DOCTOR WHO: A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR, A Bad Woman Tells Us Who She Is

“A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR” – Series 6, Episode 7, Story 218a – Written by Steven Moffat; Directed by Peter Hoar – The Eleventh Doctor and Rory raise a … well, it’s not an army as much as it is a collection of costumes, but together they all go storm Demon’s Run in order to save Amy and her baby. And they do. Sort of. And then River shows up and finally tells us her real identity, and it turns out we would have all known this a long time ago except for a silly translation error. Because River Song Is Gamma Forest For Arpeggio Ocean.

(Note: For the review of part 2 of this story, LET’S KILL HITLER, click HERE.)

A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR is a pretty good Russell T Davies episode of DOCTOR WHO. Of course, Davies didn’t write A GOOD MAN, but Steven Moffat has proven he’s learned the lessons of his predecessor and delivered a solid episode keyed by two emotional high points that far over come whatever weaknesses lie in the rest of the episode.

Because this is the Steven Moffat version of a Russell T Davies story, most of the running and shouting is replaced by standing around and giving dramatic speeches.

An episode like A GOOD MAN is the hardest kind of episode to write in serialized television because it promises a Big Answer. Unlike the fabulously brilliant PANDORICA OPENS/BIG BANG two-parter that ended Series 5, A GOOD MAN isn’t just offering up an ending, but an answer to question or questions that fandom has been speculating on for a good long while.

They’re hard episodes to write because people have become committed to their own ideas or fallen in love with someone else’s theory (or fallen in hate or fear with a particular possible resolution) and so a lot of people want to be proven right or want to have their fears proven wrong. Inevitably, Big Answer episodes will hinge on that revelation. Take the LOST finale, which had the double-barreled hurdle of needing both be The End as well as provide the Big Answer. Whatever the episode did or didn’t do, a lot of people were rightly angry at the show for giving us Religion as the Big Answer and weren’t particularly inclined to give the story some slack based on the joy of that episode’s narrative structure or acting.

Here, we’ve got the River Song Big Answer. Or, rather, we’ve got a River Song Big Answer because there are still some others out there lying around. Since Moffat first introduced River back in the Tenth Doctor adventure, SILENCE IN THE LIBRARY/FOREST OF THE DEAD, the question of who she is has been the topic of speculation.

Well, now we know. River Song is actually Melody Pond, the daughter of Amy and Rory Williams, and blessed or enhanced with Time Lord DNA.

Thoughts, kiddies?

It works perfectly fine for me and I give Moffat credit for seeing this idea through, when it would have been easier (or more like him) to come up with some left field swerve. He was trying to bait you to walk down that path with the introduction of Lorna Bucket. Director Peter Hoar’s camera kept finding her before she became important, and she made a gift for Amy and Melody in the form of a prayer hanky (or whatever she called it, which was definitely not “prayer hanky”) that she embroidered Melody’s name on. Lorna is from the Gamma Forest, where she met the Doctor as a child, and then she joined the clerics to meet him again, even if the clerics are fighting the Doctor. Lorna gives Amy this prayer leaf which will eventually reveal River’s identity.

See, because Amy named her baby, “Melody Pond” and, as we learned in THE DOCTOR’S WIFE, the “only water in the forest is the river,” which means the Gamma Foresters don’t have a word for “Pond,” so that word gets translated as “River” by the TARDIS’ translation matrix. Apparently, “Melody” gets translated as “Song” because “the only music in the forest is a song” and it’s “River Song” instead of “Song River” because “the only naming convention in the forest is last name first.”

We clear on that? Good. Moving on …

Whether I liked the revelation or not (and again, I’m cool with it), Moffat deploys it beautifully in the episode. At the start of the episode we have a really fantastic sequence where the Doctor is showing up in the TARDIS to call in favors in order to build his “army” to rescue Amy and her baby. Rory shows up at Stormgate to collect River, but she refuses to go.

“Why?” Rory asks.

“Because today is the day the Doctor finds out who I really am.”

Now that’s a set-up. The episode then happens (we’ll get to part of it in a minute) and when River reappears it’s when the Doctor is allegedly at his “lowest.” There’s a whole bit about how “the Doctor will climb higher than ever and then fall blah blah blah.” It’s silly and not needed and comes off like a musical act playing the same song twice. (Paul Simon apparently used to do that with “You Can Call Me Al.” It’s sad. Write some more upbeat songs and you won’t have to play that one twice.) The second time around with the song (or whole “here’s what that mysterious line means” bit), you’re like, “Yeah. Hooray? Anyone else want me to get them a Coke?”

