Doctor Who- (Demons Run) A Good Man Goes to War

Demons Run When A Good Man Goes to War

Series 6
Story 07
3 June 2011

Demons run when a good man goes to war
Night will fall and drown the sun
When a good man goes to war

Friendship dies and true love lies
Night will fall and the dark will rise
When a good man goes to war

Demons run, but count the cost
The battle’s won, but the child is lost

NOTE: If you live in the US and are reading this, you have not yet seen the mid-series cliffhanger with two names – Demons Run and A Good Man Goes to War. As such, please be aware that this review holds nothing but lots of spoilers for you.

Please bookmark this review and read it next Saturday night, leaving comments if you would.

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Series 6 has been a roller coaster ride unlike anything we have seen before in Doctor Who. It opened with the Doctor’s death, Amy’s pregnancy, President Nixon’s paranoia and new monsters called the Silence. Apart from Curse of the Black Spot and the Doctor’s Wife, all seven parts of this series have essentially functioned as one large story separated by running yelling and the incessant pounding of Murray Gold’s string section. Mysteries have dangled from last year’s ‘Crack in Time’ story into this year where even more events have been unexplained such as Amy’s pregnancy, the girl in the astronaut costume who can regenerate and the annoying River Song whose camp insistence that she is important have only made her all the more tiring. With the series cut in two from the usual 13 parts to two sets of episodes, Moffat had to chose a point to not only break up the action but also provide at least some closure on these mysteries and dangling plot threads.

Demon’s Run feels very much like a Davies-era ‘kitchen sink’ finale which I take as weakness on the part of Moffat or the BBC. Either or both may think that viewers need a major blockbuster event in place of a story in order to qualify as a finale or cliffhanger. Of course this is not true as fans have been complaining of too many monsters and explosions being crammed on screen in place of story for at least three years. Nevertheless, from the opening moments of this adventure in which Rory (inexplicably dressed as a Roman Centurion) boards a Cybermen craft just as the Doctor (depicted as a fleeting shadow brandishing his magical sonic screwdriver) explodes their fleet. Perhaps that’s how the BBC Wales production team sees the Doctor, as a romantic pixie-like creature holding a magic wand. Yep, that actually fits.

Meanwhile, the Clerical order last seen in The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone have captured Amy Pond and her newborn and are massing a large army to stop the Doctor, the most feared man in all creation. Alongside these sequences on board the asteroid base are jumps back and forth in time and space as numerous characters¬†are recruited by the Doctor in order to pay back a debt. A comical Sontaran nurse (excellently played by Dan Starkey last seen in the Sontaran Stratagem), a Jack the Ripper hunting samurai Silurian living in Victorian London along with her companion Jenny, the blue-skinned Star Wars-reject from last year’s finale, Dorium Maldovar and of course River Song whose convoluted back story is so complex at this point that it’s unclear when in time we are visiting her. After consulting her diary of secret history, she declines Rory’s request to assist in the liberation of Amy Pond and her baby, much to the chagrin of both Rory and the Doctor.

The build-up last far too long and includes far too much exposition of established as well as new concepts, such as the Headless Monks with flaming laser swords. There were so many new characters bearing weapons and overly complicated back stories that I felt I was watching the Star Wars prequels. It certainly bore more a resemblance to Revenge of the Sith than Doctor Who. The only saving grace comes from some absolutely sterling performances from the aforementioned Starkey, Neve McIntosh as the Silurian Madame Vastra and of course Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill. All of the main cast made the story almost bearable, but the guest cast of warrior clerics was laughable as was the ‘eye patch lady’ played by Frances Barber who apparently thought she was starring in as remake of Peter Pan as Captain Hook.

More great images at Series60s

Demon’s Run is a mess of connect-the-dots story telling, bombastic exposition, fireworks and lots of actors posing for their action figures. It feels like a performance from Disney World rather than a television drama. Throughout the painful ordeal of the story, I wondered where this could all be leading as the music swelled and poetic verse was recited over slow motion combat. The Doctor, a goofy British guy in a jacket, was built up to be the most dangerous man to have ever lived. A massive army complete with deep-space support was assembled to hold him off while an evil woman with an eye patch attempted to steal a defenseless baby from a loving couple.

It’s absurd.

