Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Good Man Goes to War (SPOILERS)

04/06/11 “A Good Man Goes to War”
“Mammals—you all look alike.” --Vastra

Was this rubbish or brilliant? I’m sure somewhere in between, but at different points I could swear it was one or the other. I guess in its aspirations at keeping everyone on tenterhooks until “next” season it succeeded, so in that sense it’s the cliffhanger it wanted to be. Whether it can challenge “The Pandorica Opens” / “The Big Bang” is yet to be seen.

Many of the same techniques from last year’s cliffhanger/finale were in place, but the same kind of catch-all, self-congratulatory, so-up-its-own-mythology touches that so infuriated many people about “Journey’s End” and “The End of Time” were also in attendance, it seemed to me, which slightly annoyed me. Watching “The Pandorica Opens,” even the second time, was like getting whiplash but being so swept along as not to care; watching this, with, as I said, a similar line in techniques, jarred slightly. For example, the quick cuts to a series of otherwise unconnected locales—Demon’s Run (an asteroid) to “Twenty Thousand Light Years Away” at a Cyberman-maintained information gathering-facility where “the Last Centurion” is backed up by the Doctor exploding things (?) (didn’t it look a little Wheel in Space to you?). At the same time, poor Amy, who it was revealed last time was actually giving birth in a whitewashed plastic prison at the behest of the eye-patch woman, not with Rory and the Doctor at the acid refinery (which was, I don’t hesitate to add, a McCoy-esque manipulation from the Doctor), is being forced to give up her baby into a casket/cradle (it almost looks like the tiny wrappings of mummified babies). The girl has been named Melody Pond 1.

The rest of the asteroid is surrounded by the clerics harkening back to “Flesh and Stone”/ “Time of the Angels,” and in Moffat’s own words, “Here’s where it gets complicated”—that is, to anyone who hasn’t been following Doctor Who for the last four years or so semi-religiously! (At least it seems to me much of this episode is incomprehensible to the casual viewer, so woe betide anyone who just tuned in.) The pace at this stage, as we were introduced (sort of) to the way of life at Demon’s Run, the Headless Monks and such characters as bright-eyed, earnest cleric Lorna Bucket, was altogether different. It was a bit like falling into an entirely different episode, one that got stuck between “The Beast Below” and The Story of Martha. It’s not by accident I mention a novel (well, short story collection really) because, now that I’m reading my first New Adventure novel, in a way this episode feels like that. Something “too broad and too deep for the screen,” which is forcing its way onto the screen anyway. That has its corresponding positive and negative points as well. We are starting to get to know the only “thin/fat married Anglican gay marines” as well as why Lorna Bucket is a “Gamma girl” who joined the Clerics just to get near the Doctor who she met before (talk about obsessive!) before we get swept away again.

Much as, in theory at least, the idea of a Silurian warrior woman in 1888 with the same mentality of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s Mina Harker appeals to me, it’s got the same slickness that Captain Jack being beaten up by butch Victorian women in Torchwood did, which turns me off. Vastra has just disposed of Jack the Ripper (how obliging of her) and her maid servant Jenny is commiserating with her. “How was he?” “Stringy but tasty all the same.” (Interesting considering I asked when watching “The Silurians” what Silurians ate.) Into the drawing room the TARDIS materializes in order that “a very old debt has been repaid,” and Vastra tells Jenny to bring the swords. (I wonder if they know Josiah of Gabriel Chase?)

