David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through all New Who after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.
We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!
We would like to thank everyone who nominated our “New Who in Conversation” series for the William Atheling Jr Award again this year – it’s a great honour to be on the ballot! Voting for the annual Ditmar Awards (which the Atheling is included in) is open to all members of Continuum X (2014 Natcon – Melbourne) and Swancon 40 (2015 Natcon – Perth), and can be done online.
“A Good Man Goes to War / Let’s Kill Hitler”
Season six, episode four
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
Rory Williams – Arthur Darvill
River Song – Alex Kingston
Mels – Nina Toussaint-White
I really enjoyed the introduction to “A Good Man Goes to War”. I do think that there are times when Amy puts the Doctor in roles that by rights are Rory’s, and it was great that he was the subject of her speech and, unless, I am way off, the “good man” of the title and the prophecy. The scene where they confront the Cybermen is quite effective, though you do have to ask about the ethics of blowing up so many of them just to get information – it’s even more casual slaughter than we are used to. I actually had already seen this scene when it was played during the Hugo ceremony, but I had managed to blank it out and it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of this.
Rewatching the beginning I’m just all “RORY ROCKS”! Which is, almost certainly, the idea.
I love that Rory uses his Roman Legionary costume and identity when he needs to kick ass, and I do like this scene very much – of course, as soon as you start thinking about the ethics of exploding the whole army it’s a bit icky. Looking back to 2011, when this episode aired – this was the point very much at which fandom accepted Rory as officially awesome instead of complaining about him being a doormat or another Mickey. I’ve always given a bit of a side-eye to this group reaction, as it seems to me that Rory became a lot more popular as a character as soon as he became more traditionally macho – waving swords and uttering threatening lines. Which is a shame, because I love squooshy, sensitive Rory too.
I am very glad that they seem to now have dropped the whole thing with Rory feeling jealous of the Doctor – it feels like discovering Amy’s abduction has led him to finally drop that very boring narrative thread, so he can concentrate on what’s important.
PS: the ‘A good man’ of the title is the Doctor I think, but it also refers to Rory, and takes on different meanings for each of them.
Interesting. To me it is far better fit for Rory. But, that’s the joy of prophecies, right? Discussion fodder!
So, were these Mondasian Cybermen? I get confused by all these alternate timelines etc!
That’s quite clearly a question Tansy needs to answer, because I don’t even know what you’re talking about!
I don’t know that it’s clear at this point – there’s one school of thought that the Mondas Cybermen have still not been officially brought back in New Who (apart from the head in Dalek), but it’s clear there are plenty of them surfing around ‘our’ universe at this point, and they have ditched the Cybus industries logo as of The Next Doctor, so… NO ONE KNOWS, GUYS. Peter Capaldi recently stated that bringing back the Mondasian Cybermen was a priority for him.
On that note, Tansy, do the opening scenes make any sense at all in terms of continuity? I mean, there are characters who are familiar but not as themselves I think, and the events we see them in seem like they come from Doctor Who past, but I don’t think they all are? I think it’s all fabulous, but I don’t know it makes any sense?
Ah, that’s the clever part. All of these characters feel like they belong solidly to the Doctor’s past – they obviously all have a past with him, but certainly in the case of Madam Vastra, Strax and Jenny, we’ve never seen them in the show before. I love this opening, it’s like a proper heist film, with characters who have a murky past with each other.
Something Moffat has done very well, which RTD only started allowing for in his later seasons, is allowing lots of gaps and spaces between stories, including long periods in which the Doctor lives a life we don’t get to witness. In this case he’s had these friends whose lives he has completely changed, who owe him favours, and we get to walk in on the middle of the friendship.
Which is super smart for the fandom side of things, because it allows lots of (authorised and non-authorised) opportunities to play in the history. Big Finish is going to have an absolute ball fiddling around in this era in ten years or so!
One of the things that has concerned me with New Who, especially the later seasons, is that it sometimes crosses the line with portraying the Doctor as a darker, more powerful figure into something that is far too potent. I kind of liked the Doctor when he was a mysterious wanderer, and where people did not know who they were messing with, rather than someone whose name so well known as to cause armies to panic and flee. There have been times this has been done well (such as “The Eleventh Hour” and “The Pandorica Opens”), but it can also get a bit too self congratulatory and back slappy. This episode walked that line, and came close times to stepping over.
By gosh Matt Smith was marvellous in this though. I came back to rewatch after way too long and fell in love with him all over again in this. He’s pitch perfect as the madcap showman in the start of the battle, but that underlying anger, fear and sadness coming through at points (and the gorgeous “I speak baby” stuff too!), oh, so good.
