Let’s try this again: Your inestimable blog editor published half a review recently to A Good Man Goes to War, and if it read rather like a one-sided conversation then… that’s because it was!
And so, without a further doo-doo, here’s the proper fulled up review, courtety of Al and Myself. Take it away, boys!
AH: This appears to be a story straight from young Steven Moffat’s Paisley Primary School exercise book: Silurians, Cybermen, Judoon, a Sontaran, the Master teaming up with the Zygons to alter the outcome of the battle of Culloden (well, maybe next year).
PA: I think Arthur Darvill’s comment in the Confidential about it resembling a battle fought by action figures was apposite. Either Moffat has the Character Options equivalent of JN-T’s wall-o-photos when he’s suffering under the occasional bout of post-Sherlock writer’s block, or CO have taken over the script editor’s chair. So many new characters, and each one a ‘novelty’ or a spectacle in their own right. Yes, a battle needs fodder, and it needs memorable heroes and fatalities. But the fact that this story is the culmination of a hitherto unseen brewing conflict (I’m really tiring of the ‘Six Months Later’ style caption cards this series, to be honest), then we have a problem.
AH: Well, perhaps some have a problem? I don’t frequent the message boards so am admittedly completely unaware of what the voice of fandom has decreed recently. Personally, I look forward to finding out more abut this conflict, retrospectively. But to return to our ‘novelty spectacle’ characters – Dan Starkey improves massively on his last speaking role to give us the best Sontaran since Linx. I loved his hearty farewells which also happened to be death threats. And as has been pointed out, these are Cybermen from our universe, missing the Cybus C from their chests, although this seems to have been the case with last year’s appearance, too.
PA: Oh yes. I heartily enjoyed Starkey’s turn this time ‘round. And it buried his off-turn from his debut. He seemed to be channeling Christopher Ryan – no bad thing! I think he’ll be great in his BF Sontaran story too.
The Cybermen – an improvement there too. I didn’t ask for much – just some moving on! And now we see a fleet of their Invasion ships! They sit at table and strategise! They get blowed up by Rory the Roman… oh well, add that to their already expanding list of weaknesses.
AH: In times past, the Cybermen’s presence would automatically mean they were the ‘rostered villains’ for the ensuing story. I like the way that these expectations can now be played with. And never mind lamenting that the television series of Jago and Litefoot never happened, let’s have more of Madame Vastra and Jenny, both were utterly wonderful.
PA: Well, yeah. They were good, but I fear that with one statuesque lizard person with a nifty sword on show we’re now even further away from a Draconian appearance in New Who. And the relationship, the relationship… oh, if you must. We’ve sort of been here before though – Gridlock had both permutations in a single episode!
AH: I take your point regarding the Draconians, although they very nearly made it into The Pandorica Opens, apparently. But wait, there’s more: Hugh Bonneville and more spitfires in space sprinkled like ‘hundreds and thousands on the top – this was the food colouring-loaded dessert we were left craving after the previous stodgy, sugar free two parter.
PA: You do realize that your description there actually lasted longer than the scenes described? And where did they GO? I was swearing, then sighing resignedly at the screen by this point.
AH: The small moments are what really matter sometimes! Jenny makes some remark about Avery and Danny Boy having been returned to their own times. As to how, I don’t really care, not enough to swear and sigh about, anyway!
I have to wonder if the Daleks have been held back for something special, or whether they are all in a panel-beating shop having their nasty bumps removed?
PA: Indeed. Back to the drawing board there, lads.
AH: In the first story to introduce River, I detected a certain counter-organised religion stance in Moffat’s depiction of a purely-digital after life. And now we appear to have a fully fledged ‘Army of God’ as this years’ Big Bad. He claims that he’s just harkening back to earlier times when many armies were church based and the clerics from River’s second story did seem more sympathetic towards the Doctor.
PA: I’m a little skeptical about the Church angle. Madame Kavorian doesn’t appear to have the hallmarks of the officials we’ve met so far (Father Octavian comes to mind), so perhaps this is the Church moved a few steps further on in their grab for power, they already have the power, or they’re being used by someone else who has the power obviously or not. Fan theories have gone a bit silly over the alleged “omega’ symbol in the Church logo – I’m not convinced that we’re seeing another Time lord’s dabs on this.
AH: As I say, I’m looking forward to finding out! Apparently, as with many others, I guessed River’s identity with the first fleeting glimpse of Baby Pond’s Christian name. Moffat’s fixation with watery surnames turned out to be of great significance after all.
PA: And here we come to the kernel of my disappointment over this story! You can’t help fan theories – fans are going to theorise, whether a series plays a long-game style narrative arc or not.
AH: So why even mention them – what bearing do fan theories have?
PA: The seeming ease in which this all falls together (admittedly in retrospect) does make the revelation of River’s identity and the Doctor’s ‘rising higher’ a bit of a stumble at the gate. Shades of the revolution in the capitol we’re told about but never see in Trial of a Time Lord, for example (but with build-up!) I’m not going to say I called this first – it seemed like such an easy explanation I admit I was looking (or rather not looking, as I didn’t want to overthink this) for something a little more beguiling. Well, maybe we’ve still not seen the full story yet. It has made things a little tighter-knit in the TARDIS at least. Phew.
AH: I did feel a little sorry for Alex Kingston, having to deliver that cod line about the Doctor rising higher than ever before and falling so much further, but she pulls it off, along with a Wonderful Stevie gag. And as for telling 23 year old Karen Gillan that she’s her daughter… how do you play that? But only this revelation could have shot us back up to the third peak of the dramatic ‘W’(after having fallen so much further than ever before ™) and ended the episode on the high it desperately needed.
In terms of Best. Ever. Science-fiction orientated television programmes, is this not actually the second time a gifted young girl called River has been kidnapped by a scientific/military organisation to be turned into a weapon?
PA: Oh yeah, the ‘borrows’! I know I’m not the only one who watched the space battle in the first thirty seconds and thought of Revenge of the Sith, either. And we know how that turned out.
AH: Twins? I do have to say: I watched this episode with my heart in my mouth, being simultaneously afraid of what might happen next but also desperate to find out. I cared deeply about characters who’d only just been introduced and felt more hatred for the villains than I have for a very long time. Much better!
PA: I, too, watched this episode with my heart in my mouth- er. Yes, well. Look I’m prepared to take some of the blame for my own disappointment over this story. And I should remember that this is not a season-finale, it’s a mid-season ‘game changer’, whatever that means (“We play the game again, Time Lord. And the name of the game is… Boggle!”) But I’ve found a frustrating unevenness has crept in so far this year, with a lot of time paid on build-ups and less one one-off stories which, to my mind at least, have been the more enjoyable parts of 2011’s run. I’m concerned that I’m reaching the stage where far from wondering who River really is, who the girl in the space suit was, how or whether the Doctor will really die, what the weird TARDIS from The Lodger is doing in the Silents’ HQ, why Rory is now the Last and not the Lone Centurion et cetera, I actually don’t care. And if a paid-up, lifetime member of fandom with real-life distractions is getting a little tired of this, then what can be said of the ‘casual’ viewer? Might be time yet to wheel those stone angels back on set?
AH: If we’re widening our view to talk about the series so far, then I agree with a lot of what you’ve said. Maybe as ‘paid-up lifetime members of fandom’ we no longer cope so well with the changes which the programme throws at us, whereas we once took Tristram in cricket whites, Season 23 and ‘more than just a Time Lord’ in our youthful stride.
As you say, we’ve only seen half this year’s story so far – we’re still paid-up, so let’s make the most of it