• Sigrid Ellis

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    Sigrid Ellis is co-editor of the Hugo-nominated Queers Dig Time Lords and Chicks Dig Comics anthologies. She edits the best-selling Pretty Deadly from Image Comics. She is the flash-fiction editor of Queers Destroy Science Fiction, from Lightspeed Press. She edited the Hugo-nominated Apex Magazine for 2014. She lives with her partner, their two homeschooled children, her partner’s boyfriend, and a host of vertebrate and invertebrate pets in Saint Paul, MN.
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Spoilery thoughts about Doctor Who

I saw “A Good Man Goes to War” this weekend. My thoughts on it are behind the cut-tag.

1. I am not the sort of person who guesses the ends of books. I don’t solve the mystery before the detective gathers all the suspects together in a big room, and I don’t know whether the ghost is Old Man Fredericks under a sheet or not until the Scooby Gang catches him in the act. So it was with a dawning sense of “oh my god REALLY?????” that I slowly figured out that River Song is Rory and Amy’s child. I loved that reveal! It was DRAMATIC, and sweet, and exciting, and I didn’t figure it out until halfway through the episode. And figuring it out made me feel SMART, and CLEVER.

And I am a little defensive about this, because I have seen A LOT of “meh” on the internets about how this was a kinda stupid reveal that EVERYONE knew already, and it is harshing my squee. Some of us didn’t know, and we are very clever for figuring it out when we did, thank you very much.

2. This is exactly the sort of Doctor that I am watching when I watch this show. Something terrible, terrifying, something you never ever want to come to your world.

Lorna Bucket’s experience of The Doctor is how it seems to me he must come across to hundreds of worlds. A harbinger of enormous and painful change, a devastating warrior, a man who shows up because dozens or thousands of people are going to die. Maybe he saves them. Maybe he doesn’t. But if he talks to you, if he holds your hand, if he looks you in the eye, your odds of surviving drop to 1 in 2. The Doctor is a nightmare, no matter his intentions. If I ever hear the TARDIS, I am walking quickly in the other direction. And I will hold my children and suddenly take up prayer.

When I tell people this, at least half say they would LOVE to be a Companion! I can almost see that point — the Companions have a better survival rate, if you don’t mind the torture, pain, grief, and general mind-fuckery along the way. But this point of view ignores the tens of thousands of people The Doctor touches who are NOT Companions.

It seems to me an act of unmeasurable hubris to think that, if you heard the TARDIS, you would get to be a Companion. Far, far more likely that you would be Lorna Bucket. Gut-shot on a battle station light-years from home in a war to defend your planet from the worst scourge it will ever see — a good man, at war.

This is The Doctor I see, when I watch the show. A terrifying genie, a demon in a blue box, who is for the purposes of the show our genie, our demon, fighting on our side. He is, I think, well-intentioned. In an alien sort of way, with priorities that don’t always make sense to humans. He is, I think, basically moral. But he doesn’t think about the wake he leaves behind, about the shadow he casts, about the nightmare fuel he must be for generations of alien children. I think The Doctor tries hard to be a good man. But I don’t think it is possible to be good without that self-awareness.

3. I loved the view of the wider universe in this episode. I loved the debts and allies, the promises referenced but not explained. This sense of a complete setting is one of things I most treasure about Doctor Who. And, once again, I would not want to be the show’s continuity-keeper. My goodness, no thank you.

3. Rory has become my favorite thing on this season. I love watching him come into his own both as a husband to Amy and as a full partner on the TARDIS. I think my favorite number of Companions is two; it’s a dynamic that works for me. I think two Companions working together keep The Doctor on his toes, and I think it helps with the exposition. I also really love Amy’s view of Rory, as she describes him to Melody.

4. Arthur Davrill, Alex Kingston, and Matt Smith continue to impress with their acting. I like Karen Gillen fine, I suppose, but she just doesn’t grab me. I think she just slides off me in the actor-fan interaction, nothing hooks my attention. Matt Smith is doing an outstanding job of looking old. Not physically, obviously, but emotionally. There’s something about his eyes that looks very, very tired.


16 Responses

  1. But he doesn’t think about the wake he leaves behind, about the shadow he casts, about the nightmare fuel he must be for generations of alien children.

    This is the only part of this post that I would dispute, for several reasons:

    a) RTD took great pains to have Nine and Ten deal with this: in “The Doctor Dances,” Nine rejoices in the fact that he saved the day without anybody dying (“Just this once, everybody lives!”); the much-maligned “Love and Monsters” hinges on the collateral damage surrounding Ten’s visits; and in “Journey’s End,” Davros mocks Ten for creating warriors in the name of peace, and for getting several of them killed (complete with a montage of people who died in Nine and Ten’s “name” during the series up to that point.)

