Doctor Who – A Good Man Goes To War Review (or “It’s A Bit Like Transformers The Movie, And Not In A Good Way”)

For any child of the 80s, the original Transformers the Movie – you know, the cartoon version rather than those mostly rubbish new live action films – is one of *those* films.

Alongside movies like The Goonies, Back to the Future, Star Wars and Indiana Jones, it’s one that any bloke who grew up in the 80s knows and loves.

It was comparatively epic in scale and, like Rocky IV, it had a top-notch soundtrack.

But it had one major flaw, from a narrative point of view; it introduced too many characters and assumed that the viewer would just accept them and – most likely – buy the new toys.

As children, we watched it and – after they’d got over the shock of seeing Ironhide being brutally murdered and Wheeljack not even given the dignity of an on-screen death –  thought “Who is this Ultra Magnus character who’s apparently Optimus Prime’s most trusted friend all of a sudden? And what about this Kup bloke who claims to be an old soldier? We’ve not seen any of these guys before”

It was puzzling and frustrating.

And with that in mind, I present my review of A Good Man Goes To War

Doctor Who – A Good Man Goes To War Review: What’s This One About?

The Doctor has lots of new friends, River Song all of a sudden turns out to be Amy & Rory’s Daughter, and the BBC presents the only Doctor Who story ever to that point where you can’t just enjoy it on its own merits.

Bravo.

Thoughts – So That Transformers The Movie Comparison…

Right, so back to my Transformers the Movie comparison…

Oh look, it's the Doctor's long time, close and personal friend, Madame...erm...what do you mean she's never been in it before and we're supposed to just accept it?

Oh look, it’s the Doctor’s long time, close and personal friend, Madame…erm…what do you mean she’s never been in it before and we’re supposed to just accept it?

All of a sudden and without any previous mention of them in the show before, the Doctor now has long and trusted confidants in Madam Vastra, Jenny Flint, Strax and an entire army of Silurians. When did this happen?

Ok, I understand that the Doctor does stuff off-screen, but it’s very rarely significant to what we see on it.

Here, it’s almost the entire basis for the story.

The Doctor “Goes To War” alongside characters we don’t know, but who I think we’re supposed to immediately identify with, and we don’t. Or at least I don’t.

Strax is quite amusing, and there’s nothing strictly wrong with Vastra or Jenny, but why am I supposed to care about them? Why am I supposed to believe they are long time, trusted friends of the Doctor? When has that ever worked in the show’s past?

But it’s not just the Doctor’s friends, it’s also his enemies.

It’s not explained sufficiently why an entire army of humans has been raised against him.

What’s their motivation?

Why do they see him as a threat now when they never have before?

It’s stuff like that that annoys me as a viewer.

To be clear; I wasn’t lost whilst watching it, but it meant I had to make assumptions and leaps of faith to find what was happening on screen agreeable, and that’s never ideal, is it?

The River Song Show

As I’ll examine again in my next review, this does seem to be becoming The River Song Show rather than Doctor Who.

"You're Amy & Rory's daughter?" "Yes" "That makes absolutely no sense" "I know; we're making it up as we go along"

“You’re Amy & Rory’s daughter?”
“Yes”
“That makes absolutely no sense”
“I know; we’re making it up as we go along”

This episode exists purely to answer the question nobody was asking; what’s the Genesis of River Song?

I’d have been happy to have a story where they just met some time earlier in River’s life, but no, that’s not enough is it? It has to be Earth Shattering, wacky and a bit confusing, and after initially hinting that she was the Doctor’s mother (because that is what the suggestive dialogue with her name being on the Doctor’s own cot hinted at), it turns out she is actually Rory & Amy’s daughter.

Riiiiiiiight.

When did Moffat come up with that? At some point during the writing of Curse of the Black Spot?

There’s just no way – no way at all – that in earlier stories that featured River & Amy and then River, Amy & Rory this had been planned.

As I said in my review of The Pandorica Opens, River had clearly never even seen Rory before.

But now he’s her father.

That’s bullshit writing. Utter garbage.

But hey, it gives us a jaw dropping, Earth shattering, mid-season cliffhanger, so that’s fine, right?

I don’t think so.