A bit less slickly but still head-reeling is in 7054 AD at the Battle of Zarathusa, which is some kind of steampunk recreation of the Napoleonic Wars. A Sontaran nurse, Strax, explains that he is being forced to take care of the weak and the sick, a most degrading spectacle for a Sontaran, because “someone” came up with that. Next, Rory (at least in Centurion outfit—he says it was the Doctor’s idea but I’m not sure why yet) meets up with River Song “breaking in” to Storm Cage. She’s dressed in something that wouldn’t have been out of place with Vastra and Jenny in 1888, with the addition of ice skates. She tells Rory it’s her birthday, she was just at the last Frost Fair in 1814, which is highly annoying for two reasons, one is that she isn’t dressed for it (though it could be like “The Unquiet Dead,” and that surely they must have just passed the First Doctor, Steven, Vicki, and Jane Austen!! “Have we met yet?” Rory asks with some hesitancy. I have to admit, River’s slowness to answer made me think she was going to kill him at some stage, but of course later I was proved wrong. River alludes to many a fan girl’s fantasy by suggesting there were two Doctors at another of her birthdays, but tells Rory she can’t come to the Doctor’s summons because first he’s got to rise really high and then fall really low. ‘Kay. “This is the day he finds out who I am.”

For some reason not quite clear to me, eye-patch lady (Madam Kovarian) goes to see the big blue guy from “The Pandorica Opens,” Maldovar. “You think he’s raising an army?” “You think he isn’t? God help his debtors.” Now, the idea of the Doctor “raising an army” immediately makes me think of Dumbledore’s Army and/or the “army” assembled of the Doctor’s friends in “The Stolen Earth,” which is much the same response to flying-Messiah Doctor in “Last of the Time Lords”: makes me slightly uncomfortable. It’s something that River actually chases him up on at the end of the episode (I digress) but it’s worth looking at: how different is he from the edgy and curious bohemian explorer from 1963 or 1974, if as Moffat believes, he is the same man?

Meanwhile, as the Clerics are gearing up to destroy the Doctor whenever he appears, their pep talk that stresses he’s a man of flesh and blood is strangely reminiscent of Erik insisting to Christine in Phantom of the Opera, “I am not a ghost, nor a genie, I am Erik!” Lorna Bucket’s strange insistence on giving hostile Amy a prayer leaf with her baby’s name on it becomes a Major Plot Point later, but at this stage it’s just a bit of odd character-building. Now, it’s strange to me that Anglican clerics are so specifically and vociferously against the Doctor when I just had a conversation with someone about whether or not the Doctor believes in God. It’s certainly true that he has deposed and exposed many false gods and has more often than not been a bit righteous in saying, “Science, science is the answer, not superstition!” (“The Daemonsad nauseum), and the show itself has more often been on the other side from religious faith (“Curse of Fenric,” notoriously), though there are exceptions to every rule (“Gridlock,” perhaps most visibly). In the next few scenes, we will see a group of fanatical clerics declaring war on the Doctor—and we don’t even know exactly why. I hope it will be resolved in a satisfactory way, otherwise it’s making quite a statement!

The colonel in charge of all the Clerics shows that the Headless Monks actually are headless (how that works is a mystery!), but still the Doctor can infiltrate (the Doctor does a lot of infiltrating while wearing monks’ robes!). He and his associates (Silurian, human, Sontaran, Maldovar, and some Judoon inexplicably show up) make the monks and Clerics turn on each other. “We are soldiers of God, we are not fools.” Some Spitfires from “Victory of the Daleks” also show up (what??) and block out Demon’s Run’s communicators, so they are effectively surrounded. The Doctor is furious at the colonel and Madam Kovarian for “trying to get to me through the people I love,” but Lorna overhears Kovarian saying that the Doctor has been playing into her hand all along.

Rory, Amy, and baby Melody are reunited in a spat of “kissing and crying” that makes the Doctor nervous (“I don’t do domestic,” he once said!). He also tells us that he “speaks Baby.” As all the Good Guys prepare to leave (with the Monks and Clerics voluntarily “running away”), Melody is crying a lot. “She needs changing,” insists Strax (neat that both Sontarans and Silurians are clones, I mean for acting purposes!). As the parents argue over whether she’s hungry, Strax comes up with a hilarious line about “I have produced magnificent quantities of lactic formula!” (That’s very, “These are etheric beam locators, not breasts!”) The Doctor, meanwhile, insists that Melody is tired and brings out a very ancient “cot” (in the US I think we would say cradle or crib!). It’s beautifully designed with a star mobile, a Gallifreyan collar design and Gallifreyan script on it. “Who slept in here?” Amy wants to know, wondering (as did Rose and Donna) whether the Doctor had kids. I was getting really psyched there, for a moment, thinking it was Susan’s! But the Doctor just says that it was his cot, but if that’s true . . . why is he still carrying his own cot around with him in the TARDIS?

