This is a recap of the premiere episode of a split season of the sixth series of Doctor Who, with a first half-season that had no shortage of numerous teases, twists, and turns throughout its loaded seven episodes, including what appeared to be, for all intents and purposes, the permanent death of the Doctor (Matt Smith)! I’ll be doing this for practice purposes, so my style and everything else should be strictly seen as a work in process.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Doctor Who Universe (or Whoniverse), the series relates the adventures of the Doctor, the last of a race of time traveling immortals called the Time Lords, and his adventures traveling time and space in his signature ship, the TARDIS (permanently disguised to look like an old fashioned British Police call box that is exponentially larger on the inside than the outside). Armed with a “sonic screwdriver,” which is basically a high tech magic wand, an unsurpassed intellect, the ability to regenerate when mortally injured (thus taking on a new form and personality), and trusted human companions, the Doctor battles and routinely saves the human race from no end of bizarre and malevolent alien monsters, almost always outthinking them instead of resorting to outright acts of violence. Matt Smith plays the Eleventh incarnation of the Doctor, the third since the series was relaunched in 2005 after a prolonged hiatus.
Background (The Season So Far):
Beginning in the two-part season premiere “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon,” the Doctor’s time-traveling companions, and recent newlyweds, Amelia “Amy” Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), along with the mysterious time traveling adventuress (and possible future wife of the Doctor) River Song (Alex Kingston), are called to the United States at the invitation of the Time Lord himself, who tacitly revealed that he had (supposedly) aged about two hundred years since we last we saw him at the end of season 6. Shortly after enjoying a largely uneventful picnic with his friends, the Eleventh Doctor approached a mysterious Astronaut who suddenly appeared in Lake Silencio in Utah, not far from their picnic ground. Resignedly accepting his fate, the Doctor allowed the Astronaut to blast him with something that resembles TARDIS energy; the Astronaut then even did it again as he tries to regenerate, permanently killing him.
Shortly thereafter, though, the much younger Doctor we know and love appears, having also been invited by his older self to the United States. From there, during the period of the 1969 moon landing they confront a race of alien monsters called “the Silence” (a clever amalgam of the grey-skinned aliens of abduction lore and prototypical “men in black,” who are forgotten the moment as soon as you look away from them) who had been secretly influencing the human race for generations. During this time, Amy Pond, who initially thinks she’s pregnant but then decides she’s not, begins having strange visions of a One-Eyed Woman spying on her. It is also soon revealed through subsequent episodes that the mysterious “Impossible Astronaut” appears to be a young girl with red hair (not unlike Amy’s) and who displays the regenerative potential of a Time Lord!
During another two-parter, “The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People,” the Doctor manages to make a nearly perfect clone of himself as a way of verifying that, unbeknownst to even herself, Amy has been a clone for the last few episodes, controlling herself remotely through the One-Eyed Woman. Before destroying the clone, the Doctor promises to find the real Amelia, just as said real (and very pregnant) Amelia gives birth to her daughter, Melody Pond.
This set the stage for the memorable midseason finale “A Good Man Goes to War,” where the Doctor, Rory, and a small army of allies staged a masterful attack on the asteroid base Demon’s Run to rescue Amy and Melody from the nefarious Anglican Marines (the Anglican Church having apparently turned into a paramilitary state sometime before the 40th century). While initially striking what seemed to be a decisive victory over his enemy, the Doctor is again foiled by the One-Eyed Woman, who has replaced Melody with her own clone replacement. Melody Pond, as it turns out, having been conceived on the TARDIS and thus exposed to the Time Vortex, and therefore has many of the properties of a Time Lord. As the episode comes to a close, River Song reappears to reveal the season’s worst kept secret: that she is, in fact, an adult Melody Pond (get it?) But equally important is the revelation that the Doctor, who over the past few seasons and especially since the outset of the Matt Smith era, had grown exceptionally more arrogant and prone to using his reputation as the implacable foe for the most dangerous monsters in time and space to bully and intimidate others, was actually considered a “villain” by the human race, and had made the term “doctor” synonymous with “warrior” instead of “healer.” Therefore Melody Pond was kidnapped to become the ultimate weapon against the Doctor. As the episode ends, the Doctor traveled off to find the infant Melody while River assured her parents that “everything will be all right.”