The Doctor is furious with River when she shows up: people are dead and Amy’s baby has been revealed as being a Flesh Baby (great, more Eye Patch Lady to come …) and, even worse, Amy doesn’t want the Doctor to hug her because … because the episode needed a momentary blip of heightened emotion, I guess. Anyway, River shows up doing her River thing, but it’s muted and accusatory this time around.

She tells the Doctor how he’s become this feared man throughout the galaxy who can “turn around an army with the mention of his name” and that who knows what he’ll become if he keeps going as he’s been going. I have a couple things on this.

The first is that Moffat drags up the whole Russell T Davies bit about the Doctor being super dangerous and being a weapon. Moffat’s been using his own version of this since SILENCE/FOREST when he tells the Vashta Nerada to “look me up” in all of the books in the library. I like that we’ve got this enemy of the Doctor building an army to stop him and I like that we know so little about them but when you start playing the Doctor As Weapon and Doctor’s Friends Are Dying Because Of This Cards, then you get dangerously close to Davies’ maudlin melodrama. (Murray Gold even brings back some of Ten’s music to get this point across, I believe.)

The Doctor gets cross with her and asks River to reveal her identity to him. River tells him, “I am” and puts his hand onto his baby crib that he’s brought out of the TARDIS to give to Amy and Rory for Melody. It’s a really, really well done scene between Matt Smith and Alex Kingston and Kingston really gets across River’s pain and fear and then happiness at finally having this secret revealed. She never says, “I’m Melody” to the Doctor because she doesn’t have to. The news confuses the Doctor as he tries to reconcile his relationship with River in the context of her being Amy’s baby, but then inspires him to go after Baby Melody.

River is then left to spell her identity out plainly to Amy and Rory and Kingston plays that revelation so wonderfully, with just the right hint of girlish nervousness despite her being older than Amy and Rory, that I really believed she was their daughter.

Now, lots of questions get raised with this whole revelation and I don’t want to delve too deeply into them now (the continuity stuff makes my head hurt at 3:30 in the morning), but the big one that seems to have gone begging to be asked in A GOOD MAN is this – if the Eye Patch Lady and the clerics stole Melody away to turn her into a weapon to stop the Doctor, why does everyone act like that threat is somehow neutralized? Their goal is to stop the Doctor and when River arrives in this very episode she tells the Doctor he’s got to stop walking the path he’s on or “who knows what you’ll become.” Seems like she’s still their weapon.

The other big emotional scene is the reunion of Amy, Rory, and Melody, and Amy does another one of her teary speeches about how much she loves Rory. Not that I want her to stop telling Rory she loves him, but it always comes off as her reaffirming for us that she loves Rory and not the Doctor. The story keeps trying to raise the Amy/Doctor romance when it brings up Melody’s Human + Time Lord DNA. Let it go.

(And, yeah, I’m totally not going to get into the whole DNA debate/speculation tonight. Melody’s got Human + Time Lord DNA. Which explains the little girl regenerating in DAY OF THE MOON. Works for me. Anything else on this point you’ll have to discuss on your own in the comments. I’m tired.)

The opening sequence is the second best part of the episode (after the River revelation), and it sees the Doctor and Rory infiltrating the Cybermen’s Cyber Fleet. The sequence is intercut with the Eye Patch Lady taking Melody away from Amy, and Amy telling Melody about Rory, and it ends with Rory the Roman walking onto the command center of the head Cybership and announcing, “I’ve got a statement and a question. The statement is from the Doctor and the question is from me: Where is my wife?” Rory then walks across the room to stand in front of a window to outer space, telling the Cybermen that he knows they listen to everything that happens in this section of the galaxy.

“What is the Doctor’s message?” the Cyber Leader asks, and then outside the window we see the entire Cyber fleet blow up.

Rory to Cyber Leader: “Would you like me to repeat the question?”

A great, great scene and certainly one of Arthur Darvill’s best moments. He has a really endearing ability to speak tough and show vulnerability all at once.

