Saturday, November 30, 2013

Let's Kill Hitler - "Well, she did kill me, and then she used her remaining lives to bring me back. As first dates go, I'd say that was mixed signals."

Let's Kill Hitler (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 6, Episode 8 (Overall Series Story #219)

In which we meet Mels, friend of Amelia Pond and Rory Williams. Mels was, by way of a reminder, the girl who escaped the astronaut suit having been conditioned to kill the Doctor. So she sought out her parents, befriended them, and engineered her opportunity to assasinate him. The Doctor, nearly dead from poison (apparently one more lethal to Time Lords than cyanide) manages to change psychopathic Melody/River's heart. The story of Melody Pond/River Song is nothing if not demented and complex.

The problem with this story, one of them anyways, is the story of River Song is too jumbled up, in my opinion, to be properly untangled in a way that ever feels coherent. Yes, it can be mapped out and we can understand her motivations at points along the way, but she ultimately feels like a stunted character, one defined by her feelings about the Doctor, and how he uses her. He marries her, we're told he he loves her, but it never comes together. Not that I dislike the character, I'm fond of her despite the way the Doctor, and the series, mistreat her. She's the most complex companion, without ever really being a proper companion, and it would have been great to see the Doctor and River travelling together, doing all the things they mention in passing when they compare notes in other stories. Better perhaps to have seen that than the what we did see, at least after her introduction in the Library.

Here's where we are also introduced to the Teselecta, which will turn out to be the hack the Doctor needs to walk away from Lake Silencio -- where we never believed he was going to die. And that's the real problem with this story, that it's the moving of pieces of in a game that we knew was rigged all along. Nobody wants to play a rigged game, except to see how it was rigged. That's a drama that can build and build, but the answer to the riddle of the story can only satisfy for the instant it is recognized, then the whole thing collapses into itself. All the grandiosity and big scenes of Series 6 ultimately fall flat for me because the structure of the season was such that it asked us to walk a hallway where we knew there was a trapdoor, then pretend to be surprised when it opened under us.

Not that this season doesn't deliver some thrills, like the preceding story from which this story picks right up as almost a two-parter. Psychopathic, freshly regenerated River set loose in 1938 Berlin is an audacious move and she gets to shake things up a bit. Telling a bunch of Nazis she was on her way to a gay, gypsy Bar Mitzvah before blasting them with her regeneration energy feels like it could have been an inspiration for Inglorious Basterds. That's some fun stuff.

But with this story picking up from "A Good Man Goes to War" my chief gripe with Series 5 and Series 6 is impossible for me to get around. Consider that the Doctor said this in that story: "No! No! Impossible! It's all running about, sexy fish vampires and blowing up stuff. And Rory wasn't even there at the beginning. Then he was dead, then he didn't exist, then he was plastic. Then I had to reboot the whole universe. Long story. So, technically the first time they were on the Tardis together in this version of reality, was ..." You see what I'm getting at here. Try to make sense of River Song and you've open a can of worms that contains Rory, whose story rivals River's for complexity, and, at the risk of sounding like a dunce, makes it difficult to keep straight what parts of his story were undone and he doesn't know about, or wasn't himself during, or whatever.

"Shut up, Hitler."
Of course time travel stories should be complicated, and I love the idea that the Doctor and River meet at different points in their personal timelines, but that should have been enough; that River is also a baby with a "time head" conditioned by enemies of the Doctor to kill him, is the daughter of his companions, is sort of dead  and stored off in the Library with her expedition mates from that story ... it's just a bit much.

But I've gone off on Moffat's architecting of the series and haven't even got to the bit about how this is the story that uses Hitler as a prop for comedic effect after raising one of the classic time travel paradox questions. Shoving Hitler in a closet and telling him to shut up is funny. The Doctor referencing a brilliant John Cleese (Fawlty Towers-era) moment to Hitler instead of a group German tourists in 1970s Torquay is subtle and appreciated. The Doctor later calls to mind the same bit when he starts flopping his long legs around remniscent of the funny walk Basil used to entertain his guests. But, having the arrival of the Doctor ironically save Hitler's life from the time police operating the Teselecta feels like broad comedy that isn't quite sensitive enough about that resulting in WWII and the Holocaust. Not to say humor can't be brilliant when it's transgressive and tasteless, but this is Doctor Who, not (pulling the the names of comedians that could do this sort of routine well out of a mental hat) Sarah Silverman or Robin Williams. Doctor Who can operate in all kinds of different modes, but I'm not sure that's one it can pull off. Not that trying to be transgressive was what was happening there, that was just more like a careless "wouldn't it be funny if ... ?" moment that should've been thought through a little better.

I mentioned the Doctor being poisoned by River at the top ... how he is saved from that near-death by River may come into play somewhere down the line as the series has to (apparently, if we are to believe Moffat) work its way around the regeneration limit. Or not.

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