Thursday, July 14, 2011

(A Good Man Goes to) War, huh! What is it good for?

What does A Good Man Goes to War have to offer, exactly? A handful of set pieces, a big fight, a bit of exposition... not much more than that. I will say that I liked the set pieces. I want to start this review on a positive note, or as positive as it can be, so let's admire the set pieces.

These almost came on like mini-pilots for new spin-off series - the Napoleonic Wars in space with Sontarans, and the Victorian Silurian adventuress with her Quatermass and the Pit knock-off back story and her plucky maidservant sidekick. Indeed, I know there'd be a very enthusiastic audience among the online Who forums (and Jo seems keen, too) for a whole series of the latter. Bod knows I'd rather have seen that origin story than last year's two-part Silurian mess. And I'd certainly rather have seen the story in which the Doctor institutes nursing as a "punishment" for dishonorable Sontarans over the mess of 2008's two-parter, or just about any two episodes from this year's series for that matter. The comedy Welsh Sontaran nurse was, beyond all question, the single best thing about this episode, and by a very comfortable margin too. It's a pity to lose him, but who knows, perhaps we'll see more of the arse-kicking Victorians in the second half of the series?

Oh yes, and "Colonel Run Away". I liked that as a way of dealing with that character, very satisfying.

I'm withholding judgement on Madame Eyepatch for the time being - I'm waiting to see whether we learn anything about her motivation or the actual details of her plan in the next episode(s). Presumably she does have some sort of grievance against the Doctor - she wouldn't go to such extreme trouble to obtain a weapon against the Doctor just because she's heard stories about him, surely? (Perhaps we'll find out what her motivation is at the same time that we find out what the Silence's motivation was, hmm?) Or perhaps she's working for "the Papal mainframe herself"- now that could potentially be another interesting story, assuming for a minute that it isn't just a throwaway joke. I'm guessing we'll find out exactly how she thinks baby Pond can be used as a weapon against the Doctor, although it'll be disappointing if "stick her in a spacesuit and get her to shoot him" is the entire plan.

Of course, we know it'll turn out all right because of the revelation that baby Pond is none other than River Song (presumably the spacesuit girl as well, and that's certainly the way this episode's visuals play it, but best not to assume it). On the squib scale, this registers as "damp" - River being Amy's daughter became the number one most obvious possibility the moment the whole Schrodinger's Bun-in-the-Oven arc-thing kicked off. And let's face it, it's just not that extraordinary. (A friend suggests the revelation should have been followed with the EastEnders theme.) I'm just glad we weren't presented with the original number one most obvious possibility, that she was your choice of female Time Lord in disguise.

In conjunction with the big overblown reveal, we've got the second instance this series of Amy threatening someone (her own daughter in both cases, as it turns out) with a gun. Didn't actually shoot her this time, at least. Yes, kids, if your best friend suddenly runs out on you, if you're having trouble getting information out of someone, or even if you're just having difficulty with your foreign languages homework, guns are your problem-solving tool of choice... This partly bothers me because it's the wrong thing for the show to do, and partly because there's absolutely no reason at all here for Amy to do it. Apparently she's just someone who picks up guns and waves them around in a stressful situation. Bang, so to speak, goes all of this year's hard work making Amy a more tolerable character - quick, bring back the Ganger version!

My other major issue with this episode is the whole business with The Fat One and The Thin One. When RTD included a gay character in a DW script, they would always be a character who happened to be gay. Character first. Even in this very series, Steven Moffat managed the same with Delaware in the Silence two-parter and the Victorian duo in this one, although in both cases he revealed their sexuality in order to make a quick joke out of it rather than merely revealing it. The Fat One and The Thin One, on the other hand, are defined entirely by their sexuality. They're the gay married Anglican marines, and that is literally all you need to know about them. Why, they don't even need proper names - there's a thin one and a fat one - characterisation done! Let's laugh it off, eh? This bothers me immensely, and it doesn't help that in whatever year it is (the appearance of the Clerics and the big blue merchant guy suggests it's the permissive 51st century), in a Church that's so futuristic it defers to a female e-Pope, the number of gay men in a stable relationship is precisely two. It's a hell of a comedown from RTD's gonzo liberal vision of the future. I'd be pretty confident in betting that there's more than two out gay clerics in the world today, never mind in Space Year Upyours.

