Monday, 10 August 2015

Let's Kill Hitler

Chapter The Ninth, which is wibbly-wobbly and timey-wimey.

The Doctor's companions, Rory and Amy, call him back from a Summer-long search for their kidnapped baby Melody, who they've just found out grows up to be the semi-Timelord, child of the TARDIS, assassin psycho (and the Doctor's future wife) River Song. Suddenly, their previously-unmentioned best friend, Mels, turns up with a gun, hijacks the TARDIS for a trip to 1930s Germany where they meet Hitler, and Rory locks him in a cupboard. Mels gets wounded in a gun fight and regenerates into the form they all know as River. Turns out that she's been Melody all along; she was the little girl from the The Silence's NASA space-suit and after her last regeneration in a New York back alley, she travelled to Leadworth to attend school alongside her Mum and Dad. Anyway, she poisons the Doctor, but is later persuaded to use her remaining regenerations to save him. She adopts the name River Song for the first time after hearing the others calling her it often, and goes off to study archaeology as a way to keep track of the Doctor. Meanwhile, a time-travelling shape-shifting robot manned by miniaturised people is also around, dispensing justice to Nazis and letting slip to the Doctor that River Song is a War Criminal who in the future will kill him at Lake Silencio in Utah. Phew!

The whole family watched the Blu-Ray on a Sunday afternoon. No alternative stories were suggested, and there were no complaints. At the end, The Better Half opined that being saved by River sacrificing her remaining regenerative energy would have been a better way of doing the Matt Smith swansong - and of changing him into Peter Capaldi with a completely new life-cycle - than all that drawn-out bollocks with ageing make-up in the Time of the Doctor. I have to agree.

First-time round:
This was the first new episode of Doctor Who to be broadcast, at least during my lifetime, on my birthday. Being a Summer baby born after the 1960s, Doctor Who was invariably off the air in my youth when my birthday came around, so this was a nice treat. I was at home, had a lovely day, and watched in the evening with The Better Half, after a few celebratory liveners. I laughed a lot; we all laughed a lot; we were very happy.


Straight out of the gate, the action is at a hell of a lick, and the script is packed with wonderful gags, starting with Rory and Amy creating a crop circle just to get the Doctor's attention ("Well, you never answer your phone"). Rory gets all the best lines ("Shut up, Hitler!", "Cupboard, Hitler. Hitler, cupboard", and when asked if he can ride a motorbike: "I expect so, it's that sort of day"). Arthur Darvill has brilliant comic delivery, and makes it look effortless. There are many other great performances: Smith and Kingston are as reliable as ever, and the schooldays sequence sparkles due to Caitlin Blackwood's latest turn as little Amelia. The Teselecta and it's antibodies are fun comic book creations, but again they work more on a comedic rather than dramatic level.

And it's a good thing that there's a lot of knockabout comedy and action to speed its progress, because Let's Kill Hitler is a story in which nothing actually happens. Nothing. No part of the reams of synopsis as written above counts as a dramatic plot event in my book. Okay, I'll be charitable - two things happen: River tries to kill the Doctor, and then changes her mind and saves him. That's it; but, as we've already seen future events, we already knew both these things were going to happen, and there's nothing massively surprising in how either event plays out to make it worth all the foreshadowing. Without that, all you're left with is exposition, the tying up of loose ends that maybe didn't need to be loosened in the first place.

So I lucked out in how I first watched Let's Kill Hitler; being happy, undemanding and drunk is the best place to be for it. Treat it as the silly romp that the title suggests, rather than worrying that this is the hugely significant first meeting of River and the Doctor, something that's been teased for three years, and you'll be fine.

Both stories start from a cliffhanger in the previous episode. Both involve soldiers and robots.
Deeper Thoughts:
Confused? You will be, after this week's episode of... Soap. Part Two. This is one of a few times in the history of Doctor Who (20th and 21st Century models) where it isn't clear to me, and probably many others, where the cleaving point is that separates one story from another. I've decided that Let's Kill Hitler is a stand-alone adventure, but it could be seen as the second part of a two-parter that started in A Good Man Goes to War. Or even part four of a five part story strung throughout the 2011 season.

Or perhaps Doctor Who is one long episodic story where one plot links into another... like a soap opera? Well, I made my feelings clear on that last post. But this is the year in which, as I mentioned last time, two of the main cast have a baby together. It's also the year they lose that baby. Many a soap would have done that plot, and maybe they should be left to it, as I believe it's one of the biggest mis-steps since the series came back in 2005. The ongoing plots are too numerous and too convoluted to leave room to do justice to the story of a young couple losing their baby; and despite the sci-fantasy trappings, that's what it is. Karen Gillan, who is very able at lots of things, just never convinces as a mother who's had her newborn daughter snatched away from her moments after delivery basically never to be seen again.
I don't mean to bash the actor, nor the writer; for all the repartee in his work, Steven Moffat can do emotion expertly. In fact, he could even do the tale of someone losing their child in a Doctor Who context and make it hit home hard. I know this because he did it. In The Forest of the Dead, there's the scene of Donna frantically scrambling at the bedcovers of her - fake but real - children, who've just disappeared from existence. Writing and performance are devastating and it does in a few seconds what the baby Melody plotline never manages to do in a year.

It damages the credibility of Rory and Amy afterwards that they can carry on having adventures without seeming to have been affected by their loss. The stuff in Asylum of The Daleks where it is revealed - briefly, and not satisfactorily - that the events at Demons Run prevent Rory and Amy from ever having another child makes it worse not better. It also sets up an expectation that sooner or later, probably when they come to leave the show, they will somehow be made whole as a family unit again. But this is never shown, and so their tale always feels unconcluded. A lot of people will no doubt be glad of this and think it would have slowed down the action to have them keep banging on about their loss every five minutes. I can sympathise with this point of view, but that's an argument for not doing it at all, not for doing it half-heartedly.

And someone must have agreed with me, because a scene was written but not shot that does indeed give the Pond's a child to bring up, and their closure. Google "Doctor Who P.S. minisode" if you haven't seen it - it's only storyboards and narration, but it's lovely. That it never made it even as a DVD extra, breaks my heart just a little bit.

In Summary:
It's fun and funny; but, like the Teselecta, though it might seem at first glance to be full-bodied, it's basically hollow.

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