Doctor Who 6.08 "Let's Kill Hitler" SlugfestA tv review article by: Dave Wallace, Kelvin Green
Episode 6.08: "Let's Kill Hitler"
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Richard Senior
The TARDIS crashlands in Berlin in the 1930s and the Doctor suffers the ultimate betrayal while facing the greatest war criminal of all time.
Doctor Who airs in the UK Saturday nights at 7:00PM on BBC ONE.
Doctor Who airs in the US Saturday nights at 9:00PM on BBC AMERICA.
Doctor Who's big mid-season comeback is a fantastic showcase for the creativity, originality and unpredictability of the series' current showrunner, Steven Moffat. A historic romp through Nazi Germany that also takes in complex time-travel causality, a threat on the Doctor's life, and a chameleonic robot piloted by 'miniaturised cross people' it's a breathtaking rush of imaginative concepts that leaves viewers with very little time to think before the next big plot twist or character development is introduced.
Unfortunately, it's also a perfect example of how great ideas don't always translate into great drama. Moffat throws out his crazy notions in rapid-fire manner, one after the other, but seems to forget to add elements that will tease out characters' emotions or help viewers to emphasise with them. As much as his incessant slew of ideas leaves us with very little time to think, it also leaves us with very little time to establish an emotional reaction to the developments of the episode--and given that so many important character twists take place here, that feels like a severe misstep.
(For example, given that the cliffhanger of “A Good Man Goes To War” was built around Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory's (Arthur Darvill) quest to recover their baby daughter, it's remarkable that this episode barely acknowledges their discovery of whether they are destined to succeed or not.)
It feels as though Moffat wrote this episode in stream-of-consciousness fashion after a mammoth caffeine bender during a which he watched Terminator 2, Star Trek, Judge Dredd and Downfall in quick succession whilst also flicking through old issues of The Beezer to pick out the “Numbskulls” pages. And then submitted that first pass as the final shooting script in the hope that no-one would ask him why the individual pieces of the story hang together so poorly.
Because I'm trying to avoid spoilers in this review, I can't go into too much detail about the various ways in which this episode doesn't add up (although I'll happily discuss the episode at length on the ComicsBulletin message boards). But let's take the new character of Mels (Nina Toussaint-White) as an example. Her appearance feels like a hurried and forced attempt to quickly establish a character who we're supposed to believe has been integral to the lives of Amy and Rory ever since they were children, before almost immediately pulling a twist that turns her character into something completely different.
Had Mels been set up in advance--even if only by a couple of episodes--we might have been able to feel something when Moffat reveals that all is not as it seems with her. But by suddenly introducing her as one thing and then turning her into another, the episode only draws further attention to what a contrived character-as-plot-device she is.
Perhaps Moffat thought he could get away with something similar to the development accomplished by Joss Whedon in Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which Buffy's sister Dawn was suddenly introduced at the start of season five, despite there having being no previous mention of her in earlier seasons. However, Moffat doesn't seem to have anywhere near as coherent a plan as Whedon did (although to say more at this point really would involve severe spoilers, sweetie).
It's not even as if Mel's character is particularly consistent within this single episode: once we find out who she really is, I struggle to find a genuine reason for her forcing the Doctor (Matt Smith) to take the TARDIS crew back to Nazi Germany in the first place. And if she was really Amy's best friend and wanted to get the Doctor's attention, why didn't she try to do so during any of the Doctor's previous visits to Leadworth?
It's a shame that there are so many little niggles like this, because there's a lot to like about the episode. For one thing, it's very funny. Sometimes the humour takes the form of amusing wordplay or adult innuendo, and other times it wrings laughs out of the sheer absurdity of the characters' situation (who couldn't laugh at Rory's “Shut up, Hitler!”, or another character provocatively mentioning to a group of Nazis that she's just on her way to a “gay, gypsy bar mitzvah for the disabled”).
I also have a huge appreciation for Moffat's ability to come up with so many compelling ideas, most of which could sustain an entire episode (if not a whole season) but are tossed out and discarded as though the writer knows he can do better. But if anything, the episode's focus is diverted so much by these clever, inventive ideas that it fails to really get the audience to care.
I'm also slightly concerned by the increasingy self-referential nature of this season's core storyline, which is so preoccupied with linking everything together and adding layers and layers of complexity to an already complicated plot that it feels as though this complexity has now become the show's objective in and of itself: that Doctor Who is no longer about providing exciting, imaginative all-ages sci-fi drama, but has instead become an intellectual puzzle that drags its central ideas round in circles like a mini in a cornfield without ever actually taking them anywhere that makes for good drama.
