The Making of River Song—Doctor Who: Let’s Kill Hitler.

Previously on Doctor Who: A Good Man Goes to War.

Oh, dear. At the end of this episode, I am trying to find a sense of accomplishment, as I always do. Something to take with me, something that happened—in this case, there is a lot to take in, emotionally, but as for stuff happening: difficult. In the end, Hitler is still in the cupboard, the Doctor’s still alive, and Amy and Rory are still bewildered parents. Which is fine, basically setting the universe right again is what the Doctor does, it always reverts to a state of status quo, if you will, but this episode celebrates it. Or maybe the episode doesn’t have any other ideas?

I’m not sure which it is, to be honest. Basically, this is an episode turning in on itself: wrongs are being righted—from our perspective, even Melody beginning to become what River will be one day is just an episode (no pun intended), a glimpse into the past. This is the point on which everything pivots, this weekend, this series, this Doctor: rewriting time. The Justice Department thinks it’s a good idea to go back in time and kill war criminals—which is a nice thought, but what else might have happened if Hitler hadn’t?—and so this is all about erasing. Keeping the robot from getting to Hitler, bringing the Doctor back to life.

Things get started, but then stopped or reversed—and the one thing that does and that actually does some good is the robot giving Melody “hell.” No idea what she was being tortured with, but maybe it was life from the Doctor’s perspective. Something to do with him that sparked compassion in her, that managed to dig through the brainwashing and make Amy and Rory’s daughter regain control. So, we see why she changed, and how, but it’s not complete yet. The Doctor himself seems unsure how much trouble and pain she’s going to have ahead of her now, how difficult her beginning is going to be, but he still gave her her diary—he’s hopeful, and he trusts her. I’m guessing that this might be what he whispered in Melody’s ear before he “died.” River’s introduction at university is ambiguous, and we still don’t know why she’s going to be imprisoned in Stormcage. As much as the making of River is now less of a mystery to us, her life is even more of a puzzle now.

In any case: psychopathic River is fun. No, seriously. I mean, it hurt when she regenerated and then… that happened. It was terrifying to see what the Alliance had done to her, what they had turned the Doctor’s best friends’ daughter into. When the miniature people in the Teselecta get excited about having the universe’s worst war criminal in front of them—after all the things we heard from River in the last episode, one would think they mean the Doctor, the mighty warrior. Except they don’t. They mean Melody Pond. I guess someone out there still likes the Doctor. And I can see why. She killed the Doctor with a kiss. How fitting.

Mels (Nina Toussaint-White), Amy’s daughter–and best friend.

The beautiful thing about Mels is that she managed to find her mother after her first regeneration in New York, and then becomes her best friend. She’s already got the knack at getting into trouble that we already know so well from River, and basically, Amy and Rory do get to raise their daughter, even if it’s in real time with their own growing up. It’s also nicely Back to the Future that Mels has an integral part in getting their parents together—and the penny drops!

Another thing: the TARDIS taught Melody to pilot her. The Doctor knows that she can save him by using her regeneration energy—by giving him the rest of her lives—and the TARDIS knows it, too. Even better: the Doctor knows that she can, but the TARDIS knows that she will. Time can be rewritten, but the TARDIS can look inside her—she’s a child of the TARDIS. No matter what she might have just done, the TARDIS trusts her.

Rory: Alright, I’m trapped inside a giant robot replica of my wife. I’m really trying not to see this as a metaphor.

There is more information about the circumstances of the Doctor’s death, now. We now know that the Silence are a religious order who believe that silence will fall when the oldest question in the universe is asked.  There is also something slightly Hitchhiker-ish in this: the ultimate question, probably, but what is it? Since the Doctor’s got a brain the size of a planet, I guess he and Deep Thought will be very happy together.

