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"Doctor Who" Recap: Warning: Conception Inside Moving TARDIS May Cause Timehead

By C. Robert Dimitri | TV | June 13, 2011 |

By C. Robert Dimitri | TV | June 13, 2011 |

“I have gene-spliced myself for all nursing duties. I can produce magnificent quantities of lactic fluid.”

Skipping right past the labor that began as the previous episode ended, Amy Pond has given birth to little Melody on an asteroid called Demon’s Run. Under guard by armed soldiers led by the nefarious metallic eye patch lady, Madame Kovarian, Amy offers solace to newborn Melody, telling her of the centuries-old man that will save them. That bit of dialogue misdirection of course refers to Melody’s father, Rory, the “Last Centurion.” (We could argue over whether this incarnation of Rory is technically hundreds of years old. I’m not certain that access to memories of an Auton in a different universe through a “doorway” in your mind that is not always open qualifies. The romantic in me will allow it.)

Thousands of light-years away, Rory and The Doctor wreak havoc upon a legion of Cybermen, destroying a large portion of their fleet in order to gather intel on that particular sector of outer space that these Cybermen oversee. That intel is Amy’s location; the tale of how Rory escaped from the bridge of the Cybermen ship alive with that information is an untold tale, but it made for a dramatic lead into the credits, and there is so much going on in this episode that we do not have time to slow down for that level of detail. Rory and The Doctor mean business, and you can bet that Cybermen are not going to keep them from Amy!

Armed with the knowledge of where he and Rory need to go, The Doctor gathers up an army of supporters to storm Demon’s Run. We do not see The Doctor himself in these scenes; instead we only see the arrival of the TARDIS, signaling these individuals that owe The Doctor a debt that he is there to collect. Included in this crew are a Sontaran named Strax, who is busy with penance playing nurse to humans in a futuristic battle. We also have a Silurian named Vastra, who is keeping a low profile in Victorian England while disposing of Jack The Ripper. She and her human sidekick/significant other Julie are quite accomplished with swords. Also along for the ride is Dorium, the blue bloke that sold River Song her time vortex manipulator for the Pandorica adventure. Dorium met with Madame Kovarian just before his recruitment and warned her about The Doctor’s wrath.

Rory visits River Song at Stormcage and invites her along as well, but River tells Rory that she cannot help The Doctor at Demon’s Run, the place where he will attain such heights but suffer such a great fall. He will finally learn River’s identity, however.

At Demon’s Run, bustling soldiers mutter amongst themselves about the legends of their enemy, The Doctor. They test themselves on recognizing psychic paper, one of The Doctor’s stock tricks, and they marvel at his destruction of that Cybermen fleet solely done to make a point. Madame Kovarian has an entire army at her disposal under the leadership of Colonel Manton.

One soldier, Lorna, met The Doctor as a child at the Gamma Forest and knows a bit more about him than the rest of the army. She sympathizes with Amy’s imprisonment and gives her a prayer leaf with Melody’s name embroidered on it in the language of her people. Amy is wary of Lorna at first, but they bond over both having met The Doctor as little girls, and Amy warns Lorna to be certain she is on the correct side of the battle when The Doctor arrives.

Walking amongst these soldiers at Madame Kovarian’s behest is the mysterious, shrouded religious order known as the Headless Monks. These guys carry swords charged with electricity, chant menacingly, hurl energy blasts from their palms, and demand that any cooperative military forces donate soldiers to membership in their order. (As we find out, this entails literally losing one’s head.)

In the hangar at Demon’s Run, Colonel Manton delivers a motivational speech to his soldiers. The Doctor is just a man that they can kill like any other man. He also introduces a few members of the Headless Monks, who as a special exception remove their hoods, revealing the knotted stubs that sit atop their necks. The third monk is no monk at all, however. The lowered hood reveals The Doctor, who taunts the soldiers with guns raised before him.

