The reaction of many fans to this episode. Not my reaction though.
If the series six midseason finale, A Good Man Goes to War, was an intense piece of television then the series six midseason premiere is anything but. Let’s Kill Hitler is a mad and unpredictable rollercoaster ride of anything goes craziness. It’s also one of the most widely hated stories that Doctor Who has ever broadcast, but personally I rather like it. It would seem then that addressing the two main issues people seem to have with this episode would be the place for me to start.
The allegedly misleading title is one such issue some take. While the story does take us back to Nazi Germany under Hitler’s rule there is no point when anyone kills him, and by the time the credits roll he is still, sadly, very much alive and well. The only ill that befalls Hitler is having Rory shove him into a cupboard where he presumably still is at the story’s end. But what if I told you that the “Hitler” of the title is not actually a reference to the moustached maniac at all, but in fact he is a metaphor for both the Doctor and River?
To River, under the conditioning of the Kovarian Chapter of the Silence, the Doctor is an evil that should be stopped, while to the crew of the Tesselecta, Melody “River” Pond is the most evil criminal of all time and they take it upon themselves to bring her to justice. It’s an intrinsically clever set up that elevates Let’s Kill Hitler above being just a comical romp and gives it some huge powerful symbolism providing us with a frame of reference to get into our heads how the Silence see the Doctor and the Tesselecta sees River.
The flashback introductory sequence “A Long Time Ago In Leadworth” is the other major area that attracts criticism for introducing Mels, a childhood friend of Amy & Rory, and making her a major character even though we’ve never seen her before. We’re not invested in her as a character so why should we care now?
Fair question to ask it may seem, but I counter with this: why should we have met her before? She’s not been relevant to the story until now so why should we have had her show up before this? The flashback fleshes her out and gives her a history. It establishes her as an important figure in the life of Amy and Rory, even being the reason why they’re a couple and the namesake of their daughter Melody (who we now know to be River Song). Steven Moffat makes us care about what happens to Mels because Amy and Rory do and we care about what happens to them. There’s not been any reason to have her appear in the series narrative yet so why should she have shown up? The answer is, of course, that there’s no reason why this should be a criticism unless you’re being deliberately picky, finding fault purely for the sake of it.
Speaking of Mels for a moment, I have to praise the acting of Nina Toussaint-White. She’s not present for very long but she makes the most of her limited screentime to craft a believable character and I struggle to think of anyone else who could have played Mels as well as she does. Not even Jenna Coleman could’ve been as good with the part. Mels is brought to life as a sassy badass and it’s a shame she regenerates so early on in the episode into her even sassier next incarnation because Toussaint-White brings a totally different kind of energy to this incarnation of River Song than Alex Kingston does to hers. Not necessarily better but certainly different. Change is good from time to time.
Oh yes, River Song’s beginnings are witnessed here. When Hitler shoots Mels and suddenly we realise that she’s regenerating you have to catch yourself from letting your jaw hit the floor with disbelief. When Nina Toussaint-White is engulfed in golden dust and suddenly Alex Kingston’s instantly recognisable blonde-explosion-of-a-hairdo comes into sight you know right then that this is one of those moments that come up in Doctor Who every so often, one of those Oh My Goodness They Actually Did It moments, that force you to stare at the screen and not look away because something huge has just happened. It catches you totally off guard and you have no idea that it’s coming.
River Song / Mels / Melody / Whatever We’re Calling Her At This Point is always a pleasure to see and her presence can elevate even the most mundane of stories (The Name of the Doctor comes to mind) to a level of enjoyment you wouldn’t otherwise get from it. When a story is already as enjoyable as this one then her presence is even better.
That’s exactly the thing with Let’s Kill Hitler, it’s an enjoyable episode to kick off the second half of the series with a light-hearted romp but one that still progresses the overarching story. People need to lighten up occasionally. Everyone loves classic serials like Genesis of the Daleks or The Caves of Androzani for how dark and gritty they are (and rightly so, anyone who doesn’t like either is not worthy to be called a Doctor Who fan) but they also like stories like City of Death which is about the most light-hearted story Doctor Who had ever told pre-Tennant. Heck, this is a series that once had Douglas “Hitchhikers’ Guide” Adams as script editor for crying out loud! Doctor Who is allowed to be funny.
And this story is among the funniest that the series has ever told. The humour is sparkling throughout the script from the initial confrontation between the Third River (Can we call her that?) and Eleventh Doctor – “Goodness, is killing you going to take all day?” and “Hello Benjamin!”, in a scene heavily reminiscent of the Tersurus Architect – to the crew of the Tesselecta – “That’s what you said when we made Rasputin green!” – to Rory Williams at his best – “I’m stuck inside a giant robot replica of my wife. I’m really trying not to see this as a metaphor.” – and the Doctor accidentally discovering that his TARDIS has extractor fans, it all works perfectly with all the actors judging the lines given to them exactly right.
Of course the highlight of the lot has to be River’s quotable trolling comment to the Nazis:
“I was on my way to this gay gypsy bar mitzvah for the disabled when I suddenly thought ‘Gosh. The Third Reich’s bit rubbish. I think I’ll kill the Führer.’ Who’s with me?”I think it’s good that even when the story has, at this point, strayed beyond the confines of Hitler’s offices it still acknowledges the indescribable horrors of the setting. This comment, we must recall, comes from the mouth of a psychopath assassin of all people! If even River can understand the evil of the Nazis then I think that says a lot. It’s a nice touch that Moffat included to at least observe what sort of mistreatment was being inflicted upon people under Hitler’s regime.
Ultimately what we have in Let’s Kill Hitler is a well-written, well-made, well-acted and genuinely hilarious Doctor Who episode. Yes, the humourous elements do get in the way of the dark subject matter but I actually don’t mind that. It all makes for an unforgettable experience that deserves a fair reevaluation. This is the sort of episode that I put on if I’ve got an hour free and want something fun to fill the time, but more than that it’s also a crucial episode in the story of River Song and the opportunity to see where she comes from is a welcome addition to it. That element of the story elevates it above just another light-hearted filler episode and allows it to take on an extra dimension. Both humourous and poignant in equal measure, Let’s Kill Hitler is an underrated gem.
Now I leave you with this:
When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.