The problem with this opening scene is that it makes the Doctor’s army seem a bit weak by comparison. I’d have loved to see the Doctor have to compromise his own beliefs and convince the Cybermen to fight for him against the clerics instead of the Doctor going around and grabbing a bunch of people we haven’t ever seen before. There’s a Silurian female living in 19th century London and a Sontaran male forced to serve as a nurse and it really does come off as, “Hey, we’ve got a Silurian and Sontaran costume ready to be used!” instead of needing these people specifically. Captain Avery the Pirate from CURSE OF THE BLACK SPOT and “Danny Boy” from VICTORY OF THE DALEKS show up for a brief scene, but I would rather have seen these characters and Canton Edward Delaware III get the parts the Silurian, Sontaran, and fat, blue guy get here.

That said, the Silurian and Sontaran are interesting characters, especially the Silurian and her serving girl assistant. I definitely want to see more of them.

All told, A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR is a pretty good episode, though one heavy with speeches and declarations. Everybody, it seems, gets to make a speech, and most of them are about the Doctor’s bad-ass-ness. A GOOD MAN isn’t a particularly clever episode (we are certainly seeing the difference in Moffat’s writing as showrunner as he employs a more roller coasterish, emotion-driven approach) but it does offer a satisfying conclusion to the “Who is River Song?” question, and that goes a long way to leaving us on a high note as we wait for the rest of Series 6 to start up this fall.

Geez, what am I going to review until then?

Since you asked …

Feel free to come back later in the week when I start my review run through the adventures of the Third Doctor. During the Series 6 break, I’ll be doing as much Pertwee as time allows (probably a serial or two a week, depending on what’s available through Netflix’s Instant Play), then back to Eleven for the final 6 episodes of Series 6, and then back to Pertwee after that.

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29 thoughts on “DOCTOR WHO: A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR, A Bad Woman Tells Us Who She Is

  1. Good review Mark.

    There was one point that I think they missed a real trick. When the Sontaran was on his last legs, he reveals to Rory that he is ‘Just a nurse’ – Rory so could have replied ‘So am I’

    And you missed the markout moment of the episiode, the opening monologue of Amy to Eyepatch Woman where she points out that the baby is special and a man is coming and he’s hard and he’s the father and the people of Earth have a name for him … and then reveals it as ‘The Last Centurion’. Ha! Rory fastly becoming far more than a comedy sidekick.

    See you in the autumn. Counting down….

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  2. Thanks, Neil! I was surprised, too, that Rory didn’t say anything about his own status as a nurse. I loved the bit, too, with the Sontaran telling the sick kid, “I look forward to one day crushing your life from your body on the battlefield.”

    And the kid just going, “Thanks.”

    I’ll be trying to decided between now and then if “Let’s Kill Hitler” is the best or worst title in the show’s history. :)

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  3. The Sontaran had some great lines all through the episode. Including “Don’t slump, its bad for the spine.”

    If I understood it corrently, Melody got the DNA because she was conceived while the TARDIS was in flight. Which was a billion to one chance according to the Doctor

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  4. I am amazed not only that you have the time to watch so many movies and TV, but that you are able to maintain your blog so much with lengthy updates!

    I agree with a lot if not all of what you say. Although I enjoyed several other episodes more this season, it delivered what it needed and in some areas better than others.

    Once we got past the tender-moment parts with mother and child, the Rory-Cyberman scene as the real opener was great, albeit short. Short enough that they also cut back and forth with the Amy and Melody scene to prolong the agony of the enemy letting Amy continue to chat away merrily with her baby so that you wonder if she is talking about the Doctor or Rory.

    I really like Simon Fisher-Becker’s portrayal as Dorian, so got into his scene where he was warning Cabbage Patch Lady, err, Eye Patch Lady played by Frances Barber. In fact, until just now, I had forgotton about the prequel where Dorian hands over the “exact security software you requested” (which he extracted from the memory of a Judoon trooper) to the Headlesss Monks. And I also had forgotten about the Headless Monks being mentioned in the Delerium Archives as “the final resting place of the Headless Monks” where the Doctor finds the message from River to go look at the prehistoric Cliff. So, enjoying Dorian’s character as much as I did, I wish he had a bigger role in this episode, but since we already know that he’ll be back, I await more scenes.

    The Silurian and the under-utilized Jenny were nice here, with some good lines from the Silurian and almost not needing her sidekick which so far appears to be here only as a deliberate misdirect to Jenny in The Doctors’s Daughter due to having an actress with a mole playing a character named Jenny.