A Doctor Who Story That Cannot Be Enjoyed On It’s Own Merits

Go back through Doctor Who history and look at every story in isolation (and by every story I include The Trial of a Time Lord as a single one). Is there one where you couldn’t just watch it as a single, self-contained narrative?

I certainly can’t think of an example.

The Cybermen are rightly dumbstruck by the unwarranted vandalism and aggression on the part of the Doctor here.

The Cybermen are rightly dumbstruck by the unwarranted vandalism and aggression on the part of the Doctor here.

And yet here we are in 2011 and Steven Moffat has managed it.

A Good Man Goes To War isn’t a story at all; it’s an episode made entirely to continue the flow of existing story-arcs.

There’s no introduction, nor is there a conclusion, and the “threat” of the episode – namely Madame Kovarian – has barely any lines or motivation and has no comeuppance either.

Basically, A Good Man Goes To War is the middle part of a story that is ongoing throughout Season Six, and as I’ve said in many of the reviews of this season, I have a problem with that style of writing when it comes to Doctor Who.

Random Observations

  • Is it not lazy to have two characters called “Madame” something-or-other introduced in one episode?
  • The fat bald blue guy; if it wasn’t for his introduction happening a year before it started, I would have thought he was a direct ripoff of Lord Varys from Game of Thrones. Maybe, casting wise, it’s the other way around? Or more likely both are ripped off from someone else from a different show or film.
  • I just groaned when the pirates and the WW2 planes turned up. The cameos had absolutely no point to them but for getting the “cheap pop”
  • The Doctor says that Anger is a new thing for him? Where do I even begin…
  • Well, I’ll just go down the easy route and suggest he thinks back to his third self.
  • Another revelation is that he remembers everyone, although I’m not sure he was entirely serious
  • Within the narrative, the Doctor is told – in different terms – “Fooled you once, shame on me, fooled you twice, shame on you”. Is that directed at the Doctor or the viewer?
  • Why is there this mystique over whether or not The Doctor ever had kids? Of course he did! His original companion was his own Granddaughter for crying out loud. Or are we supposed to try to find reasons for why she isn’t really his Granddaughter? Give me strength.
  • The Headless Monks were pointless.
  • Strax died. Why is he still in it now? Having him brought back to life in a webisode is not good enough. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words on the subject of Doctor Who and even I don’t bother with the fucking webisodes.
  • Those are “Mondas” Cybermen I see. And yet they have the same design as the alternate universe ones. Booo.
  • Also, The Doctor seems to have no interest in morality when it comes to blowing up Cybermen. Who exactly were they harming?
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: N/A

Doctor Who – A Good Man Goes To War Review: Final Thoughts

So A Good Man Goes To War is another flop for me.

Maybe that’s being unfair though.

It’s not that what we see onscreen is bad, but rather it relies upon the viewer accepting what’s written as established. We’re supposed to just forget we’ve never seen many of these characters before, that the motivation for why people are after The Doctor isn’t explained and that within the narrative of Doctor Who, there’s just no chance that River being their daughter was planned in advance.

And also, it manages to be the first Doctor Who story that doesn’t work on its own merits.

Personally, I do think that’s worth criticising.

Don’t you?

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3 Responses to Doctor Who – A Good Man Goes To War Review (or “It’s A Bit Like Transformers The Movie, And Not In A Good Way”)

  1. MJ says:

    I absolutely hate, hate this quote form this episode “RIVER: This is the Battle of Demon’s Run. The Doctor’s darkest hour. He’ll rise higher than ever before and then fall so much further, and I can’t be with him till the very end… Because this is it.

    Higher than ever before,’? HARDLY!
    ‘This is it,This is the day he finds out who I am’ (Spoken in a shock,sad way) – What!!! The away she was acting was like she was something bad! And it’s not that she was supposedly he’s killer as she’s from the future and knows she wasn’t his killer. So stupid!!! This was put in for audience suspense! I hate that!
    I hate River song.

    Sorry. I just hate River Song> 😀

  2. Ralph Burns says:

    Thankfully, I found Transformers: The Movie easy to understand as the weekly UK comic had already introduced the new characters in the frankly mind-blowing Target:2006 storyline. Go look for it. It’s been reprinted several times.
    As for this episode, it has many ‘cool’ moments but I agree it is not an actual complete narrative. I would have been kinder on it had there not been a gap of a few months afterwards.

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