Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thoughts on "A Good Man Goes To War"

Admittedly, the midseason climax of this year’s Doctor Who is manipulative and pushes all kinds of fan-boy buttons, but it is a great story. It is especially good for people who have been paying attention during the Eleventh Doctor’s run so far. It completely confirms Steven Moffat as one of the great writers of this generation. Doctor Who in this century has always managed to make the big episodes (season openers, finales, and specials) very emotional, but they haven’t always earned their storylines. This one has been building for three years, and it delivers. In addition to the big reveal/cliff hanger, however, there are several special or insightful moments:

The first is a throwaway moment when three characters meet each other for the first time:
“Hello. I'm the Thin One. This is my husband. He's the Fat One.”
“Don't you have names?”
“We're the Thin Fat Gay married Anglican Marines. Why would we need names as well?”

A lot of people will completely miss the brilliance of this moment because they are distracted by the homosexual aspect of the characters. I for one can’t decide if this is a commentary on the way society labels people or if it is pointing out that complaining about labels is silly as we are in some ways the sum of all our labels culminating in the ultimate label of name.

Another brilliance of this episode is the way that it plays with language and meaning. Amy meets a young girl who has enlisted in the army with the aim of meeting the Doctor. When Amy asks her why she joined the army, she responds, “How else do you meet a great warrior?” Amy’s responds, “He is not a warrior.” The girls then questions, “Then why is he called the Doctor?” This sequence doesn’t make sense until later, when River Song is chastising the Doctor for his actions:

“This was exactly you. All this. All of it. You make them so afraid. When you began all those years ago, sailing off to see the Universe, did you ever think you'd become this? The man who can turn an army around at the mention of his name? "Doctor." The word for healer and wise man throughout the Universe. We get that word from you, you know. If you carry on the way you are, what might that word come to mean? To the people of the Gamma Forests, the word Doctor means "Mighty Warrior." How far you've come.”

It is a great moment. Up until this moment, the viewer has been reveling in the fact that the Doctor has become a warrior and is taking the fight to the people who have hurt his friends. That is not who the Doctor is, though. He does save the day, and he always comes through for the people he cares about, but he does not fight wars. He only fights when he is forced to and even then people are usually only hurt by their own actions. The Doctor and the audience of the show need this reminder. Good can overcome evil without stooping to its level. It is hinted at in another scene earlier where the Doctor confronts the woman who kidnapped Amy. She claims is not afraid of the Doctor because, “The anger of a good man is not a problem. Good men have too many rules.”

His response: “Good men don't need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many.” The truth is that the Doctor is good. He does not need rules because to do wrong would be against his nature. However, in his anger he is flirting with needing some rules.

Not all questions are answered in this episode. There is plenty of ground that needs to be covered in the second half of the season before we understand the season opening shocker. But it is one of the great episodes ever and brings the River Song character several leaps forward from where we met her back in season 4. Even there, though, there is more to be explored.

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