REVIEW: Doctor Who - "A Good Man Goes to War"

That’s what I’m talking about! After a ho-hum episode last week (“The Almost People”) which happened to have an epic cliffhanger as dessert, last night’s Doctor Who was something very special. “A Good Man Goes to War” has consequences that span across space and time and a gripping story that matches – if not exceeds – what was done in episodes one, two and four in this series. The Doctor gets angry (and even enjoys it a bit) to bring together a team of characters from his past. The goal: to rescue Amy Pond from the mysterious Madame “Eye Patch Lady” Kovarian and the militaristic cabal who have kidnapped our favourite Scottish companion. What follows is a delicious collection of monsters, banter, and jaw-dropping reveals (the latter of which I won’t list!).

Read on for my full, spoiler-free review of “A Good Man Goes to War”, including my ranking out of four stars. Never fear: you don’t have to become a Headless monk to share your thoughts on the episode – post your reaction in the comments!

As I mentioned in my comments about “The Impossible Astronaut”, I haven’t watched enough Doctor Who to fully appreciate every level of Series Six. So I was a bit confused about who exactly the villains are in “A Good Man Goes to War”. After a bit of poking around on the TARDIS Index File, I discovered that the opponents here are actually a regiment of The Church, a 51st century military organization with deep religious ties. It appears that Kovarian is working with them, but she doesn’t seem to be as involved in their doctrine as the commander of the soldiers, Colonel Manton.

The fact that this religious army opposes the Doctor is intriguing. If you’ll allow me to make a sweeping generalization, this episode is evidence of how religion can bring out the best and the worst in people. In “A Good Man Goes to War”, The Church fears the Doctor’s ability to defeat any opponent and set the universe right. They use religion to indoctrinate their soldiers and inspire them to quest for the Doctor’s demise. On the other side, the Doctor can be interpreted as a positive religious figure, leading his “troops” into battle (even though they don’t kill anyone) and acting as a willing sacrifice for the safety of his friends. There’s some powerful symbolism at work here, something that gives this episode a whole extra layer of meaning.

We often see the positive results of the Doctor’s actions across the universe, but this episode reminded us (like in “The Pandorica Opens”) that there are many who hold long-term grudges against the Doctor. While the Doctor hasn’t openly attacked The Church to my knowledge (even though some of their members died during the events of “A Time of Angels”), the fact that the Church wants to kill the Doctor seems to be a metaphor for real-life religions who ban or attempt to exterminate things they do not understand. While this might sound controversial, it feels more like a general commentary about humans who are aggressive towards things they fear.

It was great to see the Doctor gathering his teammates together for a stand at Demon’s Run. Writer Steven Moffat  and director Peter Hoar wisely decided not to show the Doctor at all in this sequence – it helped build the sense that the Doctor is an omnipresent force in the universe who could appear at any moment and call upon old debts. I also liked the scene where the Doctor was sorting out Kovarian’s strategy with Madame Vastra (the Silurian warrior) and Dorium Maldovar (the blue guy). There was some great chemistry here between Matt Smith and the other two actors, which helped sell the idea that the Doctor trusts these two enough to go over tactics with them.

Arthur Darvill was impressive once again as Rory. Each time we see him, Rory seems to have gained more confidence and is more willing to put up a fight to protect Amy and help the Doctor. Rory actually had a couple of cool sequences to himself: the epic confrontation with the Cybermen early in the episode (how about that cruiser exploding behind him?) and the pose he struck with the sword and blaster when he was facing off against the Headless monks. Rory has visibly grown over the past series, but he still participates in the humourous back-and-forth we expect between him, Amy and the Doctor. I only wish we could have seen a bit more fight choreography in this episode – again, he has come a long way from the “fight” in “The Vampires of Venice”.

Overall, this episode was very well-measured in its doses of action, dialogue and menace. The human soldiers obviously didn’t present much of a threat, but the Headless monks were fairly frightening. I’m glad that these monsters didn’t tussle directly with the Doctor; it was cool to see the Doctor’s team deal with them “the old-fashioned way” as the Doctor wrestled with bigger problems.

Of course, what everyone will be talking about the most with regard to this episode is the reveal at the end. If you’ve seen the trailer for this episode you’ll know that it all surrounds River Song’s identity. The eventual answer was one of the many theories being tossed around by the fan community, and it definitely makes sense given everything we’ve seen stretching back to her first appearance with the Tenth Doctor. I also liked that it wasn’t given away too quickly: when the Doctor figures it out and dances away into the TARDIS, the audience shares in Amy and Rory’s confusion (and maybe frustration).  It was a delicious bit of scripting, and one of the reasons I get so excited for the episodes written by Steven Moffat.

“A Good Man Goes to War” gets four stars out of four for its fantastic writing, impressive character work (Go Rory!), the injection of religious commentary, and for considering the negative consequences of the Doctor’s many deeds. Now we we’ll just have to wait until August for the second part of the series, beginning with the superbly titled episode “Let’s Kill Hitler” (No joke!). What did you think of “A Good Man Goes to War”? Did you guess the ending? How does it rank with your other favourite Who episodes? Join the discussion in the comments below!

Check out all my reviews of Series Six of Doctor Who so far:

Episode 1: The Impossible Astronaut | Episode 2: Day of the Moon | Episode 3: The Curse of the Black Spot | Episode 4: The Doctor's Wife | Episode 5: The Rebel Flesh | Episode 6: The Almost People