Boob Tube Breakdown – Doctor Who: Off with their heads

Doctor Who: Series 6

“A Good Man Goes to War”

Aired: June 11, 2011

Writer: Steven Moffat

Director: Peter Hoar

“This is the day he finds out who I am.”

– River Song

Steven Moffat has an incredibly gift for making episodes of Doctor Who feel epic.

Both the finale of last season featuring the Pandorica and the resetting of the Universe and the beginning of this season with the gang’s American adventure felt grandiose and exciting. And this week’s “A Good Man Goes to War” once again was Doctor Who at its quickest pace and largest scale (which was somewhat jarring following a two-part story that seemed to unfold at a snail’s pace).

Maybe it was just me, but I got a definite Star Wars vibe from this week’s adventure. The Doctor was certainly channeling his inner Ben Kenobi as he first appeared in Demon’s Run in a robe, then quickly disappeared again in the most theatrical and bad ass way possible. (Seriously, I could easily have pictured him saying “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine” to that roomful of gun-toting Clerics.) Rory the Roman seemed to be in the Luke Skywalker role – finally finding an inner swagger that hadn’t really been there until now. Amy was imprisoned and needed to be rescued just like Princess Leia. And of course you had a variety of alien species showing up, bad guys shooting lighting out of their hands and a shocking ending involving the paternity of a major character.

But while the episode was certainly Star Wars-esque, it was still distinctly Doctor Who. I really enjoyed the eclectic mix that comprised The Doctor’s army, featuring specific characters and species we’ve seen throughout the show. But what I liked best about the episode was how it dealt with The Doctor’s cult status that he’s developed over the centuries. It also was an interesting examination of the dual nature of The Doctor – he’s someone who always looks for the best in people and strives to find peaceful, diplomatic solutions to the problems he encounters, but when pushed he can be absolutely ruthless. His “Colonel Runaway” speech was a perfect example of The Doctor not just wanting to beat his opponent, but wanting to absolutely crushing him.

What makes it all so intriguing though is the idea that The Doctor is the one responsible for this all. He inadvertently creates a child that is half-human half-Time Lord by bringing Amy and Rory into the TARDIS on their wedding night. His reputation throughout the universe is what convinces those at Demon’s Run to kidnap Amy and steal Melody to use as a weapon against him. Many of the members of The Doctor’s “army” who show up to help spring Amy end up sacrificing their life for this man and his cause. And, of course, there is River Song, who we are slowly starting to discover has had the entire course of her life shaped by The Doctor’s presence. He’s an amazing and wonderful man that does so much good, but he’s always running so fast, going on impulse and adrenaline, that he misses the toll his presence takes on those around him.

Moffat really seems to enjoy exploring the effects of The Doctor entering people’s lives at a very young age. In this episode, we have three female characters who all first met The Doctor when they were little girls. There is Amelia Pond, of course, who we learned last season spent her childhood waiting for The Doctor to reappear while everyone around her rolled their eyes at the constant mentions of her “imaginary” friend. Then there’s River Song/Melody Pond, who we now know has had The Doctor in her life from the moment she was first born. And also this week we had Lorna Bucket, who devoted her entire life to being a Cleric just for a second chance at meeting The Doctor. Lorna ultimately sacrificed her life to protect him and Amy, a death made even more tragic because The Doctor clearly doesn’t remember her, but pretends he does in order to reassure her in her final moments.

The Doctor didn’t appear on screen for the first time this week until about halfway through the episode. Instead this week was very much about how he is perceived by others and what effect he has on them. He seems genuinely hurt and distraught to discover he is viewed as an unstoppable warrior. In a way, he essentially plays God from week to week, shaping history and deciding who is right and who is wrong. But there isn’t really any accountability for his actions, so it is possible to see how factions out there could view him as the bad guy. Now that he sees the role he played in everything that unfolded this week, it will be interesting to see what effect, if any, this has on his future actions.

But whatever happens next, this week was a great mid-season finale which certainly has me excited for the future. We got an epic 40 minutes of television and one of the big mysteries of the season was answered, so where we go from here should be a really intriguing place.

