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Let's Kill Hitler
Submitted by Geoffrey Dow on Tue, 2011-08-30 21:23
Spread the word!
Thanks to "rainbow" for correcting my spelling of the term, canon and to "DTS" (see comments, below) for correcting me as to Melody's name (not "Melanie"!) as well as to the fact that it was actually Amy and Rory (at high speeds, for no apparent reason) who made the "crop circle". Melody only drove through it. I have made the appropriate corrections. Mea culpa.
Doctor Who: One small, subtle step ...
Some very good scenes, strewn haphazardly through a chaotic mess of story. That's Steven Moffat's tenure as show-runner of Doctor Who in a nutshell, and very much what we're given Let's Kill Hitler.
Yes, there are entertaining scenes and yes, the story (in harsh contrast to the turgid pace of this year's Torchwood) moves quickly — almost frenetically — but there is still an emptiness at the centre and I doubt I will ever revisit the episode for pleasure.
Moffat's Who has long since become an endless series of matryoshka clues to a puzzle whose answers — if they do turn out to exist — ceased to interest me quite some while ago.
As a fan of long-standing, I watch now mostly from the hope (born of experience; the Fifth Doctor was not the last Doctor) that this too shall pass. But I am a fan, and so for the rest of this season at least, I'll keep watching.
You might remember that, with but a single exception, I found the first half of this year's episodes frankly awful, ranging from the completely execrable, to slick entertainment so wrapped up in its own cleverness that such trivia as internal logic and characterization seemed to have been forgotten in some file on Steven Moffat's laptop.
The mid-series finale, A Good Man Goes to War, was a strangely static affair featuring much posturing, many info-dumps and a great deal of shouting, but very little action and an ending that was neither climax nor cliff-hanger.
We did learn (finally!) that the origins of the increasingly tiresome River Song lay in the Amy Pond's womb, where she gestated in combination with a hefty dose of special Tardis energy.
Since we didn't know Amy was pregnant until very late in the game, and since we never got to really know Amy in the first place, the child's kidnapping by Eye-Patch Lady and the knowledge that River was meant to be a weapon in some interminable war against the Doctor hardly qualified as an emotional shock. Rather, it led only to a sort of numb acceptance that there will be more twists and turns before this damned walk is over — no doubt with a good deal of shouting.
I know, I know: there is a large and passionate following for Moffat's Who. I even think I understand what it is many of them (or you) enjoy about it. Namely, the twin pleasures of puzzling out the clues Moffat spreads around like cat-treats, and of filling in the essentially blank figures with which he populates his stories.
You could argue Moffat's Who is a sort of post-modernist exercise in communal story-telling and maybe I reveal myself as an old crank for demanding that my stories be stories, and for my not-at-all cordial dislike for Moffat's disinterest in character, his disdain for world-building, and his missing moral compass.
All that said, Let's Kill Hitler was a relatively enjoyable offering. Moffat has lost none of his skill in creating amusing set-pieces and his use of Hitler managed to be funny without, I think, being entirely crass. (Or not. Yes, I cheered a little when Rory socked the great dictator in the jaw, but I am still uncomfortable seeing the iconic mass murderer portrayed as a figure of fun.)
I don't imagine it needs saying that Hitler survives the episode and, indeed, that his appearance is a red herring, serving only to bring the episode's real antagonists into the story.
Ah, the story. This week's antagonists — not villains, which is a relief, actually — are time travellers who seek out history's monsters and, near the end of their lives, punish them with a literal taste of hell.
Once again, Moffat's grand idea is one he can't be bother to flesh out or even make consistent with itself, as if credible world-building is an art reserved only for lesser writers.
Never mind that the time-travellers are visiting 1938, many years before the end of Hitler's life, let's look at their mode of operation.
The conceit is that they miniaturize themselves and ride about inside a shape-shifting robot as if it were the starship Enterprise. But, a starship whose internal security is modelled on the human immune system. Their vessel teems with robotic T-cells that attack first and don't ask questions at all. The only defense is to wear an enormous wristband with a great big light attached to it like a novelty watch from Euro Disney. Green: all is well; red, you are dead.
More, the wristbands are as buggy as a beta version of Windows 95 and so the crew of this "ship" are constantly at risk of annihilation at the tentacles of their own security system.
Worst of all (and thanks to the blogger Darknote for for this.), when Amy discovers she can use the Doctor's sonic screw-driver to disable the authorization bands, she uses it on herself and Rory first, thus taking an unfortunate cue from Torchwood's recent reliance on idiot plot devices to put characters into danger.
Yes, yes, Who has often relied on poorly considered gimmicks to move things along, but that was as much a flaw in the old days as it is now, and never something to be admired. (Arguably, it was more forgivable when the program produced 26 episodes a year for next to no money, that it is now, when a first-string budget puts out only 13. But I digress.
The nonsense actually hammers the viewer's suspension of disbelief right from the start, when Amy and Rory race at very high speeds through a corn field to create a "crop circle" spelling out "Doctor". Their childhood friend Melody (Nina Toussaint-White) coincidentally races through the circle just as Amy and Rory finish it and just as (timey-wimey!) the Doctor answers the visual call. Melody (or "Mels") herself nearly runs over all three as she roars through the corn field in a stolen American muscle car. Presumably, this is supposed to be funny.
However improbably gathered, our cast hops into the Tardis, where Mels decides to test the Doctor's boast that weapons don't work inside it. Cut to a crash-landing in Hitler's office and we're off.
Hitler shoots Melody and Melody regenerates! Into River Song! Rory and Amy's childhood friend is also their daughter!
Somebody strike up "I'm My Own Grandpaw"! This might make sense now, or might be revealed to make sense somewhere down the line, but I don't care enough to work at trying to find out.
If you've enjoyed Moffat's puzzles and mysteries so far, you'll find much that pleases in Let's Kill Hitler. But if, like me, you long for credible characters and world-building, for story that offers more than flash and confusion, Let's Kill Hitler is only another rumble of thunder from a soulless storm with emptiness at its heart.
Well. There is one other thing.
Did I mention that Melody is black?
No? Well, Melody is black. And black Melody regenerates into white River Song.
With very little ado, Moffat has made canon that the Doctor's regeneration options are not limited strictly to white male variety. I imagine a howl will rise from the traditionalists and racists alike in fandom, but the deed is done — and kudos to Steven Moffat for having made the move.
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