“Let’s Kill Hitler” Review

Daylight. For the first time since Utah, there’s daylight. That reflects the lighter tone in this densely packed story that ends the Summer hiatus in series 32 (or heralds the arrival of series 6b, depending on your personal preferences) and that’s despite the war criminals and attempted assassinations that crop up with astonishing frequency.

Let’s Kill Hitler promises the title of the episode, though we were warned that was misleading: Moffat admitted this would be a straight follow on from A Good Man Goes to War. But it wasn’t really that either; this was simply a River story, picking up on that (in)famous revelation at the end of the first half season concerning River’s identity.

I was rather disappointed the first time I watched this. It wasn’t a bad episode, but it felt the weakest so far by the high standards this series; I focused on the flaws and the overloaded plot (I think there are about 4 episodes’ worth of story in here: looking for Melody, the Hitler story, the robot with the miniaturised crew, and finding River). On second viewing I’m sure I was overly harsh; it’s hugely entertaining and there isn’t a moment on when the action doesn’t roll along. I remember seeing an interview where Moffat explained his reason for the horse on the spaceship in The Girl in the Fireplace was to grab the interest of viewers just in from the pub; a philosophy that he’s clearly applied to keeping the viewer on their toes through this. The flaws that bugged me weren’t terminal, some were small things (why would the Teselecta react to Rory’s “heil”?) while other niggles connected to the larger plot (if Melody is this ultimate weapon, why such pedestrian assassination techniques?) but always with the possibility that they might be explained away.

What I loved about this episode was the way it perfectly reflects Silence in the Library as the diametrically opposite point in the Doctor and River’s meetings. Her total devotion to him then counterpoints his absolute faith in her now; for each of them at the other end of the scale this commitment is puzzling and bewildering. I’m more and more in awe of Moffat’s handling of the non-linear relationship between the Doctor and River each time they meet. It’s reflected in River’s name which I speculated before came from a time in the Gamma forest, but it’s actually a Timey Wimey thing: The Doctor gave her that name, because River told him that was her name. Lorna just provided the link. The River regeneration is all about her making the choice of who she wants to become.

Most of my other River/Melody series get shut down fairly quickly: the little girl from the start of the series is River. Baked in the TARDIS, Melody has a time head. She is the child of the TARDIS. (There’s still the question of how older River doesn’t recognise young Melody’s space suit, and Moffat’s hint to revisit “The Silence in the Library” hasn’t helped me with that.) The theory that River the Doctor’s mother hasn’t been totally squashed, but I now rather hope she isn’t. The Doctor’s dedication to her in this episode is all the more astounding and touching if she is just River/Melody. Perhaps this will become clearer when we discover how River learns to read Gallifreyan? Also we still have the question of how Melody knows who her parents are: if she was given this information to allow her to get close to the Doctor when he returned for Amy, why hasn’t she met him before? (“Not doing weddings” is barely a reason not to attempt her mission.) We get no more of Lorna (she’s not River, she’s not a weapon) but might we see her again in the Gamma Forest? This other girl who waited?

And a new question: the Doctor says always waste time when you have none. In one scene there are 32 minutes remaining, in the next the first mention is of 3. Where was the Doctor in-between?

The design in this episode is superb: it simply looks fantastic. Swansea as 1938 Berlin would have seemed so unlikely the week before. I love the Doctor’s new coat, too, a huge improvement on his costume.

Moffat doesn’t seem capable of resisting the sly continuity references: the Temporal State of Grace is “a clever lie”, and the 12 regeneration limit that’s been exercising fandom has been neatly fudged (and in good time, since we still had 2 more doctors in the bank, as it were). But there’s a whole new issue around Time Lord (or just Time Baby?) ageing with River’s throwaway comment about losing a few years. Apparently an indulgent in joke to explain a production quirk (like Romana trying out new bodies in Destiny of the Daleks) I suspect it may have been there for a deeper reason: explaining how Mels aged at the same speed as Rory and Amy by suggesting not that Time Lords age slowly, but that they can age deliberately.

One final reason why I’ve re-evaluated this episode: fine performances. Nina Toussaint-White hits a perfect balance with just enough River in it to convince. Alex Kingston really gets to let rip in this one. And Matt Smith is, again, amazing: just look again at his face as he repeats the line: “give them hell”. But the emotional high-point in this episode for me followed a concern that, after the emotional extremes so firmly rung out by RTD, Amy’s reaction to discovering her pregnancy and losing her baby was just to muted. In her reaction to facing death, believing her friend the Doctor dead, her daughter having killed him, and with Rory in her arms, the words “I love you” are so chilling filled with a kind of resigned peace.

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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