The second half of Matt Smith's second season as the Eleventh Doctor kicked off last Saturday with an episode entitled Let's Kill Hitler. It was written by show runner Steven Moffat. Following on from my previous entry regarding spoilers I saw this episode completely unspoiled, especially the reveal that Amy and Rory's friend "Mels" was actually one of River Song's regenerations. In this case I believe being spoiler-free added to my enjoyment of the episode.
Judging from the Television Without Pity forums, this seems to have been rather a divisive episode with some viewers turned off by what they perceived as Moffat's flaunting his cleverness in the viewer's face. Personally, I really enjoyed it, although it owes a great deal to the charisma of Matt Smith and Alex Kingston playing The Doctor and River Song respectively. Honourable mentions to Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan. I really doubt I would have enjoyed this episode nearly as much with different actors. Alex Kingston in particular appeared to have an absolute blast playing this episode.
So with this episode we've now seen the first and last meetings between River and The Doctor from River's perspective. We've yet to see the last from The Doctor's perspective, when presumably he gives her the sonic screwdriver seen in The Forest of the Dead. Why do I have the feeling that'll be for the season finale? Heck, I can see it my head now; River casually mentions that the next day she has to go to check out a disturbance at the Library. The Doctor realises that the next day she will die saving his life, but he can't tell her. Darn, I can't wait to see Matt Smith play that scene. He's going to absolutely nail it. I swear, Steven Moffat, if you don't give me that scene I'll set the Silence on you. I'm tearing up just thinking about it.
Ahem, back to the review. To be fair I can see why some viewers were put off by the constant in-jokes. The ones I spotted included Hitler's being put "in the closet" (presumably a reference to the Fuhrer's ambiguous sexuality); Alex Kingston re-enacting a scene from The Graduate; "you named your daughter after… your daughter!"; the title's reference to a key trope of time travel fiction – would killing Hitler in the past lead to a better or worse future? To some extent, it could come across as Moffat's being too clever for his own good. I suspect the viewer's enjoyment of the episode depended to a great extent on how willing he or she was to overlook that.
What I liked:
The acting: As mentioned above, Alex Kingston and Matt Smith sold this episode for me. Enough said
The River/Doctor relationship: Again thanks to the the fantastic acting, I am now heavily emotionally invested in the River/Doctor relationship. I love the bittersweetness of their out of time romance, and am delighted with anything new in that respect. I could do without the complication of the Rory/Amy daughter connection.
What I disliked:
The overload of injokes: One or two to spice things up would have been fun, but enough is enough
The too-sudden shift in River's personality: Much as I enjoyed watching Alex KIngston play bad girl River, her sudden shift from psychopathic assassin to selfless Doctor lover didn't feel earned. We are supposed to accept that River endured years of physological brainwashing by the Silence/Eyepatch Lady to turn her into the perfect weapon against The Doctor, a task she carried out efficiently and willingly on their first meeting. It is rather a stretch to believe that in the course of 30 minutes something happened to break completely that mental conditioning. No clear explanation was given and that weakened River's whole character arc for me.