After such hype, the newest episode of Doctor Who had a lot to live up to. Personally, “Let’s Kill Hitler” didn’t live up to the hype. It was entertaining, that much is true. But with so many loose ends hanging around, it needed to do a little more than this episode managed. To an extent, this episode worked as a stand-alone instalment, with an interesting, if ridiculous, premise. The Teselecta was preposterous, but good fun all the same. The teaser about Hitler was redundant within 5 minutes, but again, was rather good fun.
But there was simply too much to fault. I realise by saying this that the Moffatt Fangirls will no doubt want to hunt me down and kill me. Honestly, they’re becoming as bad as the RTD Fangirls, or even worse – the Tennant Fangirls. The Grand Moff has been given too much freedom. This episode was the 12th which the show runner has written himself – the trouble is, he’s too fascinated with these multi-season long story arcs to actually provide us with answers. Instead, as editor-in-chief, he focuses on these red herrings and clues too heavily in not only his own scripts, but those of everyone else, and ends up frustrating the long-time fans and newcomers alike. I genuinely can’t believe that anyone who happened to pop the episode on by chance, but hadn’t seen the last few series’, would have a bloody clue what was going on. This was fan-wank of the highest order, as well as the most inappropriate title for any episode, ever. The Moff frequently lies – this we know for a fact. But misleading the entire fan base during the three month hiatus between episodes 7 and 8 is a bit of a low blow for all involved.
This was ultimately The River Song Show. After 20 episodes of The Amy Pond Show (Guest starring Rory Williams, and also featuring the Doctor), with very little for the Doctor to do himself – “The Doctor’s Wife” and “A Christmas Carol” not withstanding – the trailers for this looked set to finally put the Doctor back in the spotlight, where he belongs. Matt Smith is an outstanding character actor, who has taken the role of the Doctor and made it utterly his own. Reminiscent of Patrick Troughton’s Two, with the comedy flair of Four, the moral compass of Three, the vulnerability of Five, the temper of Six and the slapstick of Seven, he somehow manages to combine all of these elements into one outrageously good performance. He is easily the best Doctor since the regeneration of the series in 2005, and if he had better material, could quickly become the best Doctor ever. Unfortunately, all he is given is a supporting role in his own show, hugely overshadowed by The Ponds.
So, River – whilst I’m not her biggest fan, and the storyline has frustrated me ever since her first appearance in “Silence in the Library” / “Forest of the Dead”, Alex Kingston has brought a certain charm to the stories within which she has featured since Moffatt took the reins for series 5. The character has been an enigma from the outset, and one which Kingston has obviously relished. Here, though, we get to meet River for the very first time – and Kingston simply thrives off of the material she’s been given. She delivers one of the quickest one-liners in the show’s history – “So I was on my way to this gay gypsy bar-mitzvah for the disabled, then I thought ‘the Third Reich’s a bit rubbish’...” – which had me genuinely laugh out loud. However, witty one-liners do not a plot make.
The plot, such as it was, revolved around two things – the Teselecta, a Justice Police of miniature people who go around through time and give bad people ‘hell’ for the wrongs that they cause, and River’s origins. I’ll start with the Teselecta, as that was by far the most interesting part.
The Teselecta was an incredibly interesting concept, one which should rightly have been given an entire stand-alone episode to discuss. The ramifications of time travel are an idea that the show touches on frequently, but hasn’t been discussed in any detail since the reboot in 2005. Here, Moff created the perfect means to analyse the repercussions of the responsibilities afforded any race able to alter history, through any means, and of course discuss the potential for changing the future by altering the past. If you could go back in time, and kill Hitler before he had the chance to commit any of the despicable deeds he had inflicted upon the world, then would you? Could you? These are the questions that Moffatt didn’t discuss. Instead, he gave us the most inept force for good since Dad’s Army. That such a hi-tech creation would balls up their mission, turning up before the Second World War wasn’t just ridiculous; it was offensive. Despite their technological know-how, and the fact that they can travel through time, they arrived in 1938, and it’s only because one of the little workers looked at the date, seconds before killing Hitler, that they realised that they weren’t in the right year. The special effects of the Teselecta were incredible, and reminiscent of The Terminator, but again, when the plot is as paper thin and filled with loop-holes as this story was, it is impossible to be overly wowed by any of it. When they catch up with River Song, realising that she is the greatest war criminal of all time – because she kills the Doctor – they proceed to ‘give her hell’ - The hell simply being a bit of electro-shock therapy. On a side note, the Teselecta reminded me of The Numbskulls, the comic strip in The Beano from when I was a kid... which was nice.
Had this episode heavily featured the Teselecta, and focused fully on the potential of this idea, it would have made a fascinating opening episode to this half of the series.
