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Doctor Who XXXII.7: A Good Man Goes to War

June 5th, 2011 (12:50 am)

I won't be undertaking a long review yet, as I've been invited to contribute an article on both this episode and the next to another blog. A few thoughts, nonetheless...

The series of vignettes which made up the first few sections of the episode were well-crafted tales in miniature, packing in detail. Amy about to be separated from her infant daughter, telling her a story of the baby's father which teases with audience expectations but also underlines how many parallels there are between the Doctor and Rory. Madame Vastra, more than the sum of her parts which are themselves a series of allusions: she's introduced in Robert-Holmesian-Victorian London as a cloaked Lady Penelope with her own Parker (and he doesn't quite say "Yus, m'lady"), has a homosexual relationship with a servant like Mark Gatiss's Lucifer Box, whose dress sense recalls the television adaptation of Tipping the Velvet. We later learn Vastra was uncovered by London Underground tunnellers (though I don't think the term 'London Underground' had been coined then - she'd have referred to either the Metropolitan or the District railways) like the Martian capsule in Quatermass and the Pit.

The Harcourts are a prominent English landed family at their most politically influential in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There's a Captain Catherine Harcourt in the Temeraire novels. It's no surprise to find a Captain Harcourt in early nineteenth-century military dress on what looks like the set of Sharpe with a few Blackadder Goes Forth touches. However, the captain is dodging laser blasts, and his wife (recalling one of those invaluable, resourceful naval wives like Betsey Fremantle) is tending their ill son without medical help - until the nurse arrives, and he's a Sontaran. I didn't like Dan Starkey's somewhat bland Skorr back in 'The Sontaran Stratagem'/'The Poison Sky', but his Strax is very finely judged, recalling Linx in The Time Warrior but to different purpose. A glance across the Sontarans of the years shows they are physically varied despite their clone nature, but Strax, insisting he is performing a penance but always betraying his instinctive comfort as a nurse, demonstrates their characters are capable of moral development too.

I wasn't quite clear why the Doctor needed Dorium along; it was unnerving to see him recruited to the headless monks, presumably as an emergency lay brother (so whatever animates them is easily fitted).

There has to be a limit, too, to the number of times the Doctor can turn up in the midst of his heavily armed enemies and witter on as they look at him dumbfounded, allowing him to put into play the next phase of his plan; at least there could immediately have been some disturbance among the troops... I can't have been the only one waiting for the unhooded Doctor to explain that he was neither a devil, nor a god, etc, but a mole who lived in a hole; perhaps the rights to the line weren't obtainable.

The number of informed and quasi-informed speculators who had said that River was the daughter of Amy and Rory was large, and given the events earlier in the season it was difficult to see who else River would turn out to be, though I was open-minded as to whether she would be the little girl too despite logic leading that way. River has been nursing her whole timeline, withholding information and keeping what has already been called the best poker face in history, and it now makes sense that she should turn up in 'The Big Bang' where she belonged, on Amy's and Rory's wedding day. Questions remain as to why she should need to, how her relationship to the Doctor develops, and what the role of the Silence in the whole affair is.

Eyebrows were raised when it was revealed the Doctor was to meet someone as nefarious as Richard Nixon, but we are being tempted with the idea that the celebrity historical is about to enter a new league of notoriety. 'Let's Kill Hitler' - but whose was that skeletised hand in the CGI graphic following the credits, holding the sonic screwdriver? How, too, will the Doctor mitigate the damage he is doing simply by being who he is? These questions, and many others, may or may not be answered in the autumn's first episode of...

Comments

Posted by: Ordinary Girl, Extraordinary World (ogew)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 06:47 am (UTC)

Dorium was doing the hacking of systems (easier for him because he sold them the damn things.)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 01:40 pm (UTC)

Of course he was. Thank you.

Posted by: Susan (lil_shepherd)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 07:28 am (UTC)

Just to remark that you ought to qualify the Quatermass and the Pit reference - it was the underground only in the film, not the TV serial.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 01:40 pm (UTC)

Thank you - I should have remembered that given that I've watched the television series and only read about the film, and yet there were still images from the film in my head. It was late, I plead...

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 08:48 am (UTC)

That's what I've been assuming really. On the other hand, if it's a throw-away line by Desert Fox's General Rommel who has teamed up with the Doctor to fight aliens landed in the desert and been inspired as a result, I won't be sorry.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 01:33 pm (UTC)

Having seen some location filming with Nazis involved, I think we will have a World War Two setting, or possibly an alternate postwar history setting - but the focus will be on the time paradox.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 04:38 pm (UTC)
K9

That line worked perfectly in the episode, but I'd rather it had just remained a line.

