Saturday, 2 August 2014
Let’s Kill Hitler written by Steven Moffat and directed by Richard Senior
This story in a nutshell: The Doctor finally meets the Fuhrer…
Nutty Professor: It's quite satisfying for the Doctor to be able to say ‘spoilers…’ to River before she ever got the chance to say it to him. He looks genuinely apologetic about it though whereas his missus has always loved piling on the enigmatic. Nice to see where she got the slogan that has irritated him for the last couple of years – from him. That's Moffat's approach all over; clever-clever. River was never going to kill the Doctor with a gun. She knows the only kind of warfare you can use against him is love and (almost as if she is working for all the fans that hate this development in the new series) she strikes him down with a kiss. It’s a real joy to see holographic images of Rose, Martha and Donna and to confirm that they haven’t completely left the Davies era behind (I was starting to wonder) and the Doctor going through them all and asking for somebody whose life he hasn't screwed up yet made me realise just what a dramatic impact he had on all three of their lives and where he left them. The only person the TARDIS can offer him who is still untouched by his presence is young Amelia Pond. I still wish it had been her that had travelled with him. Then we could have forgotten all this pregnancy nonsense. His assertion that you should always waste time when you don’t have any is definitively Doctorish. The Doctor knows when and where he is going to die now and as he comments, foreknowledge can be a dangerous thing… Matt Smith is one of the shining beacons of this season and arc, he is putting his heart and soul into the material...even when it doesn't really deserve it.
Scots Tart: I'm in two minds about the whole Melody/Mel's scenes that play out at the beginning of this episode. On the one hand it feels as though Moffat has been making this up as he goes along and feels like a another irritating complication in an already outwardly complex (but actually pretty simple) arc (Amy and Rory are River's parents, that's essentially it).And yet the way they are presented and packaged as a twist are rather lovely and scenes showing them growing up are quite adorable (especially the focus on Rory and the music). The idea of Amy looking after her own daughter throughout her own childhood is not just timey wimey but perversy wersy. Watching the penny drop as Amy realises that Rory isn’t gay because he has been paying attention to one and only one girl in the last ten years always makes me smile. At their best these two are the cutest couple. The look on Amy’s face when Mels regenerates into River is blissful because she is literally re-writing her entire life to fit in this staggering revelation. After the first fifteen minutes however Amy and Rory are practically superfluous to requirements as the Doctor and River take centre stage and enjoy their toxic waltz through Germany. My biggest complaint and this is not only of Let's Kill Hitler but the season at large is that Amy seems perfectly content to have lost her child and to have missed the vital years that a mother has with her baby after it is born. If that were me I would tear down the timelines to get my baby back, screw what established history says about Melody's timeline. Amy seems to just shrug it off and get on with her travels (in Night Terrors it isn't even mentioned by either parents). That's a shocking oversight.
Loyal Roman: Poor lonely, lovely Rory stuck playing hide and seek by himself at Amy’s house and in the playground because the girls don’t want anything to do with him. I love the look they give Arthur Darvill for the moment Amy realises that he isn’t gay (bless him, he would make a very sweet gay guy) with the flattened down hair and tight clothes, he looks like an absolute dweeb and more huggable than ever. Rory does an awesome piss take of Amy’s action and looks rather splendid riding a motorbike through the streets of Berlin.
The Missus: Another on the road to re-brand the show as River Song. Depending on your opinion of the character this is either a very good or very bad thing. I'm on the fence personally. She works perfectly fine as a companion who knows more than she is letting on but I do feel that her exposure in series five and six has been a little extreme. Moffat seems to spend so much time saying that she is sexy, clever and mysterious that she winds up being little more than an irritant. Let's Kill Hitler promised to be a gripping historical thriller but instead is obsessed with River Song...and yet not in the way that you might have thought it would be. I’m not going to lie I was completely hoodwinked (and totally floored upon broadcast) by the twist that Mels is River and the revelatory scene is scripted and scored to perfection. As soon as Murray Gold’s score kicks in it is the final proof that this really is River to get to share that moment of shock with the Doctor, Amy and Rory is one of the highlights of season six for me. Expertly done, and a real thrill to experience. Much like the twists at the end of The Almost People and A Good Man Goes to War, it provides a great experience in the moment but loses impetus as soon as you start thinking about it for even a moment. Looking at the hoops that the narrative has had to jump through in order for such a powerhouse twist to make sense exposes the insufficiency of the arc. River's ‘I’m going to wear lots of jumpers!’ might be the rudest line in Doctor Who – actually no that comes at the end of Love & Monsters but this is a pretty close second. Whether you like it or not, Moffat's Who is obsessed with sex. When River was first introduced everything she said meant something but I noticed during this episode that every action she takes means nothing because there is always something behind what she is doing (stealing a gun, murdering the Doctor, etc). Has she become a vacuous character devoid of meaning just used for clever stunts? I hope not. I really like River usually but there is something about her smug, superior attitude in this episode that bothers me. Suddenly she can leap impossible heights, survive a hail of bullets and is seen riding off through Berlin with machine guns strapped to her back. I just wanted to tie her down so she could talk with her mum and dad rather than this preoccupation with trying to make her look hip. That could apply to the series too...Moffat is so busy trying to make it smart and chic that he forgets to slow down and deal with the real emotion behind what he is presenting. The enigmatic River Song really suited Alex Kingston, I’m not sure if the rock action chick does. She doesn't seem comfortable with half of what this episode is asking of her. However mentioning that she might take the age down a little to freak people out a bit was gorgeous, explaining how she seems to be getting older the more we head into her past. River losing her regenerations might feel like a cop out but I wouldn’t want them to blunt her end in Forest of the Dead and so it had to happen somehow. It's having your cake and eating it (again Moffat is making it up as he goes along, nobody has ever had to waste all their regenerations before) but at least it makes sense. Again though, the implications of this aren't explored. It's all plot plot plot...there's no time to explore the ramifications of sacrificing eleven lifetimes and what the Doctor must mean for her to do that. The audience has to fill in all of the important gaps.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Putting Hitler in the cupboard…’ – that did make me chuckle, especially coming from Rory.