Matt Smith said before this episode aired that Alex Kingston rocked this one, acting-wise, and, well, going from psychopath to a person beginning to be River Song is one hell of a leap, and she does it brilliantly. The nuances are very good, and the reluctance in her, you can see it. There is something waging a war inside her when the Doctor pleads with her to help him save her parents as he’s dying. She’s amazed that he still cares about his friends first and doesn’t give up, and it almost sways her, but then she is flippant again and compliments his perseverance mockingly. It’s not until he whispers in her ear and she sees that the one woman he trusts the most is herself. She can’t quite believe it, and it shows, but she wants it to be worth it.

And the Doctor is worth it, because Matt Smith makes it so. His portrayal of a dying Time Lord is fascinating and emotional, the way his eyes turn a deeper shade of green when he pleads with Amelia’s hologram to give him something, a reason to keep fighting. It is, and will always be, fish fingers and custard. Matt Smith can’t just do amazing things with his face, he is also an incredibly good physical actor. He’s proved that a zillion times over the course of the last two years, but for a man who knocks coffees over for a living, he’s got wonderful control over his ridiculously long limbs to do a poisoned man’s little breakdance on a stick.

Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are having the time of their lives, it seems, and Amy and Rory are beautiful and complex characters who need all their potential—and they’re willing to give it. Amy is an especially hard job this time around. It’s so damn difficult for her because she doesn’t understand what her daughter has become, she’s scared and torn between grieving for her best friend and protecting her child no matter what. She needs the Doctor to guide her through this. She doesn’t have the emotional energy to argue, so she channels it into doing what her best friend must know is best.

Rory. Oh, Rory. You are magnificent and glorious and brilliant. Just as confused as anybody else, but you are the Last Centurion.

Amy: Can you ride a motorbike?

Rory: I expect so. It’s that sort of day.

It’s that sort of day. It’s the sort of day when Rory has to pull the bloody Pandorica with his wife inside—the wife he’s been guarding for 2,000 years—out of a burning museum in the middle of the London blitz. It’s the sort of day when he punches Hitler in the face, tells him to shut up, and stuffs him in a cupboard before realizing the Führer just shot his daughter instead of the robot. It’s the sort of day when he has to save his daughter who is about to walk into Nazi Berlin to go “shopping” and most likely just killed his best friend. It’s that sort of day when the Centurion hops on a 1938 motorbike and gives it a ride.

The four together, as always, are a wonderful team. It’s the little things in which it shows, such as the little clap on the shoulder Rory gives his best friend and virtual son-in-law as his daughter flounces off and leaves them behind looking bewildered and, in the Doctor’s case, scared and sexually nervous: his face as all he offers is, ‘Spoilers’ when Melody asks about River Song for the first time is golden. It’s a delight to watch—and listen. The dialogue is very good, as is Steven Moffat’s way of proving how well he knows his characters, and the emotions within the script range widely. Amy’s sarcasm is just one sign of how, in between all the big deals being discussed, the little things never get overlooked.

Rory: I’m getting this sort of banging in my head.

Amy: Yeah, I think that’s Hitler in the cupboard.

Along with the corn circles to get the Doctor’s attention, this is brilliant. Hands down brilliant.

Then there’s that moment of pure fear when Hitler gazes up at the TARDIS. Oh Jesus, imagine what would have happened if he’d gotten a hold of that. Churchill better keep his hands off, because not all of time can be rewritten, but this guy? Oh, God.

I do wonder what the Justice Department is going to do, though. Will they continue to hunt River throughout the centuries, or will the Doctor’s orders count for something? They are still going to put her in Stormcage for killing the Doctor at Lake Silencio in Utah, apparently, so what the hell is going to go wrong?

Next: Night Terrors.

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6 thoughts on “The Making of River Song—Doctor Who: Let’s Kill Hitler.

  1. I always appreciate your episode reviews, and your blog was my first stop on Saturday after this episode aired. You always manage to offer a fresh perspective. Even if I don’t always agree with your opinions, I respect them.

    After I watched “Let’s Kill Hitler” I wasn’t quite sure what to think. On the one hand it had some very entertaining moments, and all the cinematic elements (set design, cinematography, acting) were superb, as usual. What disappointed me most, though, was the direction the show has taken River Song into.

