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Doctor Who complete reviews: A Good Man Goes to War

REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO

The Grand Moff loses it again...

A Good Man Goes To War / Let's Kill Hitler (Doctor Who)

You know that scene in The Wrath Of Khan – yes, you probably know the one I mean. The scene in which Kirk bellows an impotent “KHAAAAAAAAN!!!!” at the top of his lungs to the frightwigged old goat, who's been cruelly tormenting his bewigged adversary with the threat of being “Buried alive. Buried alive”. Don't you just feel like doing that some days whenever someone's making your day hell? You could yell “CAAAAAMMM!!!” at chubby chops posh boy Prime Minister for reducing your job prospects and financial status to the level of zero. You could yell “KHAAAAAAANNN-fused.com!!!” at the TV whenever that wretched advert comes on TV, starring a cartoon of what looks like a psycho axe murderer who, along with her tone-deaf buddies can't sing for toffee. And now having sat through the two-part A Good Man Goes To War/Let's Kill Hitler, I'm left shouting “MOOOOOFFFFF!!!” at the air like an idiot.

Just when I think that Steven Moffat's gone back to his writing glories, he's done a quick about-face and gone back to the over-complicated, self-indulgent style of writing that hampered The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang so badly. And like this folly, Good Let's just falls spectacularly flat on just about every point. Certainly, after the last few adventures which, for the most part, could have been enjoyed on their own terms, we're plunged headlong back into this season's story arc without a chance to breathe. The main downside of this is that you can't enjoy Good Let's on its own terms at all – the story's either resolving outstanding plot issues or moving the arc chess pieces further into place for later in the season.

"Anyone coming to this story afresh, having not had the chance to see the first instalment: well, you'll need a lot of luck trying to figure out what's going on"

A Good Man Goes To War / Let's Kill Hitler (Doctor Who) - Frances BarberIt also doesn't help that this story's a unique one in that it's seen as a bridge. For the first time, the season was divided into two chunks – presumably to allow future Doctor Who stories to be transmitted in the Autumn rather than late Spring and early Summer. I've no complaints about that, especially since Who offers some welcome light into a bleak TV schedule. But there's a problem when coming to the second part of this story after two and a half months – there was so much going on in this story that it's pretty hard to get back into the swing of it again, and anyone coming to this story afresh, having not had the chance to see the first instalment: well, you'll need a lot of luck trying to figure out what's going on.

Having said that, Moffat is trying to help by making the second part of the story a whole different kettle of fish. Moffat's done this before with varying degrees of success. Forest Of The Dead changed gears with great success after the creepy horror of Silence In The Library, by adding a new depth and element of mystery. The Big Bang, on the other hand, didn't so much change gears after The Pandorica Opens, but wrench the gearbox out of its socket. And again, he's done the same thing with Let's Kill Hitler, which is pretty much a different proposition from A Good Man Goes To War. It feels like a brand new story – some say that the two episodes can be regarded as separate stories, but I'm sticking with my gut feeling that this is a two-part job, albeit a badly botched two-part job.

So where to begin with this conveyor belt of bad stuff? Well, again, it's a similar deal to the set-up of The Pandorica Opens in that several old foes make a reappearance. So we get the return of Sontarans, Silurians, Judoon, Cybermen... and also that strange purple man called Dorium, who looks a bit like the over-inflated Violet Beauregarde from the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie. They're all clubbing together after The Doctor's called in the debts for them to help find the missing Amy on an asteroid called Demon's Run, where she's being held hostage by the wretched Eyepatch Woman (who's now known as Madame Kovarian) and her ragtag mob of soldiers and headless monks. And just like The Pandorica Opens army of old Big Bads, nothing really comes of this in the second episode. It feels like Moffat's again having too good a time bringing back old foes just for the sake of it rather than bringing them back for a valid reason.

After all, The Doctor's been in countless tight spots before, and has never had to revert to rounding up an army of baddies (which in itself is a bit of a turnaround after the conclusion of The Pandorica Opens). This time around, they're a bit of a duff bunch, including feisty lesbian Silurian Madame Vastra – again Neve McIntosh is too busy shouting at the top of her voice, just like she did as the twin Silurians in Hungry Cold ; while Dan Starkey still evidently doesn't get that Sontarans are from the planet Sontar, not from some leafy Guildford suburb. Blimey, even Stor from The Invasion Of Time sounded more alien than this, and he's a barrow boy from Tooting.