The Doctor announces that ganger!Amy was with them “just before America.” “You knew Amy wasn’t real, why didn’t you say?” asks Rory (again, for the Doctor to have kept it to himself for so long was very McCoy!). Vastra is wondering what we’re all wondering about Melody: “Is she human?” She posits the theory that a child conceived next to the Time Vortex could develop Time Lord tendencies. “It didn’t just happen,” the Doctor says in response to how young Time Lords were developed. There’s a very amusing moment when I’m not sure whether Vastra is trying to ask the Doctor if Amy jumped him or not—“I am trying to be delicate.” What she is actually asking is when did Melody “begin”? “They don’t put up a balloon!” snaps the bashful Doctor. He figures out that it was probably Amy and Rory’s wedding night. Vastra then suggests that Melody is being “farmed” and developed as a rival Time Lord to the Doctor, basically what Heathcliff tried to do to Hareton—“let’s see if one tree won’t grow as crooked with the same wind to twist it.” “Why would a Time Lord be a weapon?” The Doctor’s got a short memory here; the Master was made into a kind of weapon by the Time Lords with his purpose being the drumming in his head; Jenny, the Doctor’s daughter, also became in a sense his own antithesis even though she was almost him.

Unfortunately as they think all this through, the monks have regrouped, and the Doctor is in for defeat. One of the worst lines ever—“My God! That’s the Attack Prayer!” In any case, not to bring too much of a religious subtext to it, but the Doctor, Amy, and Rory protecting “special” baby Melody from rampaging, murderous religious fanatics is a bit like baby Jesus and Herod’s men! (Is that too much?) Unfortunately, even as they manage to fight them off and lose Strax (“Rory, I’m a nurse”) and Lorna, the baby turns out to be a ganger. “All this was for nothing!” River then appears. “Where the hell have you been?”

There’s a very weird and misleading moment as River puts her hand on the Doctor’s (?) cot and asks him whether or not he can read. To me this very much suggest what everyone was HOPING would not be the case, that River was his mother, so that was a bit of suggestive trickery that was rather infuriating. However, she was referring to the prayer leaf that Lorna made, which, as you recall, had Melody’s name on it. Which, as you may have guessed by now, is the explanation behind “the only water in the forest is the river,” hence Melody Pond=River Song. While this is quite mind-bending 2, it still leaves a lot of things unexplained. River being Amy and Rory’s daughter doesn’t explain why out of all people he would tell her his name; also, why didn’t she regenerate in “Forest of the Dead” if she was part-Time Lord, unless for some reason she loses her power to regenerate? Or perhaps the “regeneration” at the end of “Day of the Moon” was a fake-out à la “The Stolen Earth”? Why did the Silence get hold of Melody/River? When and how will they “fall”? Who is the voice? Will we ever find out anything about the console room in “The Lodger”? And was I right about Paul McGann, dammit?

As I said, the intrigue factor is high. Reading over everything, it seems perhaps the cohesion factor was a bit better than I first believed. In any case, it was a bit uneven and not quite as elegant as “The Pandorica Opens.” But we’ll see how it fares at the end of the summer.

1) What??
2) Good thing that Amy missed when she was shooting at the Impossible Astronaut, or she would have killed her own daughter; also good thing River missed when she was shooting at the Impossible Astronaut, or she would have killed herself! Grandfather Paradox indeed!

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