Doctor Who, Eleven For Eleven: A Good Man Goes To War

“You make them so afraid. When you began all those years ago, sailing off to see the universe, did you ever think you’d become this, the man who can turn an army around at the mention of his name? Doctor: the word for healer and wise man throughout the universe. We get that word from you, you know. But if you carry on the way you are, what might that word come to mean?”

So it all, up to this point, comes to this: a kidnapped Amelia Pond, trapped on an asteroid occupied by a mysterious military force. The Doctor, being the Doctor, has a plan to rescue her, and it involves unleashing some serious wrath on the cosmos.
11. I think I want to watch “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead”  again right now. With River’s beginning explained — and oh WOW did I ever call it —  the whole of her arc comes into focus. I guess it didn’t really hit me until now, until the scope of how her life is intertwined with that of not just the Doctor but the ELEVENTH Doctor, what she meant when she looked at the Tenth and he seemed so nascent to her. Look at what he’s done so far. Look at what he’s up against now. And look at how he brightens up when he realizes that while it will be difficult — you can see that River’s had a hard life that’s made her into this interesting rogue figure — he knows in the end he will win. The child he thought he lost will be found, and will have a fun, exciting, dangerous, but ultimately fulfilling life. The legend isn’t exactly true; he falls hard and hits an emotional bottom, but River’s there to catch him — and she’s there to catch him because despite the overwhelming odds, in the end he will save her.

10. And how about the enemy, eh? Fighting monks and clerics again, faith waging war on the magical man of reason. The biggest problem with this episode, to my mind, is that there is no clear, spoken motive to the enemy. They are enemies of the Doctor, but WHY are they enemies of the Doctor? Is it because he’s the biggest fish in the cosmos? Is he doing something that they disagree with? Did I just utterly miss the villain’s motive while being swept along by the narrative? Why do they want their own weaponized Time Lord? What do they want to accomplish with it? Simply destroying the Doctor, or is there some further goal? And how does this tie into the Silence/Silents? Eyepatch Lady steals the baby, delivers it to the Silents, and they raise her to kill the Doctor. These, I presume, are the bigger higher-on-the-food-chain villains who helped engineer the Pandorica — are they, like the Pandorica alliance, simply allied in their opposition to the Doctor? They’re capable, as Amy and Rory point out, of transmitting into the TARDIS in the vortex; they’re the ones who destroyed the TARDIS and forced the Doctor to reset the universe. Was that all part of their master plan? Did they NEED the Doctor to reset the universe for some reason? Why would you do something that would cause the end of the universe unless you needed it restarted? And how madly cosmic is this all going to end if this is the level we’re working on?

9. The Doctor’s strike team is, in a word, fantastic. I love how Moffat and his crew play with the fact that the Sontarans are clones and the modern Silurians have been established as identical within bloodlines to bring back familiar former foes as brand-new allies. The nineteenth century samurai Silurian and her sidekick/serving girl/lover are brilliant proper high concept characters, with a hook strong enough that you could hang a spin-off on, and the Sontaran forced to play nurse provides some great moments of levity while also providing another angle on what it means to be a Sontaran. I love the hints at stories untold that are provided by the Doctor’s arrival on their doorsteps and the dialog between him and his comrades. I’m a sucker for anything that reminds us of the true scope of the universe we get to peek into thirteen Saturdays a year.

8. Winding back to the beginning, it is kind of a shame that the Cybermen are reduced to their ineffectual 80’s state, used simply as pre-credits cannon fodder in a way that makes their performance in “The Five Doctors” look almost competent. All that was missing was a bag of gold hanging from Rory’s belt for him to threaten them with. Here’s hoping they make a strong comeback in the back six. I’m not asking for another commentary on the dehumanization of man by technology; a solid, entertaining runaround in the vein of “Earthshock” would be fine. And hell, I’m not even asking for something as GOOD as “Earthshock,” just something with that pure action-adventure entertainment vibe that also makes the Cybermen seem effective and scary again. Also, one of them needs to clench his fist and go, “Eeeeexcellent.” (I still grin every time I watch the end of “The Pandorica Opens” and the Cyberman marches forward and clenches his fist.) I’m also hoping they get a bit of a visual upgrade later. Don’t these Cybermen look a bit dodgy? Those costumes really aren’t up to snuff for an HD broadcast; they look cheap and out of place in an otherwise sharp-looking episode.

