SPOILER ALERT for Doctor Who series 6.
Here’s the thing with “Let’s Kill Hitler.” It was the first episode we watched together in awhile, and judging by our shrieking and squeeing, we both enjoyed it thoroughly as we were watching it. But in the hours that followed, we went around and around in circles debating how well it had been done. And after continuing in the circle for awhile we came to one conclusion: Though we were coming from different angles, both of us, at one time, felt as though Steven Moffat did not have a plan with this story. We felt that he did not know where he was going and had to scramble to fix/retrograde plot details. I felt like this during “A Good Man Goes to War,” Laura felt like this with “Let’s Kill Hitler.” Regardless of when or why, however, the fact that either of us felt like this at any point is rather troublesome.
Let’s talk about the amazing things first. There were A LOT of funny moments and clever lines. Top of the list: Rory punching Hitler, telling him to shut up, and shoving him in a cupboard. The awesomeness that is Rory Williams just continues to grow exponentially. Also awesome: All of River/Melody’s lines after she regenerates. Alex Kingston gets all the acting props for playing a renegade twenty-something in a forty-five-year-old’s body. “Well. I was on my way to this gay gypsy bar mitzvah for the disabled...” Matt Smith dancing around in a tux will never fail to bring us joy, and high-school Amy’s realization that Rory was not only straight but very much in love with her was adorable. “But I’m a friend.” “He’s gay!” “No I’m not!”
But the episode’s strongest moments by far lay in the beginning of Melody’s transformation from Mels to River. When you watch the Impossible Astronaut, you get the impression that little Melody has to be controlled by Madame Kovarian and the Silence. She’s confined to a spacesuit that she breaks out of, and and seems to hesitate before she shoots the Doctor. However, if Melody was an unwilling weapon, Mels was certainly more than willing, and THAT is the shocker. Their plan to create a Doctor-killing machine succeeded to such a great extent that the weapon would not only kill him once, but twice. Even after the Doctor foils three of her separate assassination attempts, the lipstick plot still succeeds. She knows his greatest weaknesses, and manipulates them with more finesse than even Madame Kovarian pulls off. Even as she begins to suspect that he knows more about her than she knows about herself, she is still unwilling to bend to save his life, and the lives of her parents.
Which, when you think about how she’s been brought up, is tragically logical. She’s been conditioned her entire life to think that the Doctor is one of the most dangerous foes the universe has ever faced, and she is not willing to let anything stand in her way. It is only when her parents’ lives are in danger that she is moved by how much the Doctor cares about them. But her transformation truly begins when she first steps into the TARDIS.
The look of frightened wonder on her face when she says to Amy and Rory “The Doctor says I’m a child of the TARDIS. What does that mean?” signals a crucial moment in her progression towards becoming River Song. If that is the first step, the second step is seeing that she is the woman who the Doctor has been pleading with for the entire episode. But the most important moment comes when she looks at Amy and asks, “The Doctor--is he worth it?” The question echoes the Doctor’s own words to Amy in The Big Bang, when he says “The Girl Who Waited--was it worth it?” And both times her answer is the same: of course the Doctor is worth it.
Hearing that unwavering belief from her mother upends everything Melody has known up to this point in her life. When she wakes up in that hospital bed, she is not quite River yet, but she is no longer Melody either. The most heartening thing to take away from this comes in the light of the Doctor’s reaction to the companions incarnated through the Voice Interface. He begs it to present him with someone who he hasn’t yet screwed up, and here we Melody/River begin her own journey of healing and discovery. The Doctor gives something different to each of his companions, and in this case, he’s not just giving River adventures or a new perspective on the universe, but he’s giving her a new life--far from her abusive childhood with the Silence--and a choice, for the first time, to care. So often when the Doctor leaves a companion behind, it is an ending. But when River makes the last appearance on our screens (hopefully many seasons in the future), it will be her beginning.
Watching the trajectory of River’s character left both of us feeling incredibly happy and emotionally satisfied. HOWEVER, there are still several aspects of this season’s overall story arc that are leaving us incredibly unsatisfied. To go back to what we said in the first paragraph, it is clear that at some point along the line Moffat did not have a plan. There are bits of storytelling here that feel sloppy and unfocused--a particular example in this episode is the flashback series with young Amy, Rory, and Mels. It felt like Moffat was haphazardly squeezing Mels into a past that had already been established for Amy and Rory--particularly as little Amelia Pond has already had her history rewritten so many times. And even as River’s big reveal at the end of A Good Man Goes To War gave us so much joy, it felt like something that was decided at the last minute in fan forums.
At the end of the day, there is a lot going on in Let’s Kill Hitler that makes us very, very happy. At the same time, our faith in Steven Moffat’s ability to sustain a story arc over an entire season has not yet been restored. We hope that he continues to do the good things that he’s been doing, and that at some point, that he actually develops a plan for them.