By Chris Miller
After the thoroughly detestable slop that is “Fear Her,” I needed to cleanse my mental palate. “A Good Man Goes to War” is an easy choice. It takes a couple of views to catch everything in this almost overstuffed episode (classic Moffat!), but it is well worth it. Rory gets to be a bad ass, we get to meet the Paternoster Gang and we find out who River Song really is. And let’s not forget my new favorite poem:
The episode opens with Amy talking to baby Melody Pond, describing the man that will come to save them. At first, it seems she is describing the Doctor, but really she is referring to Rory the Last Centurion, which leads to maybe my favorite Rory scene of the series:
The Doctor travels the galaxy collecting favors and raising an army, bringing back old favorites and introducing us to new ones. Danny Boy returns from “Victory of the Daleks” to knock out the communications on Demon’s Run and Henry Avery and his son Toby return to take Kovarian’s ship. We meet Commander Strax, seen serving penance as a lowly male nurse (no offense to Rory), and Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint , seen discussing the end of Jack the Ripper as a light snack for a certain Silurian detective. Rory goes to the Stormcage Containment Facility to find River Song, returning from a birthday trip with the Doctor. River cannot come to Demon’s run until the very end, when the Doctor will finally learn how she is. She ominously intones that the Doctor will rise higher than ever before and fall even further. The Doctor rounds out his army with Dorium Maldovar and some Silurian and Judoon forces.
The enemy is numerous, lead by the eye patch woman: Madame Kovarian. Colonel Manton leads an army of clerics with the cooperation of the Headless Monks. They are stationed on Demon’s Run awaiting the inevitable arrival of the Doctor. The Fat One and the Thin One provide a measure of humor and a bit of humanization for the enemy. Cleric Lorna is less an enemy, more a fan of the Doctor. She even provides a crucial plot piece, a prayer leaf with Melody’s name in her native language. Lorna had a brief encounter with the Doctor on her home world.
The Doctor arrives with his band of extraordinary gentlefolk and takes Demon’s Run without a drop of blood spilt (the Doctor rising higher than he ever has before). Eleven forces Manton to tell his troops to “run away.” He wants the universe to know what happens, when you come after his friends. Dorium hacks into Kovarian’s files to determine why they want Melody. Melody has Time Lord DNA (another clue), having been conceived in the TARDIS. It seems that Kovarian wants her as a weapon against the Doctor. It is at this point when the trap closes. The headless monks return, taking out the Silurians and Dorium, whose decapitated body joins the monks in their attack. Kovarian reveals to the Doctor that Melody is a Ganger and he runs off to warn Amy. Rory, Lorna and the Paternoster Gang battle the headless. Though all the monks are killed, Lorna and Strax receive fatal blows. Melody dissolves into flesh at Kovarian’s signal. Strax dies, happy knowing he died in battle. The Doctor goes to Lorna, telling her that he remembers running with her as she dies. At this point, the Doctor has fallen even further than he rose.
River finally appears and Eleven confronts her in anger. She explains that the Doctor has brought this on himself, because his exploits have created a sense of fear in many. The word doctor, meaning healer, comes from him, but its meaning is changing. For Lorna and the people of the Gamma Forests, doctor means mighty warrior. The Doctor demands to know who River is. She directs him to his cot and asks him to read something inside it, revealing who she truly is. He immediately enters the TARDIS and leaves, asking River to get everyone home.
Amy angrily demands to know what River told the Doctor. She hands Amy the prayer leaf and asks her to read it. In the language of the Gamma Forrest, there is no word for Pond, as “the only water in the forest is the river.” The TARDIS translator finally kicks in revealing the words “River” and “Song”.
This episode is full of excitement, twists and big reveals. It sets up the rest of the River arc and ties all through the remaining of the Eleventh’s tenure. We get a last look at old friends and a first look at new ones. And to tie back to the Fear Her post, let’s check our checklist for a bad episode:
1) Annoying kid? No
2) Lame Monster? No
3) Irredeemable cheesy finish? No
4) Written by Mathew Graham? No
Ok, I added that last one. I guess I’m still angry about Fear Her.