Monday, 6 June 2011

Doctor Who: A Good Man Goes to War (1)

River: 'This is the day he finds out who I am.'

Tonight's episode was a mid-season finale, which is something of a first for us here in the UK, as our seasons are seldom long enough to cut in two. As such, despite answering some of our questions, it left most of the main plot threads hanging. We now know who River Song is, but the central mystery remains tantalisingly incoherent. Emotionally, tonight's episode had some effective set pieces, but I'm going to start off with what I didn't like. There weren't many things, so bear with me.

Tonally, it felt a little too similar to 'The Big Bang'. It had that epic end-of-the-world feel to it, and was infused with the now customary 'everything's so much worse than it's ever been before' type hyperbole we've come to both know and love. (And sometimes loathe). It's never true, of course. The Doctor's nadir must surely have been the genocide of his people. Even if Rory, Amy, and River were to explode, and fish fingers and custard ceased to exist—depressing though that may be—it would still pale in comparison to the sheer misery of losing everyone you know and love. However, we get the gist, things are bad, and the Doctor's world's crumbling. No need to go overboard.

We were also subjected to the now seemingly mandatory slew of random returning monsters. Captain Avery's cameo was particularly worthless—he hardly did anything. And the spitfires were tiresome in 'Victory of the Daleks'—whose idea was it to bring them back? I'm quite partial to the odd splash of subtle (and even not-so-subtle) continuity, I just like it to have purpose—which really wasn't the case here. Commander Strax, however, was responsible for some of the funniest quotes of the episode ('I can produce magnificent quantities of lactic fluid' being a particular favourite), and Neve McIntosh should be in every episode. I loved the idea of Madame Vastra being some kind of 19th Century Ninja—responsible for bringing down serial nutter, Jack the Ripper—and I liked that both Vastra and Strax were descendants of the Doctor's old foes.

I can't make my mind up whether the method by which the Doctor deduced Song's identity was deliberately ambiguous, or whether it was too subtle for my tiny brain to comprehend. Whose name was on the cot? The Doctor's? Song's? There were different markings on the side and front, so maybe both? If it was the Doctor's, that would explain how River knew his name back in 'Forest of the Dead'—but it doesn't explain how the Doctor knew Song's identity. Did I miss something? I even watched the director's commentary, and it completely glossed over it.

The internet was alight on Saturday night with people claiming they'd known River's true identity all along. No you didn't! You guessed, that's all. The information wasn't there until the very end. Since the people of the Gamma Forest have no word for pond ('The only water in the forest in the river'), it stands to reason that Lorna's prayer leaf would reflect this linguistic anomaly. I also enjoyed the Doctor's bonkers reaction to it: he was all childish air kissing, giggles, and guilty grins. I wonder how Rory and Amy will react when they realise the Doctor's been 'doing' their daughter? He'll probably end up with the Last Centurion's sword up his bottom.

I was a little puzzled as to why River couldn't remember being in the space suit. A memory lapse due to her regeneration? Wibbly-wobbly time-wimey spacey-wacey stuff? If River does possess a full 12 regeneration cycle, that opens up all manner of opportunities for her return. We may even get to see one of her previous incarnations. (If so, how much do you want to bet there'll be a 'Hello Sweetie' cliffhanger somewhere down the line?) Initially, I was confused as to why she didn't regenerate in 'Forest of the Dead', then I remembered that connecting to the library's core meant certain death even for a Time Lord. River died so the Doctor wouldn't have to. Potential problem solved.

Was anyone surprised to see the Doctor disguised as a monk? We've all seen Return of the Jedi, right? And, as is so often the case these days, the Cybermen were cruelly underused. They were nothing more than cannon fodder for a pissed off Doctor. Not that their ships exploding wasn't spectacular, but the Cybermen (like the Daleks), are desperately in need of a strong outing. Sadly, this wasn't it. Admittedly, it didn't harm them terribly, and there was none of that 'delete, delete' nonsense which often made the Russell T. Davies era so painful to watch, but having the Cybermen in the story did feel a little like someone had raided the monsters cupboard, picked out costumes at random, and then chucked them into the story. There was no reason for any of them to be there. It could have just as easily been Daleks, Autons, and Slitheen, stomping around, farting the place up.

