Doctor Who returned to the second half of its sixth (revival) season with one of its catchiest titles ever, and then promptly went about making sure much of the episode had very little to do with Hitler. Continuing his trend of unfolding a massive science fiction saga over multiple episodes, head writer Steven Moffat added arguably more layers to his Who mythology in this episode alone than in the entire first half off the season, building on a major mid-season revelation to create a tale that’s less about adventure and more about life and death, less about time travel and more about the frailty, mortality and startling uncertainty of its heroes.
Spoilers ahead: Don’t read if you don’t want to know a few things.
It’s been a while since Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) discovered that the true identity of their daughter is in fact, River Song (Alex Kingston). When we last left our intrepid heroes in the mid-season finale “A Good Man Goes to War,” the Doctor (Matt Smith) vowed to travel the whole of time and space to find Amy and Rory’s daughter, who in her infant state is called Melody Pond (Melody Pond – River Song; get it?). He hasn’t had much luck yet, but when an unexpected friend of Amy and Rory’s crashes their latest meet up, the Doctor and his companions are thrown into 1938 Berlin, where they meet up with Hitler himself and promptly stick him in a broom cupboard. From there, all the time travel adventuring winds down, and the character-heavy storytelling ratchets up quickly. There’s also a group of miniaturized law enforcement professionals operating inside a sophisticated life-size robot that can change its appearance with alarming ease. They’re after war criminals, and they’re here to get Hitler, but soon discover they have bigger fish to fry.
“A Good Man Goes to War” fits into the Moffat mythology as the episode where Amy, Rory and the Doctor come to understand who River Song is. “Let’s Kill Hitler” is the companion to that piece, the tale in which River Song herself discovers who River Song is. This is about how she begins to evolve and grow into the legendary figure we first meet in the season four Moffat-written episode “Silence in the Library,” about how her relationship with the Doctor begins to grow, and about what she must do to fit into the more complicated scheme Moffat has been cooking up for two years now.
It’s also an episode, like the season 6 premiere “The Impossible Astronaut,” that focuses heavily on the Doctor’s own mortality, and on the impending doom that “The Impossible Astronaut” showed us. Smith spends much of the episode flitting between tragic and raucously funny, showing off his elastic, imaginative physicality every step of the way. Like David Tennant’s Doctor before him, he’s clearly facing something dark, but while Tennant’s Tenth Doctor often reacted with a sense of fury and fear, the Eleventh Doctor seems (so far) to be pushing forward with an almost perverse curiosity.
Oh, and The Silence is bigger than we thought. And it’s not over yet.
“Let’s Kill Hitler” is an imaginative, fast and wonderfully emotive episode of everyone’s favorite time travel programme (British show, British spelling), propelling fans back into Moffat’s still-unfolding saga that promises to take the Doctor places that he’s never gone before. It’s episodes like these, when the cast is the star much more than a concept or a set piece, that convince that when Moffat, Smith and company arrive in those undiscovered places, they’ll be equal to the task.