And another thing …

  • In an episode that was very much about The Doctor running in and out of people’s lives and causing chaos in his wake, it’s pretty funny that he runs off in the TARDIS at the end and just leaves everyone else standing around at Demon’s Run. How are Madame Vastra and Jenny supposed to get back to 1888? He just tells them he’ll see them next time, with no thought put into how they’ll get back home.
  • The mysterious eye patch woman now officially has a name – Madame Kovarian.
  • It seems the preferred term this week was “Flesh Avatar.” I guess Steven Moffat isn’t a big fan of the term “’ganger.”
  • If you watch the episode a second time, it seems like Moffat threw in a few lines throughout it that become funny once you know Melody is River. At one point, Amy says, “Melody Pond is a superhero,” which definitely sounds like an apt description of River. And also, as she’s holding a crying Melody, she tells everyone that the baby doesn’t like the TARDIS noise, which is funny if you think back to “The Time of Angels” when River claimed the TARDIS only makes that noise because The Doctor leaves the parking brake on.
  • Amy’s joke about her baby having a time-head in “Day of the Moon” turned out to be a really well-crafted and subtle bit of foreshadowing. That was really well done.
  • It’s worth noting that in last season’s “The Pandorica Opens,” River asks The Doctor who the Roman centurion protecting Amy is, which implies that she didn’t recognize Rory. Should we assume that she grows up not knowing what her parents look like or was she purposely playing dumb to avoid “spoilers”?
  • I love the idea that The Doctor brought Stevie Wonder onto the TARDIS and sent him back in time without telling him.
  • The headless monks were first mentioned in a throwaway line when The Doctor and Amy were at a museum in last season’s “The Time of Angels.” I’m glad that Moffat decided to actually show us the monks in action.

Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff

Now that we know River Song is Melody Pond, we can begin trying to piece together the show’s various time lines. For one thing, this episode made it quite clear that River’s claim that she and The Doctor are at opposite ends of two time lines and are living their lives Benjamin Button style is really an oversimplification. In this episode alone, they have three different meetings at various times in each other’s lives – The Doctor sees her as a baby, as a grown woman at Demon’s Run and on some kind of birthday date with Stevie Wonder tagging along (which we don’t know where, in The Doctor’s time stream, that date occurred). So clearly, it isn’t two straight lines at opposite ends of a spectrum intersecting from time to time. Their encounters seem to be a bit more random than that.

Since it is now pretty safe to assume that River is the little girl in the space suit we saw in this first two episodes this season, it seems like Madame Kovarian and Co. will eventually stash her away at Graystark Hall Orphanage. It also begins to look more and more like River is the one who will shoot and kill The Doctor on the beach (since she eventually goes to jail for killing a great man and since obviously the bad guys are going to be brainwashing her to be a weapon against him).

It will be very interesting to see how all of that ends up working out. Last week Amy let it slip to The Doctor that she saw him die. Now that he knows that and most likely knows River was the girl in the spacesuit, we have to wait and see what his plan was at the start of the season when he invited Amy, River and Rory to America to watch him die. We also know from that episode that he doesn’t set that plan in motion until he is 1103, so he has 200 years to put it all in motion.

I’m also curious what this will ultimately mean for the show. It was officially announced last week that Matt Smith is confirmed for next season, but it looks like Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill might not be coming back. While we will undoubtedly get more of Alex Kingston playing the grown up River Song, I imagine that perhaps next season we will end up with a new actress playing a young River as The Doctor’s weekly companion, which could be when she learns how to fly the TARDIS and really gets to know him better. Or maybe we’ll even get several different actresses playing River at various times throughout her life – now that we know she can regenerate, the casting possibilities are endless.

But that’s just my theory, I’d love to hear where you all think the show might end up going from here. Obviously, we’ve got some time between now and when the show comes back from hiatus to endless speculate about the future, so feel free to let your theories fly in the comment section.

Gratuitous Amy Pond photo of the week

Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his recaps, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at murphyslaw@hobotrashcan.com.

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