Thursday, 16 June 2011

Doctor Who: A Good Man Goes to War

“I have gene-spliced myself for all nursing duties. I can provide magnificent quantities of lactic fluid.”

If we didn’t already know this episode wasn’t going to be a big ‘un, we get a massive recap. And the scene is set: Amy is in a place called Demons Run, apparently a massive spaceship, she’s “popped”, as Eyepatch Lady put it, and her baby is called Melody. She’s not best pleased, but she’s convinced that someone’s coming, someone legendary. And in a nice twist at the end, we discover that this legendary figure is Rory. And I suspect the title is supposed to be ambiguous; is it referring to the Doctor, or Rory.

It’s an odd episode, this, completely unlike anything we’ve ever seen in Doctor Who. More so even that this series’ opening two-parter, this is an episode of pure story arc, and doesn’t really exist as an end unto itself. It reminds me of Angel seasons three and four with their very heavy arc plots. So while this episode is very well executed, in terms of both script and production, it’s rather difficult to pass judgement except as part of a larger whole, much of which we don’t yet know.

It’s cool, though. I can say that. Certainly Rory has never been so badass. I love the fact that they dusted off the Cybermen costumes and got the Mill to do a whole Cyber-fleet just so that Rory could be made to look well ‘ard.

The baddies (or at least their redshirts) are the military clerics from the Time of Angels two-parter, as well as the mysterious Headless Monks, who were briefly mentioned in the same story. It looks as though the future’s gone all mediaeval, what with Space Teutonic Knights / Space Knights Templar / whatever, and a kind of Headless Spanish Inquisition. I wasn’t expecting that.

We get introduced to a few lowly soldiers; Lorna Bucket from the Gamma Forests, who’s quietly sewing and had an “encounter” with the legendary Doctor as a child; the Thin One; and the Fat One (We’re thin, fat, gay Anglican marines. Why would we need names as well?”) Unfortunately, the Fat One learns more than he bargains for during his “conversion tutorial” with the Headless Monks. A box is put over his head, and we cut to a locker coming down vertically. Ouch.

Meanwhile, we get a succession of the Doctor’s mates. First off, we have a lesbian Silurian consulting detective(!) whose name I didn’t catch, and Jenny, her maid and lover (kinky combination, that), living in the London of 1888, where she’s just killed Jack the Ripper. I noticed she referred to an Inspector Abberline, and being a card-carrying geek I recognised the name from Alan Moore and Kevin Campbell’s From Hell. That’s even cooler than the Thunderbirds reference.

Next up we have Strax, the Sontaran nurse at the Battle of Zarathustra in 4037 AD, a future where fashions are seemingly inspired by the Crimean War. He’s a great character. I love the jocular threats he makes to kill his patients.

The odd one out is River Song. She starts out in a rather jolly mood as she smugly breaks into the Stormcage. But the appearance of the Lonely Centurion, and the realisation that it’s time for the Battle of Demons Run, suddenly turn her very sober indeed. “Because this is it,” she says portentously, “This is the day he finds out who I am.” And yes, it’s particularly interesting watching Alex Kingston’s performance the second time round.

Dorium, who already feels like an old friend after just one brief appearance, gets a magnificent speech in which he gets to be rather cool while at the same time explaining the plot to our baddies, Eyepatch Lady (or Madame Kovarian) and Colonel Manton. Because the Doctor is recruiting an army, by calling in favours. And a blue box lands right by Dorium…

Lorna has a brief encounter with Amy in which we find out her allegiances are somewhat ambiguous, and our attention is drawn again to the prayer leaf she’s been knitting, with the name of the child sewn on to both sides.

Manton’s the next one to get a speech. Although it would normally be a “level one heresy”, he is able, “by the divine grant of the Papal Mainframe herself” to remove the hoods of the headless monks, beneath which is… no head, but a stump, which is more horrible than nothing would have been. But behind the third hood, making a late and typically dramatic entrance, is the Doctor.

