Doctor Who: Let’s Kill Hitler
(1 episode, s06e08, 2011)
A phone rings as the TARDIS is in flight. The answering machine picks up and Amy leaves a message.
As the camera pans across the console and the dark control room, Amy asks if the Doctor will fulfill his promise to find Melody Pond. Even though she knows that everything turns out okay, she doesn’t want to miss Melody’s childhood.
The Doctor listens intently, but doesn’t pick up the phone. He’s clearly wracked with regret and sadness.
Let’s Kill Hitler
It was once a nice wheat field. Then the Ponds plowed through it, scrawling the word “Doctor” into the crop. They stop in the middle of the O – a giant crop circle – to find the TARDIS and the Doctor in his new pea green double-breasted coat. The Doctor shows them a newspaper article chronicling the event.
It turns out that this was the only way Amy and Rory could figure out to get the Doctor’s attention. He consoles Amy: He will find Melody because River lives. The moment is shattered by police sirens, a speeding red car, and a woman named Mels. The new arrival holds the Doctor at gunpoint and demands to be taken in the TARDIS. It seems that she wants to kill Adolf Hitler.
Flash back to a long time ago in Leadworth as young Amelia, your Rory, and young heretofore-unknown Mels grow up together. Apparently, Mels knows all about Amelia’s “imaginary” friend, the Doctor, and that knowledge gets her in trouble. A lot. Including stealing a bus. She’s also present when Amy finally figures out that Rory loves her.
In the present, Mels, Amy, and Rory take a trip in the TARDIS. Mels actually shoots the TARDIS console while in transit to Nazi Germany. In Berlin, 1938, those same Nazis are being observed by a team with future technology as a machine (posing as a custodian) shapeshifts into a Nazi officer. That team is inside the machine, a highly advanced ship called the Teselecta, which shrinks the Nazi officer and draws him inside. Since the officer is responsible for a series of hate crimes – after all, what Nazi wasn’t? – he is disposed of by a series of “antibodies”.
The Teselecta then goes to Adolf Hitler’s office and activates Justice Mode, but two things interfere in the plan. First, they are too early in Hitler’s time stream. Second, the TARDIS crashes through the wall into the office.
The Doctor evacuates everyone from the TARDIS as it smokes away, then stashes Mels’s handgun in a bowl of fruit. The travelers are beside themselves for actually saving Hitler. The Teselecta tries to attack Hitler again, but he shoots the ship before being stashed in a nearby cupboard by the Doctor and Rory. The Teselecta feigns a fainting spell while the crew analyzes the TARDIS and determines that the most wanted war criminal in history has arrived.
Also, Mels has been shot by Hitler.
Mels, short for Melody, regenerates into a very familiar form. Mission complete. Well… sort of. This new woman has no idea who any of her traveling companions are, she is incredibly self-centered, and has maintained her programming that demands murdering the Doctor. She tries multiple times with every weapon in the room, but the Doctor is several steps ahead of her, but he misses the poison lipstick.
Melody jumps out of window and takes on a squad of Nazis. The soldiers try to shoot her, but she survives due to her regenerative state and uses the discharged energy as a weapon. She picks up their guns and drives away on a motorcycle. Rory and Amy give chase with the sonic screwdriver, followed by the Teselecta disguised as a Nazi soldier.
The Doctor enters the TARDIS and extracts the smoke. He consults with the TARDIS voice interface – the sequence of trying to find a face that doesn’t remind him of his failures is hilarious – and determines that regeneration is impossible due to the poison extracted from the Judas tree. The interface mentions “fish fingers and custard,” inspiring the Doctor to set a course in the TARDIS.
Melody storms a restaurant and demands that the patrons give her their clothes. Outside, the Teselecta takes Amy’s form and miniaturizes Amy and Rory. Just before being killed by the antibodies, the Ponds are given clearance privileges and taken to the control room.
The Teselecta nearly passes judgment on Melody for killing the Doctor, but the Doctor arrives in a tuxedo and top hat. He uses a sonic cane to scan the ship. He also verifies that the Ponds are okay. The Teselecta places Melody in stasis before the crew explains that the mete out justice to war criminals at the ends of their respective timelines. Amy convinces the crew to offer any help they can to the Doctor.
The Silence, a religious cult who believe “silence will fall” when the oldest question in the universe is asked, are behind the plot to kill the Doctor. When the Teselecta crew reveals that they don’t know what the question is, the crew resumes their torture of Melody.
