FREELANCE WRITER. JOURNALIST, AND SCRIPT READER – FAN OF SCI-FI AND CHOCOLATE DIGESTIVES – YSTV'S BEST DRESSED MEMBER 2013

Sunday, 5 June 2011

On 5.6.11 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments
Doctor Who hit its mid-season finale this weekend, which is a perfect opportunity for me to continue my series of reviews. Not that the other episodes weren't worthy of my opinions, I've been busy. Yes, that excuse again. Let's have a quick summary of the series, if you insist:

After a good start with the American-set two-parter, the series hit a bit of a slump with the painfully awful The Curse of the Black Spot. OK, Hugh Bonneville's pirate captain was badass and the explorations of the pirate characters worked, but the attempt to sci-fi-ify the pirate genre with a shit Siren that travels through dimensions using the mysterious portals we know as reflections was cringe-inducingly terrible (taking a creature from real-world mythology and making them into a space medical officer - what a bad idea). Neil Gaiman's The Doctor's Wife made up for this with a sexy TARDIS, sexy corridors and Michael Sheen, followed by the cleverly plotted, atmospheric, Blade Runner-esque The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People. The cliffhanger to these episodes was brilliant - while hinted at perfectly, I honestly did not see it coming and love how it solved some mysteries satisfyingly while setting up new ones. And this brings us to the mid-season finale, A Good Man Goes to War.

With Amy kidnapped and in labour, the Doctor and Rory set about building up a group of allies to infiltrate a Galactic Empire-style military base. This badass crew (sorry if you have things to do) allowed for some cool moments - I did like the welsh medic Sontaran (taking a creature from Doctor Who mythology and making them into a space medical officer - what a cool idea), the big fat blue man and the lesbian Victorian Silurian. However, I think the "everything but the kitchen sink" approach damaged the pacing and logic of the episode at times. What happened to the pirates after their 3 second appearance? Why did they take the small child off his life support and bring him into a battle with an army over 3000 years more advanced than his time? Why use the Spitfires when the pirates and the Judoon have spaceships? Why wasn't Captain Jack in the Doctor's army (this would have been the perfect opportunity for a Jack appearance)? Why didn't the Judoon do more?

Even the Cybermen made a small appearance, with Rory popping in on a Cybership to shout at them dramatically while the Doctor blew up the rest of their Cyberlegion. I did like this scene; it was visually very nice and shiny and Moffat's usage of the Cybermen in this way makes all the elements of the Whoniverse more connected - they're a continuing presence who don't just show up when they want to fail to take over Earth again. On second thoughts, this is the Doctor's second mass murder this series. He really should stop that, it's a bit out of character. (Ironically, Vastra later says "Demon's Run is ours without a drop of blood spilled". The Doc didn't tell her about this bit then.)

While all of these returning characters were appreciated, one new character I liked was the soldier Lorna Bucket. Having met the Doctor as a child, Lorna had joined the big space army (to use its technical name) in order to meet him again. When the army plotted to kill the Doctor, Lorna turned against them to help him. The scene where the Doctor pretended to remember who she was was particularly emotional and tragic, while her culture's usage of the term "Doctor" to mean "warrior" shined a new light on the Doctor in an uncomfortably dark way. (Bugger off, scientists, it's metaphorical.)

The scenes with Amy's baby were done well; they added a good amount of emotion and, through the Doctor's interaction with it, humour. The baby turning out to be Flesh mirrored last week's twist but not in a way that seemed repetitive; this was an unexpected turn which showed the fallibility of the Doctor while setting up plot development for the next half of the series and linking back to the events in America.

Of course, this being a Steven Moffat script, there were further complications to come. River Song vortex manipulated her way in while nobody was looking to deliver the final twist. The revelation of her identity as Amy and Rory's time-child, while cleverly hinted at, didn't have the same level of impact as last week's cliffhanger, I felt. Her entrance didn't seem to fit the story; it was just tacked on at the end for dramatic impact. I'm undecided on whether I like the truth about her identity or not, but it's certainly original and has a lot of dramatic potential and I'm interested to see where this is taken.

Admittedly, I did see the Melody Pond/River Song thing coming as soon as the baby's name was shown. But the usage of Lorna Bucket's forest language cloth and the link to the TARDIS's prophecy was very clever and added a redeeming feature to the rather ill-fitting revelation.

Despite this, there are a range of mysteries still surrounding River and fans will for some time continue to debate whom she killed in order to be sent to the universe's worst guarded prison (seriously, it took Boadie longer to escape from the young offenders' institution in The Wire and the main message of that show was how shit the 21st century authorities are, these are meant to be the 52nd century elite). Also, the mystery of the Doctor's death by astronaut remains to be solved - I admire how Moffat is stretching these mysteries across long periods of time (in terms of the episode schedule as well as the in-universe time); it adds tension as the viewers wonder what will happen next and beats RTD's "plot arc" style of mentioning Torchwood a lot in random situations.

The main actors all put in good performances; Matt Smith mixed the eccentric with the emotion perfectly while Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill managed well the variety of emotions expected from a couple going through an... unconventional stage in their relationship. Rory's anger as he searched for his lost wife was rousing and affecting while Amy's screams as her baby melted were particularly chilling. Frances Barber as the villainous Kovarian was perhaps a bit too pantomime; maybe this will be resolved through further exploration of her character in future episodes.

A Good Man Goes to War had a lot of interesting plot development and some visually impressive moments, but the adventurous feel and distinct set pieces of the previous finale were lacking. Despite a lot of cool moments, I found it overall a tad underwhelming, but am still looking forward to the Doctor's return in autumn.

Speaking of which, the next episode has Hitler! Hooray, Nazis are fun villains! (I'm allowed to say that, aren't I? If not, watch Raiders and The Last Crusade again and you may change your mind.) I hope they get Bruno Ganz. Or Quentin Tarantino as guest director and it's Inglourious Basterds with added time travel.

So it's farewell to the TARDIS crew for now until we see them in autumn. I'm off to play these free video games from PSN (and revise for my A levels, of course).

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