Beyond that, it's just a loose string of visual baubles, a bunch of barely connected stuff that somebody thought would look cool. The headless monks are a prime example, and it's telling that the director has taken what looks like the one shot of three Dementors sparking up their crackly electric swords and jammed it in at every requisite point with bugger all regard for visual editorial coherence. As long as it'll look good in a clips show, who cares? We also have the narrative equivalent of this, in the "He'll climb higher than ever before, then fall so much farther" line - a nice soundbite for the trailer, perhaps, but ultimately just empty hyperbole. And then bloody Danny-boy turns up, in what is now apparently a time-travelling space Spitfire - please, please make it stop.

Destroying an entire fleet of Cybermen just to extort some information out of them (or possibly just "to make a point" if the Clerics are right) - not only is it out of character for the Doctor, it's an extreme waste of effort. Couldn't he just have hacked into their server or something? But then that wouldn't have looked cool, would it? Granted, it's the moment Rory will forever be remembered for, and if DW were a Guy Ritchie heist movie it'd fit right in. Perhaps that's what this is, the DW story that parodies Guy Ritchie's heist movies, who knows? That's probably more true than I imagine.

I'd also be interested to know which particular army of Silurians owes the Doctor a favour, because it certainly isn't one that we've seen recently. Perhaps they're all out and about in the 51st century, and he just picked a squad up in passing?

Finally, I really hope Steven Moffat isn't developing a taste for cheesy voiceovers in verse. First The Beast Below, and now this. I dread to think what the one for Let's Kill Hitler might sound like.

We've got a little while yet to wait for the completing part of this story, so I'll go ahead and rate the episode at hand. I'm leaning towards 5 out of 10, and that's mostly for the character set pieces. For an arc-significant episode, it's surprisingly disposable. Next, the post-demi-season ramble.


Christopher Pittard said...

I would probably go a little higher on this one; yes, it explains nothing, but I'd rather have that than some of RTD's explained nonsense (both this and *Journey's End* were fun to watch, but with this one you don't wake up a few minutes later and feel your intelligence has been beaten up).

Regarding set-pieces, the scene where the Doctor finally appears is very nice, as is the fact that Moffat gleefully undermines all those spoilers by saying "Yes - there are Cybermen in it, but only for the first two minutes. And the Sontarans aren't the bad guys, either." I'm not entirely sure why Rory's back to being a Roman, however; there is a throwaway line about the Doctor suggesting it would look more intimidating, but that surely can't be the whole explanation, can it? Can it? Incidentally, his opening scene with the Cybermen can be profitably replayed in one's head with Rory being played by Samuel L Jackson. As for the purpose of destroying a cyber fleet; well, I doubt they were delivering humanitarian aid.

Unfortunately, the River Song twist was obvious as soon as the kid was named. I did wonder if this was meant to be some distraction from something bigger; it wasn't. And as for the Doctor falling deeper than ever before; no, that didn't happen at all.

Except... if we're criticising the Doctor's ethics here (and I think we are), the ending is utterly bizarre. Amy's experiences here count as probably the most humanly traumatic any Who companion has ever faced. And yet his response is to laugh and fuck off. Right off. This is probably the series' biggest mistake since last year's fist bumping horror.

And still... on the presumption that there will be some explanation of all this at some point, I'll give it a low 7.

John Toon said...

The comparison with Journey's End is fair - I'm still rating this episode higher than I rated J'sE (or re-rated it after a brief period of reflection). My intelligence does feel bruised, though. Both stories are just whizzy-looking incidents strung together in the hope that the finished result will look like drama.

If you think the Doctor fucking off in Amy's darkest hour is this series' biggest moral flub, see next blog post...

Finally, if we didn't have to wait another couple of months for the next episode I might take your point, but in any case I don't think I'd pin any great hopes on explanations to come after the River Song deflatus.

And honestly, should we have to wait across entire series (or even demi-series) for stories to be explained? That's the route Lost took, and look at what a fricking mess it turned into.