Monday, 6 June 2011

Doctor Who: A Good Man Goes to War


Dirty great spoilers for the most massively over-hyped episode of Doctor Who thus far follow, so look away now if you don't want to be spoiled.

'Over-hyped' does not necessarily mean 'bad' - I very much enjoyed this episode, though some of the dialogue was perhaps a wee tad on the melodramatic side. The repetition of how the Doctor would face his darkest hour really didn't ring true for me. He accidentally got some people killed (which is bad, admittedly) and got tricked. Oh dear. This is the same man who committed acts of genocide against both his own race and their enemies, yes? I don't think this was actually his darkest hour, somehow.

It probably was Rory's though. I wasn't sure about the reappearance of the centurion costume at first. It was last seen in the context of Amy and Rory's honeymoon sex games in the Christmas special and did look rather silly, especially since the futuristic soldiers were wearing current-style uniforms. As the episode went on, though, I realised just how effective the costume actually was. The Nurse Sontaran, who came from a society entirely obsessed with warfare (like the Spartans, I suppose, but wearing more clothes thank goodness), was a clear mirror for Nurse Rory Williams, who, for this episode at least, has metamorphosed entirely into a solider and to whom the title refers, just as much as it refers to the Doctor (Amy's opening lines, which play with audience expectations and must have led a fair few fans to think for a second or two that the Doctor really was the father of Amy's baby, are an inidication of how much the characters are intended to be viewed in a similar way throughout this episode).

Uniform, as far as I can tell (never having been in any armed forces myself), is a very important thing to members of the armed forces. It changes according to promotion or demotion, it marks you out from the enemy and it is a badge of honour that declares that you have served your country and risked your life for it. To wear a uniform you're not entitled to would be utterly wrong. But once you've served and worn a uniform, even if you leave, you always have something of a right to it - for example when characters in Dad's Army wear their old First World War uniforms if they haven't got Home Guard ones. Rory is dressed as a Roman because he served in the Roman army as a centurion. I'm still a little unclear on exactly what was going on with the plastic Romans in 'The Pandorica Opens' and 'The Big Bang' and I'm not entirely sure what their relationship to the actual Roman army was, but I think it's safe to say that somewhere over the course of two thousand years, Rory probably did some active service as a Roman soldier. The uniform in this episode doesn't represent Romans, it represents Rory the soldier, a Rory who fights and hunts down his enemies, rather than healing, as he did in a former life.


Ralph Fiennes at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival, last Saturday. It's relevant, I promise - read on!

This is especially satisfying for me as a Classicist because it's a reminder of the similarities between ourselves and the past. I'm sure I've talked before about how people from the past can be represented as either very like ourselves, or entirely different from ourselves, depending on the writer's intentions (and in fact I'm giving a paper on the subject in July). Often the Romans are the Other, the not-us, but this episode, by mixing up Silurians, Sontarans, Cybermen and Romans together with Moffat's weird militaristic future church (the Roman Catholic Church perhaps?)  deliberately draws parallels between military forces from different times and places, between lots of good men and women going to war. By a weird coincidence, I was at the Hay festival this weekend and went to a talk by Ralph Fiennes about his new film version of Shakespeare's Coriolanus (sadly not out until next year) which does exactly the same thing, moving a Roman story about war and warriors, dramatised by Shakespeare, into a modern setting, because as Finnes sees it, the characters and themes and emotions of the story and timeless and universal. (The film looks brilliant, by the way). Because Romans are often viewed as so different, with all the orgies and so on, drawing the audience's attention to the similarities between us and them can be particularly effective.

River was a bit too preoccupied to do anything archaeological in this episode, though I will say, give a child a 900-year-old cot, what do you expect them to grow up into? Half the internet guessed the big revelation - and pointed it out to the other half - weeks ago, so no surprises there and although it's logical and kind of fun, there is a slightly uncomfortable Twilight-y edge to the Doctor banging Amy's daughter - he didn't imprint on her, did he?! Also, why didn't she just regenerate in 'Forest of the Dead'? Maybe she'd run out of regenerations. This does solve one niggly problem though, that of Alex Kingston growing older while her character grows younger. We can go as young or as old as we want and we don't even need an actress that looks like her! Sorted.

As I said, I enjoyed this episode a lot, though I look forward eagerly to the day I don't spend half an episode of Doctor Who wondering what the frell is going on. I also hope we get to see more of Hugh Bonneville, Space Pirate! in the really stupidly titled next episode, as he was totally wasted here. Matt Smith was brilliant though - I have finally been converted. And maybe, just maybe, we'll actually get to find out some more about the Doctor's own family and possibly even where Susan came from in the next bit of the series, now that Amy, who is not a person to let a thing go once it's been brought to her attention, has started asking questions...

Edited to add: I complete forgot to praise the use of language in this episode! English, as a language, has an unusually enormous vocabulary and there are loads of words that you just can't quite translate from one language to another. It was wonderful to see this not only acknowledged but used as a plot point!

Edited to further add: I should probably also draw attention to the fact that Amy's father was called Augustus and River was 'in the care of' Father Octavian. Octavian and Augustus were, of course, the same person. Is this just a really obscure, nerdy in-joke, or is there a deeper meaning to it?

4 comments:

  1. Yes, it was a little over-hyped, wasn't it? Especially by the BBC announcer guy right before it started!

    And I wonder, actually, whether the Doctor's darkest hour is yet to come, and we haven't actually seen him 'fall so far' yet - because you're right, at the moment plot developments aren't really living up to that proclamation!

    And ooh, I hadn't noticed the whole Augustus/Octavian thing - I really hope that's a plot point! :)

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  2. I hope so too - if it isn't, it's kind of random! 'Augustus' is almost as 'special' as 'Agamemnon'...

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  3. there is a slightly uncomfortable Twilight-y edge to the Doctor banging Amy's daughter - he didn't imprint on her, did he?!

    "I first met the Doctor when I was very little. What do you think that does to a girl?" -- River, to Amy. Some other episode.

    So... Umm... Yeah, it seems the idea that he imprinted on her is not only raised as a possibility by the text, but explicitly stated as being the case by the text...

    Also, why didn't she just regenerate in 'Forest of the Dead'? Maybe she'd run out of regenerations.

    Same reason the Doctor wouldn't have - "It would burn through both your hearts, and don't think you'd regenerate from it!"

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  4. I'd forgotten that line from Forest of the Dead, I haven't seen it in ages!

    I don't the Doctor has actually imprinted on anyone, I think that terrifyingly creepy concept only exists in Twilight, but he certainly does seem to have made an impression on both mother and daughter at a young age!

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