Unfortunately, it didn’t. What it did instead was rush the Teselecta sequences, with about a 45-minute long episode’s worth of ideas, into about ten minutes, instead focussing on River. Bloody River. While I hadn’t expected an entire episode about Adolf Hitler – that’s a bit much for a kid’s show, right? – I had hoped at least for a little more focus on those darker ideas. Instead, the opening five minutes of the episode were bloody awful, introducing a new character, someone that had apparently been the best friend of Amy and Rory all along – one that we had never met before, nor even heard the slightest mention of. If the character had appeared before, it may have been easier to swallow – perhaps she could have appeared in “The Eleventh Hour”, helping Amy and the Doctor defeat Prisoner Zero. Or maybe she could have been there in “Amy’s Choice”, their best friend next door in the ‘fictional’ world of Leadworth. Or even in previous episodes, we could have had flashbacks which involved her being told all about the ‘raggedy man’ by a young Amelia Pond. Anything would have sufficed. Instead, we get the appearance of someone whose name was conveniently an abbreviation of the name of Amy’s daughter, and a twist which the Hubble telescope could have seen coming from outer space. In fact, had the line about naming Melody after Mels come a little earlier in the episode, then it may still have kept some people guessing. And whilst it was followed by the very amusing “you named your daughter – after your daughter?” it still felt like a kick in the nuts for any viewers with half a brain cell.
So, Mels – the unlikeable ‘rogue’ friend, who we see through flashbacks, acting exactly like River Song. I mean, exactly like her, with her disdain for authority figures, her penchant for getting into trouble... even her entrance was reminiscent of River. All that was missing was “Hello, Sweetie”, and we’d have been there! Instead of an interesting character arc, we were spoon-fed the blindingly obvious, once again, as Moffatt informed us we’d never see it coming. Much like the ‘question’ which hides in plain sight, every last one of Moffatt’s twists so far has been so simple a five-year-old could figure them out. Which they have been.
Alex Kingston’s performance as the ‘young’ River Song was inspired, I must admit – this brain-washed child, desperate to murder the man that she believes is a war criminal. Whilst she was unpredictable and fiery, the Doctor had apparently already worked out her every move – in a scene that would have been perfectly at home in a Moff-penned episode of Sherlock. As the camera cut back and forth with little flashy touches, showing the Doctor hiding guns, removing bullets, and placing bananas in odd places – as we’ve seen before in “The Doctor Dances” to Captain Jack – I felt my anger flaring.
Rory Williams was something of a revelation in this episode. I have said for a while now that he is an excellent companion, or would be were it not for the Pond. He shone in “The Rebel Flesh” / “The Almost People”, bringing a heart-felt touch of humanity to the proceedings, showing care and compassion to Jenny, and her Flesh doppelganger. Throughout that episode, Amy was a judgemental, cruel girl, refusing to accept the flesh-Doctor as her true friend. Arthur Darvill plays the role with conviction, and with scripts like this he truly shines – he is able to deliver some of the best lines in the show, including the amazing “Shut up, Hitler”, punches the most evil man in the world, and then locks him up in a cupboard, where the Fuhrer remains for the rest of the episode.
Matt Smith’s performance was, as always, eclectic, a rollercoaster of emotions. It did throw up a number of irritations for me though – why did he change into the tuxedo with so comparatively short to live? Why was he unable to regenerate? The little people in the Teselecta said that his death was a fixed point in April 2011 – so how could he have died anyway? If River has now passed all of her remaining regenerations on to the Doctor, does the Doctor now have more than the 12 regenerations set out by Robert Holmes during the original run? Is this a loophole created by Moffatt to increase the longevity of the series, much as RTD tried to do with his throw-away line in The Sarah Jane Adventures? The scenes with the TARDIS interface were nice, and well performed from Smith, but as we rolled through the holograms of Rose Tyler, Martha Jones and Donna Noble, I couldn’t help longing for an earlier companion to appear. And then, to have settled on a young Amelia Pond, was downright cheating – couldn’t it have been Suranne Jones as Idris again? That would have been perfect.
I couldn’t help giggling at the scene in which the Teselecta informs the Doctor that the Silence are not a race of aliens, but rather a religious order – not because it amused me, or for any reason to do with the plot of the show, but rather that the BBC merchandising people must now be howling that every one of their products with the Silence on are now incorrectly named. Whilst we do not yet know the species’ true identity, the fact that they are simply workers of a cult is quite an interesting twist, and one that I confess I didn’t see coming. Then again, I wasn’t looking for that, since it was one of the few loose ends from series’ 5 and 6 which hadn’t struck me as needing an answer.
So some questions were answered – but more were asked in their place. River has always said she kills a man. The best man she ever knew. The commander of the Teselecta said that she killed the Doctor. He also said that the Doctor’s death is a fixed point in time, on the beach of Lake Silencio. So she was never going to have killed the Doctor there, right? Or was she? And if she was, is that what she’s in prison for? And if so, how does that make sense, as he didn’t die? It makes the mind hurt to think about it too much. River had said that she learnt to fly the TARDIS from the best, when the Doctor wasn’t available – so the TARDIS taught her. I get that. But how? How quickly?! The Doctor only had 32 minutes to live, as Holo-Amelia kept on informing us. In those 32 minutes, the Doctor also got changed into his tux and did a bit of physical comedy as his legs went to sleep. Also, we had always been led to believe that the timelines of the Doctor and River were going in directly opposite directions – their first meeting, as we saw it, was in The Library, although it was the final meeting for River. As such, this first meeting between River and the Doctor must be their last, as it is the first time River has ever met the Doctor. Are you following this? No, me neither...