Let’s Kill Hitler
The Doctor: Never knowingly be serious — rule 27. You might want to write these down.
Production Code: 2.8.
Doctor Who Season: S32 (Ep8).
Story Number: 219. (Footnote ).
It begins in a cornfield…
Reminiscent of the start of Vincent and the Doctor – though instead of a calm painting, Amy and Rory’s Mini is frantically weaving through what appears to be the path of a maze. With the maze-like labyrinthine plots of these two seasons of Doctor Who, you just need a little perspective to see the big picture.
HIJACK TO HITLER
An aerial camera-view of the field obliges – but what caused the strikethrough line of the Doctor and what does that mean? (It’s actually our first hint to the surprise coming – a strikethrough like a mission has been completed, the Doctor is dead, as we know from The Impossible Astronaut.)
The screeching roadster, it has to be River – oh but it isn’t, it’s… "Mels"?
It’s a startling beginning to the episode as she mouths the episode title to take us up to the credits.
So there’s a character we’ve never seen before who declares themselves the best friend of Rory and Amy – is this playing fast and loose with what it’s reasonable to expect from a longform ongoing tale such as this? Not really – it’s not as if we’ve been properly introduced to more than one contemporary of Amy’s and Rory’s in Leadworth anyway (just Jeff before this episode, The Eleventh Hour). As Mels said, she doesn’t do weddings so that explains the absence from The Big Bang wedding (we didn’t even see Jeff there!). We’ve seen mini-Amy (Amelia Pond) before of course, but only her of this trio of friends when they were younger.
A flashback across a decade and a half introduces mini-Rory as well as mini-Mels. Mini-Amy reckons she “counts as a boy” to explain why she’s in as much trouble as mini-Mels in a very funny line, though it’s tales of the “imaginary” Doctor that seem to be getting them both in trouble at that time.
The running themes of Amy’s past before The Eleventh Hour are added to. Mels turns Amy’s model of the TARDIS over in her hands as Amy explains it’s “Just a stupid dream I had when I was a kid”. Mels though is still getting into trouble, from headmaster’s office to jail cell and Amy is there trying to guide her to a better path.
It’s hilariously played this next scene, where apparently Amy is still thinking she “counts as a boy” when she wonders when has Rory ever shown an interest in a girl. “Oh cut to the song” complains Mels, or should that be “…to the Song” as their getting together will ultimately produce River Song.
Before Hitler appears (briefly) in the story, we’re introduced to the Teselecta – and curiously another theme of these two seasons features again, that of the surveilling Eye (the means of the hapless German officer’s doom as it captures him).
The title of the episode conjures up the atmosphere of flippant farce that the song-title “Springtime for Hitler” does from The Producers. It’s entirely appropriate that Hitler isn’t centre-stage in this episode but appears for a brief comedic scene before being bundled into a cupboard by Rory. The idea of “a” Hitler, a War Criminal, is present though throughout the story.
“Forget Hitler …” For a brief few seconds we’re led to believe the crew of the Teselecta has re-prioritised the Doctor as the number one War Criminal in the room, as they scan the TARDIS, but really the TARDIS is a pointer to the fact that “…it’s her!” After those two words and Mels on the edge of death, talking of marriage to the Doctor, talking of her parents “Since they’re both right here” there’s the accumulation of hints that this is River, after the ones in the cornfield that we dismissed.
“Penny in the air? Penny drops…
Last time I did this I ended up a toddler – in the middle New York”
“It took me years to find you two. I was so glad I did, and you see it all worked out in the end didn’t it? You got to raise me after all”
So the expectation that the Doctor would find baby Melody to allow them to raise her (but then how would that fit in with Melody – if that’s what were calling the incarnation of River Song before Mels – being raised in America in a Nursery in the Sixties?), this expectation is turned upside down – mini-Mels the Time Tot spent half-a-century trying (via the age modulation power she has that River mentions later) to find them, and was raised by them after all.
“I love it – I’m all sort of… mature. Hello Benjamin”
Moffat’s new televisual method to convey the dizzying speed-of-thought of his two televisual heroes the Doctor and Sherlock – there’s similar scenes in The Eleventh Hour, and Sherlock A Study in Pink – is used once more, to illustrate it’s essentially a battle of wits between River and the Doctor.