Like someone else at last night's gathering, I am intensely curious and somewhat apprehensive about how they handle the historical (or alternate historical) aspects of this...

I assume that it wasn't possible for a time travel series to keep its paws off that particular British obsession? I thought that box had been suffiicently ticked by Victory of the Daleks.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 05:05 pm (UTC)
DDR40

Wrong German polity in the userpic, but I rarely have the opportunity to bring it out.

Doctor Who has been reluctant to enlist the Second World War as a setting on television until comparatively recently. In the 1960s two storylines were considered at different times, The Nazis by Brian Hayles and Operation Werewolf by Douglas Camfield and Robert Kitts, and rejected. It wasn't until 1989 that The Curse of Fenric was the first WW2-set story (unless I'm forgetting something really obvious).

Actually coming close to encountering Hitler, or actually meeting him or attempting a counter-historical assassination, is (as the Doctor might say) a tricky one.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 06:49 pm (UTC)

Wrong German polity in the userpic, but I rarely have the opportunity to bring it out.

Arguably one is a result of the other...I don't have an appropriate themed userpic at all (note to self: must acquire one).

Despite its setting, The Curse of Fenric still keeps a distance, e.g. by using Russian soldiers, which makes it almost feel more like a latter-day Cold War tale (which on some level it probably is...).

As for the prospect encountering Hitler himself, if the production team are clever, they will try and avoid the situation and never actually let them get near. But even the Nazis more generally will difficult to depict these days without descending into cliche.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 09:14 pm (UTC)

unless I'm forgetting something really obvious

Neo-Nazis and an Eichmann-esque Nazi war criminal in South America in Silver Nemesis, but not really World War II.

The Hitler thing could end up a real mess if they're not careful.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 6th, 2011 01:08 am (UTC)

It could, which leads me to thin that if we see him, it will be at a distance.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: June 6th, 2011 11:21 am (UTC)

Also, who could they get to play Hitler now that Michael Sheard is dead?!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 6th, 2011 11:42 am (UTC)

No-one available in the UK has captured the Hitler market in the way that Sheard did, true... though (perhaps happily) demand is not so high as it was three or four decades ago.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: June 6th, 2011 10:43 pm (UTC)

If they are *really* clever they might get away with archive footage.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 6th, 2011 11:01 pm (UTC)

I think that might be bringing the Doctor's adventures even closer to reality than casting an actor.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: June 6th, 2011 11:11 pm (UTC)

The main problem would be getting round the black-and-white. They wouldn't be able to get much closer than watching newsreels - which might be just as well.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 6th, 2011 11:13 pm (UTC)

There is some colour film of Hitler, but it's probably too familiar. Newsreels might be the way forward.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: June 6th, 2011 11:17 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 6th, 2011 11:17 pm (UTC)

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 09:20 pm (UTC)
widsidh

That sounds like a good one :-)

Posted by: alephnul (alephnul)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 10:33 am (UTC)

Me too. I assumed that it was in reference to them trying to prevent River from having the childhood she had by trying to recover baby river when River knows they don't succeed.

But I suspect it is a double meaning, and that we will get Nazis in the episode about them trying to recover baby River.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 12:40 pm (UTC)

If I hadn't seen pictures from the location shoots, with Nazis, I'd have gone for the non-literal meaning too; but like you, suspect it is a double meaning.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 01:38 pm (UTC)

I presume we are getting both the paradox and Nazis in the episode, given the appearance of Nazis at Cardiff locations for this episode.

Posted by: sensiblecat (sensiblecat)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 10:13 am (UTC)

Wasn't there a Captain Harcourt in one of the Jane Austen novels?

Also, I want two things:

a) spin-off for Vastra and Jenny, loved the sexy subtext there. (And a remake of Casablanca staring Bright Blue Rick would be nice. He definitely occupies a similar moral universe).

b) a Gallifradle for my first grandchild

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 01:27 pm (UTC)

I don't know Austen's works that well, and the Harcourt name rings a bell, but I can't find one by Googling beyond a Sir George Harcourt in her juvenilia Henry and Eliza.

Vastra and Jenny deserve more attention, and I hope we get a full story with them.