The Doctor asks Amy to save her daughter, so Amy disables the crew’s privileges so that they will all be attacked by the antibodies. The Teselecta releases Melody and the crew is teleported away to a mother ship. As the antibodies descend on Amy and Rory, the Doctor tells Melody to save her parents.
As the Doctor faces his imminent demise, he begs Melody to help him. She talks to the TARDIS and learns to fly the ship, rescuing Amy and Rory before returning everyone to the Doctor’s side. Melody Pond, a child of the TARDIS, wonders who she is. The Doctor asks her to find River Song and pass on a message.
As the Doctor falls unconscious, Melody asks who River Song is. Amy uses the Teselecta to show Melody her own face. Melody decides to pass on her regeneration energy – all her remaining lives – to the Doctor with a kiss, thus becoming River Song.
River wakes up in a hospital with the travelers looking on. The Doctor’s message was that no one could save him, which made her think that she could. This is how she learns Rule #1: The Doctor lies. The travelers leave her with the Sisters of the Infinite Schism to recover, complete with an empty TARDIS-shaped diary. She’ll find her way back to them in time.
As the Doctor ponders the data he downloaded from the Teselecta, River Song enrolls at the Luna University in 5123. Her motivations are simple: She’s looking for a good man.
There are a couple of items working against this fun ride: First, the introduction of the previously unknown Mels. Second, the crux of the assassination of the Doctor relies on him being the smartest man in the room again.
The first can be explained if we’re looking at the events of this season through Amy and Rory’s perspective, therefore seeing a low-impact change in the timeline after Melody’s birth and abduction. The second, while an annoying feature of the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who, adds a lot of humor and hangs a lampshade on the Doctor’s blind spot for River Song. Especially considering the fact that she is the person who kills the Doctor, an act for which she is imprisoned and is now revealed to be a fixed point. The second also hearkens back to the Ninth Doctor in Boom Town, but it worked there because it wasn’t as much of a storytelling crutch for Russell T. Davies.
That humor, coupled with the character development for River and the Doctor, really makes this story work. The origin story for River Song helps tie off her story and could have provided a convenient story terminus if not for the character’s immense popularity.
The humor also worked because it was self-deprecating. The scene with the TARDIS voice interface poked at the ongoing theme with companion departures and shame, invoking Rose, Martha, and Donna in the process. The scene also point us back to a moment of combined shame and innocence by invoking Amelia Pond, whom the Doctor had not yet screwed up but did leave hanging for her childhood years.
Going back to Rule #1, we find out in this story that temporal grace – the state in which the TARDIS interior exists – houses a “clever lie”. The Fourth Doctor claimed that weapons could not be used inside the TARDIS in order to stop Eldrad in The Hand of Fear. Of course, we already knew that it wasn’t absolute from Arc of Infinity – “Nobody’s perfect,” claimed the Fifth Doctor when challenged by Nyssa about a Cyberman shooting in the console room – as well as The Invasion of Time, Earthshock, Attack of the Cybermen, The Visitation, and The Parting of the Ways.
With all of the discussions about Doctor Who canon/continuity in fandom, it’s a good reminder that Doctor Who canon/continuity has never been consistent.
This story also presents a fascinating parallel to The Caves of Androzani, during which the Doctor was poisoned by could survive by regenerating. The Doctor had several lives to spare at that point, but this encounter comes at the supposed end of the Doctor’s regeneration cycle due to the events of Journey’s End and The Night of the Doctor.
There are also several other franchise callbacks: We’ve seen “justice machines” in the past, though they were in the form of the Megara; We’ve previously seen the TARDIS materialize in a micro environment, courtesy of Carnival of Monsters, and materialize in a micro state, courtesy of Planet of Giants; We’ve seen the TARDIS materialize around people and objects before in Logopolis, Time-Flight, The Parting of the Ways, and The Waters of Mars; We’ve also heard about transferring regeneration energy in previous adventures like Mawdryn Undead, the TV movie, and The Ultimate Foe.
I’m also a sucker for the “Doctor who?” title drop gag, which has been around since the beginning. It makes me snicker every time.
All told, I really enjoy the action, the spirit, and the heart of this story. It takes a tired time-travel trope (“Let’s kill Hitler!”) and turns it on its ear to both develop characters and move a story along. Well done.
Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”
UP NEXT – Torchwood: The Gathering
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.