Vastra and Julie have hijacked the control room, and they cut the lights to give The Doctor a chance to escape. The Doctor continues to speak to the soldiers, goading them into opening fire on the Headless Monks, as they believe that The Doctor is still among them. Colonel Manton calls for his soldiers to disarm their weapons to demonstrate that The Doctor cannot make a fool of them. Taking advantage of this, dozens of Silurian and Judoon soldiers (the Judoons are that humanoid rhinoceros species, if you have forgotten) teleport into the room and surround Colonel Manton’s soldiers. The Doctor also brings in the modified World War II spitfires that brought down the Daleks last season to disrupt communications and prevent any reinforcements from arriving. Madame Kovarian tries to escape with Melody, but Henry the pirate and his son Toby have captured her ship.

The battle has been won quickly and easily. The Doctor confronts Colonel Manton and demands that he order his troops to “run away,” thus consigning himself to history as “Colonel Runaway.” Madame Kovarian advises the Colonel to order the withdrawal, and she takes advantage of The Doctor’s military leniency by slipping away herself. I realize The Doctor is not one to hold prisoners, but we still have several unsolved mysteries here, and he is simply releasing her. Who were all the parties behind the kidnapping? What was the motivation? These questions are explored (but not entirely answered) shortly after Madame Kovarian leaves, but one would think The Doctor, he of the endless intellectual curiosity, would have asked her a few more questions.

Perhaps we can excuse The Doctor’s failing in this respect due to his happiness over the bloodless confrontation that he engineered (save for the fighting among the enemy troops themselves) and - more importantly - safely recovering Amy and Melody.

We do have a tearful and happy reunion between Amy and Rory, who brings Amy their child that she believed had been lost to Madame Kovarian. The Doctor joins them, and this bit of banter results.

“Really you should call her ‘mummy.’ Not ‘big milk thing.’”
“O.K. What are you doing?” Amy asks.
“I speak baby.”
“No, you don’t.”
“I speak everything. Don’t I, Melody Pond?”
Melody gurgles.
“No, it’s not,” The Doctor replies, adjusting his bow tie. “It’s cool.”

As the enemy forces leave the facility, Vastra comments that The Doctor has never risen so high, echoing the words that River told Rory earlier. Something bad is about to go down.

Back in the hangar, The Doctor fetches a crib from the TARDIS for Melody, who does not like the sound of the TARDIS, which we will discover by the end of the episode to be a clever little in-joke. (My British lesson for this episode: a crib is a “cot.”) Amy and Rory have many questions, but The Doctor finds that he is not helpful to them yet in providing answers, so he returns to search the computer databanks with Vastra and Dorium. Before leaving, he does tell them that the crib was his own, complete with Gallifreyan astronomical mobile. Aw! Baby Doctor!

Vastra asks The Doctor about the origins of the baby, as the computer reveals that Melody is not entirely human. Her DNA contains traces of Time Lord. The Doctor realizes that in this universe the first time that Amy and Rory were on the TARDIS was on their wedding night. (You fill in the rest. It apparently involves a bunk bed.) The way that the Time Lords evolved involved exposure to the time-space stream over millions of years, but - as Amy had feared with her “timehead” comment - apparently conception in a moving TARDIS is capable of causing an X-Men-style genetic leap.

Why take this Time Lord baby? Conclusion: they wanted to raise and control a weapon as formidable as The Doctor himself. The Doctor continues his research, suddenly worried that this all might have been too easy, while Dorium and Vastra return to the hangar. From far away, Madame Kovarian contacts The Doctor via radio signal to let him know that fooling him a second time in the same manner was a privilege. Oh no, does that mean another flesh doppelganger is in use? He rushes to join his companions.

Back in the hangar, the Headless Monks reappear, and they chant their attack prayer. Vastra, Jenny, Dorium, Strax, Rory, and Lorna (who stayed behind to warn The Doctor that a trap was in effect), circle to protect Amy and Melody. Battle ensues. Dorium is beheaded. Strax falls and finds that death in battle is not quite as glorious as his Sontaran culture had him believe. Lorna is also mortally wounded. Most shockingly, though, little Melody dissolves into a puddle of flesh goo, having been beckoned to wake up by Madame Kovarian. No Headless Monks remain, but this is hardly a victory.

