Contains spoilers, sweetie.
So everyone’s favourite Time Lord is back for the second leg of his sixth season, with the audaciously titled “Let’s Kill Hitler” that had many of us laughing out loud and spitting out our drinks when it first popped up at the end of the previous episode back in June.
Allow me to say upfront that there was some brilliant stuff here, from the opening verve of the corn field sequence, the montage introducing young Rory/Amy/Mels with its sublime transition shot from a discarded toy Tardis to the real thing flying through the air, to the brilliant notion and execution of the Tesselecta, to the fabulous mental battle of wills between the newly arrived River and the Doctor over firearms and bananas, and even the way it used the Nazi Germany setting, sidestepping any awkward ethical questions of whether or not to kill Hitler in 1938 but bravely not ducking out completely either, with River’s shot about being “on my way to this gay gypsy Bar-Mitzvah for the disabled” being beautifully barbed.
Matt Smith gets better with every episode, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill got some good fun stuff to do (Rory the action hero, putting Hitler in the cupboard) and as for Alex Kingston … Well, she’s quite magnificent, in perhaps the most interesting, fun, complex iteration of the role of River Song that she’s had to date. I can’t help but think that this must be the must fun and challenging role of her career to date – so much better than the weekly drudge through “ER” she had to put up with – and I wonder whether she had any idea of quite what was in store for her when she cheerfully agreed to a quick two-parter with “Silence in the Library” opposite David Tennant all those years ago.
And yet as good as parts of this opening episode were … Why the rush? I don’t just mean the usual breakneck speed of the thing which left even the most ardent fans asking “Hang on, so why couldn’t he just regenerate, again … ?”, but also the way some great concepts (like the Tesselecta, or the Nazi setting, or the new audio interface for the Tardis) were tossed in, given a couple of minutes and then passed over. It was like watching a spoilt kid opening dozens of brilliant presents on Christmas morning and not having time to really stop and play with or appreciate any of them.
There was also a deluge of information about River Song: having been withheld from us for four years, suddenly the show couldn’t wait to blurt it out as fast as possible. How come? And – did it really all make complete sense or was there some very fancy footwork to disguise the fact that this intricately constructed tale actually didn’t come together when it had to be explained? The sudden deus ex machina of River’s regeneration power saving the Doctor (how?) seemed to be just a plot device to explain the oversight of why, then, she ends up without this ability and therefore unable to save herself at the end of “Forest of the Dead”.
But the biggest oversight is Mels, Amy’s oldest, closest, bestest friend after whom she even names her baby daughter. And who we’ve never heard mention of even once before. Sorry, but “I don’t do weddings” doesn’t get around that sort of oversight. It’s a staggering “Jump the Shark”potential moment for the writing, so audacious that it’s hard to believe writer Steven Moffat could make such an appalling mistake (even a line of ADR on “A Good Man Goes To War” could have prefigured this development.)
Unless of course it’s not a gaffe at all. Remember Buffy the Vampire Slayer suddenly conjuring up a younger sister for Buffy mid-run and how bad that seemed at first – only to be revealed as a quite brilliantly conceived storyline that drive the whole of the rest of that season. Let’s hope there’s a backstory to Mels that does likewise, because otherwise the sudden appearance (and equally sudden disappearance minutes later) of the character is an extraordinarily disingenuous cheat.