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Punching Hitler

August 30, 2011

Following an uncharacteristic mid-season break Doctor Who is finally back on our screens and after the revelations at the end of A Good Man Goes To War, not to mention seeing the Doctor die right at the start of the season, you can be sure that it wasn’t just Amy who was thinking it when she told the Doctor that he’d “had all summer” so he better have some news. The Doctor’s news (or lack of) might not have been so great for Amy but as a re-opener Let’s Kill Hitler was an absolute cracker. Let’s get stuck in shall we?

First up I really liked the ‘Previously’ clip at the start of the episode. All the proper fanboys like me will know the plot thus far but for anyone who’s a bit rusty on the details or who maybe has missed a couple of episodes will have found these clips pretty helpful for filling in the gaps, as well as getting the adrenaline nicely pumping. This was also the first of several instances in this episode where the Doctor’s death was referenced, and it was strongly hinted that it’s going to be River who ultimately kills him. This has been hinted at previously, and most of the characters already know that she’s in prison for murder, they just don’t know who she kills yet. There’s more on this thread later but for now suffice to say it’s wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey again, with some very complicated plot and character points thrown in for good measure.

Back to the episode at hand now, and another thing I liked about the start of Let’s Kill Hitler was how they signaled to the Doctor to come back and see them. A lot of the newer episodes have signaling like this, particularly those where River is involved, and this sort of opening works really well because it lets episodes be more story-arc focussed, meaning fewer instances of the Doctor popping up somewhere/somewhen random and happening to stumble upon a situation that he can get involved in. I also loved that Rory drives a Mini. I’d take that over Mels’ Corvette any day.

And speaking of Mels, this brand new best mate of Amy and Rory, when I first saw her I wasn’t really a fan. She seemed a little brash, a bit loud and if I’m honest not particularly well acted. For me this sudden new character seemed like a bit of a shoehorn-job. In acting style she reminded me a bit of Freema Ageman (Martha), just less well rounded. This isn’t to say that Martha was terribly well-acted – out of Martha, Rose and Donna Martha’s at the bottom of the pile for me in acting terms (incidentally Donna was my favourite) – but at least she had all of her family to interact with so we could glimpse her character and personality pre-Doctor. Mels doesn’t seem to have had any personality pre-Doctor and even her introductory flashbacks have her being almost more obsessed with him than Amelia was, and Amelia’s the one who actually met him. Having said that I suppose this obsession is understandable given who Mels turns out to be. She wasn’t all bad though; I liked her “penny in the air” lines and thought they tied in really well with her big reveal scene, which to be fair to her was much better acted than the scene in the cornfield. I really didn’t see this reveal coming though so for me it was absolutely spot on, even down to the stunned looks on Rory, Amy and the Doctor’s faces.

Deviating slightly from this big reveal, I’d like to talk about Hitler. I feel sorry for the guy, or rather the actor who played him, because he’s now going to have a Hitler credit on his acting CV which, upon closer inspection, will show that he spent the majority of said role locked in a cupboard. Not that I mind somebody locking Hitler in a cupboard, but I had expected more from the Führer given that his name’s in the title. Still, it did result in a couple of great lines, Rory being the action hero he was born to be (who else gets to punch Hitler on TV?! Nobody, that’s who!), and a new headache and/or hangover euphemism that I’m suddenly determined to take mainstream: “Are you alright?” “No, Hitler’s in the cupboard.” See? Brilliant! I also thought that the robot idea worked really well. Initially I thought it was a bit of a strange concept but when I realised what was going on I thought it was a really rather clever one, as well as being a plot forwarder for the episode as a whole, especially towards the end. The ‘antibodies’ were really creepy too. By the end of the episode I quite liked the idea of them but I was very dubious at first, especially because of the overly cheerful way they informed their victims that they were about to be killed. But in Doctor Who you always need a scary monster to keep the kids entertained while all the Drama’s going on, and the antibodies fulfilled this role very well, especially after Amy managed to set them on the crew (which I thought was a bit dark but as far as we know they all survived so that’s fine).