I think this is the Eleventh Doctor at his darkest, and his most morally compromised – as is telegraphed quite heavily in the story! The theme of the Doctor as warrior is carried through, and we finally see the potential for him to be a war leader but also his deep dislike of the very idea that he might do such a thing. Now that we know (CLOSE YOUR EARS DAVID) so much more about what happened to him during the Time War, this story has extra resonance, because this is what he promised himself he would never do again.
I quite liked River Song’s speech at the end where she lectures the Doctor on the dangers of the legend he has created, and just like in Pandorica Opens, we can understand why races might decide the Universe would be safer without the Doctor in it – though of course their methods are inexcusable and completely reprehensible. I think that the modern incarnations of the Doctor have sometimes lost sight of his moral core, and act as if the measure of whether things are right or wrong are whether it is the Doctor doing them.
It’s all about River Song though, really. Both these episodes are about solving the mystery of River, and I love the way that starts, with her lovestruck and whimsical then thrust into events that she clearly knows the outcome of. Paradoxes, they break my brain.
I was spoiled the morning that the episode aired (still bitter) but yes I think this is a great River Song story – if anything, the revelation is only a small part of the episode (though a huge part of the season). Some of my favourite River scenes are in this episode, particularly the one at the beginning when Rory comes to her and asks for help, and she turns him down. You can see in her face, watching this in retrospect, that she’s searching for the person she knows is her father, and that this is the last time she’ll see him before he knows who she is.
It’s a great disappointment to me that the River-Rory relationship was given so little exploration in stories afterwards, because while I think the awkward-loving vibe between her and Amy is so interesting, I think the most interesting scenes between River and Rory were basically in this episode, and back in The Impossible Astronaut.
I was more than a little confused about who the bad guys were in this episode. I thought at first it was the Church Militant from the last Angels episode (which would have bothered me as I thought that was a great concept). Then there was a mention of a Papal directive, as well as Anglican soldiers and the Headless Monks confusing things. The Silence’s doctrine has nothing in common with Christianity, so I will be interested to see where the threads all come together. New Who has had interesting relationship with religion, so I will await with great interest to discover the logic behind all these connections.
I think I gave up entirely trying to sort out the continuity, if there is any! Without spoiling, some of this is (somewhat) explained over the next seasons, but here, nah, not so much.
Yes, the church militant and the Papal mainframe are heaven neutral (I love this term though no idea what it means) and I think that’s important – they are neutral, they just happen to be under orders currently from characters who are working against the Doctor.
That said, for my mind the only villain is Madame Kovarian – the scene where the baby turns out to be Flesh absolutely shocked me the first time, and it upsets me every single time I watch it.
Yes, I actually shuddered when that happened.
I found the baby plot incredibly stressful the first time around – this screened in 2011 when my youngest was still toddler, so the whole thing with Amy and Rory losing baby Melody was genuinely devastating – though it was actually the stress of not knowing what was going to happen that made it worse for me. In retrospect, now that tension is gone, I can watch the episode without my heart in my throat.
It’s still completely awful. Too many babies in my life for this ever not to be ridiculously sad.
A lot of people hated the Amy abducted subplot, and there was something really horrible about the idea of her being pregnant in a box for so many months, while her mind was still cheerfully travelling around with the Doctor and Rory. I do like the strength of how Amy is portrayed here as a mother – a role that by no means comes naturally to her, and which she has had no preparation for. I like that she’s not softened by having a baby in her arms – she’s harder than ever, like when she’s so sharp to Lorna Bucket because the idea of sentiment in this situation makes her want to stab things.
I really enjoyed the three characters introduced here, Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint and Strax (though I assumed he was the Sontaran from a much earlier episode at first). I’ve heard that they pop up again a few times, and I will look forward to that. Strax especially appealed to me, and I thought both hilarious and believable that the Sontaran idea of penance might involve being forced to “help the weak”. His conversation with the boy was comedy gold. And, I so want to know more about that war and that time zone, it looked like a steampunk fan’s dream come true.The idea of a Sontaran breast feeding was pretty amusing too, I would love to see a cafe owner tell him to cover up!
I love these characters so much. Always and forever. It’s rare for a single Doctor Who story to launch so many memorable, worth-bringing-back characters – this one has four and I won’t tell you who the fourth is, yet. Spoilers!
