The mid-series finale of Doctor Who
rather reminded me of last year's "The Pandorica Opens" in that it starts with a variety of characters, both known and unknown to us, being approached in different time zones in a way that will later prove significant. Indeed the opening is one of those that works a lot better on a second viewing,
which is also when I paid attention to the clock to check that it's a full 20 minutes before the Doctor first appears. If there's one thing that didn't work for me this episode it's the anticlimactic battle which then ensues. I know the whole point is that it's anticlimactic, and that River's prediction that the Doctor will "rise higher than ever before" refers to his bloodless victory at Demon's Run. Presumably, then, the second half of the prediction that says he'll then "fall so much further" refers to not just his being tricked again, but the realisation that he's become the thing he most hates, and the word "Doctor" now means "mighty warrior" in some cultures. Unless we get something to contradict it in the second half of the series, that's my interpretation anyway.
Other than that it's all good in my opinion. Yes, everyone seems to have guessed that the questions "who is River Song" and "what's the deal with Amy's baby" had the same answer. But a twist that nobody
can guess isn't much of a twist if you ask me, and it had to be possible for some of the kids watching it to work it out as well. (Hard
to guess, good; impossible
to guess just means the writer's not given you enough clues. And I don't think quite so many people would have worked it out in advance if the name Melody Pond hadn't leaked.) The way the name Melody Pond got corrupted into River Song is rather elegant, if a bit spurious - yes, "River" is substituted for "Pond" in the language of the Gamma Forest, but its only resident on Demon's Run was Lorna. And her embroidery didn't go with the baby, so it doesn't follow that whoever finds Melody will misread her name as River Song.
This was very much the darkest we've ever seen Matt Smith's Doctor go (his taunting of "Colonel Runaway" has to be among the darkest things any
Doctor's done) but again Smith seems to pull the character away from becoming Tennant's emo Doctor. He has a lightness of touch and I think there's also more acknowledgement in both how he's being written and played that he's a flawed
hero. Ten was one of the more superficially human Doctors but would often appear to have godlike powers. Eleven is rather self-consciously alien and takes for granted that he has armies at his disposal. There's something about him that makes you buy into the fact that he does these things without being quite able to connect the dots about what that makes him. He's a bit like Suranne Jones' TARDIS in that respect, seeing infinity all at once and therefore unable to see anything clearly.
I love that with the departure of Russell T Davies a couple of years ago, the people bemoaning the so-called "gay agenda" would have thought it was gone from Doctor Who
. Forgetting that, technically, Captain Jack was created by Steven Moffat who in this episode gives us not only Fat And Thin Gay Married Anglicans but also what already seems to be the best-loved part of the episode: Inter-species Victorian Lesbians who make over-the-kids'-heads references to how a long Silurian tongue might be a bonus in the field of lesbitarianism. Oh and there's also a computerised female Pope. As well as the continuation of an agenda The Moff is completely open about, of religion=armies.
The title of the episode continues to be of interest to me, not least of all because a long time ago we found out River's prison sentence was for killing "a good man." So who does "A Good Man Goes To War" refer to? At the moment it looks like a double bluff: The obvious choice is the Doctor, but the publicity and the episode's pre-credits teaser strongly suggest it is in fact Rory. By the end of the episode we're back to it being the Doctor, as mentioned above the untimate pacifist realising that he's become a warlord. I still wouldn't put it past the second half of the series throwing a retrospective spin on it though. There's River's shocked reaction when she sees Rory at the start. My first reaction was "the last time she saw him she killed him" but in retrospect it may just be the way he introduces himself. He doesn't know who she really is, the first time this has happened from her perspective, so she realises that, as she says, it's her birthday: She's about to have to tell the Doctor and her parents who she really is. (And by extension, knows that this is the last time she'll ever be with her parents and be able to acknowledge them.) Or I could have been right all along, and as well as all of this she also
ends up killing him. There's just as much if not more to back up the idea that it's the Doctor she kills: Although it's not made explicit in the episode itself, flashbacks and the "previously" clips suggest that the regenerating girl in the spacesuit from the first two episodes is Melody/River. And it was someone in a spacesuit (possibly at the start of her relationship with him from her perspective - he has to reassure her he knows who she is) who seemingly killed him at the start of the series.
I'm not going to complain about the disappointingly short amount of screentime for Frances Barber as Madame Kovarian because I suspect she'll be back in the autumn. As for the way it all ended on a cliffhanger, I thought this was done as well as it could be. If we'd had a cliffhanger like last week's melty Amy it would have been a different story, and too cruel to make us wait all summer for the resolution. But in an episode full of Star Wars
references both visually and in the score, the ending was very much The Empire Strikes Back
: There's a lot still to be done but the current chapter has closed. And besides, we already know that River will be OK in the end - after all, she's told us herself.
Oh and when Series 6 started I mentioned that the TARDIS logo now has the light on top lit. I don't think I subsequently said that the more I see it, the less I like it. It's a bright light in the middle of a bright background, it totally washes out the logo. And the logo says Doctor Who
, which is a much more exciting thing to see than a load of bright stuff.