A Good Man Goes to War

Prequel: That big blue wheeler-dealer chap sells a Judoon’s brain to some hooded figures, before attempting to verify the rumours that they’d kidnapped the child of someone connected to the Doctor. That’s about it, so they pad it out with some very slow captions trailing the TX date.

Really, the only preview that you need is the cliffhanger from the previous episode, and the sense of urgency and epicness that runs throughout this story does not disappoint. I’m vehemently opposed to the notion of chopping a season in half – the eventual workload solution they found of simply dropping an episode a year yields much more satisfying results – but at least they made the format work to their advantage by having such a huge, gobsmacking episode to provide the mini-finale.

I’d forgotten entirely about the pre-titles encounter with the Cybermen, now thankfully rid of their Cybus branding, which is a step in the right direction. I love the fact that Rory got to be the big hero we see confronting them – his story across the last season and a half is that of someone stepping out of the background to fulfil his true potential, and that’s often driven by the desire to protect his wife and/or newly-discovered child. It’s corny, but it really works.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is raising an army by taking us to as many different locations as the budget will allow, and Moffat is careful to make the build-up in this episode as comedic as possible, to balance the heavy stuff to come. River’s punchline to the Stevie Wonder story is one of my favourite gags the show has ever done, and the concept of a Sontaran nurse is just brilliant. It will never not be funny to see Strax politely inform people of his intention to kill them, and he’s by far the most promising of all the new allies this episode introduces.

When the Doctor’s finally ready to sort this shit out, his supposed triumph is a joy to watch unfold. Moffat pulls off a trick that I more readily associate with RTD, of throwing as many returning characters or species on screen as possible – he did it in his first finale, of course, but I don’t think he ever quite did it in the same way as this again. Here we get fuckloads of Silurians and Judoon (thus answering my question from the other day about whether it was rare for Moff to bring back RTD creations), as well as unexpected and possibly unwarranted cameos from “Danny Boy” and Captain Avery, characters from two of the least good episodes of the Moffat era thus far.

Then the episode’s third phase – the Doctor’s fall – kicks in, and bloody hell, things get intense towards the end. I was surprised to see Strax as one of the casualties, given that he’s about to become a recurring character, but then I guess death isn’t much of a barrier when you’re talking about a race of clones in a time travel show. More expected was that the sweet and brave Doctor fangirl didn’t survive the encounter, and the realisation of what his name means to her people hits the Doctor – and us – hard.

I’m not sure I quite agree with River’s wider assessment that the Doctor is on dangerous ground and needs to mend his ways. It rang true when the Tenth Doctor went through a similar identity crisis, but the Eleventh Doctor so far has been firmly committed to non-violence wherever possible, and has largely resisted abusing his powers. But then, dramatically speaking, you need to drag him down before you pick him up again, and the revelation about River/Melody – as well as being very cleverly done – ended this rollercoaster on a high.

It’s hard to relive the impact that it had at the time; the promise that the mystery will be resolved is always in the background of this episode, which means it loses a certain something when you know full well what’s coming. But it still managed to make me a little emotional, due to the Doctor’s joy of learning that Melody would eventually be just fine, and the knowledge that he dedicates so much of his life to keeping her safe and happy. Although it must be a bit weird to be shagging your best friends’ daughter, especially if you’ve held her (and indeed spoken to her) as a baby.

Nevertheless, it’s a stunning and shocking episode, and well worth revisiting regardless of the lessened impact of the big reveal. My lack of memory of the finer details of these episodes is really paying off now, as they’re able to surprise me all over again. For example, I still don’t quite remember who Madame Kovarian is and what her motives are; you don’t find out very much here, and instead it’s nicely set up to be the mystery that runs through the second half of the season.

One thing that I did remember though, and that still remains as funny as ever, is the huge high-stakes drama ending with the next episode’s title being revealed, in huge impactful letters, as “LET’S KILL HITLER”. After all that the episode had put me through the first time I watched it, I ended up unable to process any of the emotional connotations due to five minutes of solid laughter.

RATING: 9

It feels wrong to be doing the milestone stuff at this juncture, but nevertheless:

HALF-SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 9

  • Seasons/Series watched: 31.54 of 36
  • Stories watched: 218 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 777 of 839

I hadn’t realised how good the first half of this series was. I mean, I knew I liked it, but wow, just look at that average rating. My memory is that the second half doesn’t quite live up to it, and will most likely bring the overall score down, but unfortunately I’m going to have to wait to find out. It’s as galling now as it is then – just when you’re ramped up to maximum excitement about Doctor Who, it disappears for a while. Worse still, the filling of this Series 6 sandwich is not particularly appetising.

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The Curse of the Black Spot

Prequel: A beardy Hugh Bonneville squeezes out a captain’s log, stating that his ship is stranded at sea and that they’re being menaced by a dark, mysterious force. He signs off by telling us he fears he and his entire crew are doomed to die here. It doesn’t make the episode look like much fun, in stark contrast to the Next Time trailer that promised us yo-ho-ho pirate antics like swashbuckling and walking the plank.

Turns out that all that fun stuff happens within the first five minutes, and then it gets very dark very quickly. Things escalate at an alarming pace, as the Siren picks off her victims one after another, and it doesn’t leave any time for us to care about any of the people that are being killed off. The fact that literally everything is dangerous – the slightest cut, bruise, burn or illness – makes things paradoxically less exciting. Why should I care about any of these characters when they could stub their toe and it’d be all over? When the TARDIS goes missing too, the odds seem impossible, and we’re still only twenty minutes in.

The Siren, of course, has the face of Lily Cole, which is a bit strange; one of those guest stars who’s so famous (for things other than acting) that it’s hard to see past the real person. She doesn’t really have much to do, other than prancing around elusively on a wire, and very occasionally making a scary face. The best thing about her as a monster was the way she has the same effect on her victims as half an eccie.

Therefore the main guest star was the aforementioned Huge Bonneville, and his beard. I’d forgotten that Avery was real pirate, until I read it on Wikipedia just now, and the references to him in The Smugglers must have completely passed me by. Turns out he’s a bit of a twat, causing his own son to be taken by the Siren because he couldn’t bear to let go of his stolen gold. This in turn leads to…

THE RORY WILLIAMS DEATH COUNTER: 3. Well, you think it’s a death at first, but it turns out that actually everything’s fine anyway, everyone’s just been transported to another dimension or some shit. And despite Avery doing his best to fuck things up by needlessly shooting at the Siren, it turns out that she was a goody all along. It’s a clever reveal, but it does make for an anti-climactic resolution.

The only remaining snag is that Rory is on the brink of drowning, and I’m wondering whether that moment where you think Amy has failed to resuscitate him counts as death #4. It was definitely around this time that Rory being seemingly dead every other week started to become a thing, and I think it’s this episode that first drew people’s attention to it.

But that all gets sorted, and we end with Huge Bonneville, his full crew and a tiny child literally becoming Space Pirates. It’s all very daft, this episode, and I’m not sure what to make of it. I mean, it’s all sort of fine, but it’s evidently nothing special or particularly memorable – all that I remembered of it in the last six years was Lily Cole titting about not doing much, and I imagine that will be the case when I’ve forgotten about this rewatch too.

Oh yes, and Madame Eye Patch showed up again, and Amy flashed back to the Doctor getting shot, and then the Doctor did another pregnancy test on her. You know how the scan always oscillates between the two outcomes? Does that mean that she’s simultaneously pregnant and not pregnant, like it’s some sort of Schrödinger’s foetus, or does the test just take *ages* to deliver the result? It’s entirely possible that they answered that six years ago and I’ve forgotten…

RATING: 7