‘Berlin on the eve of war…a whole world about to tear itself apart’ – can’t we watch that story at another juncture?
The Good: The FX shot of Mels tossing the toy TARDIS into the air and it transforming into the real thing cruising through the sky is one of my all time favourites, a great concept and executed with such fluid precision. Let me just get my head around this because it took me a few minutes to digest just how awesome the concept of the Tesselecta was on my first viewing – a humanoid sized spaceship which can transform into any person and travel through time where its crew find people that history has failed to judge and puts them out of their misery. That is so many kinds of cool I don’t know where to begin. Add to the concept the glorious effect of the Tesselecta transforming (it has the look of a train information board flipping its segments to alter the details) and the clever visual storytelling of walking along the eye and panning outwards to reveal its true nature. Extraordinarily good, we haven’t seen such dizzying imagination since the time of Douglas Adams. I especially like the inference that since the disappearance of the Time Lords all kinds of unlicensed time travel is taking place and people are ‘taking responsibility’ of the timelines. That’s something that might be worth investigating in the future with lots of dramatic potential. It's nice to see the TARDIS making such a dramatic entrance, its been a while.
The Bad: The Brigadier uses the Space Time Telegraph, Martha Jones a mobile phone, Donna Noble trails strange happenings and Wilf erects the Silver Cloak! Amy and Rory on the other hand draw a massive crop circle that spells out DOCTOR. It's cute but its starting to feel like this season is far too full of cute touches rather than comprehensible ones. These kind of ‘look at us, we’re cool’ moments have become a little wearisome. Mind you I love the touch of ‘We never did that’ as Mels screams through their handiwork with one final line. What a waste of a great location. Seriously, the Doctor meets Hitler and this is where we end up? It's comic book Berlin all the way with the Fuhrer being treated as a naughty schoolboy rather than a facist dictator and by being tossed in the cupboard it eliminates any chance that this might transform into a worthwhile historical adventure. I don’t want to sound like I’m trampling over all the fun but there is clearly a gripping adventure to be had with the Doctor meeting Hitler and this simply isn’t it (BBC Books’ Shadow in the Glass make a great attempt, check it out). It's treated as a sub-plot, no even that is too kind, he’s basically a walk on extra just there to provide a few laughs. I don’t mind Doctor Who aiming for the funny bone but this screams of lost potential and that really irritates me. The line ‘we cannot of just saved Hitler’ deserves to be the highlight of a morally ambiguous drama and not cheap gag in a River Regenerates episode. The lack of blood when Mels was shot guts the scene of any kind of realism. Even Midshipman Frame was clutching a bloody wound in Voyager of the Damned. Surely Melody had ample opportunities to kill the Doctor during his very public status during the Davies years (was she out partying the night Harriet Jones made a public plea for his help in The Christmas Invasion?). All the stuff with the gun and the banana doesn’t impress me very much, this was the point where the story needed to knuckle down and explore the revelations it has thrown up but never mind that when it can dazzle you with more clever clever sleight of hand. The Millennium Stadium again? I’m getting bored of seeing those marbled walls.
Result: And breathe. I find this episode more frustrating than most others because whilst it served as an inventive and confident return to series six when it was first broadcast it has since gone down in my estimation because I have given the material a degree of thought and it all comes tumbling down like a house of cards revealing no foundation underneath. Let's Kill Hitler is packed with great ideas but misses pretty much every emotional beat and ignores so many important questions. How has Amy given up on the idea of experiencing her baby's childhood? Why would River give up all of her remaining lives for a man she barely knows? What are the emotional consequences of that? How do Amy and Rory feel about spending their childhood in the dark about Mels? It is caught in the middle of a spiders web of a narrative arc like a little fly struggling desperately to entertain and look hip to disguise the fact that a lot of what Moffat is presenting doesn't actually come off if you give it some consideration. We lurch from one crazy set piece to another by the master magician, the King of distracting the audience with eye catching imagery, quick one liners and insane twists. What this story needs is double the length to explore its exhilarating ideas and give an emotional backbone. Perhaps this should have been a two parter in its own right but I'm not sure even with more time that the writer could have made the middle sections of this defective arc work. It is fundamentally flawed. Smith, Gillan and Darvill deliver wonderfully baffled performances and make this piece a bubbly delight at points although Alex Kingston lets the side down with her unpersuasive portrayal of the rebel River and I fear that has more to do with the writer squeezing her into an unsuitable role rather than a lack of talent. Moffat can marry great ideas and great drama (Forest of the Dead, The Doctor Dances) and it would be wonderful if he could remember the latter but at least he doesn’t seem short of the former which in this season is bursting like crazy fireworks. Let’s Kill Hitler is fast paced, witty and overflowing with creative but it also has a weight of smugness that makes you want to slap it round the face and tell it to calm down. A story which is trying to hold up in its own right and yet is burdened by the arc that it contributes to: 5/10