Prequel: A little mini TARDIS scene, in which Amy leaves the Doctor an answerphone message to ask if he’s any closer to finding Melody. It’s then revealed that he’s been listening the whole time, and the look on his face tells us that he hasn’t. It’s quite effective both as a reminder of where we were up to before all this Torchwood nonsense, and as a quite touching little character piece. And it turns out that the title “Let’s Kill Hitler” flashing up in big letters is still funny, even if it’s only at the end of a prequel.
Ahh, it’s good to be back to Who, with the last couple of weeks serving as an equivalent to the infuriating gap between the two halves of this series. But in the same way that the split gave the seventh episode a much more epic feel than your average seventh episode, they’re using the format to their advantage again to create a whole new type of Doctor Who story.
It takes the big heavy mythology stuff that Moffat excels at, but presents it in a comedic way. A regeneration is played for laughs, which is (almost) unprecedented, but it never strays into parody. Even the act of River Song murdering the Doctor is dealt with in a light-hearted way – huge, important things are happening in this episode, but the tone is unyieldingly fun and entertaining. It’s a joy to watch because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and lets you know that it’s OK to just enjoy the ride.
Never is this sense of fun more prevalent than in the scenes involving Hitler. What an innocent time 2011 was, back when people punching Nazis was something that only needed to happen in time-travel stories. The sight of everyone’s favourite weedy nurse sticking one on the leader of the Third Reich is simply wonderful, as is the dialogue about putting Hitler in a cupboard.
It was little more than a cameo for the Fuhrer in the end, with the episode title something of a red herring to cover the humongous River-based revelations. It really did a thorough job of filling in as many gaps as possible, and a welcome side-effect was the chance to see Amelia again, along with a tiny little Rory. It was no surprise that Mels would be short for Melody, so it was for the best all round that the switch to Alex Kingston happened early, before Mels strayed too far from rebellious youth to annoying brat.
It was disconcerting to see River in the role of villain, but the weirdness was enjoyable. The only snag is the speed at which she switched from brainwashed Doctor killer to the River we know and love. It’s an unfortunate habit of Moffat’s that he leaves a little too much to the imagination at times. It would be nice to know what the Doctor said to River while he was dying, as whatever it was clearly helped to undo all her conditioning – that’s fairly important, and as it is it feels like we skipped a page and it’s harder to buy the change of heart.
I love the concept of the Teselecta – it’s like The Numbskulls from The Beano, with all the tiny people controlling the big person, each one controlling a different function. My only other beef with this episode is that their motives were left unquestioned – under what authority do they jaunt around history torturing people, and who decides which people deserve to be punished? I mean, they were right about Hitler, but even then they nearly cocked it up by doing it before the War had even started, which would have played havoc with the timeline.
But these are quibbles in an otherwise cracking start to the second half of the series. You can’t help but love an episode that takes the time to dismiss the idea of the TARDIS’s temporal grace as “a clever lie”, and explain why River looks younger the older she gets. Plus, Rory punches Hitler and puts him in a cupboard. I can’t state this enough.