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A Good Man Goes To War – Review

A Good Man Goes to War
By Steven Moffat

Series 6 – Episode 7

Review and analysis by Damian Michael Barcroft. The following views and opinions are my own and do not reflect those of The Gallifrey Times.

I was working in the lab late one night, when my eyes beheld an eerie sight. For my monster from his slab began to rise and suddenly to my surprise… He did the mash – he did the monster mash. Oh dear, regular and faithful readers will no doubt recall my disapproval of the temptation of throwing a load of heroes and villains together in the hope that this will distract the audience from noticing the lack of story and plot. Moffat has done this yet again with appearances from Cybermen, Silurians and Sontarans in an attempt to disguise a truly awful and lazy script. Indeed this crucial episode felt like either an overlong trailer or a feature-length story watched with the fast-forward button on. As an piece of dramatic entertainment, it was sloppy, unstructured and lacking in discipline as though it had been written by an overly enthusiastic child for a Blue Peter competition.

It seems totally incredible to me that a writer of Moffat’s stature and abilities could produce a script so bereft of style, wit and most importantly, of little interest whatsoever to anyone older than eleven or not already a “committed” fan and I cannot understand how such an accomplished writer can produce such polished scripts like The Empty Child (2005) and The Girl in the Fireplace (2006), plus last year’s excellent Sherlock, and not realise the extent to which A Good Man Goes to War pales so spectacularly in comparison. I can only guess that he thinks there are enough surprises, gimmicks and shock value that the audience will be sufficiently distracted from such matters.

I will not mention every one of the many redundant ideas or scenes in the episode, suffering them once is quite enough I should think, but I must protest at the Thin/Fat Gay Anglican Marines! – why Mr Moffat why? As Russell T. Davies has done previously with both Doctor Who andTorchwood , including gay or bisexual characters is common practice on television these days and a reflection of contemporary society. However, since the characters were so underused and underdeveloped, I would argue that they were both superfluous and tokenistic in the extreme. The same can be said of Madame Vastra the lesbian Victorian Silurian serial killer hunter (quite a mouthful that!) and her partner. Rather than applaud the shows inclusiveness, a more likely reaction would be to be offended by it’s insincerity and shallowness. Furthermore, the script isn’t clever enough to deconstruct representations of race, gender and sexual identity (“Mammals all look alike” etc.) but it will perhaps score a few politically correct points amongst the less discerning liberals amongst the audience.

The inclusion of so many familiar faces in the episode was also a distraction especially Hugh Bonneville’s Captain Avery who added to the pantomime effect and fans of the Cybermen must have been greatly disappointed with their slight contribution as it was a complete waste to have them appear and totally undermines their threat and credibility as enemies of the Doctor. Perhaps Moffat should consider sending these to the retirement home as well as the Daleks – I do hope he visits regularly though and they aren’t left doomed in bingo and karaoke hell.

As a keen Ripperologist, I was initially intrigued by the scene set in London 1888 AD, Vastra: “Tell Inspector Abberline of the yard… Jack the Ripper has claimed his last victim, stringy but tasty all the same”. Not only yet another wasted opportunity but also manages to make light of one of the Victorian era’s most iconic and intriguing figures – all for the sake of a pretty crap joke. Humorous moments that I did think worked were the emancipated Sontaran Commander Strax and the following excerpt: Rory: “Stevie Wonder sang in 1814?”, River: “Yes he did, but you must never tell him”. Other highlights include the Doctor revealing he is able to speak “baby” which was a lovely touch and then later with the wooden cot where Amy asks the Doctor if he has or has had children. Moffat teases but even he isn’t brave enough to meddle in such matters although I would love to know more about the origin of Susan Foreman. Additionally, Smith’s Doctor is growing in authority and confidence and when he gets cross, you’d better sit up and start taking notice.