    As season six has progressed we’ve learned that she is part Time Lord, that she is a brainwashed psychopath and that she will one day go to prison for killing ‘a good man,’ supposedly the Doctor. What I disliked about this episode is that it took two things away: Melody the psychopath and River’s ability to regenerate. It felt like a missed opportunity all around. Now no one can play River Song except Alex Kingston, and as much as I adore her it would have been fantastic to have seen The Doctor and Young River; now we know that Professor River Song from Silence in the Library is not so far from the newly minted River who just saved the Doctor’s life.

    The Doctor’s near-death is also not very believable to me, despite Matt Smith’s brilliant effort. The first episode of this season was the Doctor dying: that made this latest ‘death’ harder to believe, and also it’s difficult to pull at those particular heart strings several times in a season without dulling them.

    Some people seem to accept on face value that River reformed so quickly in the face of the Justice Department robot and The Doctor’s revelation of what she will come to mean to him. For me it just wasn’t believable. This, like the episode before it, felt like it needed a two-parter to truly flesh its story out. Lacking the budget Moffat has instead opted for telling an incredibly complex story in half the time he needs to do so, which in my opinion is a detriment to the show as a whole. Where are the Doctor Who episodes with metaphor, with an underlying meaning greater than the sum of its parts? Where are those fantastic episodes like “Midnight” which tell us about something so much more important than time travel and aliens? The Doctor travels to the Third Reich and manages to make no commentary on the atrocities it committed. Really? I don’t think it’s too far off to call it shallow, vacuous or insipid. As much as I enjoy Steven Moffat’s work most of the time, when I watch episodes like this one all I see is the man who wrote “Coupling.”

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    1. Hey Aubs! I always enjoy discussing these things with you, and I’m glad you took the time to comment! 🙂 As I said in my tumblr message, I was sure you’d make an eloquent argument, and you do!

      It is a pity that this was the only time we got to see Melody the psychopath–then again, how long until that gets old? OK, the Master trying to tear the Doctor a new one never got old, but I’m not sure how good Moffat would have been at giving the character the layers needed, and like the Master had them, to draw it out. It would have been nice to see him try, though, so you’re right. This stint was too short–that’s why I said, this is an episode where something happens and then gets reversed too quickly, which left me feeling like nothing had really happened in the end. As for River: well, I don’t know, this is timey-whimey stuff, so maybe we’ll still get to see more Young River; in the finale perhaps? (And, in danger of repeating myself, if we don’t get their date at the Singing Towers, I’ll get my pitchfork!) But, yeah, this was a jump back on the timeline that seemed a bit squashed into the narrative flow to finally sort something out, which leaves a bitter after-taste.

      There is a telling bit in the NEXT TIME trailer, where Rory says: “We’re dead. Again.” They’re dying a lot, you’re right. Every time it happens, I go, ‘Time can rewritten, WE GET IT, MOFFAT,’ and I understand if people stop investing their emotions into it. I cried when Rory first died in Cold Blood, and I cried when he shot Amy in The Pandorica Opens. The Doctor’s fake death-by-Dalek in The Big Bang already got difficult, and this one certainly doesn’t help. But how else would Melody the psychopath have changed her mind? I don’t know what the robot did to her, but I’m guessing they showed her what’s going to happen to the universe once the Doctor is dead. And I think that’s where Moffat wrote himself into a corner: one, you’re right, we can’t take River’s reform at face value. (That’s why I pointed out that the Doctor’s reaction and River’s introduction at the university is ambiguous. Is she there to find out more about the universe–or about the Doctor’s weaknesses so she can go after him again?) So, he needed to let her hesitate. At the same time, he needed this Doctor to live–which means he needed a convincer. Something that made the River Song in Melody raise her hand and protest: the Doctor’s death. The only way to act against the brainwashing is to save him after she killed him. We can only speculate what she saw when the Teselecta gave her hell, which is why this is so difficult to accept.

