After a promising but ultimately disappointing opening, the concluding episode of this two-part story was not only charged with rescuing the floundering tale of the doppelgangers in the acid-mining monastery (sounds like a Frank Zappa album) but also leading into the much-hyped mid-series finale via what has been repeatedly described as a “game-changing” cliffhanger.
However, first of all, there’s the little matter of concluding the adventure in St John’s and the battle between the manic miners and their fleshy facsimiles. It hangs together slightly better than it did in the preceding instalment, but there’s still a lot of characters changing their motivations to suit the plot rather than for any logical reason, a lot of good ideas gone bad (the eyes on the wall are brilliantly spooky, but surely if a Ganger melted away to nothing but eyeballs, they’d be slopping around on the floor in a puddle of gloop?) and plot holes so gapingly large it’s a wonder the humans don’t escape through them instead of radioing for a shuttle to get them off the island.
But it’s not all bad. Matthew Graham’s script contains some wonderful lines (‘You tricked him into an act of weakness, Doctor.’ – ‘No, I helped him into an act of humanity.’) and moments that are genuinely moving: the appearance of Jimmy’s son via holographic telephone call is a definite ‘there’s something in my eye’ moment, while the way the ganger Doctor responds to Amy’s rejection of him is more subtle, but no less touching. Even the Doctor’s instruction at the end to Cleaves and Dicken, with its shades of Jon Pertwee at the end of ‘Planet Of The Daleks’ forty years earlier, has a poignancy all of its own.
Matt Smith is as excellent in these more introspective moments as he is as the excitable, machine-gun-mouthed man of action, but this week at least, Arthur Darvill is even better. Even though he spends half the episode conspicuously absent and most of his time onscreen cast in shadow, Rory shines even more brightly than last week as the slightly bumbling, rather weedy but ultimately valiant hero that he is. ‘I’ll break out the big guns’ and its associated flex of the muscles is one of the laugh-out-loud moments of the series so far.
And so to the very end of the episode, and the reveal that just about makes up for any of the flaws to the fore that preceded it. The Amy travelling with the Doctor and Rory is a Ganger; the real and very heavily pregnant Pond is lying on a faraway hospital bed under the watchful eye-patch of Frances Barber’s Madame Kovarian. It is a moment that internet acronym exclamations were made for (‘game-changing’ doesn’t even come close to describing how unexpected it is) but, we have to ask, why does the Doctor immediately liquidise the ginger ganger? After all, you are what you is – as Frank Zappa did once title an album – and having spent two episodes persuading Cleaves and company not to kill their yoghurt-faced doubles because the gangers are as much people as they are, it’s peculiar that the first thing the Doctor does after discovering the truth about Amy is, er, zap her with the sonic screwdriver.
This being Doctor Who, the revelation comes with a thousand additional questions of its own: When was Amy replaced by a ganger? How has her pregnancy advanced so quickly? Who is the mysterious eye-patch lady? And, perhaps most pertinently of all, how does Rory feel knowing he’s been sharing his marital bed with something inhuman?
However, there is finally a sense that a lot of the answers that we’ve sought (not only since the beginning of the series, but since the end of the last one) are at last getting closer. Whether we get all or any of them in next week’s mid-series finale is unclear, but ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ looks like being one of the best episodes since the show returned to our screens. To quote Mr Zappa one more time, we’re already starting to freak out.
Airs at 6.45pm on Saturday 28th May 2011 on BBC One.