Gallifradles are surely the essential accessory for the parent of the would-be time-travelling infant, and I'm sure someone somewhere will make one.

Posted by: segh (segh)
Posted at: June 6th, 2011 09:13 am (UTC)

Are you possibly thinking of Captain Harville in Persuasion?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 6th, 2011 10:28 am (UTC)

Funnily enough, 'Harcourt Persuasion' was one of my searches, so that must have been of whom I was thinking.

Posted by: Kargicq (kargicq)
Posted at: June 7th, 2011 08:41 pm (UTC)

Bright Blue Rick reminded me more of "Fat Man" Gutman in The Maltese Falcon....

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 7th, 2011 11:26 pm (UTC)
Sylvester

I confess that I have never seen The Maltese Falcon. However, images of Sydney Greenstreet in the role of Gutman are easily obtainable and I think there is a definite influence.

Posted by: manylelephants (manylelephants)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 03:38 pm (UTC)

It does seem that Moffat is deliberately fighting against his enemies in spoilerdom given that I was told the BBC very obviously gave away last week the appearance of the cybermen in this episode and we subsequently found out that they only appear very peripherally at the beginning.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 03:39 pm (UTC)

Simple and effective misdirection!

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 04:47 pm (UTC)

At an early stage in their development, back in 1966, the Cybermen were thought of as the 'Star Monks'...

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 04:51 pm (UTC)
Liz & Pertwee

Interesting! I expect Moffat knew that?
A type of cyber-conversion might explain how the monks can function without heads.

(and oops - you seem to have replied while I was fixing my typos - sorry for ensuing non-linearity of thread...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 04:54 pm (UTC)

Non-linear threading seems appropriate for discussion of Steven Moffat stories...

...and I'm sure he knew about the Star Monks.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 04:47 pm (UTC)
Liz & Pertwee

The cybermen were given away officially in Moffat's Radio Times episode guide before the season had even started (which should have roused suspicions) - but I guess it is not complete misdirection: there is probably a reason why Rory asks his question of *them* in particular, and I expect we will see more of them. Also, I wonder about the term "conversion" used by the monks - only a religious image, or also a cyber-reference?

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 07:09 pm (UTC)

1) If Captain Harcourt had tried to offer a woman to Strax in payment...

2) There's something there though - clean honest British decency embodied in a straightforward blade, versus souped-up Sith rip-offs.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: Andrew Gray (shimgray)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 08:16 pm (UTC)

The first few minutes - the station, the fleets, the Cybermen stomping around dimly-lit corridors - had a very Star Wars feel as well, to me, even before the monks turned up...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 08:34 pm (UTC)

Previews said it had an Empire Strikes Back feel, which led some to expect Rory or the Doctor would have a Soloesque fate.

Posted by: elegaer (elegaer)
Posted at: June 6th, 2011 02:43 pm (UTC)

And I (probably strangely) thought that the Dr was very Anakin-turned-Vader in the episode - maybe not from his point of view, but from the point of view of others - gone from "a coward every time" and the oncoming storm to being viewed as a great fighter and warrior and not refuting it.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 6th, 2011 03:10 pm (UTC)
Eccleston

I think that's very much a parallel which we were being encouraged to make. The storm has broken, the rain tearing a River through the Doctor Who landscape...

Posted by: elegaer (elegaer)
Posted at: June 6th, 2011 03:21 pm (UTC)

I'm very glad it's not just me ... it felt very uncomfortable in a good few ways, but interesting too. The best you can be followed by the lowest low was also so Anakin / Vader. I thought it interesting that while we saw the Doctor as the same as before, others saw him as a war leader. Can the Doctor be both doctor and warrior?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 6th, 2011 03:28 pm (UTC)
DavidIcon

This is the next step in the problem the Doctor faced in 'Journey's End', where he was unable to refute Davros's taunts that he manipulated others into fighting for him. Once the Doctor has stopped being the observer he began as in the Hartnell period, it's difficult to see what can make him stop except carnage following a miscalculation.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 08:35 pm (UTC)

Given that the rebel attack on the Death Star was inspired by air battle footage, then a debt was perhaps being repaid!

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 08:31 pm (UTC)

Interesting - thank you.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: June 5th, 2011 09:19 pm (UTC)

The earliest quotations in the OED are 1866 (not sure if London, but presumably) and 1875 (definitely London).

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 6th, 2011 01:10 am (UTC)
Zen

Thank you - I should have checked that myself!