Review by Mark Bousquet
“LET’S KILL HITLER” – Series 6, Episode 8, Story 218b – Written by Steven Moffat; Directed by Richard Senior – Holy fish fingers and custard it’s nice to have the Doctor back. After a summer off, it’s time for a new adventure for the Eleventh Doctor, Amy, Rory, and River Song as Amy and Rory’s mate Mels orders the Doctor to take them to Berlin so they can kill Hitler. Spoilers! They don’t, but we do get a bunch of answers. More questions, too, of course, but some answers, which is nice. Also, the Doctor dies. But he gets better. Because The Birth Of River Song Brings With It The Rebirth Of The Doctor.
First things first – new director Richard Senior absolutely crushes it in LET’S KILL HITLER. According to the BBC’s DOCTOR WHO site, his only previous directing on DOCTOR WHO was in the TIME and SPACE mini-episodes and a short intro for an awards show. Pity he hasn’t been used before now, but here’s hoping he shows up quite a bit in the future. The directing here is exquisite. Every shot, every camera movement, every acting cue, every cut … LET’S KILL HITLER is an impeccably assembled piece of television drama that’s funny, tense, emotional, fast when it needs to be and slow when it wants to be. Take the scene near the end where Rory asks the Doctor who Future River is imprisoned for killing. Instead of answering with words, the Doctor’s face goes from thoughtful to playful – Rory’s face darkens while Amy’s brightens, and Murray Gold’s Eleventh Doctor theme rises from quiet to booming. Even earlier in the scene, when the Doctor is summing up the episode by telling them that River killed him and then brought him back to life, he remarks, “As first dates go, it’s a bit of a mixed signal.” It’s a funny line, but what really gives it resonance is the small punch Amy gives him in the bottom of the frame.
As for the episode itself, it’s a damn fine 48 minutes of DOCTOR WHO. Perhaps most surprisingly is that Moffat has toned down his Moffat-ness for HITLER. Oh, there’s still the clever opponent (little people inside a robot), and the timey wimey moments (Melody Pond grows up alongside Amy and Rory as their pal Mels, meaning Melody Pond is named after herself), but Moffat tones them down to deliver a straight ahead roller coaster. It’s probably Moffat’s most ordinary episode and it’s far from his best, but it’s also immensely satisfying, offering real answers and posing more questions – with the emphasis, at last, on the answers. I hope this is a sign that he’s gotten a better handle on his showrunning duties, and found the proper sweet spot between his timey wimey method and Russell Davies’ run and shout style of writing.
There’s still plenty of Moffat’s circular dialogue thrills, where a scene pushes forward with Subject A and someone throws in an Aside B, then moments later the Aside becomes the new Subject, but HITLER never feels like the trick is the thing, never feels like all the cleverness is designed just for the sucker punch, but feels like it’s there to build this particular moment.
Most importantly, HITLER gives us the birth of River Song, and once again Alex Kingston proves what a fabulous actress she is, and how valuable she is to this show. We see Amy’s pal Mels get shot by Hitler and then regenerate into Melody Pond. Mels/Melody is the brainwashed agent of the Silence, born and bred to kill the Doctor. Mels has all of River’s roguish irreverence and disregard for the law, and when she regenerates into Melody, Kingston plays her like she’s still that early 20-something ball of flash and verve. Her regeneration scene is pure Doctor – the thrill of discovering a new body. It’s fantastic acting by Kingston – even the way she stands gives off that youthful vibe, and we see her character grow. We see Melody become River through her emotional growth, and after the past few years of raising questions and time tricks (she’s moving backwards, he’s moving forwards), there’s more growth for River in this one episode than many characters get over a full season.
After poisoning him with a kiss and a whole episode of running around and adventuring, Melody watches the dying Doctor refuse to give up on saving Amy and Rory. “Look at you,” she says as the Doctor struggles to get to the TARDIS, “you still care.”