"Quite why The Doctor's now regarded as a fearsome badass is a bit of a mystery and one that seems to have been shoehorned into the plot without any proper thought"

A Good Man Goes To War / Let's Kill Hitler (Doctor Who) - The Doctor and River SongAnd just like in The Pandorica Bang, there's this bizarre assumption that The Doctor's a bit of a bad guy. He's now swanning round the galaxy calling in debts like an intergalactic Phil Mitchell, and of course, is leading his little army to their deaths, given that the whole shebang's a great big trap devised by Madame Kovarian. Which doesn't really sound like The Doctor that we all know – fair dos, he's flirted with The Dark Side before, such as in The Waters Of Mars or The Invasion Of Time – and even with this last example, it doesn't really count, given that his bad behaviour was just a ruse to catch the Vardans off guard. So quite why The Doctor's now regarded as a fearsome badass is a bit of a mystery and one that seems to have been shoehorned into the plot without any proper thought – the Clerics and the Headless Monks are against The Doctor, but no one can be bothered to say why.

And then River Song's on at him at the end of the first part, accusing him of being too violent – a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black if ever there was one, given that she's prone to gunning down anyone who takes her fancy. The whole Dark Doctor theme isn't new – he was referred to as The Oncoming Storm at one point, but lately Matt Smith's Doctor has been more of a genteel sort, with only a handful of self-righteous shouting matches with anyone who crossed his path. Compare that to the full-on Stupid Apes fury of Doctor Number Nine, or practically every Doctor Ten adventure in which he'd explode in rage at the slightest thing as the dropping of a paper clip. We'll see evidence of the darker side of The Doctor later this season, admittedly, but at this point in time, all this dark violence doesn't quite tally with what we see on screen.

Madame Kovarian – now she's a different proposition. Except that she's got the whole eye-rolling, scenery-chewing method of acting down to a fine art. Resembling a bad Gene Simmons From Kiss drag act, Kovarian's main modus operandi is to spout off a string of cackling cliché threats on a loop, so much so that it's easy to think that somehow Professor Zaroff survived a watery grave to become her PA. To be honest, Frances Barber's hammy performance is now wearing a little thin – she's a typical boo-hiss baddie, but there's no depth to her at all, coming across as a stock bwa-ha-ha-ing villainess. The Headless Monks are a lot creepier though, and at least they carry on the worthy attempts to put kids back behind the sofa this season. The decapitation of several extra grunts is also commendably grim stuff, although at times it's pretty hard to work out quite what's happened. Dorium's death in particular is handled pretty ham-fistedly. We see him toddle off into the darkness, and the next thing, that's pretty much it. We'll get to see his talking head in the season finale, but it's still quite a poorly-executed sequence.

"Both episodes seem to demonstrate that Moffat wants to write The River Song Show much more than Doctor Who these days"

A Good Man Goes To War / Let's Kill Hitler (Doctor Who) - Hitler!Apart from the Headless Monks, none of the supporting characters in the first part really make much impression, not even Madame Vastra and her doe-eyed clinger-on. Lorna Bucket feels a bit forced, and because there's so much else going on in the first part, there's not really the chance to emotionally invest in her as a character. Inevitably though, both episodes seem to demonstrate that Moffat wants to write The River Song Show much more than Doctor Who these days. Yes, so many of the Matt Smith stories feature the Smug One, and even if The Impossible Moon did attempt to make her a bit more likeable, unfortunately it feels as if she's taking up so much of Doctor Who's screen time. We've had this endless spin about who she really is, with non-stop sneers of “Spoooilllaaahhs” if anyone got too close to the truth. But the mystery's been dragged out for so long, that by now I don't care who she is. And in fact she turns out to be...

Amy's and Rory's daughter! Woah, never saw that coming did you? If you hadn't worked out the denouement of A Good Man Goes To War, then I envy you, because that element of surprise is sorely lacking at the big reveal. So in fact, the whole first part has been marking time until a big plot spoiler, and considering that that particular spoiler could have been worked out in a heartbeat, well, what's the fuss?

And the second instalment's not much to write home about either. It 'boasts' a controversial title, Let's Kill Hitler. Basically, the character of Hitler does make an appearance. For about two minutes – after which he's bundled into a cupboard by Rory. Which makes me wonder what the point of including this character was – instead it just feels like unnecessary shock tactics. The Doctor once referred to Hitler as a "bounder" in The Daemons , which is ever so slightly an understatement. Here, he's treated as something of a comedy caricature, shoved into a cupboard like something from a bad Monty Python sketch - without wishing to sound all self-righteous, what's the point?

The subject of Hitler is a difficult one to deal with, and I suppose that Moffat managed to successfully dodge the issue by getting rid of the character as swiftly as possible. But that still leads me to my question, why bother in the first place? Some of the fans have said that the title actually deals with River's actions in this story, and the fact that The Doctor has committed acts of genocide himself (the latter suggestion is pretty jaw-dropping if you try and equate The Doctor with Hitler). But whatever the point, it's just not a particularly funny joke - it's controversy for controversy's sake.

Just like its preceding instalment, Let's Kill Hitler is more a case of moving the story arc into place. For example, we get to see our first glimpse of the Teselecta, a humanoid robot containing a shrunken human crew, a bit like the Numskulls from either The Beezer or The Topper (apparently they've moved onto The Beano) – the small pod people controlling a dopey bloke through his everyday routine. It's a nice little idea, but there's more to this smart little homage than meets the eye – again, you're required to take notes on the Teselecta, especially bearing in mind the resolution of The Doctor's apparent death at the hands of the astronaut.

