One of the problems with Internet rumors is that they can create false expectations for an episode. For example, last week I heard that as many as two other previous Doctors could turn up for a cameo in this week’s mid-season finale. The story was backed up by the IMDB listing and while I didn’t necessarily believe that it was the case (it was something too big to keep this far under wraps in the Internet age), I still held out some glimmer of hope the show might go and surprise me with that moment. I was ready for my inner Doctor Who fan boy to weep with delight.
And it never happened.
I’ve heard it may happen for the series six finale, but I don’t think I’m going to buy into the rumor again. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.
Even not buying into the rumor, there were still a lot of things about the mid-season finale that disappointed me. After last week’s installment worked toward redeeming an uneventful and tepid first half of the story, I was hoping the series would get back on track with the type of mid-season cliffhanger and finale that Steven Moffat has been out there talking about since news of the split season was first announced. And that’s where I think a lot of the issues with this story arise–it’s simply been oversold on the expectation meter since the closing moments of series five. Moffat has told us time and again that we’re all going to be picking up our jaws off the floor when the mid-season finale hits and we finally get the revelation of who River Song really is.
The problem is you have to make good on that promise and, at least upon the first two viewings of “A Good Man Goes To War,” the episode itself didn’t really live up to the hype. Part of it was that I’d guessed River’s identity long ago and was secretly hoping they wouldn’t go in this direction. The other was that while I like the new series, I’m not a huge fan of episodes that make the Doctor out to be some kind of inter-galactic super hero. One of the hallmarks of the old show was that the Doctor came in, corrected a wrong and then left again in the TARDIS will very little fanfare or accolades. At most, it was a warm handshake and a quick goodbye, except maybe in the case of the Daleks. In that case, I understood why they feared the Doctor since he’d defeated so many of their more audacious schemes in the past and seemed to constantly show up at just the right time to throw a sonic screwdriver into their well-laid plans.
The first fifteen or so minutes of “Good Man” spend a lot of time playing on the Doctor’s reputation and showing him calling in favors. And while it’s nice to see a bit, it also felt a bit disconnected from a lot of the series as a whole. Oh look, we’re bringing in Cybermen, Sontarans and Silurians it seems to say. Look at how clever these callbacks are. Problem is these are callbacks to characters we haven’t met before and so they lack the punch they could or should have.
Then the Doctor shows up and easily defeats the forces of evil who had kidnapped Amy and her daughter. But it’s too easy and turns out to be a trap for the Doctor. The revelation that Amy and Rory’s daughter has become some kind of new breed of Time Lord due to extended exposure to the time and space continuum, I can sort of buy. (I keep reminding myself that a certain segment of fandom hated “The Deadly Assassin” when it first aired because it threw hiccups into the mythology….and I can see where Moffat is trying to do the same thing here).
A lot of the issues I have with this is that it’s the first of a two-part story and we’re only given so many answers. If we were given everything, there would be little reason to tune back in when the second half of the season kicks off later this year. But I still feel that the episode sold a lot of things really short. Again, a lot of this could be the hype, but I think a lot of it is the essential weakness of making the Doctor into some kind of inter-galactic hero.
Another issue I have is we don’t really get much in the way of any type of motivation or backstory for Madame Kovorian. She wants to see the Doctor brought down a peg and defeated, but we’re never told why. I’m assuming we will get answers later this year and I get why she wants baby Pond. But Moffat has done such a good job of crafting characters in the past that Kovorian felt a bit paper thin.
That doesn’t mean I don’t hold out hope. Having River point out how far off course the Doctor has gone certainly feels like the show trying to pull back a bit. If the show is trying to get back to its roots, this is a good step in the right direction in my book.
And I still did like isolated moments in the story. Arthur Darvill is rapidly becoming this season’s MVP and his performance here is another solid one. His barely constrained anger and determination to find his wife and child drove the first half of the episode and the reunion of the family on the station was one of the more effective moments in the story. In many ways, Rory has become far more compelling this year than Amy has.
In “A Good Man Goes To War” we have a lot interesting pieces and isolated moments. The problem is that they don’t quite all add up in the same way Moffat stories have in the past. I think a lot of this is huge expectations placed on the story by Moffat in both where the storylines came together and in the hype surrounding the show. I’m still intrigued enough to come back in the fall when the show returns (oh, who am I kidding…I’d be back no matter what!), but I have to admit my enthusiasm is a bit tempered.
I’ll probably be in the minority on thinking this way, but for now, color my a bit underwhelmed.