THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

BBC
Let's Kill Hitler

Story No. 241 She's named after herself
Production Code 2.8
Dates August 27, 2011

With Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill
Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Richard Senior
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger, Beth Willis.

Synopsis: A woman hijacks the TARDIS, in order to take it back in time and kill Hitler.


Reviews

Bad title, decent story by Clement Tang 8/6/12

Before I start, I'll just say that I consider this and A Good Man Goes to War separate stories. There is no link between them to make them one whole story in my opinion.

This story is not Moffat's best, but it is better than the episode before it. This is basically revelations of River Song/Melody Pond set in Nazi Germany. But what a twist that Melody was the real villain, not Hitler.

I love the ontological paradox of Melody being named after Amy's friend, Mel's, who happens to be the second incarnation of Melody Pond. Melody named herself. I also love the other paradox where River finds out who she is by seeing the Teselecta turning into her. River created River in a sense.

Matt Smith gave another brilliant performance as the Doctor and outshines most of the characters, except Alex Kingston as River. You could say he's one of my favorite Doctors, up there with Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker. Amy and Rory don't quite stand out in the story, though. Even Mels was better, and she had a short role.

The Teselecta is a nice creation. Mini people in a shape-shifting robot stopping criminals throughout time and space, to the point of tracking down the most wanted because of what she will do. But still, none of the characters in the Teselecta stand out.

This isn't a story I would recommend. It's good, but not great. And since it's very important to the narrative of Series 6, you might as well read a sypnosis as watch this.

7.5/10


"Won't someone think of the children?" by Thomas Cookson 5/11/13

Until this point, I thought Moffat could do no wrong and that the show was in the best hands with him, despite tiresome complaints and naysayings of fanboys who still wanted their precious RTD back.

In eager anticipation of the followup to A Good Man Goes to War's cliffhanger, I sat down to watch this and ended up sitting through a hideous experience that I could only describe as a nightmare. One thought that shouldn't go through my mind when watching a Moffat story is 'please make it stop'.

Even the title itself sticks out like a sore thumb in Doctor Who's canon, and it's just the tip of the iceberg of how misjudged and out of control this story is. Not since Resurrection of the Daleks has so much incident been forced into a non-existent plot. Actually, the title is nothing if not direct, whereas the story itself couldn't be more aimless. As simultaneously frenetic and soulless as a headless chicken.

It didn't help that I spent the story scratching my head, waiting for some explanation of why Amy and Rory were already back in Leadworth, not at Demon's Run where the Doctor last left them. Yes it was mentioned off the cuff that River was tasked with teleporting everyone home, but the story's final image is more likely to remain in the mind months later, than something we didn't see. Some clarity and visual establishment wouldn't hurt.

Arguably, I might have got off to the wrong foot with the story, but that problem persists throughout the story, of playing fast and loose and incoherent with the art of visual storytelling (such as the Doctor's dying of poison whilst still making a point of changing his clothes between scenes), and the story outwardly chasing away from answers and explanations. I mean, had I missed something?

I don't usually subscribe to the 'Moffat is sexist' fan camp, but this episode is hard to defend. Not just because it renders Amy a useless cipher once she's fulfilled her baby-making function, but because River is depicted as a victim of a lifetime's brainwashing and abuse, and it's not only depicted trivially; it all but reveres how 'cool' that brainwashing has made River as a person. There's no sense of objection or moral outrage to how River's been warped and confused to a nefarious end. In fact, the Doctor dismisses it with a crass "also, because she's a woman".

Does that line expose Moffat's sexism? No. I doubt Moffat thought much about the line beyond needing a joke to diffuse the scene and relied on a particularly laddish one. Part of Moffat's problem as a writer is that he's very much a fanboy, with a typical fannish tendency to rely on flippancy to cover some of his more important moments when he's unsure of how to handle them. This applies also to his controversial old TSV interview.