In previous stories of the classic Doctor Who program, the Doctor has allied himself with an existing resistance or stealthily acted against some invading alien forces to undo their plans. He didn’t proudly stand in their way proclaiming his intentions while they patiently waiting for his dialog to end. I find this approach of building the Doctor into a mythical champion to be laughable and reduces an otherwise sophisticated concept into a cartoon.

The Doctor of the classic Doctor Who program was defined as a hero by his actions rather than by his reputation. His liberation of the inhabitants of Paradise Towers was in spite of the opposition, not because the monsters backed away in fear. When he encountered the Zygons living in the bottom of Loch Ness, he was not immediately known to them and feared as ‘the oncoming storm.’

The Doctor of the BBC Wales program is brash, proud and dangerous, his mere name instilling fear into the hearts of his enemies. His actions aren’t even necessary as the whisper of his name causes characters to either rally to his side or run in fear.

All that said… Moffat once again uses this approach to his benefit. Demon’s Run is largely a spectacle of aliens and soldiers duking it out in space, something that Moffat no doubt gleefully presented to his son as ideal entertainment (I can see a young boy loving all of this and good on him for making it). Even as an action adventure full of poorly thought-out ideas and padding there are things to like about Demon’s Run such as the nurse Sontaran and the Victorian man-hunter Silurian. Both are silly concepts but executed so well that I found myself liking them.

However, the story gets more complex when the conclusion turns the situation on its head (much like last year’s Pandorica Opens that saw the Doctor apparently defeating his enemies by declaring his presence). After taking control of the asteroid from the gun toting Clerics (Moffat has one weird view of religion… and of the military- why do none of the clerics just follow orders as most soldiers do?), it is revealed that the entire situation was a trap to entice the Doctor into a false sense of security and then pull the rug out from under him.

Well done, Mister Moffat. I almost forgive you for the preceding 30 odd minutes of Star Wars.

Centurion Rory confronts the Cybermen

The unnamed clerical order of soldiers acting on the orders of the evil eye patch lady Madame Kovarian are at war with the Doctor and have tricked him into this situation in order to nab the baby who has become a Time Lord by her being conceived inside the TARDIS. For all of the exposition in this episode, I could have used some explanations as to why these soldiers hated the Doctor and who Madame Kovarian was, but it’s all left very vague.

Throughout the episode, Amy states that she relies on the Doctor to come to her aid, just as Kovarian’s forces prepare to hold him at bay. After defeating the clerics, the Doctor allows himself a moment of rage that greatly disturbs his Silurian ally (and even himself). He doesn’t just want to win, he wants to shame his enemies, showing shades of the Tenth Doctor’s hubris. In the end, Amy’s faith in the Doctor proves ill placed as he realizes too late they have not won at all and once again the life-like material known as the ‘flesh’ was used to pull the wool over his eyes. Once more the Doctor’s belief in himself has been used against him. He is not the most dangerous man alive by a long chalk, he really is just a mad man with a box.

This is a devastating revelation that I think will have far-reaching consequences for the Doctor. Keep in mind that in the Impossible Astronaut, 200 years have passed for the Doctor and he feels that he must pay for his actions. I think that the beginnings of this downward cycle are to be found in the moment when the Doctor is tricked by Madame Kovarian.

While the script is a mess, Matt Smith once again turns in a startlingly impressive performance as the Doctor, reaching levels of anger, warmth and quirkiness that has become synonymous with the Eleventh Doctor. As I was watching the episode I was aware of how poorly constructed this house of cards was, but Smith retained his stature and poise (the sign of any great Doctor in my opinion is how he handles a bad script).

Some character from last series and some other characters from this one

Demon’s Run attempts to be far too many things at once and in the end fails at many of them. With so many characters prancing about and jumps throughout different points in time and space to visit characters that are either new with made-up back stories or references to actual adventures, it’s an over-ambitious mess. As a story about the undoing of the Doctor, I found it impressive if more than a little annoying.

I could have done without all of the pathos and rousing music over Amy’s plight and Rory’s undying love for her (at least it wasn’t the Doctor’s love for Rose). Additionally, the revelation regarding River and the baby is nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. In fact, many fans guessed this ages ago online. I couldn’t see the point in it then and see less point in it now. The character of River Song is so very tired at this point.

To be honest, I’m more interested in Madame Vastra and Jenny, yet we are unlikely to see them again.

