28 August 2011

Doctor Who: Let's Kill Hitler (Spoilers)

There are a few ways you could handle a Doctor Who episode called "Let's Kill Hitler".  You could take the Indiana Jones approach and lightly mix derring-do, deadpan seriousness, witty lines and moments which remind you that the backdrop of the story is something awful (see "The Last Crusade" during the book burning scene) to produce a heart-felt adventure.  Or you could use it as an opportunity to deeply examine why the Doctor hasn't killed Hitler, why all the horror and degradation and heartbreak that pathetic little man caused is somehow necessary to Earth's history (a fixed moment in time) which he cannot change.

Or you could make Hitler completely irrelevant to the plot, shove him in a cupboard and get on with having an overwrought melodrama with yet another the-Doctor-is-dying fake-out.

While I don't consider World War II, and the question of Hitler, something you can never do stories about, it just came across as unnecessary.  Completely unnecessary, "let's give the episode a shocking title to gain attention" unnecessary.  Beyond a mildly sniffy comment, we don't even examine the idea of people from the future coming back in time to torture war criminals but not, you know, save anyone.  It says something for how badly this episode was executed that the ONLY person I felt any kind of sympathy for was the Nazi commander who was killed off by the robot in the opening scenes.  Successfully conveying the horror of meeting a duplicate of yourself, then being transported somewhere inexplicable and hunted down - and wasting it on someone we should hate...why?  If they'd made us hate the guy first, then maybe it could have worked and we would have been happy to see his horror and fear.  But we are merely TOLD he is bad and thus the scene has completely the wrong impact.  [One of the best examples of the problems of show v tell I've seen this week.]

The story is primarily the second part of River Song's origin story, and gives us a transition for Melody Pond from kidnapped baby to brainwashed 'bespoke' assassin (one who wedges herself into her parents' timeline as a childhood friend) to the birth of the identity known as River Song.  The bones of this story is good.  The execution is terrible.  The moments of poignancy and loss involved in the terrible life this child has led, her strange and warped relationship with her parents, are completely deflated and ignored.

The Doctor apparently has been unable to track down Melody-the-baby, and there's a strong implication at the end of this episode that we're no longer hunting for the baby, and that River must grow as an identity on her own.  Can the Doctor (let alone Amy and Rory) really be okay with the result of this story?  Are we really supposed to believe that the guy with the time machine can't get to that baby?

Other problematic issues with the episode:

- Retconning a childhood friend in for Amy and Rory.  This above all else suggests that none of this story was planned.  Because, hell, we met River before Amy.  If she grew up as Amy's childhood best friend PUT HER IN THEN NOT NOW.  "Mels", who is black, steals cars and is in and out of jail but I guess we can shrug that off because after all that's "just River".  [I was actually thinking during her scenes - why are they adding another obnoxious character who behaves just like River?]

- Ouch, the slippery slope of sexism.  The Doctor actually suggests that River is being so insane and contradictory "because she's a woman".  And while River is certainly a woman who is proudly appreciative of herself, and might be expected to enjoy looking and feeling good, her preoccupation during and after regeneration on: (1) her waist size, (2) her weight and (3) finding some sexy clothing, was just...gob-smacking.

I just cannot get over how bad this season has been.  Only a single stand-alone episode has captured the magic of Doctor Who at all.  Fortunately the preview suggests that next week's episode might be viewable.

2 comments:

  1. I finally got round to to watching this episode & I agree with pretty much every criticism you list. The biggest loss I think was ignoring the tragedy of an abused and brainwashed child & the loss of her parents watching her grow up.
    It also bugged me that they spent so little time on the mental switch from "don't care" to "willing to help the Doctor to do one last thing" to "sacrificing timelord ability".
    Looking forward to the next one being better :)

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  2. It's such a strange season. If someone simply described it to me, without me seeing it, I would probably think it sounds wonderful. Clever backward travelling complex story, high tragedy, grand drama.

    But it's been executed _terribly_. And while the next episode is good, you get whiplash from "Stolen Baby Drama" to "we're new parents whose child has been stolen, we encounter a plea for help from a frightened child, and WE DON'T EVEN LOOK SAD ABOUT OUR OWN BABY".

    Melody doesn't even rate a mention. It's just...ridiculous.

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