The arch looks Vastra and Jenny exchange in that scene in the control room! *dies of love* They are so awesome, and I’m still waiting for that Vastra and Jenny spin off please and thank you! They are all brilliant in this. And though I maybe felt, particularly on rewatching again, that there are perhaps a few too many characters that were really somewhat extraneous, I really genuinely loved this episode. It makes me laugh and cry and ache for them. So much good.
It’s amazing how epic this story feels considering that it is a one-parter – I know we’re here to talk about both stories, but you both did not have to WAIT TWO FREAKING MONTHS between episodes like those of us who were watching it live! (Or wait, Tehani, were you watching it live by this point? I lose track).
I was TOTALLY watching it live by then! The pain…
The big cast of characters makes it feel like a big, sprawling space opera and I love that – also how well the various characters are set up, even with only a few lines.
I know I am a conservative fuddy duddy, and I don’t think that New Who should be completely constrained by the continuity of the old show, but I am not sure that I approve of throwing out established canon for a one liner and a minor plot point. I am sure that temporal grace has been an important part of the show and a wonderful concept that deserved better.
To be fair, David, the idea of temporal grace has been contradicted in Classic Who at least as often as it has been relevant to the plot! Let us not forget Susan and the scissors in Edge of Destruction. :D I personally think that the temporal grace idea is something a bit like the Randomiser from the Fourth Doctor’s era, or the isometric controls – something that has occasionally been active in the TARDIS, but is not a permanent, always-taken-for-granted feature.
So we’re kind of cheating with this one, because it’s not really a double episode. However, the program originally aired with a two and a half month gap between the episodes, so technically, as well as “A Good Man Goes to War” being Hugo nominated, we could call them a season closer and a season opener, yes? I just think we really REALLY need to talk about “Let’s Kill Hitler”, so we’ll justify it!
It’s probably long overdue that a TV show about time travel needed to address the elephant in the room. If you had a time machine and a gun, why wouldn’t you travel back in time and try and kill Hitler? Of course, all know it is never going to go to plan!
I don’t know that it is overdue in that it’s a trope that has been referenced and discussed almost as often as the JFK shooting or the grandfather paradox. But then it is supposed to be ridiculous in this context – the whole idea is that it’s what an adrenalin junkie teenager would come up with, given a gun and a time machine.
The actual elephant in the room is that the Doctor gets hugely judgmental about all kinds of atrocities when he’s faced with them – he even brought Harriet Jones down for shooting one spaceship out of the sky. So why doesn’t he kill Hitler? Why didn’t he save Adric? How can we actually put our faith in a hero with near-unlimited power to change time, who allows himself to choose his battles?
Well, and a hero who has done far worse things than shoot one spaceship out of the sky!
The problem with Nazi references in a lot of movies (and in political discourse) is that there is a danger of minimising evil and of weird moral equivalences. The idea that River’s crime of killing the Doctor is somehow comparable to Hitler’s crimes made me uncomfortable and I think that they should have made it clear that there were levels of punishment/crime that they were enforcing.
It is uncomfortable – again I think it’s supposed to be uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay. The British have a long history of turning Hitler and the Nazis into a joke, from World War II propaganda onwards, as a way of coping with what they represented and what the potential invasion of Britain signified, but I think we’re at a point in history where a lot of that humour is pretty misguided.
Because I am so far behind, I don’t know whether we get the story of where the Doctor went looking, and what happened in the time between the start of his search, and meeting in the cornfield, but I am a big fan of these gaps as these can be filled with all sorts of wonders from new companions to homicidal super computers and leather clad savages.
The first time I watched this, it was really weird to see newly regenerated River suddenly being a psychopath – it didn’t make sense that Rory and Amy could have known Mels so well and yet she turns into this lunatic so quickly. But rewatching, it was more palatable. The idea that the brainwashing imperative to kill him didn’t actually kick in until she encountered the Doctor makes sense, if you squint at it, so I can hand wave other stuff to make it work.
I like many parts of this episode – particularly Alex Kingston’s portrayal of the very young River Song/Melody coming into her new body for the first time – but I think the search part of the story is disappointing mostly because the Doctor promises he will get their baby back, and he fails. He fails terribly, and we don’t see him fail – we don’t even see him try. Instead, time travel catches up with them – but while I normally support gaps in the story, this one is pretty massive and means that all the emotional punch of “A Good Man Goes To War” is allowed to fizzle. It feels like maybe he just put his feet up in the TARDIS and had a cup of tea then came to collect them at the end of the summer.
