We interrupt our month-long, unannounced, unplanned hiatus to bring you: another post on Doctor Who. That’s right! Because Doctor Who can motivate me to write when nothing else can. So, here we go!
Oh, and Spoiler Warning!. I’ll be discussing the details of Let’s Kill Hitler in this post, as well as speculating on the next plot reveals / bits of continuity that have only been hinted at / etc. So, if you haven’t seen Let’s Kill Hitler and you hate spoilers, or if you prefer to speculate without letting other people’s ideas influence you, then don’t read this post. Otherwise, read on! It’s sure to be fun…
I’ll lead with the most obvious point: this episode was good. Really good. But that’s just what I’ve come to expect from Moffat, so let’s talk about what makes this episode really shine: Moffat repeatedly uses juxtaposition and playing with the audience’s expectations in order to heighten the emotional impact of the story.
There is some really impressive cinematography here. My favourite is that the recap is actively used to set the tone. We start the episode with a pretty intense recap, and then drop into the first shot: a dramatic, colourful, and completely still row of wheat. It flips from reminding you how exciting the show can be to giving you an image that, while visually striking, is also very sedate. It’s effective - it gives the viewer an adrenaline rush, then asks them to reconcile that with wheat. It makes the wheat somehow exciting, all on its own. It takes the image from striking and cranks it up to breathtaking. But we can’t get away from that for long, so we switch to high-speed crop circle off-roading, so the excitement stays in place.
Another trick Moffat uses is turning the episode into a completely different story halfway through. They build this framework: a fun-loving early River incarnation wants to take the TARDIS on a past-wrecking joy ride. Even if you spot that Mels is River, it looks like the rest of the episode is going to involve the Doctor dealing with Mels, and the robot filled with tiny people, and trying not to change the past too much. Instead, the show turns into River Song (the one we know and love) actively trying to kill the Doctor. And succeeding. What starts out feeling like a fun-filled romp of an episode becomes very heavy, and dramatic, and suspenseful. It’s brilliant, and the emotions are, again, heightened by using the audience’s expectations against them.
One more interesting technique: Mels’ introduction. Here we have a new character that Amy and Rory have known all their lives, tossed into the story mid-stream. This is a very interesting sudden interjection, and it feels jarring. As a bit of backstory, it is perfectly reasonable; after all, there are plenty of good friends in my past that don’t really come up in conversation, and I imagine this would be more true if my conversations tended to revolve around temporal paradoxes and saving the world from Daleks. But still, from the viewer’s perspective this seems to come out of nowhere, and I suspect that’s intentional; it has the effect of unbalancing the viewer, giving you a vague sense that something is just slightly out of place, which pays off when Mels is revealed to be Melody.
Reveals / Plot Analysis
So, let’s talk about the reveals, and what they could mean in terms of the ongoing story. First, the Timehead (i.e., the little girl in the spacesuit) is River Song. That’s pretty clearly established at this point: Mels stated that her previous regeneration had been in an alleyway in New York, and had involved becoming a toddler. This lets us establish a loose chronology of events for the life of River Song, which I’ll elaborate on in a bit.
Another thing is the sudden introduction of Mels - as I mentioned above, this seems to be a narrative technique to off-balance us as viewers. However, it could also (simultaneously) be a hint that someone is Meddling with Time*.
On the subject of The Eventual Untimely Death of Rory Williams, this episode gives us another misdirection, “I’m looking for a good man”. I still think that Rory is doomed, however, and my newest bit of evidence is from outside the show itself: the title of the series finale has been announced, and it is “The Wedding of River Song”. Recall that in Flesh and Stone, River said that she killed “A good man, the best man I’ve ever known”. If Rory ends up being best man at River’s wedding (after all, Rory isn’t just her father, he’s also a dear friend she’s known for years. They grew up together!), well, wouldn’t that be interesting?**
Also, we have some very interesting unanswered questions at this point, both new and old. A few that occur to me, and some possible thoughts on them:
- The most obvious one: What is the question (that will cause silence to fall)? The first thing that popped into my head here was The Question, i.e. “Will you Marry Me?” (or, alternately, “Do you take this man…"). Just like the above theory, it’s a little far-fetched, perhaps. But it would fit interestingly with the wedding theme we’ve had throughout Moffat’s run. I mean, he used “Something old, Something new” as a crucial plot element, so I think it’s a fair possibility here.