"Just when you think Moffat couldn't create a smugger character, there he goes with the god-awful Mels"

A Good Man Goes To War / Let's Kill Hitler (Doctor Who) - MelsAnd then we get yet even more dirt on River Song, providing even more proof that Moffat's apparently trying to turn Doctor Who into The River Song Show. Blimey, even if it looked like Captain Jack or Sarah Jane may have looked to some as if they were trying to dominate proceedings, at least they got their very own shows. With that in mind, I wouldn't mind so much if we got to see more about River in her own show, hanging out with her captors who are hell-bent on destroying The Doctor and using her as their ultimate weapon. But no, we've got lots more River Song stuff to wade through, and stealing screen time from The Doctor and his companions - including the younger version of River: Mels.

Oh good grief, just when you think Moffat couldn't create a smugger character, there he goes with the god-awful Mels. Mels – a one-woman EastEnders hate-a-thon. Mels – a scowling, unlikeable bile machine with stupid hair. Mels – further evidence that Moffat, on his off days, keeps writing women as over-brash, over-confident and over-smug. Quite what this says about Moffat's ability to write for women is anyone's guess, but considering the likes of River Song and Liz 10, I really wouldn't like to say. Anyhow, it's a blessed relief when Mels regenerates into River Song, causing yet more timey-wimey paradoxes for the viewing audiences and a national mass rush to buy headache tablets. For example, we're asked to believe that a young girl successfully managed to find Amy and Rory (she says that it took her many years into finding them) out of all the places across the globe. What did she do? Hitch-hike? This whole sub-plot beggars belief and takes credibility to the limit, especially when you ask yourself how Mels actually got herself adjusted to Leadworth life without any parents or guardians. Does she have some Master-style hypnosis? River's turnaround from wanting to kill The Doctor through to giving up her remaining regenerations also smacks of desperation and a total lack of realism.

"It's an overcooked, self-congratulatory mess, which is actually low on credible drama or credible reasoning"

A Good Man Goes To War / Let's Kill Hitler (Doctor Who) - Amy and RoryPossibly the most ridiculous aspect of Let's Kill Hitler is the way in which Amy and Rory seem miraculously unfazed by the loss of Melody – again, it's a crucial bit of emotion that desperately needed to be present at the beginning of this episode, and yet both characters mooch through proceedings as if they're on a school trip to the Science Museum. For casual viewers coming to this story, maybe it doesn't matter so much, given that it's been a two and a half month gap on TV after A Good Man Goes To War, but for those who want a bit of realism and are actually investing in the story arc, it's a classic case of short-changing the viewer. And coming after A Christmas Carol , in which Moffat looked as if he had found the right level of emotion, that's a crying shame.

Which pretty much sums up the whole story – a crying shame of a tale that's more bothered with propelling the story arc and self-indulgent show-boating, compared to good, decent storytelling. The regulars are on top form as ever, and yes, that includes Alex Kingston, given that River Song seems to be part of the furniture these days. Directors Peter Hoar and Richard Senior do their best to keep the action rocketing along with some stylish visuals. But apart from this, there's little for me to emotionally invest in or even enjoy come to that. It's an overcooked, self-congratulatory mess, which is actually low on credible drama or credible reasoning – the problem is, you need to see this one in order to work out what the hell's going on in the season.

 

John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work here.

Check out John's previous Doctor Who review, The Rebel Flesh

Read more Doctor Who articles at Shadowlocked


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Comments 

 
#1 RE: Doctor Who complete reviews: A Good Man Goes to War MARK SAPPENFIELD 2011-12-22 06:59
Most Doctor Who fans enjoyed The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang and A Good Man Goes To War. There seems to be a lot of Doctor Who haters in the UK. No wonder the Beeb cancelled it in 1989, because of the fans.
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#2 RE: Doctor Who complete reviews: A Good Man Goes to War passerby 2012-01-06 17:44
> has never had to revert

I think you mean "resort"
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#3 RE: Doctor Who complete reviews: A Good Man Goes to War annukka 2012-06-20 18:58
It's funny, Let's Kill Hitler is my all-time favourite Doctor Who episode, and I seem to have loved everything about seasons 5 and 6 that the snarky reviewer claims to dislike: I love the story arcs, the whimsical elements and red herrings like Hitler in the cupboard, the character Mels/River and her plotline, the pacing, the complicated timey-wimey twists... Watching LKH and other plot-related episodes for the first time was like being a 12-year old again (I'm 33), all childishly excited and giddy at the audacity of the weird ideas crammed into 45 minutes of sheer TV bliss.

I was growing tired with new-style DW by the end of series 4, and Moffat has certainly managed to change that. Naturally you can't argue matters of taste, but boy would I hate the show this reviewer wants DW to be.
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