    I wanted more Army- building and negotiating/coeercing peolpe to help the Doctor. Cut the scene with the two dudes and wisecracking dude number two going off to get his head chopped off. Not needed. Give me more Army-building or more Dorian!

    The battle was too easy, which is hard to complain about since it was supposed to be “too easy”. But it was “waaaay too easy” as if to make sure even the dumb viewers might think something fishy was up. I don’t like it when the script has to make sure we know what it going on.

    The “Doctor will never rise so high and fall so low” is way out of proportion to what was given. Surely saving the universe a couple of other times counts more as a high point? And no “fall so low” evolves – he gets tricked twice and goes off with a grin knowing who River is and that timewise, it has to work because there she is after all as an adult.

    But, admittedly, I did not suspect a flesh baby until Eye Patch made sure we knew there would be a double trick which the Doctor is usually good at figuring out. Hmm, she sure is confident – must be something up her sleeve! So here it must be the anger the Silurian warns the Doctor about that is blinding him. How else was the Doctor was fooled by the smell of the flesh baby (maybe disguised by poop-smell)?

    I’m not sure I still like the continued ambiguity of who the good man in “A good man goes to war” and the ” A very good man. The best man I’ve ever known” without knowing if we are talking about the doctor or Rory. I like having the mystery – but let it drop and maybe we’ll forget about it for awhile.

    Was it really necessary to have the Sotarian, with a couple of the best lines, die? “Captain Harcourt, I hope someday to meet you in the glory of battle, when I shall crush your life from your worthless human form. John, get some rest”. Was it needed to have Lorna die other than to give you a scene of compassion from the Doctor?

    But … not a bad payoff wait for a character introduced so long ago with another Doctor. I like the long-term planning of Moffat. Not all his episodes can be like “The Girl in the Fireplace” or “Blink”.

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  6. The writer in me hates seeing interesting characters killed off before they get a chance to grow – the Sontaran was hilarious and I know Lorna was supposed to be the River misdirection, and then served to show exactly the opposite of what the Doctor said – that he doesn’t remember everyone he comes across. At this point, the Doctor knows people sometimes die when he’s around and while I don’t expect him to be cavalier of their deaths, this episode seemed like it was killing people to prove a point that no longer needs proving.

    And if we don’t get more of the Silurian and Jenny I’ll be crushed. The Silurian was the smartest character in the episode.

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  7. Thanks for the kind words, Z, and all the comments. My trick is that I (almost) only watch what I write about, and unless it’s something special, like DOCTOR WHO, I only give myself an hour to write about it. :)

    I agree on the army building. I would have liked to see a whole episode devoted to the Doctor and Rory gathering an army as we learned something about the bad guys and what they’re planning/doing with Melody. If Moffat was going to do quick hitting scenes like we got here, I think he should’ve gone with characters that were more firmly established, like Canton or Avery, instead of characters we don’t know.

    I also would have loved to see him leading the Cybermen into battle.

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  8. Also forgot about – when Rory goes to bring back River, she is quite hesitant after he tells her “It’s Rory. Sorry, have we met yet?”. “Yes, yes, we’ve met”, followed by “Hello, Rory”. So, this is the first time she has met him since she was a baby/young girl, and knows he is her father but can’t tell him that until end of the Devil’s Run event. Her shy “hello” is similar to how the Doctor says “Hello” to River after her reveal.

    Hmm, and can’t see what the Headless Monks would have used the security software from Dorian for.

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    • Z, I hadn’t thought of that about this being their first meeting as adults. That makes me like how Kingston played that scene all the more. Nice catch.

      As for the Monks/Dorian connection – yeah, no idea. Maybe Moffat just did it because it’s completely cool looking and appropriately teaser-ish. :)

      I suppose, though, that the Judoon have access to so much stuff that if you want to steal security software, you’d want to steal it from them. The Monks probably want it to keep Melody away from the Doctor.

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  9. There’s a puzzle here. Eye Patch Lady got away with Melody/River right? She’s in the 50-something Century. How does Melody end up in a spacesuit in 1969 under the care of The Silence?

    And could the war she was talking about actually be between the Doctor and The Silence?

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    • My guess is that we’re gonna find out the Time Lords are behind all of this – not just the Master or Omega – but the whole of Gallifrey is coming for the Doctor because he’s been such a collective pain in their ass for so long. Oh, and because he killed all of them. :)

      Remember when the Master went all crazy? What was he hearing? Drumbeats. What did the drumbeats sound like? The Doctor Who theme.

