On 27th August 2011 Doctor Who returned to our screens after a Summer-long hiatus to-- we hoped-- wrap up loose ends from the mid-season finale A Good Man Goes To War; fill our bellies with the time-travelling antics of the last of the Time Lords, the Girl Who Waited and the Last Centurion*; and generally be the show we expect it to be. The question is... did Steven Moffat, show-runner and head-writer, deliver?
This entire feature is littered with spoilers, so be aware, I'm not pulling any punches!
PREVIOUSLY, ON DOCTOR WHO...
In A Good Man Goes To War, The Doctor and Rory Williams are searching for Amy Pond, who was kidnapped by the mysterious Madame Kovarian before the season had even started! For six exciting adventures The Doctor and Rory had been running around on adventures with a "flesh avatar" of Amy-- her mind, her heart, but not her body! With the truth revealed and the flesh avatar destroyed, we discovered that Amy was pregnant, and in the words of Kovarian... "ready to pop!"
Cut to a month later, and we're introduced to Melody Pond, Amy and Rory's daughter, and to the asteroid base known as Demon's Run! The Doctor calls in a spate of favours from across time and space, and lays siege to Demon's Run in his own imitable way, and the day is apparently won! Husband is reunited with wife, The Doctor begins to pick apart the plot against him, and everything seems like it's going The Doctor's way when, whilst looking at Melody's DNA, The Doctor and some of his allies realise that the baby is half human/human Time Lord, having been conceived in the heart of the Time Vortex aboard the TARDIS itself! So after that shocking reveal, we're given enough-- Melody is revealed to be a flesh avatar and Madame Kovarian has already escaped with the real baby during the chaos!
In the aftermath of that harrowing moment, River Song, who claims to be The Doctor’s future wife, arrives on Demon’s Run, and she finally answers the question of her true identity. With this knowledge The Doctor vows to find Melody and boards the TARDIS to begin his search. Amy demands to know who River is and what she said to The Doctor to make him leave, and River tells Amy and Rory that she is in fact Melody Pond. “It's me… I'm Melody… I'm your daughter.” An amazing moment foreshadowed in the episode The Doctor's Wife when the TARDIS, who had been put in a human body, declared: "The only water in the forest is the river."
On that, the mid-season hiatus begins. Rough times, right? Fast forward to now, Summer has passed, so Let’s Kill Hitler!
*The Doctor, Amy Pond and Rory Williams, obviously! Keep up!
I was initially thrown by the opening of the episode, it was a lightning fast reintroduction to our protagonists as Amy Pond and Rory Williams rush around a cornfield for some unknown reason (though I cottoned on quite quickly) and then nearly slam into the TARDIS. The Doctor is quickly reunited with his companions, and after they reconnect after months apart, we’re hastily introduced to a new character, Mels, Amy and Rory’s childhood friend. She knows about The Doctor from the stories Amy used to tell when they were kids, and so she pulls a gun and demands they get in the TARDIS. What next? Isn’t it obvious? “Let’s kill Hitler,” she demands.
The character of Mels is an instantly loud, grating presence that thrusts us into what we think is going to be the main plot of the episode but it’s a great feint on Moffat’s part. He draws us in with a really striking premise: The Doctor versus Adolf Hitler. What could be better? But her suggestion of “Let’s kill Hitler” is soon dismissed as we’re soon reintroduced to the overarching plot point of: Where is Melody Pond? What happened after The Battle of Demons Run after A Good Man Goes To War? We get some answers but typically more questions are asked. I like to think that Moffat actually cleared the board a bit with answers before introducing more questions. A problem I had with Series 5 was the fact that so many questions were left unanswered.
It's revealed in an astounding scene that Mels is Melody is River-- Amy and Rory have been best friends with their daughter their entire lives. So they did give her a childhood after all. They named their daughter after their best friend after their daughter. What. What? Ow. Mels as a character was thoroughly sociopathic through their childhood, but if you don't think about it you just think she's a trouble maker. But her behaviour is psychotic, unrelentingly so. Her actions too, the theft of a bus, the theft of a car. Of course she's going to grow up to be River Song. It's a proto-River through-and-through.