River Song shows up, and The Doctor is upset that she did not arrive earlier to help. In turn, she offers some serious reproach for The Doctor and what he hath wrought. The child of his best friends has been taken, and this all owes to his own reputation as “The Doctor,” a term that has been perverted to mean “great warrior” (as he is known in the Gamma Forest) from “wise healer” (per Moffat’s canon, the origin of the word in the English language).

River is a little harsh in her criticism, I think, but we quickly discover why she is taking this so personally. She subtly reveals to The Doctor that she is Melody Pond. The Doctor’s mood shifts from disconsolation to jubilation, along with goofy awkwardness over the implications of his future romantic involvement with the child of his companions. He realizes what he must do next to help Melody and departs in the TARDIS alone, leaving River to take everyone home.

Amy and Rory are still confused by what The Doctor learned, so River encourages Amy to look closely at the gift from Lorna that has Melody’s name stitched upon it. The effects of the TARDIS translation matrix help Amy realize that because the only water in the Gamma Forest is the “river,” “Melody Pond” becomes “River Song.” Yes, Amy and Rory, your adult daughter stands before you!


I found “A Good Man Goes To War” to be something of a disappointment on the first viewing. There are so many minor characters, many of whom we have never met, thrown at us so fast that it is difficult to be too invested in them. Additionally, the episode is so action-driven that the dialogue-driven moments that would allow time for the usual Moffat witty repartee are not quite as frequent as usual.

The big mystery of River Song was somewhat anti-climactic as surprises go. If you as a Doctor Who fan have devoted time to speculation over her identity, then surely you addressed the possibility that Amy and Rory are her parents. The nature of “The Impossible Astronaut” from the season opener now is all but unraveled.

That said, the surprise is undermined slightly by the expectations that go with this midseason cliffhanger and the hiatus of a few months that follows, so perhaps the feeling of anti-climax is unfair. Additionally, on second viewing I did find that I appreciated the episode more.

The banter does not match the best of the episodes, but there are very entertaining moments, highlighted especially by the Sontaran Strax and the emotional roller coaster that Matt Smith gives The Doctor in this episode. Joy, playfulness, anger, and righteous resolve all characterize The Doctor’s demeanor at the appropriate times.

I did find it odd that we were set up to expect this purported great fall for The Doctor, and when The Doctor leaves, he bounds off enthused by the identity of River and filled with confidence that he can rescue her. Yes, a few members of his army fell. Yes, the child of his companions was kidnapped. Yes, Amy and Rory might be scarred by the experience and never see their Time Lord friend the same way again. It seems they will not be allowed to raise their baby in her early years. It is difficult to be too upset, though, when you are staring at proof that River will survive and not end up the evil weapon that Madame Kovarian intended.

Of course, who told us about this great fall? River Song did. It is understandable why she would see The Doctor’s failure in this mission in those terms. This is her childhood that was denied, and it was her parents who were so affected. It does run contrary to our expectations to see The Doctor’s failure fall in this more personal realm, but what are the failures that affect us most deeply? Still, it was discombobulating to me to see him so cheery after the revelation.

I do think there is creepiness to The Doctor’s romantic involvement with the child of his companions and meeting said partner when she was just a baby. That is the main reason I did not want River to be the daughter of Rory and Amy. “Timey-wimey” out of order meetings can sort that out to some extent, and making her partially a child of the TARDIS as well lowers my squeamishness. It is still an odd dynamic, particularly when the show is still making jokes about Rory’s discomfort with The Doctor’s simply hugging Amy. (It is long past time for those jokes to go.)

There are still many questions to be answered going into this break. What exactly sets up the events of The Doctor’s death in the season opener? What is the time line of River’s life? How many times has she regenerated? Will she ever be reunited with her parents to live any sort of normal life? How old is she? Will she be a full-time companion with The Doctor? (I would assume she must if she is going to pilot the TARDIS and shut off that noisy parking brake.) Who aside from Madame Kovarian was behind her kidnapping?

I leave those questions for your speculation. Doctor Who and I will return in September for the next episode “Let’s Kill Hitler.” (No, they are not kidding.)

C. Robert Dimitri would have liked Leela and K-9 to make a return as members of The Doctor’s army, but he understands that they deserved a peaceful retirement. He just learned, however, in reading about the Doctor Who extended universe, that their fates were not exactly peaceful.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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