So as the second half of the season begins there are a number of important questions that need to be answered: Is the Doctor still facing his own inevitable death at the hands of the mysterious Astronaut? What happens to Melody after her kidnapping, and how does she eventually become River Song? Will the Doctor begin to change his ways and become a healer once more? Will he be able to stop the Marines/Silence in the process? And…will Hitler survive?
The Episode: “Let’s Kill Hitler”
The episode begins with Amy and Rory driving through a cornfield, frantically turning to and fro, before coming to a stop before the Doctor and the TARDIS, who has since assumed a wardrobe change: his professorial suit-jacket, white shirt, and red bowtie having been replaced with a brown leather topcoat, yellow shirt, and navy blue bowtie. Well…at least he’s still rocking the “cool” bowtie. As it turns out, Amy and Rory have spelt out “The Doctor” in the middle of a cornfield in order to contact him, which then appeared on the cover of the local paper. After some somber conversation reveals that Doctor has not yet found Melody, Rory notices that the crop circle pictured in the paper suddenly has a new element added to it. It is immediately revealed that the line across the Doctor’s name is created by “Mels,” a n’er-do-well (and Afro-British) friend of Amelia and Rory, never before introduced, who has stolen a Corvette while escaping from the police. After some lugubrious banter where Mels flirts with the Doctor and reveals that she knows everything about him, she pulls a gun and insists that he help her escape. After asking where she would like to go, she responds, “You have a time machine, I have a gun. What the hell? Let’s go kill Hitler!”
After the credits, a cute, humorous montage shows Mels growing up with Amelia and Rory and eventually maturing into a young criminal malcontent as their relationship blossoms into romance. At the montage’s end, we join our travelers already aboard the TARDIS with Mels having inexplicably shot up the big centrifuge in the middle of the control panel, sending the ship spinning out of control through the space time continuum. Meanwhile, in Berlin 1938, a random Nazi officer is tracked back to his room by a robotic shapeshifter, the Teselecta, piloted by hundreds of tiny futuristic people and protected internally by robotic antibodies (wasn’t this an Eddie Murphy movie that me, you, and no self- respecting warm-blooded creature ever saw?). The “antibodies” recognize a person as a crew member by a bracelet they wear on that wrist that glows green for safe (a red bracelet or no bracelet means the antibodies try to kill you). Following the Nazi back to his office, the Robot takes on his form, bit by bit, before shrinking him down, sucking him inside, and feeding him to the antibodies.
The Robot makes his way to Hitler’s office, and there the command crew identifies Hitler and finds him guilty, zapping him with a white light that causes him tremendous pain. Realizing that they have arrived too early in the timestream for Hitler’s death, they begin to abort their assassination attempt when the TARDIS bursts through the window and knocks the Robot to the ground. After getting off the TARDIS, the crew gets their bearing, and the Doctor is suddenly rather horrified to learn that he just saved Hitler. The Doctor: “Believe me…it was an accident.”
After the Doctor warns Adolph that “the British are coming,” the Teselecta revives and is immediately shot up by Hitler (that’s a sentence I’d never thought I’d type). After locking Hitler up in a cupboard, the Doctor examines the disguised Robot, who faints on cue a little too conveniently. Before the Doctor can try to investigate, however, it turns out that Mels was hit with one of Hitler’s stray bullets, and is about to die. The Robot’s crew identifies the TARDIS and links it with a criminal of history that apparently dwarfs Hitler in reputation, which turns out to be Melody – the Doctor’s killer!
