**Warning! Here there be spoilers! DO NOT read ahead if you have not watched through Series 6, episode 8 of Doctor Who. If you have, or don’t care, read on, but don’t get mad…**
The first episode on this side of this split season of Doctor Who is a wild, yet impressive one. Some important aspects of River’s back story are revealed, and Alex Kingston lets it all hang out.
Amy and Rory grow up alongside Mels, who seems enthralled with young Amy’s stories about the Doctor. Mels is constantly in trouble, and she blames the Doctor for the problems throughout history. Finally, when Amy and Rory signal the Doctor, trying to find information about his search for their daughter, Mels arrives and, at gunpoint, orders the Doctor to kill Hitler. Of course, as the Doctor is wont to do, he inadvertently saves Hitler from assassination. This assassination would have come at the hands of a shapeshifting android called a Tessalecta–which is controlled by a crew of miniaturized people who move through time punishing historical war criminals. When Hitler attempts to kill his would be assassin, he accidentally shoots Mels, who then regenerates into River Song.
This reunion is not as cheerful as everyone would have hoped, as River attempts to murder the Doctor repeatedly, nearly succeeding (as River is wont to do) by kissing the Doctor with poisoned lips. When Madame Kovarian (formerly known as “Eye Patch Lady”) took Melody from Demons Run, they trained and conditioned her, brainwashing her to do whatever she could to kill the Doctor. She lay in wait, knowing that living with Amy and Rory would eventually lead her to him. However, the Doctor’s unwillingness to give up on her eventually softens her heart, finally reassured by Amy that he is worth saving. Because she is in the midst of a regeneration cycle, she is able to heal the Doctor, though it means that she gives up any hope of future regenerations.
While this episode is not as charged-to-overflowing with emotion and adrenaline as “A Good Man Goes to War,” it is certainly highly significant. Many of the holes in River’s life are revealed. I love the fact that Amy and Rory actually are able to watch their daughter grow up after all, without even realizing it. She’s certainly erratic and rather unstable, but she’s partially responsible for ensuring that they get together. The Doctor gives River her journal and leaves her in universe’s greatest hospital, trusting that she’ll find her way and recover from the the Silence’s brainwashing.
Probably the most enjoyable thing about this episode is that Alex Kingston gets the chance to go wild and just shine. Until last season, I did not trust River Song–and it seems that I wasn’t entirely unjustified in that, as she’s pretty set on killing the Doctor, which is then confirmed in “The Impossible Astronaut.” However, I’m fully on Team River now. Here, Alex Kingston does a great job stepping into the shoes of a pseudo-Time Lord, fully equipped with the regeneration quirks. It was great to see he having been taught to fly the TARDIS by the TARDIS herself, as she is partially its creation. After all of River’s hints to the Doctor, we know why she can fly it better than he. She does a fantastic job in this episode, through and through.
Matt Smith is really, finally displaying the emotional gravity that I was sure he could convey, and that is necessary for the Doctor. His impending death is conveyed quite well, as he interacts with a hologram of young Amy, reminding him from whence he came (including a few holo-cameos of Rose, Martha, and Donna, which prompt him to rail at himself about having screwed up everyone he meets). I’m really enjoying Smith exploring some emotional depth a bit more, though it will always be peppered with comedic relief and great physicality (which I’m perfectly fine with).
We’re left with two things:
1. the Doctor’s death, which we saw at the outset of the season, is established as a clear, fixed point in time. It seemingly cannot be altered. Now, the Doctor has not always been stopped by that, but it certainly makes it more difficult to evade. I predict that the death we witnessed in “The Impossible Astronaut” is some sort of a ploy by the Doctor and River to draw out the Silence (now revealed to be a sort of religious cult) and ultimately defeat it.
2. While I’m loving the episodes in this season, and I think they’re brilliant as far as plot and execution, and Matt Smith is better than ever, really excelling as the Doctor, I’m torn. I think that there’s a bit of a hole that must be addressed. Would parents just accept that their child is gone? Would having known Mels/Melody their entire lives, as well as knowing River slightly–albeit without understanding her true identity–make up for that? Does knowing she’s safe in a hospital somewhere make up for that loss?
Amy: So that’s it? We just leaver her there?…She’s our daughter. She’s River, but she’s our daughter.
Doctor: Amy I know, but we have to let her make her own way now.
Would they not demand of the Doctor that he try to rectify this, with all the power of the TARDIS at his disposal? Even if he argues that it can’t happen because crossing a person’s timeline will destroy the universe (or something to that effect), it’s a conversation that I think needs to be had here, more than just accepting what the Doctor says.
“Rory, take Hitler over there and put him in the cupboard.”
“I’m trapped inside a giant robot replica of my wife. I’m really trying not to see this as a metaphor.”