Doctor Who: Let’s Kill Hitler

"I must admit this development took me completely by surprise..." (spoiler alert)

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“Don’t tell them that Mels is River,” Steven Moffat begged fans and press at the BFI’s preview screening on 15 August. “You all loved it, so don’t give that away. It spoils the whole thing. In fact, if you could bear not to mention her name…”

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Well, of course, RT duly complied. We even left Mels (Nina Toussaint-White) and Young Mels (Maya Glace-Green) off our cast list so that eagle-eyed readers wouldn’t have time to make the connections.

And although I cottoned on early to this season’s other big twists (Amy being a duplicate, River Song being her baby), I must admit the Melody = Mels = River development took me completely by surprise. As she says herself: “Penny in the air..? Penny drops.” Melody/Mels? Duhh! How slow was I!

So to recap:

“River” has been played this year by six people: twins Madison and Harrison Mortimer as baby Melody; Sydney Wade as the girl in the spacesuit; the two aforementioned actresses as Mels; and, of course, the inestimable Alex Kingston…

The regenerated spacesuit girl spends years seeking her parents Amy and Rory, then grows up alongside them as their best mate. They get Mels out of all sorts of jams – thus, unwittingly, bring up their own daughter. She, in turn, brings them together as an item…

Hijacking the Tardis in 2011, Mels takes another pop at the Doctor’s life (as programmed by the Silence) but is shot by Hitler in 1938. As she regenerates again, the Doctor explains to Amy, “You named your daughter… after your daughter.” A familiar middle-aged man-eater surfaces (“I’m all sort of mature. Hello, Benjamin!”) and, paradoxically, she learns of both her name, River Song, and catchphrase “Spoilers” from the Doctor…

Eventually seeing the good in the Time Lord, she surrenders her remaining regenerations to save his life. He leaves her at the “greatest hospital in the universe” with a blue diary that will chart all their future encounters. Then, at the Luna University in 5123, River asks to study archaeology because she’s “looking for a good man”…

Phew! That’s some biographical info-dump from Moffat – as he promised last year – yet seamlessly woven into 48 minutes of hugely entertaining telly. Did you spot any holes? I did wonder what Melody was doing between regenerating in New York 1969 and joining Amy’s childhood some two decades later. Did she remain a child for a very long time?

The episode moves too fast for such quibbles to stick, and it is hilarious – River running riot through Nazi Berlin (“Well, I was on my way to this gay gypsy bar mitzvah for the disabled…”). However, for my money, Arthur Darvill gets the best lines as Rory: “Shut up, Hitler!” “Right, I’m putting Hitler in the cupboard” and “OK, I’m trapped inside a giant robot replica of my wife. I’m really trying not to see this as a metaphor.”

Did anyone else spot Matt Smith placing his hands carefully over his groin after the Doctor’s clinch with River? Is this our first hint in 48 years that Time Lords do actually have something going on down there?

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And what of the eponymous, briefly glimpsed Führer? Asked at the preview how long Adolf remained in that cupboard, Moffat deadpanned: “There’s historical evidence to suggest that he emerged – smelling of wee.”