      As for Hitler: the Doctor has faced Daleks, basically space-Hitlers, countless times–the point is that they’re not real. I agree that setting this in the Third Reich was rather a bad move and a transparent front to introduce the Justice Department, which could and should have been done another way. Then again, what way? Should they have picked the Franco regime in Spain, or Stalin in the Soviet Union? Using Earth history for this is highly problematic, and while the Teselecta is a nice idea, it should have gotten a story of its own instead of being used for this. It’s a bit of a deus ex machina to get River to come out. I didn’t problematize this in my review on purpose, because I wanted to get reactions without any influence from me.
      The Doctor and River took the time to comment on Nixon’s policy, so it is shallow that they don’t do that now. I understand your anger about this, on the other hand I would like to point out that kids might not know about Nixon, but everyone knows about Hitler. Just the sight of him is terrifying enough, as the Doctor, Rory, and Amy’s faces show when they see just whose life they saved–the Doctor says something to the effect of, ‘As I said: mistakes’; and when he threateningly (and smugly) tells him that the “British are coming”. I’m German, so I anticipated the way in which they would approach this with a bit of awkwardness settling in my gut (and which is why I focused my review on River–you know Godwin’s law, discussing it is, eventually, pointless). There have been three stories set during WWII in new-Who now: The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, Victory of the Daleks, and now Let’s Kill Hitler. None of them really say anything about it, the only time concentration camps are mentioned is in Turn Left, and they’re alluded to when the Master builds labour camps in Series 3. I don’t know how this was handled in Classic Who, but I guess it was obvious to contemporary audiences that WWII certainly gave the writers a few ideas for their villains. I think they don’t say anything now because it should be self-evident. And because, in the face of the actual thing, words often fail and seem inadequate; I barely found words when I learnt about it in school, and I still don’t. It’s one thing to rage against what happened in the past, but I think what’s more important is to fight it in the present. The half-human Doctor, Ten.5, was born out of revenge for something the Daleks did long ago, and he committed genocide out of his anger and grief. That’s not what the Doctor is about, and maybe the show-runners are so careful with comments on WWII because they don’t want kids growing up with that kind of hate. They learn about it in school, they learn to rationalize, they (hopefully) learn not to blame my generation for what happened–because you can’t go back like the Teselecta does, because it’s done and a fixed point in history. It’s right to want to try–God knows I’d be tempted to go back and strangle him if I could–but you can’t actually do it. And it’s right to hate Hitler, but it’s more important to work against Neonazis in our own communities.
      And I think it’s because of the Doctor’s experience in A Good Man Goes to War that he doesn’t get up in Hitler’s face–a weapon has been built because the Doctor has so much blood on his hands and frightens half the universe to death. Perhaps he felt it wasn’t his place. Of course, you can’t compare the Doctor’s way of saving the universe to Hitler’s malicious madness, but the Doctor hates himself so much that maybe he does. Rory clocks him and stuffs him in a cupboard–maybe that’s comment enough in a world where everyone knows and we still bear the burden of it.

      You are right in that Midnight is a rare gem in new-Who history, and I think that the only episode worthy of comparison might be Vincent and the Doctor. I think that there are good messages of that kind in Series 5 and 6 writing, it’s just that there’s so much going on and the focus has shifted to making the messages into bits of the stories, not the story itself or the foundation of the story.

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  2. Heyyy! 😀 I’m baaaack~!

    Okay so, I’d have commented a lot sooner, I swear, but I didn’t get a chance to watch this episode until tonight. Sad, I know. I’m a disgrace as a Doctor Who fan. >.<

    But your post is amazing, as usual~ And I'm ready for many debates and discussions! 😀

    Gotta say, this episode was one of the best I've seen. I mean, I get what you're saying about it being slightly rushed–psychopathic Melody not being psychopathic for long enough to have as much of an impact as it probably should have–but there were a lot of clarity (aka "HOLYCRAPIGETITNOW") moments in it for me xD Even though "Mels" was only introduced this episode, I was surprised at myself for not making the connection before she flat-out said it. I mean, "Mels" and "Melody"…c'mon, brain, let's get it together, shall we?