In fact, I think if the line articulates anything, then it's a desire to play on the married couple aspect of the Doctor and River, which might, as Mad Larry once suggested, have something to do with Moffat parodying a past divorce of his. So effectively he's writing a War of the Roses version of The Time Traveller's Wife.

But I can't take the line too earnestly because most of the comedy falls flat here. "Hello, Benjamin", "I'm gonna wear lots of jumpers". This is possibly the first Moffat script that could be called 'inane', which further adds to my suspicion that it was an ill-considered rush job.

I can imagine this story being done in the early 90's, during Moffat's pre-Chalk days. It'd feel right at home in a Palace Hill episode. But it feels jarring in this season, and pulls heavily against what preceded it. And thinking of the direction of the show since has made me seriously suspect this was a rush-written replacement.

I suspect, given the reckless disinterest with which Moffat has treated Amy and Rory since, that they were originally meant to leave in A Good Man Goes to War. That their story would end with them effectively reunited with their daughter in the present, whilst the Doctor alone would face River's past. It wouldn't be much neater than what we got, but the point is all the emotional drama would be possible to imagine off-screen without being undermined by what we saw next.

I'm very probably off base here, but, either way, Amy and Rory had to be kept around. Night Terrors was an early completed story that had to be moved into the latter half of the season. The scripts of The Girl Who Waited and The God Complex were too good to lose, Amy was too integral to them and they wouldn't have worked in the first half of the season whilst Amy was a ganger. But what I do know is that Let's Kill Hitler was the last of these to be produced. So it had to restore the companions to an emotional status quo, which meant River had to be in it as some kind of consolation to her bereaved parents. I'm not sure any such consolation would have been enough to bridge the gap, but what this story does is almost worse.

I can't escape a feeling that Moffat really thought Mels' dying words to her parents before regenerating ("you got to raise me after all") were meant to soften the blow, and then he was done with it. Despite the fact that he was putting the horse before the cart. The softening before the blow even happens. Then, when she regenerates, the three of them sit in line in awkward silence whilst occasionally interrupted by River's out of shot remarks from the wardrobe, in a scene played for a Peep Show style comedy revelation. Yet again, an emotional moment is being handled inanely and flippantly.

But before the story can settle into any kind of emotional reconciliation, of course we get River's repeated assassination attempts on the Doctor, after being told by her of how all her life she was trained for this purpose. Which leads me to suspect Moffat maybe had started making the mistake of taking the critics who claimed Series 5 was 'too complicated', seriously, and thus dumbing things down for the viewer. Then, after what's played as a frivolous game that reaches its nadir of moronicness when River unknowingly pulls a banana on him, she kisses him with poison and then jumps out the window. Amy and Rory have to now chase after her to remonstrate with her.

River's goal here seems to shift on a whim. First she tries to kill the Fuhrer, then leaves him in the cupboard, then poisons the Doctor, then decides to raid a hall so that she can help herself to some clothes. So basically River's come to Nazi Germany just to have a clothes shopping trip?

You know what, I take it back. Moffat's got serious sexual politics issues after all.

So, because the story hasn't been hideously outlandish and moronically cliched enough in its attempts to raise hysterical laughs, Amy and Rory's difficult search for River is solved by the sight of screaming Berlin women fleeing a hall robbery in their underwear. This showy contrivance alone makes the story's believability a lost cause. But just before they can meet River, they get swallowed by the Teselecta who gets to meet her in their place.

This story isn't merely about nothing, it's actively sabotaging its capacity to be about anything substantial at every turn. Putting a wall between an emotional dealing with River and her parents any time it threatens to happen. Completing the offence by having River tortured whilst Amy and Rory actually need the Doctor's prompting to save her by sabotaging the Teselecta. As her parents, they should be horrified enough to be doing that to save their daughter in the heat of the moment without needing his prompting.

