I’m somewhat at a loss for how to review this episode, but I’ll give it my level headed best.
I don’t know what I was expecting when the big revelation hit at the end of A Good Man Goes to War and the Doctor goes off to find and rescue Melody Pond, but it wasn’t this. Maybe I should have seen it coming. It’s a testament to Steven Moffat’s abilities that this comes off as well as it does. It’s almost as if he had the whole thing planned from the beginning. If he did, though, I’m forced to ask, just what sort of crazy Byzantine mind does Steven Moffat have?
Having watched Let’s Kill Hitler, Erin and I have to term this episode “seriously adorable” and “more than a little mind-blowing”. It’s funny. It’s frenetic. It answers a lot of questions and asks some new ones. It hints at a lot of depth here. A part of me wonders if this magnificent structure is being balanced precariously on toothpicks, but it’s a magnificent structure nonetheless. I’m just holding my breath in case a stray blow brings the whole thing crashing down.
A full spoiler review occurs after this break.
Amy and Rory have spent the past summer at home, getting very, very antsy while the Doctor is away in search of Amy’s daughter, Melody. Deciding they have enough, they call the Doctor home by making a great big crop circle bearing his name in Leadworth. This works, and the Doctor appears in his TARDIS, holding tomorrow’s newspaper, more than a little miffed… except that while the Doctor hugs Amy, Rory notices a typo. Somebody has crossed out the word “Doctor” in the crop-circle like a stroke of a pen. The Doctor aligns the paper’s photograph to the crop circle he’s now standing in, looks, up, and sees death speeding towards him in a convertible going at 100 mph.
Thus the pace of Let’s Kill Hitler is set. Steven Moffat leaps into his story with righteous glee, dumping revelation upon revelation in a scale that has probably stunned a fair portion of the audience. The car is being driven by Mels (played by Nina Toussaint-White), Amy and Rory’s best pal (What? Didn’t you know that Amy and Rory had a ne’er-do-well best pal? Steven must have forgotten to mention it (or the Silence inserted her into the timeline after the fact)). She known Amy for at least twelve years, and has known of Amy’s childhood infatuation with the Doctor, and shares it to a great extent. She’s gotten in trouble with her teachers for blaming every tragedy in history on the fact that the Doctor didn’t show up (note: a nice little clue here as to Mels’ true identity, and also a possible motivation for the Silence). Trouble in school developed into trouble with the law, and now police sirens are blaming and Mels has got a gun. She wants the Doctor to show her what this time machine can do.
Just when you think things couldn’t get more frenetic, an accident in the TARDIS console room (caused by the entirely unforeseeable occurrence of a mentally unstable young woman with a gun actually shooting the console) causes the ship to careen into Adolf Hitler’s office in Berlin in 1938.
This is the second curveball that Moffat throws at us. Previously, major historical figures have been in the thick of an episode, from Charles Dickens to Richard Nixon. They’ve just run into Hitler. At the end of the teaser, Mels pulled out a gun and said, “Let’s kill Hitler!” Instead, he’s a set piece.
Because there’s something else stalking the halls of the Reichstag. A humanoid robot powered by the little people is on the prowl for Hitler. Gradually, it comes out that these rather bureaucratic (and dangerously polite — just look at their robots) people are time travellers who have decided that history hasn’t dispensed nearly enough justice to the war criminals of the past. By a lucky coincidence (or unlucky, take your pick), these time travellers have screwed up and have arrived seven years too early to dispense punishment on Hitler without seriously disrupting the time stream. But, really, that’s the least of their worries, because they’re a set-piece too.
What Hitler and a humanoid robot populated by little people out to kill him are set-pieces for is a big reveal. One of Hitler’s shots go wide, striking Mels while she stands in the background. Rory and Amy are horrified. Then we learn that Mels is short for Melody (Erin got it early; I didn’t), and she starts to regenerate for the second time in her life, popping out as Alex Kingston’s River Song.
Except, of course, she doesn’t know her name, yet. This is Melody pretty young in her life, but the Silence and the one-eyed Madame have had several years to brainwash the girl and turn her into a weapon. And now the target is acquired, and the fight to the death starts. And, surprisingly enough, the Doctor gets outfoxed, and is left with just thirty-two minutes to live.
It’s really surprising how narrow this story’s focus is. Indeed, given the number of characters at play, here, it’s almost a bottle episode. It’s only the people within the workings of the robot that really add to the cast list and to the show’s budget. Otherwise, what Let’s Kill Hitler comes down to is the Doctor, Amy, Rory and Melody, and Hitler in the cupboard. I had no idea what to expect as a follow-up for A Good Man Goes to War, but it was certainly not that.
