When AfterElton editor Michael Jensen asked me if I was interested in recapping the autumn side of this season’s Doctor Who, I was like, “Um, does a cat have climbing gear?” I mean, it’s only my favorite show in all the universes on every plane of the space-time continuum. But after “Let’s Kill Hitler” I realized I might not be equal to the task.
For one thing, I often need to be borne away to my fainting couch when River Song appears on my TV. And for another, Steven Moffat is firing on every madcap cylinder in the Tawdry Quirk Shop this season — which is, of course, a pleasure to watch, but a bear to tie down on a page.
In fact, I’m not sure Doctor Who really lends itself to the blow-by-blow recapping style of the day, so let’s try this — one Whovian to another — and if you hate it, we’ll work some timey-wimey magic on it next week.
“You’ve got a time machine and I’ve got a gun. What the hell? Let’s kill Hitler!”
I’m not sure how you spent your summer, but I spent my summer watching the last five minutes of “A Good Man Goes to War” over and over and over until even my DVR began to silently judge me. I also spent a lot of time wondering if Moffat had buried himself under so many questions that he would never be able to dig his way out. And, of course, there was all that hullabaloo surrounding the impending Hitler-themed episode: If it’s too dark, you’ve shuffled yourself into Torchwood territory. If it’s too fluffy, you trivialize the atrocities of a monster.
But leave it to the Moff to poke at the fandom flame for three solid months while resting comfortably in the knowledge that Hitler was only lending his name to the episode for the purpose of Goodwin’s law, and his face to the episode so Rory could punch it.
After less than a full minute of screen time, Hitler was tucked away in a cupboard.
“You named your daughter after … your daughter.”
So, River Song is Melody Pond. That was quite a mindfrak of a revelation by itself. But now we know that Melody Pond is also Mels, Rory and Amy’s best friend from childhood. Mels’ flashbacks are actually better the second time through, once you know who she is. She’s not just being cheeky when she says all of history’s dark days happened because Amelia Pond’s Doctor didn’t stop them; she really means it.
She’s been programmed to kill The Doctor, and so of course the Titanic sank because he didn’t intervene. (And double of course: River Song began learning how to break out of prison in primary school.)
Mels delivered a few zingers — “I’m a psychopath. I’m not rude.” — but Alex Kingston is River Song, and this one belonged to her and Matt Smith. When I see people complaining about River, I usually hear them saying things like, “I don’t want this to turn into The River Song Show!” Which is a valid worry, I suppose, because Kingston always owns the screen.
It’s her delivery, sure — “I was on my way to this gay gypsy bar mitzvah for the disabled when I suddenly thought, ’Gosh, the Third Reich’s a bit rubbish, I think I’ll kill The Fuhrer.'” — but it’s also her willingness to just inhabit River Song no matter her age or her moment in time. When Kingston’s Mels asks, “Who is River Song?” it is shockingly easy to believe she doesn’t know. Her savage innocence in the beginning is just as real as her reluctant heroism in the end. I particularly loved her obsession with her new hair and her new body. (“I might take the age down a little, just gradually, just to freak people out.”)
We got other answers, too: We know now that The Silence are a religious organization, and not just a knock off of The Gentlemen. We know where River got her Tardis diary, and why she began studying archaeology. We know that Amy and Rory have been best friends since childhood, but that Amy never pursued anything with him when they were teenagers because she thought he was gay.
Amy: Of course you are [gay]. Don’t be stupid. In the whole time I’ve known you, when have you shown the slightest interest in a girl.
Mels: Penny in the air.
Amy: I’ve known you for what? Ten years. I’ve seen you practically every day. Name one girl you’ve paid the slightest bit of attention to. [Rory runs out of the room.] Oh, my god! Rory!
Mels: And the penny drops.
But it wouldn’t be Moffy without a half-dozen more questions: What did the dying Doctor whisper in River’s ear? Was it his name? Is that how she knows it in the library? We know who River is to Amy and Rory now — and they both took the news that they raised her without knowing they were raising her surprisingly well — but is she really The Doctor’s future wife? And why and how does she kill him? And what is The Academy of The Question?
“Scotland’s never conquered anyone, you know. Not even a Shetland. River needs me. She’s only just beginning. I can’t die now.”
There were enough nostalgic callbacks in this episode to turn even the hardest heart momentarily sentimental. Little Amelia Pond, both in flashbacks and as the TARDIS’ voice interface. And, of course, Rose and Martha and Donna, all of whom made The Doctor writhe around on the floor in guilt. When Rose first appeared as the voice interface, I thought it really was her. I was like, “How in the world did they keep Billie Piper’s guest appearance a secret?!” It would have been the fangasm of the century.
And I’m not sure it was on purpose, but River and her banana — a brilliantly filmed sequence, by the way — reminded me of Nine and Captain Jack Harkness.
“At least I’m not a time-traveling, shape-shifting robot operated by tiny angry people, which I’ve got to admit, I didn’t see coming.”
Right. There was actually another subplot to this episode: The time-traveling Justice League roaming around Meet Dave-style inside a Tesselector.
The concept is a bit sinister: They travel through time to find the scum of history right before their deaths, and they suck them up into the time machine to let the ship’s “antibodies” torture them. The antibodies are hilariously polite as far as menacing space jellyfish go: “Welcome. You will experience a tingling sensation and then death. Remain calm while your life is extracted.”
I wouldn’t mind seeing the Tesselector crew again. They’re an interesting foil to The Doctor’s brand of time travel.
“Can you ride a motorbike?” “I expect so. It’s that sort of day.”
If you had told me all the way back at “The Eleventh Hour” that Rory would end up being the saving grace to Amy Pond’s companionship, I would have laughed in your face. But he just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t he? Punching Hitler in the face, locking him in the cupboard, hopping on a motorbike in 1930s Berlin to track down his childhood best friend/grown-up daughter. I like his acknowledgment in this episode that he is often a bumbling sidekick of a sidekick, but there are days when he is marvelous. This was one of them.
What did you think of “Let’s Kill Hitler?” What were you favorite lines, your minor quibbles, and how about Matt Smith in his tux?