Saturday, 27 August 2011

DOCTOR WHO, 6.8 – "Let's Kill Hitler"

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Steven Moffat's mind is every bit as acrobatic, flexible and irrepressible as The Doctor's (Matt Smith), meaning episodes like this positively buzz with ambition and life, doing somersaults over the expectations of its audience. At times it gets a little exhausting, particularly as you suspect it's partly done to distract people from some underlying problems, but it's also so exhilarating I find it impossible to stop myself being swept away.

The provocatively-titled "Let's Kill Hitler" was another mythology-heavy mid-season premiere, so consequently impenetrable to newcomers. It was another mad spin through time and imagination, with Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) contacting The Doctor via elaborate crop circle, hoping for an update on his one-man mission to rescue their abducted baby daughter Melody Pond—who will grow up to become cheeky time-travelling adventurer River Song (Alex Kingston). However, things went haywire with the unexpected arrival of the Pond's best friend Mels (Nina Toussaint-White) in a stolen sports car, with flashbacks clueing us into the fact she likewise grew up believing in the "raggedy Doctor" of young Amelia's (Caitlin Blackwood) childhood. Unfortunately, Mels proved to be even more headstrong than her best friend, essentially forcing The Doctor to take her on a mission to kill Adolf Hitler...

"I'm trapped inside a giant robot replica of my wife. I'm really trying not to see this as a metaphor." 

And by that stage, we'd hardly begun to scratch the surface of what happened in this episode: a shape-shifting robot piloted by a microscopic crew, hell-bent on punishing history's most notorious criminals who escaped justice; the startling reveal that Mels is a twentysomething Melody Pond, who'd grown up alongside her own parents as part of her brainwashed mission to find and kill The Doctor, before regenerating into the familiar physique of River Song with a very unfamiliar mindset (coming across as a flirtatious Terminator to slaughter and undress Nazis); and another life-or-death scenario for The Doctor to contend with as he was poisoned by kissing River and had to save the day as his life dribbled away in a scant 32-minutes! It was all incredibly well-handled, barely pausing for breathe, yet somehow easy to digest now we've acclimated to Moffat's style. I just worry that every non-Moffat episode, especially ones telling completely standalone stories, look worrying empty and sluggish in comparison. The show can't keep asking writers like Neil Gaiman to do a script, so everyone's going to have to raise their game.

It's sometimes difficult to parse the timeline of River Song without sitting down and thinking very deeply with a few diagrams to hand (how do you spend your weekends?), but I'm pretty sure this episode filled some lingering issues with how River's story will make sense when seen linearly from her perspective. This episode basically gave us the "birth" of River Song, by deprogramming her as Madam Kovarian's brainwashed soldier, but ultimately sealing her fate in "The Silence In The Library" two-parter. Touches like The Doctor giving River her TARDIS-shaped journal really helped bring some sense of clarity to events, as the mystery of River continues to dissipate in a very exciting and satisfying way. Now we just need to know who she kills in order for her to be imprisoned in the Storm Cage..

Overall, "Let's Kill Hitler" was a masterful triumph; passionate, hilarious, imaginative, witty, clever and surprisingly emotional. One criticism of Moffat's reign has been how he seems to lack the heart (or gross sentimentality?) that informed Russell T. Davies' era, but this episode was very effective in the emotional stakes. Matt Smith (delightful throughout, especially with some physical comedy involving a dinner suit and "sonic cane") was especially good in The Doctor's tense death scene, and Alex Kingston simply ravaged this material like a hungry wolf.

While there are moments that didn't work completely, and perhaps one too many ideas floating around at times, the sheer joy and energy bottled in this episode could keep the National Grid fully charged all year. Superb stuff and a fantastic restart of this sixth series.


  • Rory: "Miniaturisation Ray." / Amy: "How would you know that?" / Rory: "Well, there was the ray... and we were miniaturised." Love Rory.
  • Now there's a shape-shifting robot in the show, I suppose that could be another option to explain The Doctor's apparent death in the series 6 premiere at Lake Silencio. But that robot wouldn't be able to fake the beginnings of a regeneration, right? And is Melody definitely inside the Impossible Astronaut suit?
  • Interesting to note the introduction of a new, longer coat for The Doctor—perhaps appeasing the grumble from Matt Smith that his regular tweed jacket was very cold when filming. On a similar sartorial note, River's fondness for jodhpurs was revealed to have been inspired by Nazi uniforms!
  • Were the "micronauts" inspired by Beano comic-strip The Numskulls or, heaven help us, that Eddie Murphy movie Meet Dave? This is Moffat, so I'm hoping the former.
  • This episode was directed by Richard Senior, making his show debut, although he did helm the recent Comic Relief sketches "Space" and "Time". Senior has previously helped edit numerous episodes of the show since series 5.
  • I'm sure fanboys got a kick from seeing holographic projections of Rose, Martha and Donna in the TARDIS. Perhaps a missed opportunity to have not included Sarah-Jane, in light of Elisabeth Sladen's death earlier this year?
  • Rory's been developing his own cult following this year, as fans have realized the character actually keeps getting some rather cool moments to play. I'm sure the Roryites will be delighted their hero got to punch Hitler to the floor and lock him in a cupboard!
written by Steven Moffat / directed by Richard Senior / 27 August 2011 / BBC1

Next time...