It works though. While the story leaves the little-Hague-people and their robot justice machine a big add-on that raises more questions than it answers (who are these people? why are they time travellers? why are they so obsessed for righting the injustices of history? And how will they react when the Doctor — clearly their hero — very clearly and loudly expresses his disapproval over what they are doing?), the advantage of giving the bulk of the story to Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darville and Alex Kingston is that you know these four are going to be able to deliver. Moffat has his team, he has a script to feed them, and they eat it up with a spoon.
Matt Smith shines yet again. His performance speaks of someone who knows that events have gone a bit pear-shaped, and he has no real idea what to do, but he improvises at a hummingbird’s pace to compensate. Except that, in the end, he still manages to slip up. Even with his death now just a half-hour away, his determination to save both his friends and his friends’ daughter (who are very much at cross-purposes) is a highlight of this story.
The scene where the mortally wounded Doctor speaks to the voice interface of the TARDIS stands out. In some ways, it sticks out like a sore thumb. I’m not entirely sure as to its purpose in the story, or why the Doctor needs it, and the fact that he rejects images of Rose, Martha and Donna on the basis of “guilt,” “guilt”, and “more guilt” is a note of deep tragedy that almost sounds out of tune with the rest of the episode. It works, however, precisely because of the deep tragedy it evokes: the Doctor, madly trying to save his friends and their daughter while facing death himself still finds a great ocean of guilt about his previous companions rising to the surface. A part of him, I suspect, is willing to embrace death just to end it all.
The re-appearance of young Amelia Pond is welcome, though am I the only one who would have preferred if Idris had shown up instead?
Karen Gillan shows off her acting chops again, ably differentiating herself between human and robot. Just watch her performance as the justice-bot. It’s not just the dialogue that sells this, it’s her whole body language (even if she does seem to display some rather fembot sensibilities). And, of course, Arthur Darville puts on another fine performance as Rory. A good outing for him, all told, especially in the fact that he gets to punch Hitler in the face. I loved his deadpan delivery as he locks Hitler in the cupboard, and then takes on the task of riding a motorcycle. Alex Kingston does pretty well as well. It must be quite challenging to play a River Song who basically has the mind of a college freshman, especially considering the actress’ rather timeless appearance, but I think she pulls it off. Without these skills, the episode would have been at a serious disadvantage, even as strong as the script is.
Okay, one glaring pothole manifests itself upon sober reflection: where the hell are the Berlin police or the German Army in the last half of this story? The Fuhrer has been attacked! A madwoman with big guns has taken out the Fuhrer’s guards, and has marched into one of the pushest places in the city and demanded clothes at gunpoint. True, the action in the last half of this story takes place in under thirty minutes, but that’s plenty of time to gather together the German equivalent of SWAT teams to storm the place. We should at least have heard shooting, sirens, or approaching jackboots.
But overall, I was deeply satisfied by Let’s Kill Hitler. The story has the feel of a major resolution and turning point to a storyline that Moffat has been developing in his head for years. The question of who River Song is and how she came to be is now answered, and the plot appears ready to take a new tack — how to get Melody out of the clutches of the people who brainwashed her (whose reach probably extends beyond the physical), and to keep the dance up that leads inevitably to the Doctor’s death at the beginning of The Impossible Astronaut.
The look in the Doctor’s eye suggests that he sees the puzzle box, and he knows that though it contains a beautiful and passionate love story between him and Melody, it imprisons them both. The possibility exists that each may experience, and have an active part in, the incidents leading up to the other’s death. The Doctor’s rescue mission is clear: to put Melody through the path that turns her into River Song, even though it means putting himself on the path where she kills him. But just as the Doctor had a cheat on hand to save River’s life at her end, is there some other trick up his sleeve? Or is the trick up River’s sleeve?
That’s my theory on where we’re going next.
Of course, Moffat could throw yet another curveball, and cause my head to explode.
On the subject of neat-things, let’s count the number of forward continuity references Moffat introduced into River Song’s earlier stories that have been successfully realized by Let’s Kill Hitler:
River Song can’t regenerate away the events of Forest of the Dead because of the actions she takes here (this was actually a bit of a double-whammy since, in the former story, River told the Doctor that the power surge would be so intense that it would kill any Time Lord stone dead, regenerations or no. That River lost all her remaining regenerations here was probably a case of Moffat responding to audience members not remembering that earlier fact and questioning him on it.
In Time of the Angels, River Song claimed she was “taught by the best” to fly the TARDIS, but that the Doctor was “away for that day”. In Let’s Kill Hitler, we learn that River was taught by the TARDIS herself, while the Doctor lay near death back in Berlin.
Note that River references “the Byzantium” in Silence in the Library, which takes us directly to Time of the Angels. Just how far back was Moffat planning River’s story?!