      In this episode, what did the Headless Monks do before they attacked? They said a prayer chant. What did the prayer chant sound like? A different part of the Doctor Who theme.

      Having the Time Lords come back and be completely antagonistic to the Doctor would allow him to not be “the last of the Time Lords” anymore but still be completely isolated from them.

      Oh, and what were the Silence doing on Earth? Building a TARDIS.

      I still think there’s more to Melody’s Time Lord DNA than just being conceived in the TARDIS. I think she’s a human baby that’s undergone genetic manipulation. And where would Eye Patch Lady get some Time Lord DNA? Maybe from an actual Time Lord.

      How can we bring the Time Lords back to life? That’s what the Flesh is for.

      But the Flesh is a replication mechanism, right? Where would someone get that for the Time Lords? The Gallifreyan Matrix, which has biological imprints of all Time Lords, living and dead. Wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think that Timothy Dalton sent the Matrix away from Gallifrey to protect it from the Doctor’s act to end the Time War.

      By the end of Series 6, or by the mid-season finale of Series 7, I’m guessing we’re gonna see the Time Lords back in a big way.

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  10. A good, thoughtful review.

    Of course, the other big difference between this and Pandorica/Big Bang is that it’s not just a big ending but also set-up for the rest of the season, so it’s a fine line that Moffat has to work.

    I loved Rory’s scene in the teaser. It’s a great reminder that this most gentle of healers can be a soldier too, like the Doctor – with the exact counterpoint being Strax, a character who steals the few scenes he is in and I was genuinely sad to see die.

    I think there’s more than one puzzle here. Aside from the time point that Jason raises, we also see Madame Kovarian fools the Doctor the same way twice, by giving him exactly what he wants – a bloodless victory. But I wonder who is pulling the strings in the background, though. Kovarian is a bishop working with the Clerics, but she surely isn’t the king in this chess game.

    So many questions, so long to wait.

    I’ve attached a link to my half-season review thoughts below. Hope you don’t mind!

    http://slouchingtowardsthatcham.com/2011/06/05/doctor-who-mid-season-6-review/

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    • I don’t mind at all, Tim. Thanks for the comments, and I’ll give yours a look later tonight. I combined my response to you with my response to Jason up above – I think the Time Lords are pulling the strings. Maybe Omega is using Melody, and the clerics (his army), to bring back the Time Lords.

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      • The Time Lords? Now that would be quite a reveal! I certainly buy that as a possible theory, and I also wonder whether Moffat’s statement that the Daleks will not return this season was an elaborate double bluff to cover up some possible role for Davros? Regardless, Kovarian is merely a bishop controlling the Clerics in this chess game, and not the king.

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  11. I really enjoyed this episode but I think we’ve still been left with many questions, including what name was actually written on the side of the crib.

    If anyone needs some Doctor Who to tide them over, Big Finish are offering their early audio plays at £5.00 each this week. The dramas are available by download.

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  12. Mark–the offerings change day by day, but today you should get ‘Storm Warning’ (Dr 8). Later in the week ‘Colditz’ should come up (Dr 7 and Ace, with David Tennant playing a baddie!) and ‘Spare Parts’ (Dr 5 and Nyssa). Later on go for ‘Jubilee’ (Dr 6 and Evelyn) and if they go that far, ‘Arrangements for War’ (also Dr 6 and Evelyn).

    Yes, I’m back, check out my travel blog http://www.travellinghopefully.co.uk.

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    • Thanks, Chrys! Gave the blog a quick look. There’s some amazing photos there! I love “big sky” photography. Can’t wait to give it a read – hope you had a great time!

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  13. thinking though (I haven’t read through the rest of the comments so if this has already been said, ignore me), If River Song was the little girl in the space suit, and the girl that regenerated at the end of the day of the moon (or whatever one that was), wouldn’t she have said something??
    and I think that one question that is begging to be answered is: How does the Doctor escape the whole being shot by a person in an alien spacesuit thing??? That’s going be interesting (MOFFAT).

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    • I think River isn’t telling because River never tells anything. :) It could be an adult River in that suit for all we know. I think we really just have to see how it plays out – hopefully we’ll get some answers by the end of this series.

      Thanks for the comment, Bailey.

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