Silurian Madame Vastra and... Jenny

From the trailer it was apparent that Demon’s Run was not going to be an episode heavy in plot or character, but even so I was annoyed at the over-reliance on special effects and aliens. Doctor Who is better than this and so is Steven Moffat.

Once Doctor Who was the most imaginative and far-reaching science fiction drama, capable of depicting gripping suspense, high adventure or brilliant comedy. Now it seems that Doctor Who has become little more than a tool to wrap up several plot threads from series to series. The program is an extension of the plot rather than the plot an extension of the program. It’s no longer about where/when the Doctor is headed next, it’s about how it will tie into the over-arching plot involving the time baby or River Song’s identity, or any number of other concept that Moffat finds necessary.

In the end I had a nasty taste in my mouth, and just like the conclusion of many a fairground ride, the sensation that I was going to be sick.

Next time: ‘Let’s Kill Hitler!’

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19 thoughts on “Doctor Who- (Demons Run) A Good Man Goes to War

  1. I like that you are consistent… agree or disagree, you are consistent on your review points across the episodes that you agree with… and I mostly agree with you here.

    In fact, this brings up again some of the oddness I see with some newer fans of the show. Some of the very plot points you are critical of here, are ones that some have loved about this episode apparently… BUT simultaneously were things Davies was criticized for doing.

    The comments about throwing the kitchen sink into a cliffhanger in order to make it big instead of crafting a strong story are spot on… and people were right to criticize Davies on those points… yet many have forgotten that somehow and praise Moffat for doing essentially the same thing here.

    I didn’t hate the episode… though in part that is because I like many of the actors… notably Matt Smith getting everything he can out of the role so far.

    I also have to agree on River Song. People have criticized Davies for things like “using Daleks too much” and were happy to hear Moffat wasn’t going to use them for “a while”… but Moffat seems to like the Cybermen and REALLY likes River Song. I happen to really like Alex Kingston… but over-use of the character and disappointing “revelations” have caused me to not care as much about finding out who she is.

    At this point, Moffat is on the verge of making the Doctor really creepy… He first met Amy as a young child… she waits for him… and flirts with him when he comes back after she is an adult. Then it turns out that her baby is going to be around the Doctor quite a bit, apparently, as a young child… only to grow up and (apparently) have a romantic relationship with him. Maybe it’s just me… but everyone thought it weird for the Doctor & Rose to be romantic… this jumps way over that line, doesn’t it?

    • Why do you say Moffat likes the Cybermen? At best, they’ve only appeared in “The Pandorica Opens,” “The Big Bang” (in which there is only one or two and it is stone, so I wouldn’t even count it), and this one. None of the other past episodes of the new series which had Cybermen were written by him, either.

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  3. Blimey! I’ve been watching the Doctor(s) since the early 70′s, and can’t quite believe what I’m reading here. I love a good space-ship, and seeing the old faces again in the “kitchen sink”,
    Then there’s the whole River Song concept, which imho is a cracker. Granted her story has been a little slow in the delivery, but otherwise…
    As for the “fans predicted it online” bit – I dare anyone to find anything at all which hasn’t been guessed as River’s true identity somewhere online! Really….
    Also, “Once Doctor Who was the most imaginative and far-reaching science fiction drama” – have you watched any William Hartnell episodes recently? And “It’s absurd.” – of course it is, it’s DOCTOR WHO!!
    Call me naive, or suffering from kitchen-sink weakness, but I think the cardinal sin with Doctor Who is to take it too seriously. They’re ripping yarns, in the grand old tradition. Well done, I say, BBC Wales, and keep up the good work!!

    • You have a difference of opinion, mate. Calm down. I’ve been writing this blog for over three year’s now and have been visited by fans of Doctor Who from the 70′s who love the new stuff and those who hate it, so your mileage may vary.

      Comparing a random Hartnell story such as the Aztecs or even the War Machines to a BBC Wales program shows the difference. Both of the classic programs are of course flawed and may even appeared dated, but they have the merits of being experimental in their production and of telling a coherent story. A Good Man Goes to War relied on the tired old traditions of tell, don’t show in having every character on screen recite a mantra that the Doctor is the most dangerous man alive. It also had no real story at all, it was simply a connect-the-dots affair with characters treated like action figures moved across the screen. It was shallow and poor. The BBC Wales efforts have in general been a poor excuse for the classic program, but this particular episode was quite awful in terms of storytelling. The main issue with River Song’s identity is that it made no sense at all and added nothing to the story. Anyone blindly guessing her identity could have gotten it in one try.