I have to admit, I was looking hard at that moment. The thing is, I never really bought the idea that Amy and Rory being River's parents was ever a good idea or ever fit what we knew about or had seen of them already. But I was prepared for the show to make up for that deficit after the revelation and show a changed dynamic between them. And the show gave me nothing. When it was over, it was as if Moffat had deliberately intended to obfuscate the issue and rush through the story and lose the elephant in the room amidst the chase, and then conclude by saying 'oh it's old news now, get over it'. That is NOT how you resolve an emotional cliffhanger. It's as if he were actively counting on short attention spans. This was the point where Amy and Rory emotionally flatlined for me. Occasionally resuscitated by The Girl Who Waited or Asylum of the Daleks, but from this point on the show's protagonists had clearly switched to autopilot in the main.

One problem with rush-writing a script is that if you focus too much on one character, it becomes too late to make up the difference by rewriting it to accommodate other characters. This is a seriously out of balance story, and it seems forced to sideline the Doctor with the poisoning subplot, but the jeapordy happens in fits and starts. It's a mechanical plot development that the author doesn't seem to care about except as a tool to give River more egregious screen time. And the problem is, the jeapordy is overshadowed by the flippancy. Like I said elsewhere, the Doctor's jubilant smiling at the end of the scene with Amelia's hologram, despite being mortally wounded, suggests he's thought of the cure. I still don't know what Moffat was thinking about in changing the Doctor's clothes into a top hat, but it comes off as an attempt to put a sense of 'cool' to the character, ahead of the actual mortal danger to him. And also possibly a fannish indulgence of poking fun at Jon Pertwee's similar wardrobe change between scenes of him asphyxiating when trapped in the TARDIS in Planet of the Daleks. Doesn't Moffat realise that half the audience isn't going to get the reference, and ergo isn't going to get the point of the scene?

But Moffat insists on turning the suspense off and on, and eventually somehow River is persuaded to spare the Doctor's life, for reasons too vague to make emotional sense or provide any catharsis. She does it because the plot needs her to. And also because it's a set-up for River's later decision to refuse to take the shot in The Wedding of River Song. Ultimately, even that doesn't matter. Her decision would make no difference to the Doctor's survival; it's a shame because it renders River's one area of growth irrelevant and neuters the story of how the Doctor came to trust River completely.

The Teselecta is included to set up the Doctor's survival and to establish more about the nefarious Silence. But I feel it undermines them in their absence that this established enemy of the Silents has the full measure of them and the power to enforce their vendetta against them.

Moffat is clearly playing on visual association. We never see the Teselecta take the Doctor's form here, so we never make the connection that it could impersonate him at Lake Silencio, so the Ganger Doctor of The Rebel Flesh remains our red herring. The problem is, even with a full crew manning it, the Teselecta clearly can't emote properly. And we remember the Doctor of The Impossible Astronaut showed joy at the sight of his friends, and brooding at the sight of the spacesuit, and panic at being shot. Ultimately many people didn't make the connection, because it makes no sense.

In conclusion, if this was supposed to hold the series together, it did the opposite.


I'm getting a sort of banging in my head by Evan Weston 11/2/19

This one was a genuine surprise for me, in that it was merely not good instead of horrifically awful. Upon my first viewing, I was visibly upset with how River Song's origin story had been handled. I assumed it wasn't coming for years, and that the Doctor's final encounter with River would be her first meeting with him. This had been foreshadowed throughout the series, and Moffat totally abandons that in favor of... well, whatever we have here. But taken on its own, Let's Kill Hitler at least has a lot of fun, and, though there's more bad than good, I don't have to hold off on the good until the very end of the review. Small victories!

So this is the River Song origin story, then, and it would be unwatchable were it not for the wonderful Alex Kingston, who is never better than she is here. As the story's primary antagonist, she gets to have an absurd amount of fun, and I almost wish Moffat had cast her in a different role so she could be flirty and evil all the time. Her interplay with the Doctor in Hitler's office is all sorts of fun, and her murderous glee is difficult not to root for. She steals every scene she's in... until the script suddenly turns her into a mournful sack of sadness for no reason other than "we need River to be good, and we can't pay Alex Kingston to come back for more". It's another example of Moffat taking a risk when it obviously can't pay off, and the character's sudden shift is completely unbelievable.