And thus was River Song born – she just needs a few more minutes to actually realize it.
We don’t just get the birth of River, but the birth of Amy and Rory’s relationship. Moffat gives us a series of flashback scenes near the start of the episode where we see Amy, Rory, and Mels growing up together. There’s a pattern: Mels is usually in trouble, Amy is usually scolding her, and Rory is at the edge of the scene, somewhere between being involved and being ignored. When they get to high school, Mels gets jailed for stealing a bus and Amy wants to know why she can’t act like a normal person.
“Easy for you,” Mels chides, “you’ve got Mr. Perfect.”
Amy and Rory thinks she means the Doctor, but she means Rory. Amy and Rory protest that she “has him,” but Rory says it’s because they’re just friends while Amy insists it’s because Rory is gay. “I’m not gay,” he protests.
“Yes, you are,” she insists, daring him to tell her one woman that he’s shown any interest in during the ten years they’ve known each other. Rory looks like he wants to cry and runs away, and only then does it dawn on Amy that all this time Rory’s had a thing for her. She chases after him, but we don’t see the result. We don’t need to see the moment she catches him because we see the moment that leads to that, and we’ve seen all these instances of love between them that’s come after that moment. It’s such a well-written and well-acted scene that I found myself laughing at them and then pulling for them.
It’s moments like Amy chasing off after Rory that make the episode so satisfying because it’s feels like we’re getting not only answers but a deeper truth. While the episode doesn’t radically shift our understanding of the Doctor, Amy, Rory, or even River, its revelations deepen them.
HITLER is another quietly great episode for Arthur Darvil and Rory, who has the widest range of emotions to portray in the episode. He has to be the nerdy, girl-awkward youthful Rory, but he’s also experience-weary Rory who’s just discovered his pal Mels is actually his daughter Melody, and the confident Rory who punches Hitler in the face, and the clever-but-not-impressed-with-himself Rory, who points out to Amy that they were just hit with a miniaturization ray.
“How do you know that?” Amy asks.
“Well,” Rory reasons, “there was a ray and we were miniaturized.”
On the answers front, we also found out that the Silence isn’t a species, but a religious order organization whose core belief is that silence will fall when the core question is asked – the “first question, the oldest question in the universe.” “What is the question?” the Doctor asks. “Unknown,” Robot Amy replies.
It’s the standard “give-an-answer, pose-a-new-question” bit, but this time the emphasis isn’t on the new question and that makes it so much more satisfying a scene. We’ve got the revelation about who the Silence are, and confirmation that they’re the Big Bad. The revelation that the Silence are a religious organization potentially ties them in with the Headless Monks from A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR, and the clerics from THE TIME OF ANGELS/FLESH AND STONE.
I mentioned this in the comments section for A GOOD MAN, but I’ll copy and paste it here, because I still think the people behind all of this, which means the real identity of the Silence, is going to be the Time Lords:
My guess is that we’re gonna find out the Time Lords are behind all of this – not just the Master or Omega – but the whole of Gallifrey is coming for the Doctor because he’s been such a collective pain in their ass for so long. Oh, and because he killed all of them.
Remember when the Master went all crazy? What was he hearing? Drumbeats. What did the drumbeats sound like? The DOCTOR WHO theme. In this episode, what did the Headless Monks do before they attacked? They said a prayer chant. What did the prayer chant sound like? A different part of the Doctor Who theme.
Having the Time Lords come back and be completely antagonistic to the Doctor would allow him to not be “the last of the Time Lords” anymore but still be completely isolated from them.
Oh, and what were the Silence doing on Earth? Building a TARDIS (Time Lord technology).
I still think there’s more to Melody’s Time Lord DNA than just being conceived in the TARDIS. I think she’s a human baby that’s undergone genetic manipulation. And where would Eye Patch Lady get some Time Lord DNA? Maybe from an actual Time Lord.
