway line in the two-parter about the "others" which might be enough to imply a splinter cell of Silurians who were active while the rest of the populace slept) and neither is there a true introduction or meeting between The Doctor and Vastra. Instead, Vastra appears at the outset of "A Good Man Goes To War" and is thrown into the mix with River Song and Rory in a way that is supposed to immediately give the viewer the credibility and weight of Vastra as someone akin in The Doctor's life to a Companion. But, lacking any prior context, the appearance of Vastra, Strax, and Jenny fighting at The Doctor's side at the outset of "A Good Man Goes To War," the appearance of a sudden, new Doctor Who super team is painfully abrupt.

If you feel like you've come in on the middle of a review, welcome to "A Good Man Goes To War," where The Doctor and a whole team of Companions and previously-unseen allies are suddenly a part of a significant conflict. The conflict came as a result of the events at the climax of "The Almost People" (reviewed here!) and given the reversal coming at the end of the episode made it prohibitive to discuss it in the review of that, we open "A Good Man Goes To War" with a sidebar of how improbable it was that we got here at all. Throughout the current season of Doctor Who, there have been hints about The Silence, Amy Pond is reading as both pregnant and not-pregnant at the same time, we've seen memory-erasing creatures that are part of The Silence, and Amy Pond has had hallucinations of a mysterious woman with an eye patch who appears in incongruent places. At the climax of "The Almost People," it is revealed that Amy Pond has not, in fact, been aboard the TARDIS for some time; she was replaced with a ganger "flesh" version of Amy at some point in the past and in cutting the psychic link to her very pregnant self, The Doctor destroyed the duplicate version of Amy. That is where "A Good Man Goes To War" begins, with the momentum of one Amy liquefying into goo and the actual Amy Pond beginning to go into labor in captivity somewhere else.

But here's the things; how did we get to this point? The Doctor was studying the strange readings that indicated Amy Pond was both pregnant and not pregnant at the same time and he took the TARDIS to the time and place of the nascent version of the flesh for "The Almost People" in order to confirm his suspicion about Amy. When one steps back from this, to look at it objectively, it is a painful leap of scientific analysis to get from point A to point B. The Doctor has a theory - the Amy Pond has been replaced, apparently - but in a universe and 900+ years of experience with robots, alternate universes, Sontaran duplicates, mind control, TARDIS equipment malfunction, etc., he manages to narrow his suspicions down to The Flesh, a replicating technology that he admits he has insufficient experience with (hence the trip to the time and place of "The Almost People"). To the viewer, in the time frame of the sixth season, this is incredibly unsatisfying as The Doctor makes no clear explorations of any alternate theories; he guesses correctly on his first try that Amy has been replaced by the thing he knows virtually nothing about. Really?!

And so, after an increasingly unlikely guess proves The Doctor's theory and he is able to remedy the deception by cutting the link between Amy Pond and ganger Amy, the viewer is thrust into "A Good Man Goes To War!"

Opening at Demon's Run, Amy Pond has had her baby and she is surrounded by military personnel led by the mysterious woman in the eye patch. Amy pledges her baby, Melody, that the baby's father is coming for them. Thousands of light years away from the facility, the Cybermen are under attack and Rory extorts them for information on where Amy is. Elsewhere on Demon's Run, a space station, Lorna Bucket recalls her brief experience with The Doctor while the Headless Monks get a new member and The Doctor's allies are called from various points in time and space. When Rory goes to pick up Dr. River Song, she is unwilling to join them on the mission. Madame Kovarian, the woman with the eye patch, visits Dorium Maldovar, who reveals that he knows where her forces are holed up and that there is a prophecy involving The Doctor going to war at Demon's Run.

The war at Demon's Run is an extraction mission where The Doctor arrives with his allies to stymie the military forces and rescue Amy Pond. But after an initial success at thwarting the military, Colonel Manton marshals his forces and The Doctor has to call in his reinforcements. But Kovarian is playing a deep game and when putting together the pieces of Amy Pond being on the TARDIS while having a signal beamed through time and space from Demon's Run makes Amy and Rory suspicious of why Kovarian wants Melody Pond at all. In studying Melody, The Doctor and his allies realize Melody Pond is human and time lord. Kovarian reveals that Melody Pond was created as a weapon to be used against The Doctor as the military forces converge upon The Doctor's allies at Demon's Run!

"A Good Man Goes To War" is packed with new creatures and characters in a way that makes viewers feel like they have missed something. Madame Vastra is introduced in 1888 with Jenny after having defeated Jack The Ripper . . . before declaring she has an old debt to The Doctor and leaving with him. Strax is picked up in the 4300s (how did he end up in the 1800s with Vastra and Jenny for "Deep Breath" then?!) and between the plethora of new characters and the wide range of settings and alien creatures there, "A Good Man Goes To War" feels initially jumbled and packed. Throwing in Lorna Bucket, a military officer who met The Doctor somewhere in his time stream, the episode starts to feel deliberately cluttered. Given how very many ancillary characters there are throughout the Doctor Who narrative at this point, that Steven Moffat did not use any of the already-present background characters for Bucket's role is needlessly complicated.

As a result, the hype surrounding the Headless Monks, an entirely new race, feels like filler. The point of the Headless Monks within "A Good Man Goes To War" is to work for the big rebeal of The Doctor into the narrative. But, rewatching The Doctor's allies gathering, amidst sudden creature menace from The Headless Monks and a massive military presence at Demon's Run, the ultimate entrance of The Doctor seems far more obvious than it is clever - it's like Steven Moffat frontloads the first act with red herrings and then expects viewers to be surprised when The Doctor exposes one of the many red herrings for what it is.

"A Good Man Goes To War" illustrates an interesting dark side to The Doctor which is a definite transition for the character and actually makes for a natural foreshadowing of the Peter Capaldi version of The Doctor. Capaldi's Doctor hates soldiers . . . but Matt Smith's Doctor uses soldiers. While Vastra declares that Demon's Run has been taken without any blood spilled, but she neglects the Spitfires shooting up Demon's Run, the destruction of the Cybermen fleet and the conflicts between the military and the Headless Monks. The Doctor has no problem using others to kill on his behalf in "A Good Man Goes To War" and that is a troubling character twist.

Outside being light on character development, "A Good Man Goes To War" is not bad, though it has a very simplistic plot. This is a confrontation episode where the participants do not know the motivations of the other side and the episode belabors putting together the pieces already in play. "A Good Man Goes To War" is built to a reversal that is emotionally virtually identical to the reversal in the prior episode, especially in terms of mood.

The performances in "A Good Man Goes To War" are good, especially for Matt Smith. Smith makes a pretty powerful emotional transformation in the course of "A Good Man Goes To War" as he begins as his familiar cocksure, almost goofy version of The Doctor. But as the episode progresses, The Doctor loses everything and Smith plays him as shocked and hurt and frazzled and Smith makes the transition incredibly well.

The climax of "A Good Man Goes To War" is frustrating, though, as The Doctor leaves the narrative before the big reveal is made explicit. His leaving is pointedly awkward as he takes the TARDIS with him, leaving someone else to get various allies back to their correct places and times . . . without the TARDIS. Similarly, the TARDIS translation matrix is explicitly called upon . . . after the TARDIS disappears, which seems very strange.

But, "A Good Man Goes To War" is a generally good set-up episode that is a remarkably satisfying initial answer to many of the season's mysteries. And it leads into "Let's Kill Hitler" perfectly!

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season of Matt Smith as The Doctor here!

For other works with Simon Fisher-Becker, please check out my reviews of:
Les Miserables
"The Pandorica Opens" - Doctor Who
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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