Sunday, 5 June 2011

A Good Man Goes To War REVIEWED

Well. That's that, then. I'm still sweating slightly. You didn't want to know that, but oh well. 

There's always something about an episode of Doctor Who being advertised as "epic" that needles me. I get reminded of the worst excesses of the Russell T Davies era when that word turns up. By the worst excesses I mean long opening sequences in which unimportant characters from previous episodes are suddenly incredibly important, I mean overblown speeches that never get anywhere, and I mean flat and badly paced middle segments that don't add anything to the story.

So what happened in A Good Man Goes To War? Well, there was a long opening sequence in which unimportant characters from previous episodes were suddenly incredibly important, including that fat blue guy, that Scottish-sounding Silurian from the Hungry Earth who for some reason was in Victorian London, and an admittedly inspired Sontaran playing against type by being forced to serve as a nurse. Then there were a few overblown speeches that never got anywhere, one about the Doctor's identity, one from Amy about the identity of Melody's father (admittedly beautifully written to make us think it was the Doctor for a moment), and plenty about the child and what evil eyepatch lady wanted her for. There was a flat and badly paced middle segment in which there seemed to be no danger, no sense of what was to happen next, no urgency and no interest. All the very worst elements of bad Doctor Who seemed to be present in this episode.

And yet. And yet, despite the pointless opening sequence, despite the overblown speeches, despite the flat and badly paced middle segment, I BLOODY LOVED IT. It was major cognitive dissonance - every time I thought to myself, "this is bad", I allowed myself to feel it instead, and it was just fantastic. Every witty line made me smile, every expression on an actor's face showed me deep inside their character's heart, every plot twist made me take deeper breaths.

In terms of the content of the episode, I thought the developed idea of militaristic churches was truly inspired, especially the Headless Monks, which are one of those incredibly dark science-fiction constructions that just scream Steven Moffat to you. (Well, not scream. But you know what I mean.) Charlie Baker played a fine part as the fat marine that was offered up to the monks as a "donation", and I particularly loved the line about him and his husband, "We're the thin, fat, gay, married, Anglican marines." A laugh-out-loud moment, complemented throughout the episode with a Stevie Wonder joke, a brief Thunderbirds reference, and some great comic bits with the Doctor speaking baby. The humour offset the tragedy of the storyline beautifully. However, I did feel there was an over-abundance of characters who were nothing more than plot devices and decoration, particularly Jenny and Lorna. I also felt the need to shoehorn in references to past events, particularly the space Spitfires, rather off-putting.

And now, I suppose, inevitably, up comes the subject of the big twist, of which the main twist was... there was no twist. Just as has been set up for so long, River Song is Amy and Rory's daughter. (I must admit, I didn't recognise the Melody/Song connection until well after the fact, but River/Pond has been seeded throughout the whole series, and was entirely obvious.) I don't entirely know how I feel about this. On the one hand, I would have liked some earth-shattering twist that no-one expected, but on the other, this relationship was so well explained by elements throughout the series that it sort of had to be. On the other hand (yes, I have three hands) it does rather seem like this has solved the entire storyline. Melody, when we see her next, is the astronaut child who kills the Doctor, and then she regenerates into River. Is that it? I do hope it isn't this simple. And to be fair there are some other very intriguing questions - whose name is on the Doctor's cot? What happens to the 1107-year old Doctor after the events on the Utah beach? And the small matter of the ultimate confrontations with Kovarian's forces, and the Silence. The more I think about tonight's big reveal, the more I think it's a stroke of genius - we've closed one knot in the rope but there are so many other twists and turns to come.

Final thoughts are a bit hard to come to in this case. Although from a critical point of view I can't like this episode, while I was actually sitting in front of the TV screen I loved every minute. I came away shaking slightly with my head buzzing, and incredibly satisfied with what I'd just witnessed. And as I'm already willing the clock to whizz forwards to the autumn (for the daringly named Let's Kill Hitler, of all episodes!), I can only conclude that this was a brilliant episode.

Verdict: 9/10

Twitter: @antmoorfield