      The absurdity I was referring to is that the production team was actually trying to pass this off as entertainment worthy of the most watched show on the BBC or even on BBC America. Like it or not, Doctor Who has a reputation of being the vanguard of sci-fi on TV through its use of blue screen, experimental music, general special effects and even scripting. Sure, I remember Creature from the Pit, the Gunfighters and Timeflight, but they are exceptions to the general output, not the rule. There are also stories like Kinda, Warriors Gate and Claws of Axos (just to name three random ones) that feature innovative special effects and inspired scripts. Modern Doctor Who is currently toeing the line in comparison rather than leading the pack because it sells itself short.

      The cardinal sin of Doctor Who has nothing to do with taking it too seriously but to tell anyone with an opposing point of view that they are somehow wrong or looking at it the wrong way. I see it all the time and it is tiresome. I’m all for opposing points of view and if you like something I don’t fair enough. But I’d never tell you that you’re wrong for liking it or that you aren’t taking it seriously enough.

      If you stroll through my site you’ll see numerous reviews of both classic and new Doctor Who programs that you will agree or disagree with, but they all vary. I have been mainly happy with the Moffat and Smith era so far, but this episode was weak. It lacked plot beyond getting all the characters on the board, the humor was awful (just what was with two random characters explaining that they are married and gay all about?) and the acting woeful (the soldiers were all just ridiculous and Captain Eye Patch was straight out of a panto). The only shining light in all of this was Smith who acted his way through it with his usual indefatigable charm and wit.

      Sorry to whitter on, but I think that you wanted some kind of response as to why I wrote this review and the reasoning is lengthy.

  4. I’m watching it in america. Like you said how he has become more of a myth and more aggressive that is kind of explained when River was giving him crap when she first shows up on Demons Run. When she explains the name of the doctor and how it has changed meanings because he has become more aggressive. So maybe that was their way of saying they will try to bring him back to the older way of the doctor so he can live up to the title of the doctor once again.

    • It’s funny but I’ve been reading lots of research on the classic program. Both Hartnell and Troughton’s Doctors specified that the Doctor is not learned in medicine. The Doctor is a scientist, not a physician. It’s odd that this episode so strongly poses an argument to the contrary.

  5. This episode ranks as one of the biggest let downs I can think. We wait to see the doctor rise higher than ever before, and we get taking a space station without killing anyone. We wait for the doctor to fall, and we get losing the baby. We wait to see the doctor in his darkest hour, the man who ended the time wars at the expense of his entire race, and this is what we get.
    On top of that the episode was flat and emotionless. Mat Smiths chin quivers and thats him angry? I hate to say this about Steven Moffat as I am a big fan of most of his work, but maybe he should stick to writing the stories and lets bring back RTD.

    • I totally agree with you. Also, how does river know when to show up at the perfect time at demon’s run. Oh’ and yes, 90% of series 5 and 6 episodes are flat and hollow.

  6. The character of River Song is ruining doctor who. Who cares who’s child she is…all she does emasculate the doctor. She can fly the tardis better than the doctor??? Moffat has got to to go. She knows all about the doctor?? nobody knows anything about the doctor that what makes Dr who interesting. this gay agenda is getting ludicrous…who cares what sexual preference the characters are. In all of series 5 and 6 there have been only two decent episodes…the elenventh hour and the doctor’s wife. Moffat was good with blink and doctor dances/empty child but now he has run out of ideas…good ones that is.

  7. If the actions of the 11th doctor display a different personality than that of the first or fourth of sixth Doctor then good. The idea of the Doctor’s regeneration may have started as nothing more than a way to keep the show running but it has since been woven into the very fabric of the narrative. In essence it creates a new Doctor with the same memories but a different perspective.

    The risk is that the new Doctor may not be acceptable to fans of previous incarnations but the alternative is to let the show die. To give them their credit, Dr Who is still going and it is this concept of constant updates which keeps it that way. The simple fact is that each incarnation of the Doctor has been different and most of us who have been watching since we were young have found at least one of the incarnations tiresome, poorly written, poorly acted, too different or all of the above. It’s the nature of the beast and it’s the price we pay for still being able to enjoy the wonders of the BBC props department after all these years.

