The New Who Top Ten: #9

Apologies if you got an emailed notification this morning only to find a non-existent post. I was so good. I set up all the templates, assigned tags and everything and was all ready to write later, before accidentally hitting ‘publish’ instead of ‘save’. That’ll teach me not to do this stuff before coffee.

Anyway, our list continues with…

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Number Nine: ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ (2011)

I dithered about this one. I’ve said before that I don’t believe in the concept of guilty pleasures – there’s good TV and there’s bad TV, and yes, you can sometimes be objective. There’s such a thing as standards. As far as my own are concerned, ‘A Good Man’ embodies many of the things I’ve come to despise about New Who. There’s the ridiculous poetry – something Moffat seems to be particularly fond of, throwing out tawdry balladry on the backs of beer mats and napkins and then passing it off as Gallifreyan ‘standards’, the sort of thing that Time Lord nursemaids whisper to sleeping children, presumably to give them nightmares. These poems are then transcribed and turned into desktop wallpapers that saturate the internet, which is a royal pain in the arse when you’re looking for appropriate images for a blog post.

What else? Well, there’s the Eastenders-style cliffhanger about River’s parentage, the lamest of endings. There’s also River herself, who turns up early in the episode to poke fun at Stevie Wonder before disappearing until the final scenes – in order to deliver a mawkish, cloying judgement upon the Doctor’s actions, with an earnestness that becomes grating before she’s finished her first sentence. There’s the birth of the comedy Sontaran thing (and although Strax is comparatively dignified in this episode, the rot sets in early with the breastfeeding gag). There’s the ‘angry Doctor’ scene, which probably has its own tumblr page but which would have worked better had the Doctor not actually stopped mid-rant and said “Oh, I’m angry. That’s new”, which  – however well-intentioned – is the metaphorical equivalent of ending a drama group sketch by turning to the rest of the class and saying “That’s it”.

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And yet here it is, sitting in my hall of fame. What’s going on?

Moffat’s investment in Amy makes for a good start. This is Mrs Williams before she became tiresome and annoying – instead she’s frightened and scared, having just given birth to a baby she didn’t even know she was carrying (the stuff of women’s magazine articles and soap story lines for decades). Said baby is then promptly taken away by a sinister one-eyed despot, presumably to be trained as a killer. But fate has a far worse twist in store, with Moffat arranging a happy reunion before snatching out the rug from under us just a few minutes from the end. I still maintain that the dissolving baby would have been even more effective if it had occurred with no warning at all, but there would have been thousands of screaming children and an OFTEL investigation.

So perhaps it’s fatherhood. Perhaps that’s the reason I’m prepared to give ‘Closing Time’ far more slack than it is arguably due, given that the climax involves James Corden destroying the Cybermen with love. Perhaps for all its current failings Doctor Who does tap into the fears and joys of parenting, much as Eraserhead did many years ago. I know nothing but this: when Amy’s child is snatched, I cared about it. But it’s still a secret pregnancy, and those who complain about the speed at which Amy and Rory seemingly accept their loss, as chronicled in later episodes in which Melody is not mentioned (largely because they were resequenced) have missed the point: it almost destroys their marriage. (Said complainers would also do well to watch ‘Logopolis’, and marvel over the speed at which Tegan deals with the death of her aunt.)

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What happens in ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ is this: a confusing, jumbled legion of characters new and old is dumped into a battle station and pitted against a set of dark Jedi in cassocks. The pirates from three episodes back turn up for no obvious reason. If you don’t concentrate you won’t have a clue who anyone is or what’s actually going on. It ends with melodramatic silliness. It shouldn’t work. That it does is down to Moffat’s sheer audacity – within the space of two or three minutes we’re getting in-jokes about the writing process and things have got thoroughly silly, but we don’t care because want the Doctor to rescue Amy, and this strange bunch of misfits and blue-skinned merchants is oddly compelling. Put simply – and at the risk of saturating this entry with back-handed compliments – the episode succeeds precisely because it is so utterly outrageous. It’s a gamble that wouldn’t pay off later in the series, when ‘The Wedding of River Song’ tried something similar and never made it off the ground.

But of all the characters who stroll across the screen during the battle of Demon’s Run, it’s perhaps Rory who provides the unexpected high point. Forced back into a two-thousand-year-old outfit by the Doctor (we can only pray it’s been through the laundry) he stomps into a Cyber war ship, stern and impassive even as the starry sky behind him is filled with a multitude of explosions. It’s one of the few occasions Doctor Who has been genuinely exciting. I still maintain, four years later, that it would have worked better as the finale to the previous episode, but ruminations about structure probably won’t get us anywhere. For this scene alone, I’m willing to forgive ‘Good Man’ just about everything that follows. Even the breastfeeding gags.

Cameron’s Episode: ‘Dalek

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Categories: New Who, Top 10 | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “The New Who Top Ten: #9

  1. essjay

    Oh, I so agree with this one.

    On paper, this episode is kind of shit. But Rory is a total BAMF in that scene, so I forgive pretty much everything else.

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