As the Doctor, Amelia, and Rory comfort the “dying” Mels, she reveals that her parents are in the room with her. Mels then begins going through the Time Lord regeneration process; as should have been no surprise, “Mels” is short for “Melody.” Amelia: “I named my daughter after her…” The Doctor: “You named your daughter after your daughter.” So, as Melody points out, Amy and Rory actually “got to raise her after all.” And before you can say “Geronimo,” Mels regenerates…into the woman we know as River Song!
After a fun little sequence where Melody “gets to know” her new self (including weighing herself…too funny), the Teselecta crew identifies Melody. A extremely fun little segment then plays out where Melody, who is programmed to kill the Doctor, keeps trying to pull it off, only for it to be revealed that the Doctor has disarmed her ahead of time. After giving the Doctor a brief kiss on the lips, Melody states her attention to head into downtown Berlin to raise some hell. As the Doctor moves to stop her, it is revealed that Melody dosed her lipstick with a special poison, and he collapses. As he struggles to regain composure, he sends Amy and Rory to follow her, being sure to arm Amelia with his sonic screwdriver.
After taking out a group of Nazi guards, Melody arms herself with a few machine guns and hops aboard a motorcycle. Rory then knocks out a Nazi and steals his bike to follow her, but as it turns out, the Nazi is the Teselecta, and sure enough, he joins the chase on a spontaneously generated motorcycle.
Having pulled himself onto the TARDIS, the Doctor cycles through various images in the “Voice Interface” system, including past companions Rose Tyler, Donna Noble, and Martha Jones until he finds one he “hasn’t screwed up yet.” Finally selecting the eight year old version of Amelia Pond, the TARDIS cheerlessly tells him that he has only 32 minutes to live, and that the poison has deactivated his regeneration properties, to which the Doctor replies, “You are SO Scottish…”
Meanwhile, Melody barges into a nearby five star restaurant, where the Nazi elite are dining peacefully, firing her machine guns into the ceiling and claiming that “she has nothing to wear.” Outside, Amy and Rory pull up, wondering how they are going to find their daughter. On cue, the patrons of the restaurant come running out of the front door in their undergarments and screaming in terror. Before the two of them can respond, however, the Teselecta shows up, having already transformed into Amelia. Inside the restaurant, Melody is trying on the latest in Nazi fashions, when the Teselecta/Amelia walks inside the Restaurant.
Amy and Rory then wake up inside the mouth of the Robot, having been shrunken and ingested. Rory: “I sure hope this isn’t a metaphor.” The antibodies try to destroy them, politely informing them that they may feel some discomfort during the incineration process, before a crew member provides them with the green-lit bracelets to protect them. Melody, confronted by the Teselecta for killing the Doctor and otherwise showing no remorse, is then zapped by the white light. But the Doctor and the Tardis again appear in the nick of time, with Time Lord dressed to the nines in a top hat and tails and assisted by an awesome sonic cane. Melody: “You’re dying…and you stopped to change?” The Doctor then identifies the nature of the Teselecta with the sonic cane, but his sickness gets the better of him. Melody tries to run, but the Teselecta stops her and traps her in force field. The Doctor tells the Teselecta not to kill Melody, but the Teselecta Captain is incredulous as to why. The Doctor states simply, “I’m not dead,” and since he is the one being killed, “what does it have to do with you?” The Teselecta Captain reveals that he and his crew are time travelers looking to exact justice on criminals throughout history who have escaped punishment by catching them at the end of their lifeline and “give them hell.”
The Doctor demands to have the details of his death revealed, and with Amelia’s help, the Teselecta reveals that the Silence are the ones behind Melody’s brainwashing. After asking who the Silence is, the Robot reveals that the Silence are not actually a race, but a religious order who believe that “silence will fall when the question is asked.” “The Question,” apparently, is the oldest question in universe and “hidden in plain sight.” Of course, the Teselecta has no idea what the Question is, leaving the Doctor to complain, as only he can.