"This is what they were building – my bespoke psychopath". She’s successful in her mission though after that brief battle.
The Voice Interface scene is extraordinary – with the camera’s extreme closeups of the writhing contours of Matt Smith’s wonderfully expressive face, they really sell the idea of the Doctor’s near-death as he’s sprawled on the floor of the TARDIS. The scene is both hilarious and moving with the "you will die in 32 minutes" repeated refrain from Voice Interface Amelia, that gives way to the more hopeful "Fish fingers and custard". It seems the Doctor is perhaps confused and delirious and whether he's imagining this line is spoken or whether the TARDIS injects a little hope into the Interface is ambiguous, either way it's a fantastic scene.
The Teselecta crew give us a brief recap of some of the SF concepts of the New Mythology of 21st Century Doctor Who. The Doctor’s death – "Time can be rewritten"? It’s a "confirmed Fixed Point" (though confirmed at Lake Silencio).
The figure of “Amy” finally catches up with River but the Ponds are captured.
“Sorry, did you say she killed the Doctor? The Doctor? Doctor Who?” It’s a great image, the Doctor leaning against the TARDIS, cane in hand, as he theatrically spins down the step, dancing in front of evil, the uneasy image of the swastika juxtaposed with the TARDIS. It’s an appropriate choice of dress for two reasons – this was what he was wearing in the The Big Bang when he – unwittingly? – proposed marriage to River, and it’s his magician outfit too: he’s about to conjure River from this would-be War Criminal.
Before that though, the Doctor is keen to try and understand the pieces of this puzzle querying the Teselecta while Amy and Rory are captured within, “Question – who wants me dead?” “The Silence is not a species, it is a religious order or movement” Their core belief – Silence Will Fall when The (unknown) Question. (That it’s unknown – very Douglas Adams.) This is a quick few lines but quite a biggie for these two seasons and ties together several plot strands – it seems the Edvard Munch-aliens of Day of the Moon are part of this movement (the “we” of the Silence is the movement), along with Eyepatch Lady, who are at war with the Doctor?
There’s wonderful backwards-music that’s the theme “I Remember You” from The Big Bang that plays over the Doctor’s attempts to convince the woman who’s killed him to “find River”.
“Find River Song, and tell her something from me”
Surely the unheard-by-us message – “tell her I love her”. “Well I’m sure she knows.”
We are all SF geeks now in this UK TV audience, as we all understand the shorthand of Time Lord Energy flowing from River after she “finds River” and decides what to do is the emotional crescendo to all this.
The last scene at Luna University is significant in more ways than one. It echoes the other Moffat Doctor Who tale that features this University, another story of a woman who believes the Doctor is a villain and his struggle to change her mind – Continuity Errors .
The most extraordinary thing about this story perhaps is the fact it shows us the beginning of River (after starting with River’s end in her first story), and as all her stories were told to us backwards, what does this mean for how many more River stories there will be?
This episode joins the dots for a whole lot of the saga of River and her previous incarnations to the one most familiar to us – Spacesuit-girl from Day of the Moon is clearly River now (if any ambiguity remained), and the incarnation “Mels” bridges from the New York regeneration and Mel’s tale seems complete and told by this episode.
So the “gaps” that remain are in the stories of two incarnations, American Spacesuit-girl and River. Why if it IS American Spacesuit-girl at the lake that shoots the Doctor would Mels still be trying to complete her mission? If it isn’t American Spacesuit-girl but the later incarnation River in a Spacesuit – why exactly a spacesuit? That River killed “a good man” meant she was sent to prison is clear but that now happens after she’s been set on a brighter path by the Doctor. It’s this we haven’t seen clearly yet, that and any wedding between the Doctor and River – that’s if they are man and wife.
So although there were a lot of answers there’s still a lot of questions, as well as apparently “The Question” that the Silence are puzzling over…
Rating: 5/5 (for this part of this two-part story),
previous part 5/5,
for the whole 5/5.
Footnotes (and links)
Doctor Who Magazine has described this both as the second half of a two-parter and one-episode story.
Continuity Errors, a story from Decalog 3: Consequences
edited by Andy Lane & Justin Richards