Written by Steven Moffat, directed by Richard Senior, 2011
Well – I seem to increasingly be saying this about Steven Moffat’s stories, but that was a queer fish. There’s lots of fun to be had here, and some lovely moments, but once again we get a rather self-involved tangle of wrapping-up and foreshadowing played out among the four main characters, in a situation which might as well have taken place anywhere. Like most people, I’m somewhat relieved quite how much the Hitler situation turned out to be ratings-baiting misdirection, but equally, I’d quite like Moffat to actually deliver an honest-to-goodness plot that occupies definite location, and features more than a handful of very minor characters in addition to the regulars. (Certainly, none of his event episodes have delivered as well as his first finale, which somehow managed to balance scale with a tangible sense of plot development.)
It’s a concession I’m slightly loathe to make, not least because it was a dynamic I’ve always been so disapproving of in the Davies era, but I suppose this story’s reliance on twists, set-pieces and the laying of future groundwork is acceptable in a season premiere (well, kind of). It goes without saying that the series’ ability to support a story featuring “a time-travelling, shape-shifting robot operated by tiny angry people”, a Hitler cameo, and an evil early Melody and the regeneration into the River we know – and more – is a prime example of Doctor Who’s deliciousness. But, equally – and, I suppose we can again lay this at the door of the ‘event episode’ defence – the series seems to be sliding in a somewhat lighter direction than Moffat’s avowed ‘dark fairytale’ mentality might initially have suggested. However, I say that with no foreknowledge of the remainder of this half-season, so who knows – it just concerns me somewhat that the Doctor is almost entirely a comic figure by this point.
As for River, in a way I sort of preferred her as a mysterious-but-glam archaeologist, though it’s undeniably good fun to see her psychopathic programming in action. Mels takes the piss a bit though: she’s like a refugee from some alternative-universe Hollyoaks-demographic version of the series. Mainly though, the sudden advent of a character in this way both reinforces the sense of Moffat’s on-the-hoof manipulation of at least the details of his own masterplan, whilst coming across as a contrivance too far. It’d be almost an unforgivable cheat, perhaps only justifiable because it involves River, and she can get away with anything.
Case in point: River giving up her regenerative ability to save the Doctor is pretty neat, and doesn’t feel like a pat reversal of his death-by-lipstick, but then, River’s Time Lord powers seem a bit too neat to me anyway. (Though the Doctor’s description of her as the ‘child of the TARDIS’ goes some way to suggesting a semi-conscious helping hand on the part of the old girl which sits slightly better with me that the idea that anyone shagging on board will produce a brand new Time Lord.)
What else? There are lots of pleasing nods – Rose, Martha and Donna’s images seemed a bit unnecessary, but the reappearance, even briefly, of young Amelia, and the glimpses of Amy and Rory’s pre-Doctor Leadworth lives are appreciated.
However, overall, there’s something quite shonky about this story – an uneven, slightly clunky tone, as well as the plot. It feels slightly, at the moment, like the River/Silence saga might keep on unfolding, forever, in ever more tortuous ways, but I guess when this arc is resolved it may be easier to accept Let’s Kill Hitler as the balls-to-the-wall romp that Moffat no doubt intender. And, fair enough.
Also: like the Doctor’s new coat. It’s good. Also, I found the Tesser-whatsit’s antibodies hearteningly crap.
NB: I enjoy the tortuousness of Moffat’s arc; but, I have to say, I kind of hope, next year – are we getting new companions?! – stripping things back wouldn’t be entirely unwelcome and might be quite refreshing. The unravelling of River’s identity, her killing of the Doctor, blah blah: as a dedicated follower, though it can get a tad overwrought, it’s satisfying to watch it all unravel, but, really, what did a casual viewer think of this?! I feel like the aforementioned Big Bang, say, wrapped itself up quite neatly, but in ways self-contained enough to not be entirely baffling.., whereas, this…