Whatever you do – don’t blink. No, not because there is a weeping angel lurking behind you but because you just might miss the non-event battle. The Doctor fooled for a second time was yet another surprise and the Ganger baby/flesh avatar reduced to a white goo falling from poor Amy’s arms was quite shocking so that was a step in the right direction but shortly afterwards, an initially emotionally charged argument between the Doctor and River showed promise but then disappointingly opted for the easy way out and reverted to the familiar cutesy and flirty material again. After the “revelation” of River’s identity, the Doctor recovers rather too quickly for my liking and he suddenly thinks the whole situation is really funny and starts giggling. Not that the episode allowed the audience to pause and reflect on this for a moment or two, but if they did, is there not something a little bit odd about a 900 year-old-man flirting and even kissing someone he has known since she was a baby? OK, so he didn’t really “know” her, but he does now and he’s giggling! I’m sure I can’t be the only one to have read some dark connotations into the scene that would make even Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward blush.

Now I really admire Moffat for planning and executing such complex plot lines which promise to have even more twists and turns yet to come. However, if the River revelation is anything to go by, I hope this particular story-arc will soon come to an end and yes, even if that meant the show having to change hands. Let us not forget that we have been building up to this moment for three years and while with all the hype (much of it Moffat’s own doing) this could never truly deliver to expectations, I think such a patient audience deserves more than this. I suspect that without its legions of devoted fans, scriptwriters would have to work extremely hard to retain their audience and continue to guarantee their place on Saturday evening prime time television. Perhaps this is precisely the problem though, that because of such a built in audience of children and fans, the BBC has become complacent and too trusting in its writers and producers which brings to me to my next and no doubt controversial point.

Devotion and loyalty are wonderful qualities to possess and to be committed and passionate about someone or something is an admirable trait. However, when such devotion is all consuming, blinding you from ever acknowledging weaknesses of deficiencies, then you no longer have the ability to be objective and enjoy rational thought. Indeed, you are in danger of becoming an “anorak” or “nerd”, unfairly painting a picture and promoting the stereotype of the Doctor Who enthusiast. The programme deserves to be more than just a safe haven for social outcasts and misfits; the sort of people who wear blinkers and see the world in black and white, ‘Doctor Who – goooood, critics – baaaaad’. Daring to criticise “their world”, incites accusations of blasphemy and derision from the faithful recalling scenes from Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979). Moffat: ‘I’m not the Messiah!’, to which the Who fan replies, ‘I say you are, Lord, and I should know… I’ve followed a few’.

Conclusion: you can’t be a fan of Doctor Who if you dare to criticise it – you must worship EVERY episode and bow down before Moffat the prophet, right? – BS! Either every episode is actually perfect or their are some extremely deluded people out there. Saturday after Saturday, you can be sure that thousands of tweeters were congratulating Moffat on another great episode and with some even hailing each and every episode as a masterpiece and Moffat a genius. Are these guys for real? – call me old-fashioned, but when I think of a masterpiece, Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment or Mozart’s The Requiem or Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy spring to mind. Moffat and A Good Man Goes to War? – sorry, but not so much.

And okay people, for all those arguing that I shouldn’t be so snobby and elitist in comparing pop culture to classical artistic achievements, I’ll bring it right up to date and confine my comparisons to the same medium. If I really had to choose a genius or masterpiece of contemporary television then it would be Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing (1999-2006) or David Chase and The Sopranos (1999-2007). What no Sci-Fi? – oh, alright then, how about Ronald D. Moore and Battlestar Gallatica (2004-09)? In my opinion, in order for a show to deserve the status of masterpiece, then it needs to be consistently excellent and not just every once in a while as is the case with Doctor Who. The Doctor says in this episode that “Good men don’t need rules”, well perhaps but good scriptwriters do and plotting and structure are two of them. By the end of the episode, I was left with the impression that Moffat is something of a precocious and spoilt child. The BBC has given him too many toys to play with and they constantly let him stay up past his bedtime. In some respects, children are rather like dogs; if you don’t train them well, they will pee all over the place and make a mess!

Finally, since we’re at halfway point, now seems like a good time to review the stories. Starting with the worst, here is how I would rate series six so far: 7) The Curse of the Black Spot, 6) A Good Man Goes to War, 5) The Rebel Flesh, 4) The Doctor’s Wife, 3) Day of the Moon, 2) The Almost People, and 1) The Impossible Astronaut.

While we endure the wait for the next episode, Let’s Kill Hitler, do leave your comments and tell us which episode was your favourite.

Nazis, I hate those guys!