Remember that whole “darkest hour” thing promised during those early full-length trailers for Doctor Who, series six? Well, Time Lords, we’ve arrived. “A Good Man Goes to War” is a title that references both The Doctor and Amy Pond’s dutiful husband, Rory Williams (the increasingly brilliant Arthur Darvill). With this episode, both men are fighting for everything, putting their all on the line with results that really do shake the Doctor Who universe to its core. The mid-season break that sets up what will come in the fall, “A Good Man Goes to War” is also among the most ambitious Who stories since the series revival, and only leaves us with more promises of epic proportions.
Warning: Plot details ahead. Proceed at your own risk.
“The Almost People” ended with the revelation that Amy’s negative/positive pregnancy was actually a positive pregnancy all along, only the Amy we were seeing wasn’t feeling it. That Amy was Flesh, a synthetic person. The real Amy was in some kind of holding tank, looked in on periodically by a mysterious woman in an eyepatch, and now that The Doctor has revealed that the Amy he and Rory have been traveling with for months isn’t the real Amy, it’s time for the birth.
The Doctor apparently knew all along (or for a while, anyway) that this Amy was not the real Amy, but what he doesn’t know is where the real, pregnant Amy is. As “A Good Man Goes to War” opens, Amy makes a promise to her baby, Melody Pond, that someone is coming to rescue her. In classic Steven Moffat fashion, this bit of drama is intercut with bigger pieces of drama as The Doctor and Rory jet across the universe, summoning all the forces at their disposal. The Doctor is calling in every favor he’s ever earned, assembling an army to take on Amy’s captors. And if that weren’t enough, River Song tells Rory that she can’t come, she can’t interfere, because this is the moment when The Doctor finally finds out who she is.
Beyond the sheer visual and plot-centered scope of “A Good Man Goes to War,” which in itself is enough to keep you watching, there’s also a level of examination of the Doctor’s psyche that fans of the Russell T. Davies era series will be happy to see returning. For nearly the entire first act of the episode The Doctor doesn’t show his face. He’s a shadow, a silhouette, a figure in the background, but mostly he’s a word on everyone else’s lips. Everyone in this story knows who he is, the stories about him, what he’s capable of, and it leads Moffat to raise the question: when did The Doctor stop being someone to be welcomed and start being someone to be feared?
It’s a question that isn’t asked with an answer in mind, but it’s in a way the question the entire revival series has been asking since Christopher Eccleston appeared as the Ninth Doctor, a victim of a war he didn’t want gifted with a newfound savagery bred by his own survival. Here, confronted by yet another massive threat to those he loves, Matt Smith’s Doctor must contend with the realization that he’s stopped being a Doctor, a healer, and has instead become a warrior. Any fan who’s been convinced the show has gotten too silly and too odd will rethink their evaluation of the Smith/Moffat era, and anyone who was loving it already will get chills.
On top of this emotional questioning, there’s an element of true satisfaction for fans who have been dying to know many of the show’s secrets. Plenty of things are still closed to us, but plenty opens up. River Song’s mystery really is revealed (in part, anyway), and it’s one of those things that will reverberate through the show for a long, long time. Even if you’ve never been that up on the Moffat era of Doctor Who, even if you think the show has run its course, even if you just watch for the time traveling and fun space jokes, the sheer ambition of this episode and its implications for the future of the series is likely to floor you. This is Doctor Who at its biggest, boldest and most thrilling.
And if that weren’t enough, the first episode when the show returns in the fall is called “Let’s Kill Hitler”.