(And as I said earlier, I wouldn't mind this so much if all of these ideas hung together coherently--but there are so many elements that don't line up, or feel as though they've been written on the hoof, that I'm rapidly losing faith in Moffat's reputation as a tight, forward-thinking plotter.)
My biggest worry is that this episode is indicative that Doctor Who is going to fall into the same 'mythology' trap that The X-Files and Lost did. By becoming so preoccupied with revisiting the same concepts but adding layers and layers of twisting complexity and oblique mystery to these central ideas, I'm worried that the show is going to progressively alienate all but the most devoted fans by prioritising intellectual teasing and mechanical puzzlement over elegant, affecting drama. And I think it would be a great shame if Doctor Who were to lose the humanity and the emotional quality that makes it such a distinctive voice in science fiction.
A journalist and sometime comics reviewer, Dave Wallace was raised on a traditional European diet of Beano comics, Asterix collections and Tintin books before growing up and discovering that sequential art could -- occasionally -- be even better than that. He has an unashamed soft spot for time-travel stories, Spider-Man, and anything by Alan Moore or Grant Morrison, and has been known to spend far too much on luxurious hardcover editions of his favorite books when it's something he really likes. Maybe one day he'll get around to writing down his own stories that have been knocking around his head for a while now.
There's lots to enjoy about "Let's Kill Hitler". It's fast-paced and often quite funny -- like Douglas Adams before him, Moffat's background in comedy is a great fit for the series -- and it's full of fun scenes and interesting ideas, from the simple pleasures of seeing Hitler getting punched on the chin by Rory, to the off-kilter idea of a tiny Star Trek-like crew stomping about inside a mechanical, shapechanging person. As I was watching the episode, I had great fun.
It's only when I thought about it later that I realised it's not a brilliant episode. Hitler's not in it that much, which makes the title a bit of a cheat, and while Moffat never intended to use the programme to examine the Nazi leader's history and personality, he did make a big fuss in the press of wanting to ridicule Hitler, and we didn't really get much of that either.
The miniature space police people quite literally disappear into thin air at one point, which doesn't make them seem that dedicated to their task -- although it is suggested a couple of times that they're not the most competent police force around -- and it is never quite explained why they travel around with a bunch of homicidal security robots; one would assume they use the robots to deal with the criminals they capture, but that doesn't explain why the things roam around the person-ship posing a threat to everyone.
Well, that's not true; the reason why the robots roam around the ship as they wish is because they need to do that so that there's peril later in the story. That's the big problem with "Let's Kill Hitler"; the moving parts are rather visible, not only in the minor details like the security robots, but also in the episode's main plot, which is more or less a glaring continuity bodge designed to get River Song to a certain point.
I like River Song a lot. She's a great character, one of the best characters introduced into the series in years, and Alex Kingston plays her so very well, but for all her charms she's never outshone the Doctor, until now. The episode is an origin story for River Song, and the poor Doctor gets rather pushed to the sidelines; whoever's playing the lead, whatever the trappings of the episode, the Doctor shouldn't be passive -- unless the story is about his lack of action, as in "The Waters of Mars" -- but here he gets dragged from one scene to another, or lounges about on the floor for ages, as Moffat gets on with the more important business of putting River where she needs to be next.
In fairness, it's done quite well and River's change of heart from deadly assassin to roguish hero is just about convincing despite the speed of the conversion and all the special effects, but the whole thing feels weighted in the wrong direction, as if it's the pilot of The Adventures of River Song or something. Perhaps it will look better when viewed as part of the series as a whole, but taken as the first episode of the half-series, it doesn't quite work.
Even so, there's still lots to like about the episode. Seeing River running about Berlin with a machine gun clenched in each hand is a delight, and I enjoyed the parallels between the TARDIS and the person-shaped vehicle thingie in which the space police were riding about. The murder-robots are quite well done, a nice clean design reminiscent of 70's science fiction movies, and the scene in which River and the Doctor try to outwit each other -- told through quick-fire flashbacks -- is well written and well played by both Matt Smith and Alex Kingston; it does remind me a bit of the ending to Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, but that's not a bad thing.
All in all, "Let's Kill Hitler" is a good, solid episode with lots of excitement, a bit of effective drama, and a fair few laughs. I'm just not sure it's a good episode of Doctor Who.
Kelvin Green erupted fully formed from the grey shapeless mass of Ubbo Sathla in the dark days before humans walked the earth. He grew up on Judge Dredd, Transformers, Indiana Jones #12, the Avengers and Spider-Man, and thinks comics don't get much better than FLCL, Nextwave and Rocket Raccoon. Kelvin lives among garbage and seagulls and doesn't hate Marvel nearly as much as you all think he does.