River Song being Rory and Amy’s daughter certainly introduces some weird family dynamics, especially if her and the Doctor end up together. One wonders how Amy would feel about that, and the Doctor is continuing his run of entirely inappropriate relationships. Fortunately, the power dynamic between River and the Doctor is much more balanced than some of the other ones we have seen.
I wasn’t sure about the shoe-horning of Mel’s character into Rory and Amy’s past, but that conversation where Amy tells Rory he is gay made it worthwhile. I wonder if there are any expanded universe adventures of the incarnation of Mel’s floating around, whether books or Big Finish? If not, maybe there should be. They didn’t really explain why she was simultaneously wanting to kill the Doctor, and had grown up idolising him. Did the brainwashing only kick in at a certain point? Was there a trigger word? Did she come and find Amy and Rory because they were her parents or because they were a way of getting to her target. I am sure all will be revealed.
I’m so ambivalent about Mels. On one hand, I think she’s awesome, and I could watch an entire spin off called The Amy, Rory and Mels Adventures played by their younger selves (with a few cameos from the “teenage” selves just for giggles). On the other, without that background, without ever seeing or hearing a single thing about Mels for the entire season and a half we’ve known Amy and Rory, unfortunately it just falls flat for me. I get why we HAVE Mels, but it’s so obviously a plot device and it’s one of the few times I’ve been disappointed by a random add-in.
I think part of the problem I have with it is the way Rory and Amy have basically got over the loss of their baby, and it’s so unfair that they basically just give up on getting baby Melody back again. Just because River was Mels and they kind of grew up together, and they know how things work out (basically), it’s not at ALL the same as being parents to a baby who they were clearly so invested in THE LAST EPISODE.
Yeah, I think a single line earlier in the season to say that Amy named the baby after her best friend Mels (which would make sense and actually would have distracted from the melody – song connection) would have signposted Mels a little better. But then this whole second half of the season is characterised by episodes which needed one or two lines of dialogue to FIX THEM.
By the way there was a great comic in Doctor Who Magazine – I think the December issue in the same year? Which showed a hidden adventure of Rory, Amy and Mels at Christmas. I think the three of them and their odd childhood together is absolutely a goldmine of missed storytelling opportunities.
Look, in all, I think this episode is a bit over-the-top and melodramatic, but Alex Kingston is as always fabulous, there are some very good parts interspersed with the bits that don’t make complete sense, and there are some really nice callbacks to past episodes and tidbits that are picked up in later episodes.
Alex Kingson and Matt Smith together are amazing in this. And while I know very much that feminist Doctor Who fans all over the world were infuriated by the “I’m looking for a good man” line at the end of this episode, and the reframing of young River as someone obsessively shaping her life around the Doctor…
I actually really like this piece of their story, because the power imbalance between them with him knowing more about her and their relationship is an important bookend to the early episodes where she was all-knowing and he was innocent. Their relationship is much more fun to watch in stories when they’re both somewhere in the middle, but this piece of the puzzle is important. The fact that she is vulnerable, erratic and less confident here, in her youth, does not take away from how awesome and extraordinary she becomes, just because we’ve seen it in the wrong order so it feels like regression. If that makes sense?
Definitely. To me, all this is doing is showing how she became the River Song we meet when she first appears in the show, not retconning her character or diminishing it. If we went from the River Song we first met to Mels, yes that could be seen as a step backward for a great character. But that River Song hasn’t changed or gone anywhere–we are just getting an extended flashback showing us her backstory! It’s actually a pretty clever idea.
Definitely! Like, you know, people (even fictional ones) can grow and change – nicely done I reckon.
We’ve already reviewed:
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“The Runaway Bride”, 2006 Christmas Special
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/E03
“Human Nature/The Family of Blood”, S03E08/E09
“Blink”, SO3E10 (with special guest reviewer Joanne Anderton)
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords” S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01 (with special guest reviewer Lynne M Thomas)
“The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky”, S04E05/06
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead”, S04E09/10
“Turn Left”, S04E12
“The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End”, S04E13/14
Season Four Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
The Specials: “The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars“
The Specials: “The End of Time”
“The Eleventh Hour”, S05E01
“The Beast Below / Victory of the Daleks”, S05E02/03
“The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone”, S05E04/05
“The Vampires of Venice / Amy’s Choice”, S05E06/07
“The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood”, S05E08/09
“Vincent and the Doctor / The Lodger”, S05E10/11
“The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang”, S05E12/13
“A Christmas Carol”, 2010 Christmas special
Season Five Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon” S06E01/02
“The Doctor’s Wife” S06E04