We’re treated to a lot of Caitlin Blackwood this episode, a brilliant young actress who plays the young Amelia Pond; firstly in the flashbacks with a young Rory— who is the ultimate punchbag when it comes to the games of young Mels and Amy— and then secondly as the Voice Interface in the TARDIS which is a wonderful little sequence which features “cameos” from Rose, Martha and Donna. That whole scene put a lump in my throat as the TARDIS hologram Amelia flatly insists "I am not Amelia Pond, I am a Voice Interface." But there’s a hint of her in the voice, in her actions, and the line “Fish fingers and custard” killed me dead. Any scene with the young Amelia in is simply wonderful and I’m always left wanting more.
Alex Kingston is the MVP of this episode. She’s a tour de force throughout the episode, wringing every emotion she can out of the script and her turn as pre-River Song River Song-- and as a complete and utter sociopath-- is brilliant. This is what happens when you’re kidnapped by a group of villains intent on killing The Doctor. Bad things. The duelling Time Lord-vision between The Doctor and River post-Regeneration was a lovely knowing wink back to The Eleventh Hour. The Doctor sees all and knows all-- apart from when he doesn't! They play it absolutely wonderfully, and it was just one of the many moments of artistic flair through the episode.
The main thrust of the plot involves the capture of the biggest war criminal of all time-- Melody Pond. She's being hunted by the Teselecta, a man-sized space ship with a pint-sized crew, and it looks very rough indeed. They're initially in Nazi Germany 1938 because they too had the thought "Let's kill Hitler", but they arrived too early-- as a time travel authority of sorts, they only insert themselves in the timeline near the end of a war criminal's life, to "give them Hell," says the captain of the ship. Which looks, to be honest, to be an absolutely harrowing ordeal by the special effects that enrapture Melody. The whole concept is intriguing, and the horrible, tentacled "Antibodies" that float around the body are pure Moffat. So polite! So deadly!
Rory has consistently been a bit of lightness since his introduction, and I’m reminded again and again why he makes such a great foil for Amy. Way back when I remember asking myself why is Amy marrying this guy? but he WAITED. He waited thousands of year for her while she was inside the Pandorica, and this episode he’s throwing quips every which way, and rightly so. I love him a bit more every time. As much as I obviously fancy Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill plays the not-Doctor with such aplomb! Case in point:
Rory: "Miniaturization ray." Amy: "How would you know that?" Rory: "Well there was a ray, and we were miniaturized."
I could go on and out about how I loved the ending, how I loved the nods and the winks, but I think I’ll leave it on this. The episode is a great reintroduction to the series, and it doesn’t seem to slow down from the opening. I loved watching it and it felt like a lot of ground was covered in a tiny amount of time; I blinked and the episode was over but my head was filled with so many questions, a load of which you’ll find hidden below… but you know what? One last thing. I love how the stakes are raised now. Every episode has the potential to feel like a Season Finale, you know?
OBSERVATIONS & QUOTES:
"Shut up, Hitler." I loved how everyone was really dismissive of Hitler. And rightly so, too?
“The Silence is not a species, it is a religious order or a movement.” I thought they were a group of mouthless memory-wiping creepy-faced bastards! Interesting how things change, I guess? Or were we wrong off the mark? From what we've seen of them already, kind of makes them out to be cosmic Jehovah's Witnesses, right? All suits and what not.
“...What is the question?” “Unknown.” I think you’ll find they’re an academy apparently. The Academy Of The Question? That was a bit obvious, Steven. I wonder how this will play out.
"Never knowingly be serious." Oh, Doctor. Matt Smith just owns this role right now. I'm liking him more than David Tennant with every passing episode.
"At least I'm not a time-travelling, shape-shifting robot operated by tiny angry people, which I've got to admit, I didn't see coming."
"Time is not the boss of you, Rule 408." Loved The Doctor’s rules. Very NCIS.
"You're dying and you stopped to change?!"
"Never run when you're scared, Rule 7."
"Who is this River? She's got to be a woman, am I right?"
"The Doctor says... I'm a child of the TARDIS... what does he mean?" Oh, wow.
Loving, absolutely loving, the new Regeneration effects. They're so much more beautiful than before. Which MATTERS.
Hopefully see you next week! Mark Gatiss is writing a story about giant dolls in a kid's bedroom, which is just... horrible sounding. Yay!