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The Doctor assembles an army to face the Battle of Demons Run - and River Song has something to tell him.

Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2011


Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.








Living as we do in the iPlayer age of television on demand, Sky Plus and media centres, more and more series seem to be shifting their stall towards the long game. The success of series such as 24, Lost and, for a while, Heroes has proven that audiences love nothing more than to hole up for a long weekend with a box set and immerse themselves in addictive season-long (or sometimes even series-long) storylines. And since Doctor Who returned to our television screens in 2005, it has gradually become more and more arc-heavy, culminating in this latest season which, while still comprised of discrete adventures, is the closest that we’ve come to a mammoth year-long story since The Trial of a Time Lord in 1986. Thankfully though, Series 6 is a damned sight better.CLICK TO ENLARGE


A Good Man Goes to War is Doctor Who’s first mid-season finale. In recent years more and more American dramas have effectively divided their seasons into two, with the first half of the season usually culminating in a either an agonising cliffhanger or some game-changing reveal, but this is the first time I’ve noticed a BBC programme doing the same. It’s both a refreshing and welcome change, as it rations out what usually amounts to just fourteen substantive episodes over a year fairly evenly, instead of spoiling us for three months and then leaving us hanging until Christmas. It also lends itself nicely to the continuing story format, particularly when that continuing story has been structured so very tantalisingly.


Demons run when a good man goes to war...


Perhaps the biggest boon though is the fact that we now get two finales for the price of one. In terms of scope and grandeur, A Good Man Goes to War is on the same level as The Sound of Drums, The Stolen Earth or even The Pandorica Opens – if anything, it feels a little grander. This is probably because, River Song and Baby Pond trappings aside, it’s such a strong Doctor story. There are hundreds of Doctor Who stories out there now, but so few of them cut straight to the hearts of the man, and even fewer do so as incisively as these fifty minutes do.


When the series began in 1963, it was very humbly, and the same was reflected in how the Doctor was portrayed. He was a mysterious, old runaway; just as prone to selfishness as he was philanthropy. Almost fifty years on, and the Doctor is just as much of a legend as Doctor Who. Such are his deeds that his name – well, his handle – has inveigled its way into most languages as meaning “wise man” or “healer”; English amongst them. But the older the Doctor gets and the more of a legend he becomes, the darker the shadow that trails him. The many novels that bridged the gap between the series’ cancellation in 1989 and its return in 2005, whilst their minutiae was often contrary, recognised this and pushed the character into darker waters still, making him a destroyer of worlds; even the killer of his own kind. Russell T Davies then seized upon the popular conceit, making his Doctor both a pragmatic time warrior and an anti-violence crusader who demonstrably forges his friends into weapons. Herein lies the crux of Steven Moffat’s story: the Doctor is the titular good man gone to war. But some might say that a good man can’t.


“I can produce magnificent quantities of lactic fluid!”


Interestingly, this episode did put me in mind of many of the Virgin Doctor Who novels published in the 1990s as, instead of telling a “Cyberman story” or a “Sontaran story” abounding with cipherish monsters, it cherry picks one or two unique alien individuals and showcases them. In a beautiful reflection of The Big Bang, this story sees the Doctor turn to many of the species that tried to lock him away for good to help him storm Demon’s Run and rescue Amy and her newborn child - but these species aren’t the rampant, faceless monsters that some might expect. We have Madame Vastra, a female Earth Reptile living in the 19th century, shacked up with a sprightly human girl with whom she fights crime (and no doubt, more besides). We have a Sontaran who, as atonement for some past misdemeanour, must now serve his many enemies as a nurse. Commander Strax is the single greatest Sontaran character that we’ve seen outside an Alan Barnes audio drama; he’s by turns grossly hideous and sympathetic, not to mentioned damned hilarious. “I can produce magnificent quantities of lactic fluid!”, he boasts. Just like the missus.