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion but with 11 different Dr. Who characters, there really is no right or wrong. My only real criticism of this episode was that it should have been a double-episode. The story progressed too fast given that it finally gave weight to the previously veiled idea that the Doctor was a force to be reckoned with. Maybe it’s not the Doctor that the writer knows and loves, but, for me, I like the idea of a Doctor who is comical and whimsical, covering the fact that when he is really pushed, he will stop at nothing and can not be held back.

    For me, this concept makes the Doctor a richer character, but there is only so long you can stretch out a pacifist Doctor. It’s impossible to know if someone is really a pacifist unless you know they have the power not to be. The inescapable assurance that the Doctor _will_ capture the station develops the Doctor in a very meaningful direction – showing some fraction of what he is capable of. This enriches the entire series – implying that he could have resolved many of the situations more easily but chose the ‘higher path’.

    Though really, I can’t care too much anyway – this episode gave us Catrin Stewart, rendering every other concern irrelevant.

    Something, something Doctor? I’m going to go re-watch the part where she threatens a guy with a sword. Enjoy whatever it was you were talking about.

  8. This may simply be from my point of view, twisted as it is by American media (of which I have the misfortune to be surrounded by), but I didn’t actually mind this episode too much. I would certainly entertain disgruntlement if flair because a staple of the show, but here and there I feel it helps add suspense and variety – especially for season finales or… pre-hiatus-type finale-thingies… Anywho.

    Oddly, my only major complaint would be one of the few things you actually liked – namely, Madame Vastra. Now I did enjoy her as a side character and all, but I’m afraid of her becoming a recurring character or something. Perhaps one episode in which we go back and see how the Doctor was involved with her, but certainly no more than that. She is too blatantly a gimmick character, what with her use of katana in Victorian England (which I would really like to hear a decent explanation for, since all I can come up with is that Moffat was attempting to draw on the Japanophile crowd), not to mention her *ahem* companion… >_> I have no problem with any of it, nor the concept as a whole, but the presentation was all just too obvious and in-our-faces that I felt I was being pandered to.
    Oh, and it was confusing having a Silurian character that knew the Doctor who wasn’t one of the Silurians we’ve already met. In fact, I thought that she was Restac (I forgot Restac’s name and that she had red scales) until I read this review. It doesn’t really help that, including Alaya, we have now had THREE female Silurians all played by the same actress… The first two, being sisters, are excusable but a third one? Although, now that I think about it, since that occured prior to Big Bang, she could have been either sister had she not been neither.

    Wow, that rant went on longer than I intended. My apologies. Summary: I liked Vastra, but she’s only good for one more episode at most.

    The monks were an important plot device to trick the Doctor, though since the only outcome of that particular trick was one dead extra, a dead blue alien (who I actually liked for the amusement if nothing else), and an arguably suspenseful fight scene, I guess it could’ve been done away with altogether. Even so, it really wasn’t a surprise for the “Headless Monks” to be, well, headless. If Moffat really DID want it to be a surprise, he could’ve at least used an indirect metaphor, or obscure synonym/foreign word for their order.

    Oh, and concerning River Song. I must first say that she was nowhere near as bad as Rose. I couldn’t stand her by the end of her first season. River’s biggest problem was simply that she was too repetitive, not that she was used too much. Every appearance was more or less the same, and anyone could have predicted what she would do at any given moment after seeing just the first episode or two she was in, after Silence in the Library. Speaking of, I’ll have to go back and watch that episode again, but I have a sneaky suspicion that River was originally intended to be something more along the lines of the Doctor’s wife rather than his daughter and that the change was done halfway through her character development since fans were immediately guessing the (admittedly obvious) “truth.” That or River simply likes messing with people’s heads even more than we thought.

    • An addendum, if you look back, River was only used in four episodes. I think that hardly counts as “a lot.”

      • Actually she was in 4 episodes in series 5 and 3 in series 6… as you pointed out doing more or less the same thing. That’s 7 out of 20 stories so far…

        That’s a lot of appearances.

  9. I liked the introductory scene with the sontaran, I would like to see a story set in that sort of battlefield situation perhaps with a rutan lurking and a pacifist sontaran.
    I can’t understand why L. A. Dubois above, so vociferously denied that River Song had been used a lot, but then I think it IS easily comprehensible why people might get irritated by pet characters being forced down people’s throats while implicitly being presented as one of the greatest things ever, ever, EVER! Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks.

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