This robs the ending of all credibility, and makes for one of the worst climaxes in the show's history. Melody goes from murdering the Doctor to saving his life at the expense of her own, which would be somewhat believable if it hadn't happened in a goddamn half hour. If you were raised to kill someone your entire life and then succeeded in this aim, would you then reverse that decision in 30 minutes, taking your own immortality in the process, just because he was "worth it"? This is complete, miserable, unjustifiable rubbish, and it's undoubtedly the worst plot beat written in Moffat's Doctor Who career.

With that out of the way, I will now try to steer things back towards positivity. Melody is great fun, but the other characters have a blast, too, and it's nice to see the Doctor being the Doctor again. He's firmly in character in Let's Kill Hitler, from his hatred of guns to his refusal to show people he was in pain. It was also cool to glimpse the Davies-era companions again and see that the Doctor couldn't even confront them, and, while that's simply because Moffat couldn't get them back, it led the way to Caitlin Blackwell's return as Amelia, which is always a good thing.

Blackwell's flashback scenes with a young (and adorably sad) Rory and Mels were cute and interesting, but the best part of the entire episode was the scene in which Amy realizes Rory loves her. The "you're gay" moment was hilarious, and Amy's moment of realization juxtaposed with Rory's utter fear is just wonderful. It's also a bit of timey-wimey fun that Moffat spins, having Amy and Rory's daughter actually bring her parents together. It's not original - Marty McFly would be impressed - but it's fun, and that's what Let's Kill Hitler is at its best.

Note that there really isn't much of the titular despot, as he ends up locked in a cupboard ten minutes into the story. The real supporting character here is the Tesselecta, which has received a ton of criticism for being introduced just so the Doctor has a way to escape his death at Lake Silencio. This is a valid argument, and I don't like that at all, but the Tesselecta is not a total failure. The concept is awesome, the Antibodies are hysterical and evil (even if the idea of putting murderous robots in your spaceship makes no sense), and the visual effect of changing the Tesselecta's form is one of the best the show has offered to date. It succeeds enough to the point where I welcome its return in the season finale, even if that means some convenient plotting for Moffat.

Convenient plotting really is the headline of the day, though, and I can't stress enough how lazy some of this is. The idea of Mels is just silly on its face, with Nina Toussaint-White hamming it up like there's no tomorrow and no one, not even the Doctor, realizing that she's actually Melody until her regeneration. Rory can ride a motorbike, even with the winking justification of "It's been that kind of day." That is used in jest, but it also means Rory can ride a motorbike, which is just dumb. The Tesselecta's interior rules, as I mentioned before, are utterly ridiculous, and the captain goes from strong leader to squish just so the robot can deliver some well-timed exposition. We also learn more about the Silence, and the less about that, the better.

It's really not terrible, but Let's Kill Hitler holds onto some of A Good Man Goes to War's worst faults - namely, the focus on a dumb serialized plot instead of telling its own story and a side character that exists just to further the plot - while only cranking up the fun meter somewhat thanks to Alex Kingston's tour de force performance. It still views itself as incredibly important to the history of the universe or whatever, and that just never bleeds through. It's not even incredibly important as a small story set in 1938 Berlin. I want to like this one a lot more than A Good Man Goes to War, and this disparity is part of the reason why they are separate, but the awful ending cements Let's Kill Hitler as part of Doctor Who's poor period under Moffat. Fortunately, the serialized arc would be mostly abandoned from here on out. In fact, there are no more two-parters or even connected episodes from here until the end of the Eleventh Doctor's era, and while this might be extreme overcompensation in some ways, it does keep Doctor Who on the right track.

GRADE: C+