And suddenly the Doctor and his mates, who are popping up everywhere, are winning very quickly. The Doctor fools the clerics into fighting against the Monks, while the Silurian and Jenny take care of the control room. There’s a nice, subtle little naughty bit here: “I don’t know why you put up with me,” says Silurian Lady to Jenny, before flicking her very long, undulating tongue to knock out a baddie. The look on Jenny’s face makes it clear that we’ve just seen one very good reason for putting up with her…

Manton is quick-thinking enough to put an end to the fighting between clerics and monks, but his problems are mounting; we have more Silurians, Judoon, even Danny Boy and the Space Spitfires. Rory gets his share of the glory, confronting Kovarian, as we now learn that Captain Avery now controls the ship. And Manton gets the opposite, as the Doctor makes damn sure that he’ll be known for ever after as “Colonel Run-Away”.

There’s a knock at Amy’s door, and it’s Rory… with their baby. Rory is at such a high point that he gets to call his wife “Mrs Williams”-Although the baby is Melody Pond, of course. He even gets to shout “Oi, you! Get in here now!” at the Doctor.

There’s a bit of a clue for us as the baby doesn’t like the TARDIS noise, but the Doctor is able to stop her crying by producing a cot, apparently from the days when he himself was a Time Tot.

We get a few answers: Amy was replaced with a Ganger “just before America”, but the Doctor is typically evasive about whether or not there’s something he’s not telling the Ponds.

But, away from the Ponds we learn some more: Melody, conceived in the TARDIS on the Ponds’ wedding night, has “human plus” DNA; it seems she was born with a “time head” after all. It’s suggested that perhaps she might be able to regenerate, and immediately we know that she’s the little girl in the opening two-parter, unless we’re getting a massive dose of misdirection. And, given the clips we then see, I don’t think we are.

But things aren’t as they seem; the Headless Monks are still at large, and Kovarian appears on-screen, telling the Doctor of the “endless war”. “Against who?”, asks the Doctor, who really should know perfectly well that he should have said “Against whom?” Tut tut. “Against you!” replies Kovarian, baffling the Doctor. And then the Headless Monks strike. Dorium is the first to die. Shame. I would have liked to have seen more of him.

Suddenly, the Doctor’s bloodless victory turns into a tragic loss of lives which, we soon learn, will all be for nothing. Kovarian appears again, this time through a hatch in reality, and we discover that the baby itself is just a Ganger.

It’s all going horribly wrong. Strax finds his death is not as enjoyable as he’d hoped, although at nearly twelve he’s had a decent innings. Lorna dies, and the Doctor (who may not yet have met her) doesn’t even remember her. Things are very grim indeed.

And then River appears, too late. Solemnly, she makes it very clear that all of this is the Doctor’s fault for. In the language of the Gamma Forests the word “Doctor” means “great warrior”, and that is what his reputation is becoming. He is causing alliances to be formed against him through his vanity, and innocents are killed in the crossfire.

But then, suddenly, the Doctor understands who River is. And promptly buggers off in the TARDIS, leaving a very angry and upset Amy and Rory with River. And her we learn the truth. “The only water in the forest is a river.” On the prayer leaf which Lorna made for Amy is the Gamma Forest version of the baby Melody Pond’s name: River Song. And on that bombshell…

Lots of people have told me this was obvious but, to my slow-on-the-uptake and spoiler-free self, this was a huge moment.

Right. More Doctor Who as it airs, and obviously Torchwood as that airs too. In the meantime, more Blake’s 7, followed by lots and lots of other things


  1. Inspector Abberline was a real life Inspector at Scotland Yard who seems to have crossed over into popular fiction.

  2. Yes, I bet not many middle-aged police inspectors in the 1880s suspected they would one day be played by Johnny Depp as a bit of a druggie. Then again, he has his place in history- not only was he involved in the Ripper murders but also the Cleveland Street Scandal. I can see how that would be a tempting combination to any writer of fiction using late Victorian London as a setting. All the more reason why the Silurian consulting detective should have her own show. Damn the realities of TV production! :D