Review of A Good Man Goes to War
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.
This one was a real mixed bag for me. Sure, it was a huge-scale production, with epic tie-ins where the Doctor called in favors from across time and space. But it all felt a bit too much. Also - the Spitfires? I ~edit~ hate the Spitfires-in-Space (...which you'd already know if I'd been blogging last year and had published the scathing review I wrote of Victory of the Daleks)! So take out a few of those called-in favors to make it feel less cobbled together (seriously, it has the kitchen sink feel of some of RTD's most egregious I'm-trying-too-hard ventures), and the story will drive it just fine.
There is, after all, plenty of drama. Will our heroes recover the baby? What is the real motivation behind her abduction? How far will the Doctor go down the path to the Dark Side? (How far can Moffat take a religious order created via an off-the-cuff text message?) Oh, yeah - and who's River Song?
The episode started out on a wonderful high. I thought it was a lovely twist how Amy talked up the man who was coming for Melody, making the viewers think she was referring to the Doctor ("he's the last of his kind"; "he looks young, but he's lived for hundreds and hundreds of years"). That misdirection made for a wonderful skip-a-beat moment when she said that man was Melody's father, and in turn gave a slightly different meaning to the episode's title, if one cares to interpret it that way. Not only that, but it bolsters our view of the Amy/Rory relationship and gives the ring of truth to his assertion that "she always knows that I am coming for her!" in Day of the Moon. God, how I love Rory the Badass Roman!
Somehow that also helped convince me that River's identity is exactly what it later turned out to be (I have a witness that I commented on this upon first viewing, during River's first appearance). It seemed clear, then, that she was feeling some strong emotion looking at her daddy when he showed up at the Storm Cage in a Centurion costume - almost as if she were seeing a ghost. The point that jumped out at me, then (speaking of "good men"), was this: is she in the Storm Cage for having killed Rory? Mull that one over for a while.
With all the cards on the table, we can now understand why River couldn't be at the Battle of Demon's Run until the very end. Not only did she want to avoid any Blinovich Limitation Effect-induced paradoxes a la Father's Day, but it would also be disastrous if she were to mess with her own timeline (and you thought merely back-to-front was bad). Even if the Doctor does it, she's not willing to break the First Law of Time (if it can be said to apply to ... whatever kind of being we can define her to be). We also know now what IDRIS was trying to tell Rory about the water in the forest. When I first learned - way back in 2009 - that the new Companion's name was Amy Pond, I remember thinking, "wow; Moffat's certainly into the aquatically-themed names, isn't he?" No mere whim after all...
What about the overall episode? I've already mentioned the damnable Spitfires, so let's move on to the rest of the random cameos. I have to say having Judoon precede the Spitfires that in turn precede our spacefaring 17th C. pirates just makes the whole thing feel like another Pandorica hodge-podge. There was little point there, and even less here. I'd have greatly preferred it if Moffat had stuck with the characters the Doctor actually uses in the battle (Mdme. Vastra and her Silurian cohorts, Cmdr. Strax, and the questionably-involved Dorium Maldovar). The Doctor's reveal was also blatantly obvious; it's neither the first nor the last time (for my money) he'll disguise himself as a monk.
Another thing that kind of irritated me was that I'm not so sure the assertion that the Doctor would "rise higher than ever before; and then fall so much further" is accurate. Seriously? You don't think that being forced to kill off his entire race is worse than losing the child of his (current) best friends? I mean, sure, the child thing is super-bad, but on a scale of One to Are-you-kidding-me, I don't think that comes close. I'd also like to think that the Doctor has had prouder moments than making a bunch of big blue meanies run away without bloodshed. Yes, yes - good to get your way without physical harm. But are we really supposed to believe that's the best thing the Doctor's ever done? If so, I find that really sad.
Two further moments that stood out to me are more a matter of nitpicking. For example, what's with the soldiers practicing recognizing psychic paper? We never see them again, so I wonder why that scene was even in there. The other bit that wasn't quite where I felt it should have been dramatically is when the baddies took Melody from Amy. You can tell Karen's not a mum; there wasn't nearly enough panic in her voice. She did the best she could, but based on my own parenthood, that didn't ring true.
On the other hand, there were brilliant moments galore. Pretty much everything about Mdme. Vastra is superlative. Much as I disliked The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood, I do love the new-look Silurians; they're freakin' beautiful. Vastra is the most likable individual we've seen yet, too. Not only does she have no qualms about standing up to the Doctor, quoting his own words back to him ("anger is always the shortest distance to a mistake"), but she also tries to be sensitive to his slightly squeamish personality. Further, she's the one to break the news to him that he's the reason a Time Lord would be seen as a weapon (how thoroughly do you suppose he got lost in memories of his Ninth incarnation at that moment?). Although Vastra would probably miss Jenny (note the subtle but decidedly sexual subtext to their exchange after they've tied up the soldiers), wouldn't it be wonderful to have her as the next Companion?
I was also pleasantly surprised by Cmdr. Strax. I'm usually not a big fan of the Sontarans, so I had been less than thrilled at first. The idea of one that had been forced into nursing, however ("who came up with that one?"), was fascinating to me. It was extremely reminiscent of the end of Family of Blood and gave more heft to the idea that races across the galaxy have reason to fear the Doctor. It also led to a wonderful character moment as Strax lay dying. Our Last Centurion tries to comfort him, assuring him "you'll be back on your feet in no time. You're a warrior." Strax's response ("Rory... I'm a nurse.") probably brought a few things home for Rory the same way "well... they've seen you!" did for the Doctor.
So what's to come? I admit to being less curious than Moffat undoubtedly wants me to be. Apparently the Doctor's cot is supposed to be the next thing we obsess about, now that the pregnancy thing's been resolved. The mobile was immediately recognizable as the same one from the little girl's (presumably River's) room in Day of the Moon. Who else has slept in the cot? For me, the answer is, "don't know, don't care." We'll see if that changes after more episodes.
The last tidbit that held some interest for me was the comment that a proto-Time Lord child was seen as "hope in this endless, bitter war. ... Against you, Doctor." Since I've been of the opinion since the series began that the Doctor's "defeat" of the Silence was not necessarily a good thing, now I'm thinking that the war referenced here is one that began when the Silence Fell. Maybe I'm just overly optimistic that there's more to that story arc...
We still don't know why the TARDIS blew up in the first place, or how "they" are getting into the TARDIS (to send a signal to a Flesh avatar Amy, to tamper with the TARDIS herself, or just to scare the bejeezus out of various heroes). Although we know "who" River is, we don't yet know who she is to the Doctor. So there are still Big Puzzles to be solved, but I can't say I'm particularly intrigued by them at the moment. I'll certainly be there with bells on when Episode 8 airs in the fall, but it's because I love the show no matter what, not because I'm eager for the resolution of any particular questions. Maybe I'm just ready for a breather.