How can we bring the Time Lords back to life? That’s what the Flesh is for. But the Flesh is a replication mechanism, right? Where would someone get that for the Time Lords? The Gallifreyan Matrix, which has biological imprints of all Time Lords, living and dead. Wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think that Timothy Dalton sent the Matrix away from Gallifrey to protect it from the Doctor’s act to end the Time War.
By the end of Series 6, or by the mid-season finale of Series 7, I’m guessing we’re gonna see the Time Lords back in a big way.
For all the running and shouting and tiny-people-in-a-robot-ing, Moffat keeps the focus on the relationships between the characters. When the Doctor dies near the end of the episode, the focus is all on Melody, who ends up giving all of her regeneration power to the Doctor to bring him back. Also, Moffat has dropped the RTD method of over-selling the big emotional moments; here, even the big moments are played smaller, coming off as part of the episode and not the sole reason for the episode. The biggest emotional impact ends up not being either the Doctor’s death or rebirth, but the revelation that we all know – Melody realizing that she’s River. Just before his death, the Doctor whispers something in Melody’s ear for her to tell River when she finds her. As Melody pulls away, she sees the Doctor is dead, and a shaken Melody asks Amy and Rory, “Who’s River Song?”
Amy turns Robot Amy (the shape-shifting robot, the Teselecta) and orders it to show River Song. The robot does it’s shape-shifting bit and reveals an older River Song. The look of painful realization on Melody’s face is just devastatingly great acting, and such a quiet, but powerful emotional moment that one hopes when Russell T Davies watches this episode he finds himself some new religion.
There’s a whole gaggle of smaller moments that deserve mention:
1. Melody’s playful challenge to the Nazi gun squad and her ordering the dinner party to strip so she can do another of the Doctor’s regeneration bits: trying on new clothes.
2. The dying Doctor asking the TARDIS to give him a visual interface, and the TARDIS offering up first himself (“No, give me someone I like!” he protests), and then giving him Rose, Martha, and Donna, to which the Doctor gives voice to his guilt at how things turned out with all of them. Given what we know of the TARDIS from THE DOCTOR’S WIFE, it’s a curious series of options before she presents herself as Amelia.
3. Karen Gillan’s acting. The weak link of the acting quartet, the show also hasn’t given Karen a lot of diverse opportunities since Rory came back, but here she displays her widest range since last season. She’s got to be the youthful, mean-to-Rory Amy, the older, more playful Amy, the infatuated-with-the-Doctor Amy, concerned mommy Amy, think-on-the-fly Amy, threatening-the-time-cops Amy, and Robot Amy. It’s some of her best work and Gillan must have jumped for joy when this script landed on her desk.
4. The playfulness of the opening sequence where Amy and Rory make the worst crop circle in history, spelling out “Doctor” in a corn field. “Oh, really?” the Doctor asks, pointing to the local paper’s coverage of the event. Cut to Rory: “Well, you never answer your phone.”
5. Rory saying, “Shut up, Hitler.”
6. River being totally taken aback at being able to fly the TARDIS. “I seem to be able to fly her,” she says disbelievingly to her parents. “She taught me how to fly her.”
7. Murray Gold’s score. Gold has been the biggest unsung hero of the entire relaunch, and he’s in amazing form in HITLER, but not so much for the grandiose moments but the smaller ones. Listen to the quiet music when the Doctor dies, or the playful music when Melody and the Doctor are going at it.
8. The Doctor giving River the blue journal that we see her carrying around all the time. It’s another one of those moments that gives this episode a sense of real revelation and closure.
9. Kid Rory. Poor guy, though one supposes all those years of taking the brunt of Amelia’s cruelty was worth it in the long run. I just love the bit where he comes walking into the room complaining that “I thought we were playing hide and seek.” Amelia dismissively replies, “We just haven’t found you, yet,” and Rory hangs his head and leaves the room.
All told, LET’S KILL HITLER is a cracking good start to the second half of Series 6.
Originally Published August 28, 2011