    And there were those other scenes, like the dying Doctor in the TARDIS choosing what he wanted his voice interface to look like…As himself: "No, no, give me someone I like!" As Rose: "Thanks! Give me guilt!" As other previous companions: "Come on, there must be someone in the universe I haven't screwed up yet!" And then of course, Amelia, and fish fingers and custard. It's always fish fingers and custard. You said that up there already. :3 But that whole scene hit me rather hard for some reason.

    The part where River gives up all her remaining regenerations to bring the Doctor back made perfect sense to me. It does solidify Alex Kingston's role as River for the rest of the show, but it wouldn't have made sense otherwise…we already know how River dies. We saw her die. She's quite clearly dead back in Silence of the Library/Forest of the Dead. She quite clearly did not regenerate. I knew there had to be some sort of explanation for that, and it ties very nicely into how she regained her sanity in this episode.

    Matt Smith, of course, did a brilliant job here. Not that I've come to expect anything less. But really, even though I knew this "death" wasn't going to be permanent, the way he acted it is what made it real for me. It's the only thing that allowed it to still pull on heart-strings rather than dull them, as the first poster said. But that's just me.

    Oh, and I loved all the scenes with little Amy/Rory/Mels. And the "Back To The Future" thing–I caught that too! xD–of Mels bringing her parents together. That was awesome. (As a side note: "Penny in the air" should totally be a River catchphrase now too xD)

    And yes, I loved the crop circle thing in the beginning. And the Doctor's reaction to it: "Seriously?"

    I wish we could have seen what happened to Hitler at the end there–he's still in the closet by then, isn't he?–but I guess that really isn't the point.

    I'll probably come up with more to say later but I had to get all that out first. I apologize for the random streams of nonsense I've typed into your comments page. (I've missed this blog so much. x'D)

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    1. So good to have you back, dear! I’ve missed your rants wonderful comments 😉

      The scene in the TARDIS with the voice interface giving him guilt is something I’m going to come back to in my review for this weekend’s episode, The Girl Who Waited–you’re right, it’s a powerful kind of imagery to explain how the Doctor feels about himself; and what trying to do the right thing for Amy and Rory means to him after screwing up nearly everyone else.
      Yep, River had to have used up her regeneration energy at some point… and this was it. For the purpose of showing how her character evolved, it was perfect.

      I have to admit that killing them over and over is getting a bit difficult for my heart-strings not to dull, actually–and although Matt Smith acted his heart out in that scene, suspension of disbelief just doesn’t work quite that well for me anymore when it comes to people dying on this show 😀

      Hitler’s still in the cupboard…. would’ve been nice if he’d stayed there.

      Never apologize! I appreciate every single comment, and yours are a delight 🙂

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      1. Aww, thanks! I’m glad someone appreciates them! ;D /bricked

        It was a pretty powerful scene; he doesn’t usually act like it, but he really holds very little respect for himself after everything that’s happened.
        Yeah, I thought that was done spectacularly well xD Maybe they should have extended it to a two-parter, idk…when I watched it, I didn’t feel as if it were rushed, it was more an observation on retrospect. But even so, it was still well done.

        Well yes, they were slightly dulled by the fact that I knew he wasn’t actually going to die. And this show has killed off so many main characters and brought them back by now, it does tend to lose its initial impact. But he did as good a job as he could have given the circumstances and I can’t pretend I was immune to heartstring-tugging at that point x’D

        Thank you! 😀 I appreciate the time you give to read and respond to them~ Having these sorts of discussions helps me enjoy the episode more :3 I’m still behind on episodes, as my parents and I watch the episodes together and dad’s on a business trip until Friday, but I will definitely comment on your next posts once I’ve watched them. It’s good to be back; I missed this blog quite a bit! XD

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