‘Who’s River Song?’ On the one hand, this is more enjoyable than A Good Man Goes to War by dint of not including an immensely vexatious characterisation of the Doctor. On the other hand… With 11 years’ hindsight we can safely say the Silence story arc doesn’t make sense and didn’t go anywhere interesting, and its failure is a blot on Moffat’s copybook. Even at the time, there was an increasing sense of unease about it, that – contrary to the carefully curated Party Line that Moffat was the authorial equivalent of Virgin’s seventh Doctor, playing a long game of chess on a thousand boards – it was all being made up on the hoof.
For Let’s Kill Hitler to work, as an audience we have to believe that 1. The Doctor was willing to abandon a terrified child to an uncertain fate in 1969 because he wanted to muck about having adventures – in direct contradiction to the character Moffat had explicitly established in The Beast Below. 2. The Doctor of 200 years’ hence is a blood-drenched tyrant locked in a war without end with the Silence and the Academy of the Question – which doesn’t stack up with anything we saw of him in The Impossible Astronaut. 3. The Silence have come up with at least two concurrent plans to kill the Doctor (blowing up the TARDIS in 2010 and killing him at Lake Silencio in 2011) and have engineered Melody Pond to become the assassin that does it. 4. That the Doctor, Amy and Rory sort of work out offscreen that they can’t go back and rescue Melody because it would change their own histories, so agree to just let her be tortured, brainwashed and whatever else because it’s a bit of a faff to prevent this (although it’s absolutely fine to rewrite Kazran’s entire personal history for expedience). Blimey – that last bit almost justifies whatever the Silence have planned.
Moffat’s talent means all this is almost unnoticeable because he keeps us looking at a shapeshifting robot with a tiny, Numskulls crew taking revenge on the Nazis, Mels regenerating into River, the Doctor being reminded of his old companions, and Amy and Rory looking more like a real couple than in any previous episode. A lot of this is huge fun – the Sherlock sequence of the Doctor pre-empting River’s assassination attempts in particular – but by the end of it, what have we actually learned? We’ve seen the start of Melody’s River Song persona and filled in some gaps on how Amy’s baby became Mrs Spoilers, but that’s about it. The Silence are, if anything, even more perplexing as they’re revealed to be a religious order that believes silence will fall when the oldest question is asked. It’s obvious what that question is because the Doctor spells it out: ‘The Doctor? Doctor who?’
So, there’s enough attention-grabbing material to make this a workable opener of the back-half of Series Six. It feels important to the plot because it shows us the birth of River, it’s revealed that the Silence aren’t just the Scream monsters but an entire organisation, and it’s thrown out the hook of the oldest question. There’s still momentum and a possibility that this is all going to work out. But the cracks are increasingly visible, and the show is starting to strain to contain a story arc that requires the audience to accept a version of the Doctor that doesn’t seem to fit. And abandoning baby Melody is exactly as bad as hand-waving Adric’s death. These episodes are the Time-Flight of the 21st Century show.
Doctor Who will return in Night Terrors
Next Time: End of the Road