- What is the relationship between the Silence (that is, the creepy faceless aliens) and Kovarian’s alliance? They seem to be working toward the same goal, and it’s easy to assume the Silence (the organization as opposed to the species, unless they are more tightly coupled than we know, a la the Headless Monks) are manipulating Kovarian, but does she know that? Is she working with them intentionally?
- Why did the Silence kidnap FleshAmy in Day of the Moon? I would have plenty of good theories if it had been the real Amy, but they presumably knew that the Amy they kidnapped was flesh, so why do it? What did they stand to gain from that?
- Who was in the spacesuit on the beach? It seems less and less sensible that it should be River. Everyone believes the Doctor dies on that beach. It’s even a fixed point in time according to the tiny men inside the time-travelling robot. However, Mels clearly thinks she still needs to kill the Doctor - surely she would remember doing it on the beach, and assume his death was inevitable, right? So why does she try to kill him in Let’s Kill Hitler? Is that an adult River, her kill-the-Doctor programming becoming impossible to resist? Or is it someone else entirely?
- How long does it take Alex Kingston to get her hair looking that fantastic? I’m cursed with the unmanageable nightmare that is curly hair, and I really wish I could make it look half that good.
Timeline of a Timehead
There’s decent evidence that River only regenerates twice, i.e. has three incarnations. The evidence is as follows: We can surmise that the little girl in the spacesuit is Melody (the first body of River Song), because, well, she seems really childish. She is clearly very scared and confused; she doesn’t seem to be any older than she actually appears here. I’m taking this as evidence that this is her first incarnation. We know that incarnation turns into Mels, because of the line “last time I did this, I ended up a toddler in the middle of New York”. And, well, in Let’s Kill Hitler she regenerates into the River we know and love, and we know that is her last incarnation, because we’ve seen her die.
So, with that evidence in hand, here’s an outline of the Timehead’s life in chronological order. There may easily be gaps where all sorts of interesting and story-relevant things happen in between many of these points, and some of the ordering and events are admittedly speculative:
- Melody Pond is born on Demon’s Run.
- Madame Kovarian secrets Melody away to an unknown location.
- Melody comes to live in Graystark Hall Orphanage, which is infested with Silence.
- Melody is put into a spacesuit in which she may or may not kill the Doctor. She definitely has the encounter in the warehouse though.
- Melody sneaks away from the orphanage, going to New York (somehow) at this point.
- Melody regenerates into Mels, possibly as the result of a bullet wound inflicted by Amy.
- Mels comes to live near Amy and Rory, grows up with them, gets into lots trouble, and is obsessed with the Doctor.
- Mels meets the Doctor, and the events of Let’s Kill Hitler occur. She regenerates into River, and gives the Doctor the rest of her life essence.
- River becomes a doctor of archaeology.
- River and the Doctor get married.
- River Song kills her father, Rory Williams.
- River is imprisoned at the Stormcage Containment Facility.
- At the end of the battle of Demon’s Run, River shows up and reveals her identity to the Doctor, Rory, and Amy.
- The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon.
- The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang.
- The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone.
- The Doctor takes River to the Singing Towers of of Darillium, gives her the sonic screwdriver.
- River Song dies on the library planet.
If anyone sees any obvious, provable errors, please let me know, and I’ll edit the post!
* note that I am not claiming The Monk is involved in this story arc. It simply amused me to link to that story when using that phrase.
** This theory is somewhat tongue-in-cheek; as evidence goes, I realize it’s pretty weak. But that quote came back to me when I read the title of the final episode, and I couldn’t help but speculate.