“Let’s Kill Hitler”
“…and the penny drops.” —Mels, “Let’s Kill Hitler”
And welcome back. How was your summer? Yeah? Good. So, let’s talk Doctor Who. Specifically, let’s talk “Let’s Kill Hitler,” the irresistibly titled sequel to “A Good Man Goes To War,” the half-season finale from last June. Honestly, the first time through I was a bit divided on this episode. After rewatching it, I’m a little less divided but I still have some reservations. On the one hand, it’s classic Moffat. He’s already introduced a stack of intriguing questions and twisty complications. But where most creators would start removing items from the stack, Moffat keeps piling them on. We recently learned that River Song is actually Rory and Amy’s all-grown-up daughter Melody. That answered one long-running question, but in a way that raised even more questions. And now, with the revelation that Melody became Amy and Rory’s (heretofore unseen) best friend Mels who then becomes a River Song who’s never heard of River Song with a singleminded focus on killing The Doctor… Well, the mind reels. But in a good way.
That’s to say nothing of the clever dialogue, and expert delivery, that it’s almost become possible to take for granted in the Moffatt era. Take the way Rory and Amy toss off exchanges like their remarks on the miniaturization. (“How would you know that?” / “Well there was a ray and we were, uh, miniaturized.”) At this point that kind of back and forth just feels like the natural, expected rhythms of the show.
Also classic Moffat: The episode’s highlights. For starters, there’s Mels’ instantly quotable line, “You’ve got a time machine and I’ve got a gun. What the hell? Let’s kill Hitler,” which gives the episode its title and gets it off to a running start. There’s some terrific Amy/Rory business fleshing out the history of their relationship (“I’m not gay” / “Yes you are”), that clever Melody/Doctor showdown where one anticipates the other’s next move leading to a stalemate broken only by Melody’s kiss, and lines like “Shut up, Hitler.” And, like most Moffat episodes, it pays to watch it again. Though Nina Toussaint-White’s performance rings a little hollow for me, those Mels flashback scenes play a lot differently once you know who she is. “You never said he was hot,” Mels/Melody/River says, and for once she’s flirting without any knowledge of their future. But the future’s already there in her gleeful disregard for authority and property rights. To hear her talk casually about stealing a bus is to hear River in the making.
Yet for all the good stuff, and for all the Moffatness of the good stuff, I left “Let’s Kill Hitler” a little disappointed with the way the Rory/Amy/Melody plot developed and some other elements. For starters, I’m not sure what to make of the time-travelling hell-givers. I don’t really get their mission and as characters they seem kind of bland. (That’s to say nothing of the Meet Dave-like qualities of their method of transportation.) But what really troubles me is, despite a second-half with a lot of heightened emotions and a near-death experience, “Let’s Kill Hitler” doesn’t quite have the impact of other episodes in this season’s overarching storyline. Much of “A Good Man” was powered by passion and desperation: Rory needed to be reunited with Amy and his daughter. Amy had to save Melody. Here they seem to lose that drive. They seem to accept a little too quickly that Melody—the baby taken from them at the end of “A Good Man,” that is—is gone, that they “raised” their daughter unknowingly as a school chum and that’s just the way it was going to be. Maybe the payoff’s coming. And maybe it will fully deliver on the high passions evidenced in the last episode, but this doesn’t. (And, finally, it seems a little too obvious to raise this complaint, but Hitler gets locked in a cupboard and that’s really the last we see of him? In an episode titled “Let’s Kill Hitler”?)
But, I don’t want to complain too much. After all, we’re still at halftime in a season that’s shown every sign of having a plan and seeing it through. In fact, if I didn’t feel a little distanced from the way “Let’s Kill Hitler” treated its characters—as curious and entertaining as it is to see Amy and Rory worrying about the well-being of their suddenly more mature daughter—in the second half of this episode, I’d probably feel a lot better about it. (Also, I’m afraid I’m starting to sound a bit too much like one of those fans. You know the kind.) It’s the rare episode where the balance between big concepts and subtle emotional moments felt out of balance. So let’s talk about what worked better: The big concepts.
• For starters, we learned a bit more about The Silence, a religious order, as it turns out with the core belief that “silence will fall when the question is asked.” What question? “The oldest question in the universe.” Which is… unknown.
• So Mels is Melody is River. I like the way Alex Kingston played her transformation at the end. By giving up her regenerations, she becomes River, even if she doesn’t have the name yet.
• Though I’m iffy on the tiny doppelganger-creating time travelers, the notion of The Doctor having rivals in the time travel business could be interesting. And I love that the anti-bodies greet their victims with the word “Welcome.” It’s cheery and creepy at once.
• So, The Doctor knows the date of his death. River is imprisoned for killing… someone. We know she’s fated to kill The Doctor, a crime that apparently makes her—shades of Godwin’s law—worse than Hitler. How does all this fit together? I think we don’t have enough information yet. Maybe it’s in that book of secrets, though.
Let me also add that I’m as impressed as always with the core cast. Smith’s a joy and able to suggest darkness and designs beneath his cheery exterior (even while dolled up a bit like Joel Grey in Cabaret). And Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill’s portrayal of a complicated, loving married relationship grows more impressive with each episode. They’re fleet and light on their feet but well-aware of the emotional stakes at play. I just wish this particular episode shared that awareness from start to finish.
• The Doctor, a glib man of guilt: “There must be someone left in the universe I haven’t screwed up yet.