Let’s Kill Hitler by Steven Moffat
Review and analysis by Damian Michael Barcroft. The following views and opinions are my own and do not reflect those of The Gallifrey Times.
CHRISTMAS DAY 2007. I remember the anticipation and excitement as I tuned into BBC1 for the Doctor Who festive special, Voyage of the Damned. The broadcast of any episode with my favourite time traveller is enough cause for celebration in my house but this was particularly the case as I was fascinated by the concept of the Doctor on board the Titanic (Wasn’t it mentioned that the 9th Doctor witnessed the ship’s voyage? – perhaps there would be a reference made!). Now, we all know that the Doctor isn’t really supposed to meddle with time and history, but regular viewers will know that he actually does sometimes when the mood takes him. So, I was fascinated to see if he would indeed save anyone (Kylie perhaps?), or even prevent the tragedy altogether. Of course within minutes, I quickly realised that this wasn’t the actual Titanic at all. Silly old me and how very naive, but in my defence, I tend to read very little about an episode prior to broadcast for fear of those dreaded spoilers. What a waisted opportunity I thought, and so it was again with the much anticipated Let’s Kill Hitler.
Again, perhaps my naivety got the better of me but what a great premise for an episode to have the Doctor meet, and possibly even kill Hitler! I was reminded of that great classic Tom Baker story, Genesis of the Daleks (8 March – 12 April 1975) in which the Doctor asks, ‘If somebody who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that the child would grow up totally evil… To be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives. Could you then kill that child?’ Brilliant stuff in a storyline that was full of such moral issues and themes. Indeed, the connection between Doctor Who and the Nazis goes back the programme’s very inception, or at least its second story, The Daleks (21 December 1963 – 1 February 1964) and arguably, afterGenesis, one of the most explicit displays of the obvious parallels between the Third Reich and Daleks in The Dalek Invasion of Earth (21 November – 26 December 1964). Was Moffat going to continue and develop this grand body of work and what ideas and questions would he pose to his audience? The answer was of course, and perhaps inevitably none because within minutes of introducing us to “The Great Dictator”, Rory, that comedy genius/man of action/romantic hero/complete waste of space (delete as applicable), locked him in a bloody cupboard never to be seen or mentioned in the episode again. Although maybe this was for the best as Albert Welling was the least convincing Hitler since Charlie “Adenoid Hynkel” Chaplin, but still, what a wasted opportunity. The setting of Berlin in 1938 was completely irrelevant and a disappointing misuse of such a potent and significant historical figure.
However, let’s look at the episode for what it actually was rather than it wasn’t. The action started swiftly with Amy and Rory trying and succeeding splendidly in getting the Doctor’s attention and within minutes of the episode starting, it was though the show had never been away and summer was just a bad dream in which there was an embarrassing BBC/Starz co-production featuring actors who appeared similar to characters in a once quirky and much-loved TV show. Regular visitors to The Gallifrey Times and readers of these reviews will remember my objections to such an overcrowded TARDIS, so it was with great trepidation that I observed yet another character introduced to the time machine. But what a pleasure it was to be wrong and what a clever way of introducing the audience to River Song’s previous incarnation – well done Mr Moffat and praise also to Nina Toussaint-White as Mels for such a solid performance despite so little screen time. It is these ingenious plot twists that Moffat writes so well which are a highlight of the Matt Smith era and the new series as a whole since 2005 and his first Doctor Who episode, The Empty Child (excluding his 1999 Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death for obvious reasons!). What a great pity then, that such grand ideas are so frequently rushed and buried in a myriad of juvenile dross such as the justice department Teselecta. I don’t think, or I least hope, we’ll be seeing much of these antagonists again. I find it ironic that a group of children have recently won a competition to script a special one-off episode when Moffat creates such childish and unimaginative characters such as these that often only serve as a convenient way to advance his main and often quality storylines. What with this and last year’s excellent Sherlock, I often suspect that Moffat is spreading both himself and his creativity a little thin, never really having the time to perfect his scripts before filming begins.
This rushed approach is indicative of some of the previous episodes and certainly this one in which even main characters have so little time to breathe and resonate with the audience. In what should have been a highly charged and emotional scene where River Song sacrifices her immortality to save the Doctor, ultimately ended up as yet another anticlimax. Additionally, I must say that the scene reminded me of The Parting of the Ways (2005), in which the fantastic 9th Doctor and Rose “kiss” so that he can absorb the TARDIS’ time vortex energy thus saving her life while sacrificing his present incarnation. That finale to the first series of new Doctor Who packed an almighty emotional punch and so I was less convinced, and ultimately less moved by what seemed to me to be a lazy and samey rehash. Of course it probably didn’t help that I’d had a belly full of Matt Smith scrawling all over the floor for what seemed like most of the episode. However, perhaps the most distracting aspect to the scene was Amy and Rory standing hugging each other and whimpering helplessly in the background yet again as Smith and Kingston delivered their lines. Furthermore, is the impact of a major character’s “death” not somewhat diminished when we seen it already? First Moffat insisted on “killing” Rory every other episode and now it seems the Doctor has now inherited the curse!
Other points of dissatisfaction include Moffat’s curious sense of humour (‘Gay gypsy Bar Mitzvah for the disabled’ and ‘Big ginge’), the miniaturised justice team that were often just a little too Terminator-like for my liking, the sequences portraying a potted history of Amy, Rory and Mels which I thought belonged to an episode of How I Met Your Mother, the Doctor suddenly deciding to suit up in top hat and tails just for the hell of it, a sonic cane probably because Amy had the ridiculously overused screwdriver (I wish they would take a leaf out of John Nathan-Turner’s book on this issue!), the biography and book was a little too convenient, and despite riding a cool motorbike and punching one of the worst and probably the most reviled war criminals in the face, Rory is still very much a spare part in much need of something to actually do instead of following the Doctor and Amy like a bad smell. Overall, this episode, like so many others, seemed a strange mixture of simplistic elements that would be better suited to an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures and more mature character exploration to please the other half of the BBC’s demographic audience.
Still, Let’s Kill Hitler proved to be a successful addition to the current season’s story arc and managed to advance certain character and plotlines albeit in poor narrative structure and a rather slapdash and frenzied manner. However, to be fair, I think Moffat delivered far more information and answers than one would ever dare expect at only half-way point in the series and on the basis of this episode, I am tempted to dismiss the feeling that Moffat is making all this up as he goes along. Indeed if there are more great secrets to be revealed, one wonders what treats and surprises Moffat has in store for us in the remaining five episodes and beyond…
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