I was tempted not to review this at all, but I think I have to get it out of my system. Let’s just start by acknowledging right off that this review is going to contain big honking spoilers, so you probably shouldn’t read it if you haven’t seen the episode, unless you don’t mind that sort of thing.
We packed off the first half of the series with the Doctor going off to find Melody without Rory and Amy. It remains unclear why he does so, as we pick up with Rory and Amy joining him straight away. Apparently they’ve been unable to reach him by phone, so they write his name in a crop circle, which, amazingly, works. What’s even weirder is that their best friend (who’s never featured before) arrives at just about the same time as the Doctor, with a stolen car, and a gun. Her name’s Mels, and apparently she’s been vicariously obsessed with the Doctor all her life. (Can you tell yet what annoyed me about this episode?)
Anyway, Mels uses her gun to force the Doctor to take her into his time machine to escape the police. She also uses it to force him to take her back in time to kill Hitler. Why not? She’s wild and crazy and she’s been asking all her life why the Doctor failed to prevent horrific things. So, they go back in time and wind up in 1938 in Hitler’s office. By coincidence, they arrive at the same time as a bunch of technically advanced self-appointed dispensers of justice. These people inhabit a shape-shifting robot by virtue of miniaturisation and go about through history finding perpetrators of terrible crimes, filling their last moments with pain. They are also after Hitler, but arrive early.
Whilst Hitler tries to defend himself against the robot and the Doctor tries to protect Hitler from both Mels and the robot and Amy and Rory look on feeling generally weird about the whole thing, Hitler accidentally shoots Mels. This causes her to regenerate into a familiar face, for this is actually Melody Pond, who sought out her own parents, and the Doctor both, although the Doctor she plans to kill. The people in the robot identify Melody Pond as River Song and the murderer of the Doctor – apparently a worse crime than what Hitler committed, although when you really think about that there’s something truly screwy about their ‘bad’ scale. I like the Doctor and all, but he’s not an unambiguous force for good, and I kind of do think Hitler’s worse than a brain-washed kid. (For it seems Mel was raised to kill.) But never mind, as the Doctor points out, their idea of ‘justice’ is a bit squiffed to begin with.
Anyway, having regenerated, Melody flirts with the Doctor a bit, and apparently gets him with poisoned lipstick, many, many years before she’s supposed to have killed him in Texas with a gun. Or possibly many years after, depending on your timeline – you’d have thought Melody would have remembered she’d already done this job. Not to mention that, unlike Hitler, Melody does seem to do serious jail time for killing someone, so why exactly do the Justice-Boteers think she’s the Worst Unpunished Criminal Ever again? Oh yeah – they’re crazy people, fudge, fudge, move along.
So, the Doctor’s dying and Melody runs off for a jolly around Nazi Germany to find some new clothes. Rory and Amy give chase, but the Justice-Bot miniaturises them and transports them within itself so they don’t get in the way. Bot and Melody wind up back in Hitler’s digs with the Doctor. The Doctor pleads Melody’s case to no avail, but Amy is able to use the sonic screwdriver to set off the killer ‘anti-body’ bots, triggering a shutdown of the whole system, but putting themselves in danger. Melody, despite self-describing as a psychopath, is moved by the Doctor’s attempts to save her parents, even when he himself is dying. She saves Rory and Amy, but the Doctor is already dead. Amy reveals to Melody that she is River Song, the person the Doctor has been talking about with great affection all along (he possibly told her he loves her, too, but we don’t hear it). And Melody gives up all her regenerations to save the Doctor’s life*.
At the end the TARDIS crew leave Melody in a future!hospital, and it’s stated pretty boldly that River chooses her entire career path so that she’ll have a good way of reaching the Doctor. She literally says she wants to get into archeology to meet a good man.
How was it?
Well, you’ll already have gathered that I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about some things, so let’s talk about what was good, first, because there was a very great deal that was good. As ludicrous as the whole ‘Let’s kill Hitler’ premise is, it’s handled with nothing but fun and panache. The Justice Bot (tesselecta?) is simply fabulous, and I enjoyed it immensely. Melody hijacking the TARDIS at gunpoint is spectacular, as it the fact that she apparently fires a gun inside it, even after the Doctor has lied and told her she can’t. Rory is both kickass and adorable dealing with Hitler by locking him in a cupboard as well as punching a Nazi in the face. Even Amy kicks butt by outwitting the Justice Bot and crew. Until the very end I was enjoying this immensely with the exception of two completely unnecessary ‘well you’re a women’ comments that seemed, to me, out of character for the Doctor, as well as a needlessly sexist insert into a show that children will get some of their gender assumptions from.
But then River Song – an awesome Time Lord lady, potential birth of a new generation where the Doctor isn’t the ‘lonely god’ anymore – gives up everything that makes her a Time Lord, and then dedicates her whole life to trying to catch the Doctor’s attention. The whole independence of this fierce intellectual lady adventurer robbed in one foul swoop. I loved her in the Library because she was a professor of archeology and butt-kicker in her own right, which I assumed was why the Doctor loved her. But now she chooses her whole career path because she wants to get a man? Steven Moffat famously confessed his sexist beliefs that ‘women are out there hunting for husbands’ years ago (see Sophia McDougall’s fantastic critique of his comments, along with the original quote here), but I’ve never seen it so blatantly realised in the show.
I never thought I’d say ‘bring back RTD’, but I’m done making excuses (and you can see my positive posts defending the first half of the series on this blog). I think Moffat is overall a better writer who has done wonders for the show in many ways, and never once given us Dobby-the-naughty-House-Doctor, but there are some buttons I don’t take well to if you press on them too often, and this button is number one.
*[Edit:] It’s really not clear why the Doctor can’t regenerate from her poison. It’s not like he hasn’t regenerated from poison before. Was the TARDIS simply too worried about getting another ‘tainted’ regeneration like his sixth? (Only teasing, Six lovers.) And why does she have to give up ALL her regenerations? Presumably he still gets to regenerate indefinitely – why couldn’t she just give him one, or some of them? Yes, I know, it’s his show, but it’s an annoying fudge that robs her of power in a needless fashion.