But with such unlikely allies onside, who is the Doctor fighting? Answering that question, at least, is easy – the militant Clerics that we first met in The Time of Angels, led by the eye-patch sporting Madame Kovarian and the imposing Colonel Manton. Their Headless Monk allies are, perhaps, a little extraneous, but it’s hard to grumble when they’re so damned unsettling. With their drawn cowls and bloodshine lightsabres, at first the Monks could be mistaken for an ancient Sith army. However, the revelation that their “Headless” soubriquet has been paid for in full is so horrifying a moment that I half-expected Mary Whitehouse to exhume herself to protest about it. What I find so grotesque is the practicality; these Monks don’t just have empty spaces where their heads should be - they have terminalised neck stumps. Never mind the children watching, that’s an image that’s going to be hard to force out of my mind.


“My friend, you have never risen higher.”


The difficult question though is why are they fighting the Doctor? Why kidnap Pond, steal her child, and try to use that child to destroy the Doctor? What makes him so great a threat to them? What will the Doctor become in his future that will cause the people of the Gamma Forests to take the word ‘Doctor’ and as their word for ‘warrior’? “Intrigue” doesn’t even begin to sum it up, and that’s before we get to what makes Baby Pond so very special.


A Good Man Goes to War is leant further weight through the inclusion of what the Doctor claims was once his cot. It would be such a throwaway thing in any other show, but as the Doctor’s origins have, and hopefully always will, be shrouded in mystery, to offer viewers something as momentous as his cot in itself feels illicit. Some will of course grumble that suggesting that the Doctor was once a baby is a little lazy, and certainly far less intriguing than the ‘looming’ theory championed by acclaimed author Marc Platt, but this is effectively compensated for by the antique appeal of the stunning, time-beaten prop and the sublime role that it plays in the episode’s climactic revelation.


“The only water in the forest is the River.”


Nevertheless, A Good Man Goes to War was ultimately sold on the promise that, at long last, the Doctor would find out who River Song is, and on that front too it delivers. The Pond-lookalike Cleric, Lorna Bucket, serves as an almost-convincing red herring throughout, but in the end the clues are too numerous and too strong. If most viewers hadn’t worked it out when River first laid eyes on Rory, they had by the time that Baby Pond was ripping the piss out of the Doctor’s bow tie. So Melody Pond grows up to be River Song, but is she the weapon that the Clerics want her to be? Did River murder the Doctor in The Impossible Astronaut (presuming, of course, that he was the ‘proper’ Doctor)? Did River regenerate? Like all the best bombshells, the revelation wasn’t so much of a shocker in itself, but the ramifications of it throw up a plethora of questions and controversies that will keep the net ablaze for a long time yet.


Yet for all its tension, weight and grandeur, A Good Man Goes to War retains the warmth that has, in many ways, defined the show since Davies resurrected it. The Doctor is a man of matchless history and magnitude, yet he’s so bamboozled by human reproduction that he wonders why Rory and Amy don’t put a balloon out when they’re making love. Rory is a man whose pregnant wife has been violently torn away from him, yet he can still don a centurion’s outfit and hurl a mordant quip at a room full of Cybermen. No matter how dark this show gets, it remains as light as air, and I hope that it always will.


“Don’t give me those blank looks.”


In summary, then, A Good Man Goes to War is uncompromisingly enjoyable, edge of the seat television. Matt Smith is mercurial, Alex Kingston alight, and together Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill set new standards for intra-TARDIS soap opera. Steven Moffat’s script does what it promised to do and far more besides, offering us fleeting glimpses into the Doctor’s inviolate past and overcast future, whilst never taking its eye off the drama of the moment. This episode showcases the very best of Doctor Who the show; Doctor Who the headline; even “Doctor Who” the man, and if the series can continue to mould itself to the times, yet remain indelibly Who, then the long history of the Doctor is soon going to become far too torturous for anyone to navigate, let alone chronicle.


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2011


E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.


The very fact that the Doctor once had a cot suggests that he was once small enough to fit in it. This does not sit well with the notion that he was “loomed” fully grown (or thereabouts), as posited by Marc Platt in his notorious novel Lungbarrow – at least, not on the face it. It is important to remember that Lungbarrow was predicated on the suggestion that the Doctor’s existence somehow stretched back to before his looming; to a time when he may have lived as ‘the Other’ member of ancient Gallifrey’s ruling triumvirate – a person who it is rumoured had at least partial human lineage. It might also be the case that the cot is bigger on the inside, of course. That, or the Doctor lied about it being his.


For River Song, this story takes place long after Let’s Kill Hitler and prior to The Impossible Astronaut.



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