    More recently:
    b) One of the first signs that Rory was going to be more than “Mickey 2.0” was his questioning Eleven regarding the Companion dynamic, and how people end up risking their lives on behalf of “our genie.”
    c) After Lorna breathes her last, and Eleven confesses he didn’t know her, the Silurian says, “She was very brave.” His reply is, “They’re always brave.” And here, he confirms your final assessment – Smith has been able to capture a very old spirit in a very youthful face.

    So I’m willing to suggest that The Doctor, as he’s gotten older, has very much been forced to consider the cost of his lifestyle – the idea of The Doctor as a natural disaster seems to be behind the motivations of this season’s antagonists, whoever they are. What Steven Moffat might be trying to do is find a scenario where Eleven can better deal with the ramifications of that.

  2. I wasn’t expecting more of a reveal from the series, I’d just seen and heard a lot of “OMFG” from people who’d discussed the possibility so I thought there was something else. I think I like the episode and this series more after reading it from your pov (and Caroline’s quip that River is basically Cable).

    Oddly, I’ve been going on that Matt Smith looks So Old this season compared to last — I like the idea it’s on purpose, I thought he was not aging well himself….

  3. @Art

    I think you are right, that all of those scenes exist, yet, yet …. Yet The Doctor is so SHOCKED when he is told that he is feared. That his name is a watchword for warrior in other languages. I think he knows it’s true, but he doesn’t KNOW it, if that makes sense. That he sees the bodies and mourns them, but doesn’t completely GET that this makes him horrible. He was shocked that the Pandorica was for him, right, but he could write that off as “well, these are the BAD guys, of course they want me gone.” This group, though, of just normal people, they aren’t evil. They are defending themselves, and that seems to shock him.

    I think it’s a hard thing to realize that your image of yourself is not how others see you.


    Hah! Glad to return the favor, since there are *so many* properties I like after you tell me your version of them.

    I like to think that the Looking Old is on purpose, yeah.

  4. I may need to rewatch this episode because it was somewhat marred for me by Moffat being, I think, too clever by half. I mean I GET the idea that the Doctor has touched a lot of people we don’t know about, it’s fascinating and clever, but dealing with something that has a zillion years of continuity, my reaction for most of this ep was trying to figure out how many relevant episodes I’d missed (as it turns out, none, but I can’t have been the only one to have this reaction).

    I’m with you on liking the River Song/Melody Pond reveal and feeling I figured it out just a LITTLE bit too late, but not being mad at the show, because certainly the clues were there!

    I like your take on the mythology of the Doctor even if I, personally, am a little bit over ‘meta on the mythology of the Doctor’ episodes and would just as soon watch “Rory Williams-Pond: Time-Travelling Nurse”.

  5. Also, while I’m sort of with you that Amy is the weakest link, I don’t so much attribute this to Gillan as to her character being so amorphous. I feel like the story is trying to put a lot of weight on what she stands for without having really made her a person.

  6. @Caroline I expect you’re right about Gillen — when she *is* given something to work with, it works.

    Hah, it never occurred to me that all of those new people were people we were supposed to know. I started filling in all of their backstories with fic in my head. This may be a bug/feature of being me, however ….

  7. You’re probably also more confident than average of your grasp of Who-canon though. Or maybe I’m less confident than average and the assumption that the show is mostly watched by people who make a study of it may be warranted. It’s sort of aggravating to a more casual viewer, though, who has no way to distinguish something they are supposed to remember from 20 episodes ago from something that was just made up.

  8. If I ever develop a TV show, I’m asking Caroline to pick the name.

  9. Also, re: Amy. I get the feeling she had more to do last season, since she was at the center of the mystery. This year we’re getting more Rory, though my Whedon sensors are tingling quite loudly as to a possible reason for that.

  10. But would you RATHER watch “Rory Williams-Pond, Time-Travelling Nurse” or “Doctor Vampire, Vampire Doctor”?

  11. See, I’m surprised you didn’t go with: “Rory Pond: Centurion Nurse.” But “Hot Magneto, Nazi Hunter” was genius.

  12. In the interest of fairness, “Hot Magneto: Nazi Hunter” is *entirely* down to Glen Weldon of NPR.

  13. This group, though, of just normal people, they aren’t evil.

    See, that still remains to be seen. Nobody builds a bomb out of the kindness of their eyepatch.

  14. I read that and thought of Captain Harlock. Idek.

    But even if eye-patch is evil, are the random soldiers?

  15. Depends. Are they private contractors?

  16. Well played, sir.

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