As the Doctor is about to die, the Teselecta crew “gives her hell,” and Melody begins to be burned alive. The Doctor insists that Amelia save Melody, so she uses the sonic screwdriver to deactivate all of the Teselecta crew’s green bracelets, leading to the crew having to shut down their entire system to prevent the antibodies from killing them. The Teselecta crew teleport away, but Rory and Amelia are about to be killed by the antibodies. While the Doctor struggles to save them, he accidentally calls Melody River for the third time, leading her to wonder who River is. Moved by his willingness to help her parents despite his own imminent death, she insists on knowing who River is. ..
Just before Rory and Amelia are killed, the TARDIS materializes around them and saves them, but it’s Melody who is piloting it, not the Doctor. She is shocked by the fact it knows her, and that the Doctor told her that “she is a child of the Tardis.” Returning to the dying Doctor, he asks Rory and Amy to let her speak to Melody, where he asks her to deliver a message to River Song. He whispers the message to her, to which she replies, “I’m sure she knows.” The Doctor then…dies.
Melody asks Amy who River Song is, and Amy approaches the Teselecta and asks it to transform into River Song, which it does, revealing to Melody who she really is. Lamenting her crime, River’s hands begin to glow. Melody: “Tell me…is he worth it?” Amelia: “Yes!” She then touches the Doctor and regenerates him, giving him her trademark greeting “Hello Sweetie” for what is, for her, the first time. She then kisses him, as time vortex energy swirls all about them.
A little while later, River awakens in a futuristic hospital bed surrounded by Rory, Amy, and the Doctor, and it is revealed that she sacrificed all her future regenerations to resurrect the Doctor. The attending nurse tells them “She’ll be absolutely fine.” The Doctor replies, “No, she won’t…she’ll be absolutely amazing.” He then gives her the TARDIS journal that had also previously been her trademark.
After leaving her at the hospital, Rory and Amy lament leaving their daughter behind and ask the Doctor why the future River who they’ve met is in prison for murder. The Doctor smiles, and does not answer them. Moments earlier, it is revealed that the Doctor has downloaded the contents of the Teselecta’s memory, and now knows the date of his confrontation with the Astronaut…and his of his own death.
In a final tag, River Song is asked by a professor in the 5zst century “Why do you want to study archaeology?” Clutching her TARDIS journal, she replies that “she’s looking for a good man.”
How will the Doctor react to knowledge of his death going forward? Is River Song the Astronaut? Will he really die? What is the Ultimate Question that the Silence believes will destroy the Universe (and will it)? And what’s the link between the Silence and the One-Eyed Woman? What’s with the Doctor’s new, slightly more rugged look? Is it a sign he is accepting his reputation as a warrior instead of a healer?
Also, where can I get a sonic cane? I really want one.
What we do know now are the basic origins of River Song…though, as stated, her final role in the Doctor’s death remains unknown.
One final intriguing development is that the series finally answered the question of whether or not a Time Lord can actually change race during the regeneration process, which Melody’s changing from Mels to River clearly establishes it as possible. Likely, this means that we might have a non-Caucasian incarnation of the Doctor in our future. May I personally suggest Chiwetel Eliofor?
A really good episode, and as usual for the series, it featured some of Stephen Moffat’s amazingly clever and creative science fiction plotting in clearing up River Song’s origin story, as well as a slew of very funny lines. It’s also incredibly crucial to the overall mythology of the series. Personally, though, the episode has been the latest to take the series into very serious territory, and that has taken a bit of the fun out of it for me. Also after seeing the Doctor being killed, defeated, and outsmarted throughout the first half of the season, seeing him slowly dying for almost half an hour was a bit of a downer, as well as the fact Melody clearly underwent some serious trauma to turn her into a psychopathic killing machine. I also haven’t really been a fan of the chemistry between Matt Smith and Alex Kingston, though they are both undeniably fun in their roles.
Next Week: “Night Terrors”