I was surprisingly moved by Lorna Bucket's (it's Bouquet!) death. Another human willing to lay down her life for the Doctor. Despite claims that he never forgets a face, he couldn't remember Lorna's. Maybe they meet in the Doctor's future, or maybe there's just been too many to remember. In the end, Lorna realised her dream, and dying beside her hero, with her face in his hands, was a fitting conclusion to her story. Let's not forget that she was also instrumental in revealing Song's true identity. Without her prayer leaf we'd probably still be none the wiser—so kudos to young Lorna.

Acting accolades all around tonight. Matt Smith was as brilliant as ever. His emotions during those final scenes, where he wrestled with failure, uncertainty, confusion and, ultimately, revelation, were all magnificently handled. Even Arthur Darvill managed to elevate Rory from drippy (but marvellous) sidekick, into the kick-ass Last Centurion of future legend. His face (along with Karen's) on hearing Song's bombshell was just perfect.

Karen also had a strong episode. Her character had to cope with the loss of her child, the recovery of her child, the loss and recovery of Rory, and Melody turning into a puddle... all in the space of 48 minutes. I loved the way she looked at the Doctor at the end. Although losing Melody wasn't strictly his fault, in reality, the Doctor's always to blame. It's a companion's lot—the realisation that, despite the Doctor's innate goodness and many sacrifices, he's so dangerous to be around. None of them are untouchable. There'll always be someone out to hurt the Doctor. They're part of that now, and they'll always be targets. It's his one weakness. He knows it. We know it. His enemies know it. Amy knows it too, but for one fleeting moment, she blamed him anyway. And didn't it hurt him?

So, are we any further forward? Not enormously. We know why Amy's baby is half Time Lord. Apparently, knobbing aboard the TARDIS can effect human DNA. Apart from that, we're pretty much in the dark as to the whos, whys and wheres. At least we know that Melody will be safe, as we know that River survives until 'Forest of the Dead'. So we know that the Doctor prevails. The question is: how and at what cost?

Other Thoughts:

—The next episode's called 'Let's Kill Hitler'. I wonder what that subtly titled episode will be about?

—The Doctor was oddly evasive answering Amy's question about him having children. Why? We all know he has.

—How did Kovarian know to take a fake baby along as a decoy? These evil types are always so wise. Just not wise enough to shoot the Doctor when he's unarmed and standing right there in front of them.

—I thought River's reaction to Rory in the Stormcage was peculiar. Sometimes I wonder whether the 'good man' she'll end up killing will be Rory. He's getting bigged up a lot lately.

—We now know when Amy was taken. Sometimes before America. Which would make it between seasons, presumably?

—'That's a whole different birthday.' Hints at a two Doctors scenario, methinks.

Quotes:

Amy: 'Rory, no offence to the others, but...er... you let them all die first, okay?'
Rory: 'You're so Scottish.'

Rory: 'Where is my wife?'

Amy: 'I wish I could tell you that you'll be loved. That you'd be safe and cared for and protected. But this isn't a time for lies. What you are going to be, Melody, is very, very brave.'
Doctor: “Amelia Pond! Get your coat”

Cyberman: 'What is the Doctor's message?'
(Cyber Fleet explodes)
Rory: 'Would you like me to repeat the question?'

Boy: 'Will I be okay?'
Strax: 'Of course you will, my boy. You'll be up and around in no time. And perhaps, one day, you and I will meet on the field of battle and I will destroy you for the glory of the Sontaran Empire.'
Boy: 'Thanks nurse.'

Strax: 'Captain Harcourt. I hope some day to beat you in the glory of battle. When I will crush the life from your worthless human form. Try and get some rest.'

Dorium: 'Why would you need me? I'm fat, I'm blue.'

Doctor: 'Good men don't need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many.'

Doctor: 'Hello Melody Pond.'
Rory: 'Melody Williams.'
Amy: '....is a geography teacher, Melody Pond is a superhero.'

Amy: 'I knew you were coming. Both of you... my boys.'

Doctor: 'And really, you should call her Mummy. Not big milk thing.'
Amy: 'Okay, what are you doing?'
Doctor: 'I speak baby.'
Amy: 'No you don't.'
Doctor: 'I speak everything.'

Doctor: 'Look, I'm angry. That's new. I'm really not sure what's going to happen now.'

Madame Vastra: 'When did this baby... begin?'
Doctor: 'Oh, you mean...?'
Madame Vastra: 'Quite.'
Doctor: 'Well how would I know? That's all human, in private, stuff. It just sort of goes on. They don't put up a balloon or anything.'

Strax: 'It's strange. I've often dreamed of dying in combat. I'm not enjoying it as much as I'd hoped.'

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