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26 March 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 815: A Good Man Goes to War

Dear diary,

First thing’s first: I seem to be bringing it up over and over again at the moment, but the opening hooks to episodes this series are very strong, aren’t they? Today’s might be the crowning glory, though, with Rory turning up to question a fleet of Cybermen, while the Doctor blows them up in the background to underline the point. Brilliant!

This is a brave episode, isn’t it? In terms of being an episode of Doctor Who that’s billed as something of a ‘season finale’, there’s some very brave choices made here. Outside of the ‘previously’ clips, we don't see so much as a silhouette of the Doctor for the first tele minutes, and he doesn’t appear in person for over a quarter of an hour. That’s a third of the entire running time! That entire first act of the story is used to set everything up, move all the characters into the right places, and prepare us for the story to come. And yet, somehow, it never feels like they’ve had to rush everything else to accommodate a fifteen minute set up period - it’s all perfectly natural as a part of the narrative.

However. While I’m on the subject of narrative, this is the perfect time to return to my major bug-bear of Series Six - all the arcs and ‘mythology’ stuff. It simply doesn’t sit right with me, and I think it’s all to do with the format of the season. Having a three month gap between halves of the series was an interesting experiment (and one which I think worked much better with Series Seven), but it forces this episode to be a kind of finale, when things really aren’t ready for such a story. For all I’ve praised the cliffhanger to yesterday’s episode, it does come a little bit out of nowhere. The Doctor realises that there’s something wrong with Amy at the end of Day of the Moon, and we get a few glimpses of him looking at the scanner screen and her alternating pregnancy test, but until we reach the end of the Flesh two-parter, there’s no real indication that the Doctor is pricing things together and starting to track down everything that’s happening.

It feels like this would have been the perfect time for the Doctor to get those cryptic hints that people so love to drop around him, slowly putting together a picture across the entire season that there’s something wrong with Amy, hitting that two-parter right before the big finale at the end of the run. As it is, he seems to drop it for a bit and then announces that he’s worked out what’s going on, and where to find Amy. That was easy! There’s a great concept for an arc in here, but it’s just not been given the right space to develop, because the format of Series Six has forced it into an odd shape. Perhaps it would work better if the first half of the series ended with the reveal that Amy is a Ganger, before the Doctor and Rory go off looking for her during the ‘break’ in between halves?

Overall, though, I think my favourite idea in this episode has to be the way that the Doctor goes around ‘collecting’ people to build an army. It feels like a natural step for the Doctor - after Davros made him so aware of the way he uses people during The Stolen Earth - that he should decide to use these people when he needs to. I think this sequence is also home to my biggest regret from the entire Eleventh Doctor Era: I think I’m right in saying that Captain jack was originally to be among the people the Doctor called upon, but filming on the fourth series of Torchwood prevented John Barrowman from appearing. In some ways it might have felt odd to have Jack hanging around from a previous ‘era’, but equally, I’d have loved to see him with the new Doctor!

It’s also somewhat strange to think that this is the first appearance of the Paternoster Gang, and that actually they’re not even that yet, but just several different characters created for a one-off appearance in this episode. They didn’t make a reappearance in the programme for another 18 months (though it’s going to be little over a week from my point of view in this marathon), but they so quickly established themselves as simply being a part of this era, that it’s odd to see them here so far into Smith’s tenure as still only half-formed! I capped today’s episode off with the Two Days Later mini episode which explains how Strax manages to ‘die’ on Demon’s Run before accompanying Vastra and Jenny back to London, and it has to be said you can really see the difference in the personalities between this episode and the later reappearance… but I can’t help but love them all the same!


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