Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce
With a few spoilers, (said in the voice of River Song).
Well, huh. I’m not sure where to start with a review of “Let’s Kill Hitler” and “Night Terrors,” the two new Doctor Who episodes delivered to U.S. viewers this week. Perhaps it would be easier to start with ”Terrors” and work our way backward.
“Night Terrors” is a classic one-off episode of the “monster of the week” type, featuring the fears of a little boy made terrifyingly manifest, as his creepy toys, neighbors, and worrisome apartment-complex noises nearly kill off Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill). Although we (and The Doctor) are drawn in by young George’s plight and plea (“Please come save me from the monsters!”), the real pathos of this episode was provided by Daniel Mays (Ashes to Ashes), in a convincing turn as the boy’s desperate and frustrated father, unable to comfort his pantophobic son (pantophobia being, as we know from A Charlie Brown Christmas, the fear of everything… not just pants). It’s always fun to watch Amy and Rory tackle danger together–whether facing down interstellar child abductors or fleeing oversized dollhouse denizens come to life (or cracking elevator jokes that nod to Mays’s Ashes to Ashes past)–but this story as a whole feels familiar: We’ve seen Matt Smith’s Doctor comfort children terrified by the monsters under (or behind) their beds before, and “Night Terrors” is nothing new. And the child in this case has none of young Amelia Pond’s charisma, nor even the chance to develop any, upstaged as he is by his father’s role in the story. All in all, an entertaining if lightweight entry into the Smith/Moffat catalogue.
“Let’s Kill Hitler,” however… wow. Where to begin? Capturing much of the frenetic energy from “A Good Man Goes to War,” the episode starts off breathlessly and doesn’t let up, firing a dizzying barrage of revelations at the viewer. We learn, finally, Everything about River Song. After the years of teasing and the season of setup, Now We Know.
But do we care? That’s another question altogether. I don’t feel satisfied by this episode, the way I did after “A Good Man.” There’s something faintly baffling about the resolution of all the mysteries surrounding River’s past, and something definitely missing from Amy and Rory’s emotional arc. They’ve lost their child! I don’t care if they hardly had time to get used to the idea of being parents–let alone River Song’s parents–they’ve still had part of their hearts ripped out, and we should see that. Everyone in this cast is capable of the emotions the events of “Good Man” should naturally have engendered, and as a viewer, I feel cheated that we didn’t get to see any of that. There were no consequences to anything we saw last spring, and that depresses me.
To be sure, as a vehicle for Kingston, it was a success–her performance is stellar and delightful, and she proves she’s absolutely up for whatever Moffat throws at her. But, again, I’m left unsettled by the development of a character we’ve come to love. Yes, we’ve been prepared to see her criminal past since her second appearance (“Time of Angels”/”Flesh and Stone”), but this still didn’t feel like the River we know. And as a viewer now invested in the drama of young Melody/River’s mysterious upbringing in the Gamma Forest, seeing her instead as a childhood mate of Amy and Rory was a weird letdown. It was over too soon. All that marvelous setup and worldbuilding was so full of fantastic potential, and it all just fell flat. Even the title felt like a cheat–the blithe declaration, “Let’s Kill Hitler!” becomes nothing more than a comedic red herring to a rush job to finish off the River Song storyline.
It’s too bad, really. It wasn’t necessary to give this sort of ammunition to the Smith/Moffat naysayers. The show has proven it can do so much more–deeper, farther-reaching storylines that play all the right emotional notes while constantly surprising and delighting the viewers. To seemingly wash their hands of such a promising storyline–one we’ve been primed to anticipate for three and a half years–makes me wonder if the show’s creators are getting bored with their own creations. And that bodes ill for all of us.