7. One thing I did like about the pre-credit sequence was the way Amy coyly talks up her indomitable rescuer, leading us to assume we’ll soon be seeing the Doctor, but in reality it’s good ol’ Rory. It’s cute, even if it only really makes sense as something Amy’s teasing the viewers at home with. It also sets up something interesting: the Doctor then fails to show up for the next nineteen minutes. He is talked about for almost all of those nineteen minutes, especially with the TARDIS showing up repeatedly as a specter of debts unpaid, but he does not actually appear until between a third and half of the way into the episode. Makes sense to do it that way since so much of the episode is about how he is perceived and how that terrifies some and serves as a thrown gauntlet to others.

6. The Time Lords all gone, and yet Moffat keeps on building the mythos: “The Doctor’s Wife” fits ever more neatly into a series where the Silurian Vastra rattles off that the Time Lords became the race they were due to exposure to the “untempered schism” — over billions of years, the Doctor adds while trying to argue that what happened to little Melody Pond could NOT have happened. I also like how the Doctor trots out the cradle from when he was a baby for little Melody. How did THAT wind up in the TARDIS?

5. On the subject of building: for all the cool whiz-bangness of the Doctor blowing up Cyberman ships (the same ones that appeared over the Pandorica and first appeared in the series in “The Invasion” in the original sixth season back in ’68) and guest appearances by Silurians, Sontarans, and the Judoon, this is a story about building the future, not looking back at the past. The threat is new, the MacGuffin is a new life and a symbol of our two companions moving forward in their lives, and we finally get a single answer to a whole mess of questions we’ve been asking throughout the past six weeks, providing a certain amount of closure and freeing up room for a whole mess of new questions going forward.

4. It’s like River says, the Doctor wasn’t always this way. It just sort of happened as the Doctor went to more and more places and got hooked on the idea of helping out. It makes sense for someone who’s criss-crossed all of time and space so often, leaving a trail of broken conquerors and dictators, to become a legend. The Fourth and Seventh Doctors in particular were awfully powerful and influential incarnations that launched revolutions, changed worlds, and battled cosmic entities, but since the conclusion of the first season of the modern series, the Doctor’s just gotten more and more powerful, influential, widely known, and egotistical. Moffat knows this is a problem; that’s why River tells the Doctor as much at this episode’s end. I’d hoped that “The Big Bang” would have fixed this, but Amy’s memory restored the Doctor’s place throughout history. I guess that’s fine; I doubt we want to see the Doctor fight the Daleks again for the first time. However, it means we still have the braggart-Doctor of “Voyage of the Damned,” “The Eleventh Hour,” and “The Pandorica Opens” — the legend who thinks he cannot be defeated because he’s so damned legendary. This Is A Problem.

3. Neat that in an episode about something as heteronormative as a husband and father going to rescue his wife and baby we’ve got Vastra and Jenny, a Silurian and her human partner, flirting and playing jealous; a pair of gay soldier-clerics; and a member of the all-male Sontaran race who, as a genetically reengineered nurse, is capable of lactating to feed a child. If there’s any place such material belongs, it’s in a show whose whole point seems to be that time and space may be a vast and complicated place, but beneath the surface, under all the pesky little differences of shape, color, size, and taste in partners, we’re all fundamentally the same and deserve fundamentally the same right to do as we please just so long as we aren’t hurting anyone else. (Unless they’re Cybermen. Seriously, screw those guys.)

2. There are two moments where  Moffat utterly broke me in this episode — two moments where, if I didn’t quite cry, I felt the tears welling up. The first is when Rory, with little Melody in his arms, is reunited with Amy, because I knew things were going too well, and this moment of joy couldn’t last. There was too much episode left. Their happiness HAD to be shattered before too long. The second was the scene where, at long last, cute cleric girl Lorna Bucket (god, Moffat can come up with Names) meets the Doctor again. Watching him turn on the “character” of the Doctor, to be strong for the dying girl, before turning back and admitting he didn’t really remember her kind of broke me a bit. I have to say it again: Matt Smith is just amazing in the role; far more than the script, his performance sells the Doctor’s rage and fury at what Eyepatch Lady and her army of clerics and monks are doing. Moffat may get the lion’s share of the credit here, but I think the cast really elevate a script that, while clever and full of neat bits and great lines, comes off like the slightly smarter and a shade less bombastic cousin to a Russell T Davies season finale extravaganza. Darvill, Gillen, Smith, and Kingston ground the wibbly-wobbly and fantastical material in the reality of their performances.

(And having said all that, I think before I get on my plane today, I absolutely have to watch this again.)

1. “Let’s Kill Hitler” is far from a conventional Doctor Who title, and will look really weird in the “50 years” retrospective list in 2013, but it’s aggressive and cheeky and it ensures we’ll all be back here again for the fall half-season — am I right?