In a feat of masterful storytelling, with a plot so beautifully immense in its conception, Steven Moffat has once again elevated Doctor Who above all conceivable expectations and elegantly crafted this mid-season finale into what may be the Doctor’s greatest adventure ever presented – and that’s taking into account the highly disappointing, and completely anticipated, revelation of River Song’s true identity.
Continuing from the previous week’s two-part episode and cliffhanger, “A Good Man Goes To War” opens with Rory (Arthur Darvill), in full Centurion garb, aboard a Cybermen battleship. With dialogue and visuals reminiscent of Russell T. Davies’ tendency to overreach, one does not truly recognize the monumental importance of what is occurring until the phrase “the Doctor is calling in his debts” is uttered.
What may first appear to be a simple reclamation of past good deeds quickly turns all those watching into children with over-active imaginations. The simple notion of the Doctor (Matt Smith) – the proverbial savior of the Universe – calling upon those he saved in his 900 years of existence to help in a single event may very well be the most prodigious plot line presented in the decades of Doctor Who storytelling.
Akin to the often talked about (but never shown – on purpose) Time War, the act of the Doctor calling in his debts presents a nearly infinite array of grandiose visuals and immense possibilities. While the opening scenes present a fleet of Cybermen ships being destroyed in an instant, what is eventually presented as the Doctor “calling in debts” is nothing more than a few familiar faces from Steven Moffat’s tenure as executive producer – with a reluctant Sontaran thrown in for good measure.
Even though the collected figures hardly meet the lofty imagination of anyone watching (although presenting a good argument of why the Time War should never be visually represented), the pure and unexpected notion of the Doctor “calling in his debts” serves to provide an environment of accidental repercussions that maintains the audience’s excitement throughout. With a story and execution that is both brilliant and disappointing (at times), it’s hard not to want to fault this episode, while at the same time continuously proclaiming its inclusion in the franchise’s top episodes.
With a story that serves to transition the Doctor from the Universe’s only hope, to a man that everyone should fear, the elements involving Amy (Karen Gillan) and her baby, and the revelation of River Song (Alex Kingston), often feel inferior in their presentation, even though they’re the two main and reoccurring plots. While still wonderful in its execution, there are times when convolution – even to the level that one expects with Doctor Who – begins to conflict with what appears to be important.
Continuing that sentiment comes the long-awaited revelation of River Song’s true identity. One of Russell T. Davies many wondrous creations, River Song has always stood out in both elegance and mystery. A figure important in the Doctor’s life, but one that is existing in a contrarian timeline. Since the moment that audiences were introduced to her, in her final living moments, the theory of who she is, and who she comes to be, were always present.
Unfortunately, as Doctor Who season 6 began, those theories quickly lessened, and a more assured situation took over. As seasonal imagery and on-the-nose insinuations highlighted River Song’s only possible identity, the once great mystery quickly turned into anything but.
With a long, drawn-out, revelation that even the most inexperienced Doctor Who fan could have spotted without the given back-story, the presented situation may leave some unhappy. But for those with enough foresight to see the possibilities awaiting fans this fall, it’s hard to conclude this episode with anything but a smile.
For all its elegance, brilliance, disappointments and anticipated outcomes, the sheer scope of the episode, mixed with the numerous storytelling possibilities that await audiences when the series returns, serves to elevate this episode past all of its few downfalls.
Doctor Who airs on Saturdays @9pm on BBC America