As I said above the robot was a plot forwarder. This was true for both the episode itself and the Doctor-dying plot-arc as a whole. The younger guy in the robot’s crew tells us that according to their official records the Doctor dies, as we saw, in Utah in 2011, this scene strategically reinforcing the fact that yes, that definitely was the Doctor and yes, he definitely was dead. They even mentioned time being rewritten, but that it can’t happen with the Doctor’s death because that’s a fixed point in time. Moffat’s making this more and more airtight as the series goes on, and everything’s pointing towards this being the end of the Doctor. If however we assume that it’s not – after all it’s a TV show and I for one will be miffed if they properly kill him off – then the next logical step is to pick apart at everything we know so far and try and come up with some theories. The trouble with this is that we don’t really know that much so far. We see the Doctor die, we’re told it’s definitely him, and according to the robot’s records it’s River who killed him. We know River is programmed to kill him, and that she tries to and nearly succeeds here before she changes her mind. We also know that in her future she’s in prison for murdering someone, but she hasn’t specifically said who. And we know that the people who kidnapped her as a baby really don’t like the Doctor and are unlikely to stop fighting him just because River decided to save him at the end of Let’s Kill Hitler. But we don’t really know much else, and there’s definitely enough wiggle room between these things that we think we know for Moffat to spring something else on us that we won’t be expecting. I found the end of Let’s Kill Hitler to be a very neat way of showing how River Song starts off on her archeology path, but given how much I know I don’t know yet, the only thing I’m expecting to definitely happen is for this neatness to be firmly stripped away by the end of the series. Though if there’s anyone who can achieve that convincingly then my money’s on Moffat every time.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I haven’t even spoken that much about River yet! As I said above I thought the way she was revealed was brilliant, especially the lead into it with the robot’s crew spotting the TARDIS. At first, because of what eyepatch lady (does she have a name?) said to the Doctor about him being the enemy, and because their read-out listed the TARDIS as ‘stolen’, I thought this big criminal they were talking about was the Doctor himself. And then the captain says “her”, and the camera cuts to Amy, and everyone is thoroughly confused for a few seconds until Mels puts the penny in the air again. All in all this reveal was brilliantly led into, and the visual effects of the regeneration and the sudden arrival of Alex Kingston made a brilliant mid-episode climax. The scene that followed offset it nicely as well – Alex Kingston’s post-regeneration acting was, I thought, very in-keeping with what we’ve seen before from David Tennant and Matt Smith and provided some great comedy, as did the scene with River trying to shoot the Doctor. Aside from being brilliantly shot I really liked how in this scene there was an inkling of the normal sexual chemistry that’s present between them, but how obvious it was that this time the Doctor was trying not to let himself be drawn into it. I thought the “only River Song gets to call me that” line was really fitting here as well because the Doctor was revealing some of the feelings he has for the River Song that he knows. When River finally realises who she is – and that this man who she’s been conditioned against her whole life can feel so strongly about who she becomes – you can really see the emotional turmoil hit home. Alex Kingston’s performance here, both in this scene and in the TARDIS when she realises that she can fly it, is nothing short of phenomenal. That she can pull of emotional turmoil this well in an episode where she also achieves sassy, funny and dark in equal measure is a huge credit to her skills. She’s a properly talented actress is Alex and a lot of the appeal of River Song as a character comes from Alex’s frequently excellent portrayal of her. I also liked how Moffat tied up some of her loose ends, for example the fact that she can regenerate, but we know that she never regenerates again after this episode because we’ve seen how she dies. Using all of her regenerations in one go, though a tad magic-button-y, is a fairly good way of explaining her eventual death, not to mention prolonging the Doctor’s. And speaking of her eventual death, and the Library episode when we first met her, I did wonder if what the Doctor whispered in her ear here was the same thing she whispered to him back then, i.e. his name. Of course if it was then she won’t know its significance just yet, but it was a nice foreshadowing nonetheless.

And so she has become River Song. We know her beginning, and we know her death. Now we just need a little more of the middle of her story, and hopefully this won’t mean the end of the Doctor’s. Either way I suspect River Song’s origins aren’t going to turn out as neatly as it they currently seem.

