Saturday, August 27, 2011

Doctor Who: Let's Kill Hitler

So, the Good Man returns to our screens after a summer break. And he's back with a bang. And with a break-neck story that never really pauses for breath. But also a story that, when you look back on it, is a delightful piece of story telling; a deceptively simple plot that manages to advance the overall story arc at the same time as offering some genuine surprises that, on closer analysis, appear to be logical developments given what we have seen thus far and what we can guess is to come. And it is also a very funny script; one very clearly written by the author of Coupling. It is a great way for the show to return after its summer holidays. Let's take a look at why in a bit more detail.

Oh, and perhaps appropriately, there are spoilers ahead.

First up, it has a pre-title sequence that is clever and exciting. It has a novel way of contacting the Doctor and, just as you think you've figured it all out, it throws in a twist and an apparently throwaway character in Amy's best friend, Mels.

Ah, Mels. You have a gun, an attitude, and have been brought up (unintentionally) by Amelia Pond (and other, less friendly forces as it turns out) to have an obsession with the Doctor. But it all is for nothing, because Hitler shoots her in a blind panic. Amy's best friend is going to die. Except... except... Well, we never did stop to ask what 'Mels' is short for. Turns out it is Melody. Melody Pond. So one regeneration later, we have the Doctor dying and a couple of parents searching for their ever so wayward superhuman daughter while Hitler remains locked in a cupboard. And that's before we even come to the Terminator style robot spaceship with the minaturised people inside it.

In this episode, we get the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Melody Pond all firing on all cylinders. But it is also worth pausing for a moment and remarking on how Rory has grown as a character. Here, he gets many of the best moments. Witness his treatment of Hitler and his lines after he and Amy have been miniaturised. Furthermore, Arthur Darvil's performance as he watches his future wife realise that he has loved her for years is sublime.

And those scenes with Amelia Pond, young Rory and young Mels - that at first appeared to be nothing more than a bit of padding - actually turn out to be crucial to the ongoing story. Here we see that Amy and Rory did raise their daughter, even though they were children too at the time. It is a neat way of getting around the narrative problem of how the Ponds as parents would get to see their daughter growing up.

Furthermore, the later appearance of Amelia Pond - this time as projection in the TARDIS - is wonderful. Not least because it is preceded by a lighthearted reveal of something really rather dark - that the Doctor doesn't like himself, and feels guilt (understandably) over the impact he had on the lives of Rose Tyler, Martha Jones and Donna Noble. This is basically an aside in a very busy story, but it hints at an emotional complexity that you might not expect from such a bold, brassy (half) season opener.

It is also worth commenting briefly on the direction here. There were so many nice little moments that indicated a talented director at work - such as the seamless merge between the model TARDIS and the real thing flying out of control through the sky. Combined with a great script and fine performances (especially from the regulars) this is bold, confident Doctor Who - the show at its best.

And it really does hint at what might be to come. We learn a little more about the Silence, as well as learning that silence will fall when a very old question is asked. What could that question be? Well, I have a proven track record of being really rather crap when it comes to Doctor Who related predictions, but I'll make a guess anyway - could that question possibly be one posed to the Doctor that simply says "who are you?"

Any problems? Well, the Hitler element to the story is a little bit of a red herring, but the full nightmare that was Hitler's life isn't the sort of thing that can be done in a family show broadcast at 7:10pm on a Saturday evening. And the incinerating things in the Teselcta ship looked a little... well... cheap, but to bemoan cheap special effects in Doctor Who is to open up a can of worms that would take months to fully discuss. But I can't help but feel that to criticise this episode too much is almost to be a bit too pedantic and churlish. This was fun, clever and vastly enjoyable.

And it is the sort of episode that shows why Doctor Who should be celebrated as a largely unique television experience. It is damn near half a century old, but still has the ability to be hugely exciting and surprising. And it still has the ability to leave you desperately wanting to know what will happen next week.

Welcome back, Doctor. You were only away for a few weeks, but even that was far too long.

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At 11:26 am , Blogger Pavlov's Cat said...

I also enjoyed the episode, for all the things you mentioned.

Although I would like to point out that if River song had tried to fire those 2 MP40's one-handedly, not only would her shooting be wildly inaccurate, it would probably have broken her wrists.

At 2:39 pm , Anonymous Andrew Zalotocky said...

Yes, it was a spectacular episode. The one big criticism I would make is that Song's character changes completely in an absurdly short time. She starts out as a brainwashed psycho killer who had spent years following Amy and Rory around in the hope of getting to the Doctor. By the end of the episode she's sacrificing all her regeneration energy to save him. Her conditioning breaks down too quickly for it to be plausible.

Also, the captain of the justice robot says that they take infamous criminals at the end of their lives. So why are they going after Hitler in 1938?

At 2:47 pm , Blogger The Nameless Libertarian said...

On the latter point, one of the crew says that they've come to the wrong time and that they need to go later in Hitler's time stream. Then they get distracted by Mels/Melody/River.

At 7:31 pm , Blogger Jim said...

So much to like, so much to dislike, all in one episode. Maybe I should watch it again before commenting further, but my initial feeling is that it's all great jokes and (admittedly highly enjoyable) surface pyrotechnics - and a few great ideas thrown in (but largely wasted) - concealing yawning logical incosistencies, gaping plot-holes and implausible character development. Great fun to watch, until you engage your brain. Right now I feel like I could write two essays, one explaining why it was brilliant and another explaining why it was total crap. And they'd both be plausible.

At 8:05 pm , Blogger MU said...

Hitler is still in the cupboard

At 8:43 am , Blogger The Nameless Libertarian said...


Write both - I loved this episode, but even I can see there is a case to be made against it.


At 12:31 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't like to put my head in the wasps nest but I do have some criticisms of DW as it is right now.

1) In the past series there were complaints that the Doctor could get out of an impossible situation by waving the sonic screwdriver. Although he no longer relies as much on the hardware, it looks as if the writers do the same thing by using 'human' sonic screwdrivers, where people seem to obtain previously unknown powers to solve the problem. (For example, River bringing the Doctor back to life at the end of the current show). Not a lot different from Deus Ex Machina, the lazy writer's solution to everything. There will be no tension in the story if you believe that a snap of the fingers will make a happy ending however bad the situation is.

2) The show has become almost impossible to understand for a casual watcher. If you hadn't seen most of the previous shows in the last series the plot would mean nothing as there was little that could stand on its own without the arc. I think this would also mean that younger watchers would not be interested in the program, unless they just like the noise and the effects. I guess the BBC are aiming at an older age range as it is on later than it used to be when it was part of kids TV.

Sorry to be a critic as you are obviously a big fan but there you are!

At 8:08 pm , Blogger The Nameless Libertarian said...


I have no problem with people being critical (in a meaningful way) about the show - I love it, but I know that it isn't perfect. But to deal with your comments - there has been many hints that regeneration is an amazingly powerful phenomenon that has many side-effects. For example, back in the 1980s, it was made clear that Time Lords could give up their remaining regenerations to others. That's what River Song did in this story. And once that is done, it can't be undone. So River won't be able to save the day in this way again.

As for the complexity of the show, I think it still could be understood by the casual viewer but, being anything other than a casual viewer, I can't know that for certain. Anyway, Moffat has stated that it is time to stop pretending that people don't watch the show week in, week out. Such viewers can understand complex storylines, much in the same way that people can follow soap operas (and the casual viewer can dip in and out if they so wish).


At 8:55 pm , Anonymous TomJ said...

"You said guns didn't work in this place! You said we're in a state of temporal grace!"
"Oh, that was a clever lie, you idiot!"

See Rule One...


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