Before we get onto my best bits there are a few other parts of the episode that I’d like to point out. Firstly I thought the camerawork and visual effects were ace. You can tell that the BBC’s putting enough into Doctor Who so that it can really be at its best for episodes like this one, but it’s also a really big positive for me that these effects are part of the story rather than being flashy distractions. Examples include the clever scene-cuts when River’s first trying to kill the Doctor, the scene transition when Mels throws the toy TARDIS and it morphs into the real out of control one, the way the robot changed its appearance and of course the regeneration scenes. I also liked the moral conundrum posed by the robot’s crew and their mission; to use time travel to punish historical tyrants for their sins. This is one of those concepts that seems quite moral to start off with but which then becomes extremely ill-advised and hypocritical. It reminded me a bit of the Flesh that the cat-nuns kept imprisoned in New Earth so they could use them to make cures, or the gangers in The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People that nobody realised could have independent feelings until the Doctor came along. What I didn’t like about this punishment concept though was that it looked like they weren’t great it – getting to Hitler too early, and “that’s what you said when we turned Mussolini green!” being examples of their slight ineptitude – as well as their readily switched targets to River Song and then proceeded to punish her before she’d actually killed the Doctor. This also goes against what the young crew guy said about the Doctor’s death being a fixed point in time if their justification for punishing her now is her attempt to kill the Doctor with the poison. Is River really such a priority that they’d mess time up just to punish her? And if so what do they know about the Doctor that makes killing him such a severe crime? (bear in mind that he now has these records stored in the TARDIS. Spoilers anyone?) I can see how River’s punishment fits in in terms of the episode’s plot, but doing it in the wrong order like that somewhat undermines the concept of this ‘justice’ organisation for me. The other thing that irked me as well, and I’m not the only one who thought so, was the reference to River’s poison coming from the Judas Tree. I know it was probably just a throwaway line, and if such poison is normally administered through kissing then it is a fairly appropriate name, but even so it seemed a bit cheap. But anyhoo, lets talk about the other bits I did like.

Best bits:

  • I really enjoyed seeing all the little nods to past episodes. There haven’t been that many of them since Matt Smith took over as the Doctor so it was really nice to see Rose, Martha and Donna referenced by the TARDIS’ voice interface system. Other nods included: the residual regeneration energy that River uses a couple of times, which reminded me of David Tennant’s hand in the first Christmas special and of Donna touching said hand and bringing about the DoctorDonna in Journey’s End; and the Doctor talking to River about ‘rules’ and finishing with “Rule 1: the Doctor lies” a la River herself in The Big Bang.
  • I danced with everyone at the wedding, the women were all brilliant, the men… Were a bit shy.
  • When the the Amelia Pond projection helped the Doctor with the fish fingers and custard line. I like to think that that was the TARDIS herself giving him the little push that he needed.
  • I’m getting this sort of banging in my head.” “Yeah I think that’s Hitler in the cupboard.” “That’s not helping!
  • Rory being an action hero and punching Nazis. He’s officially my favourite.
  • Ok, I’m trapped inside a giant robot replica of my wife. I’m really trying not to see this as a metaphor.
  • I did quite enjoy the flashbacks – wasn’t young Rory adorable! – and it was nice to see the first moments of Rory and Amy’s relationship. Incidentally I thought Arthur Darville’s acting here was brilliant.
  • You’re dying and you stopped to change?!
  • I haven’t memorised every room in the universe yet I had yesterday off!
  • After the robot goes into surveillance mode. “I think he just fainted.” “Yes that was a feint.” I could see the word-play here!
  • When the robot, as Amy, was talking about The Question. Initially I thought the question “hidden in plain sight” was going to be simply “Doctor Who?“, but it probably isn’t because that’s been asked loads of times already. However I did adore this concept for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy connection.
  • Can you ride a motorbike?” “I expect so, it’s that sort of day.
  • Excellent use of robot when Amy tells it to “show me River Song“.
  • Seeing the blue TARDIS diary for the first time.
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