Doctor Who is back. And so is the daunting task of attempting to blog about Steven Moffat’s intricate plotting. For my second, pre-blog viewing of Let’s Kill Hitler, I decided to don headphones to exclude the outside world and plumb every line of dialogue, every twist and turn and Moffat-esque flourish, directly into my head. Whilst, as usual, watching an episode penned by Moffat again was incredibly rewarding, it certainly didn’t clear up all of my confusion.
Firstly, what an awesome return Let’s Kill Hitler was. As many fans of the show doubtless predicted, Adolf himself featured minimally, bundled into a cupboard by an increasingly confident Rory, therefore avoiding all the implications of associating Britain’s beloved Time Lord with a genuine mass murderer. Even that controversy stirring line from the Fuhrer, when he thanks the Doctor for saving his life, is cleared up because the miniature war crimes tribunal on the Tessalator were never planning to kill him anyway. But by including the marvellous shape shifting robot Moffat didn’t cowardly dodge the bullet completely of all the questions a title like “Let’s Kill Hitler” raises.
As usual in amongst manic goings on Moffat has tucked away some intellectual substance. Reviews in the media have praised the Nazi setting of the show for its ability to educate as well as entertain youngsters. However in actual fact those ignorant of the period will have learned little besides a couple of dates and perhaps, if they paid close attention to Alex Kingston’s cheeky line to the Nazi guard, (“So I was on my way to this gay Gypsy bar-mitzvah for the disabled”), which ethnic and cultural groups the regime oppressed and executed. The really
thought provoking stuff comes in the form of the Borrowers style staff of a
human shaped robot, designed to punish history’s worst criminals.
They slot into the series arc because they want to torture Melody Pond, or River Song as we predominantly know her, because she kills the Doctor. Clearly these people think the Doctor is worth a lot and ought therefore to be on his/our side? At first I was expecting them to identify the Doctor as the real war criminal, given all the Time Lord/Dalek/other deaths he’s been responsible for in his 900 and something year lifetime. He has grappled with the consequences of the time war and his other mistakes repeatedly on the show.
Anyway I digress. Essentially we are presented with a positive picture of these little people. They care about the Doctor’s demise. They want to give Hitler what he deserves. But the Doctor’s reaction to them is hostile or at least he implies disgust at their actions. There’s an element of hypocrisy and arrogance from our Time Lord here, as he is forever fiddling with time but takes a “who do you think you are?” attitude to the justice delivered by the crew of a ship that’s a lot like Star Trek (there are also Terminator references and more in this episode), besides the hilarious and horrific floating anti-bodies. But then the Doctor is from Gallifrey and supposedly knows what he’s doing, and part of the brilliance of Moffat’s era has been to embrace the Doctor’s arrogance and high opinion of himself at times.
Even the title of this episode wrestles with the old sci-fi/philosophical debate about changing the past, as many people, when hypothetically asked what they’d do with a time machine, say something like “kill that bastard Hitler”. It’s the basic human urge to ask “what if?” and dwell on regrets. What if we’d shot Hitler before he’d got into his sadistic stride? The Doctor though clearly takes the view, in this episode at least, despite the fact that “time can be rewritten”, that what has happened in the past makes us who we are today. And it is wrong to presume you have the right to change that and risk even worse disasters via a butterfly effect.
Blimey. I’ve basically focused on the title of the episode for a long time there. That’s mainly because I’m putting off trying to digest the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey complicatedness of a plot that’s been snaking throughout not just this series but the last, too. Here it goes.
We actually find out quite a bit and the really reassuring thing is that Let’s Kill Hitler had something to say, as I’ve already discussed, as well as a self contained, action packed story, with standalone emotional moments, despite revealing an awful lot about the series arc. Earlier this year I worried aloud that Moffat was sacrificing his ability to write amazing episodes for the complexity of the series. But Let’s Kill Hitler was brilliant, a step up from A Good Man Goes to War and probably my favourite episode of the series so far, teeing up brilliant performances and funny moments for all the TARDIS crew.
The birth of River Song steals the headlines though. Alex Kingston has her lovers and haters, and I stray closer to the love end of the spectrum, but if only we could see more of her predecessor as Melody Pond, or Mels, Nina Toussaint-White. She was better than Kingston as both a childhood friend of the Ponds and a brainwashed assassin. Kingston spent the episode, until she became more like River Song, having fun with mad Melody but not coming close to Toussaint-White’s wildness. She was incredible fun and surely far too sexy for a family show.
Moffat surprises us sometimes not with originality but by daring to pull the same trick twice. Mels hiding in plain sight as Melody, just as River Song had for a whole series. The Doctor dying AGAIN! In the RTD era the Doctor was rarely truly threatened, only his companions, but Moffat somehow manages it repeatedly for a man who supposedly can’t die.
River/Melody kills/saves the Doctor, using up all her remaining regenerations, thus allowing her to die eventually in the library with Tennant. She learns to fly the TARDIS so well because it shows her, she was born in it after all. She explains her reverse ageing is to just freak people out and the Doctor gives her the blue diary, along with a list of rules to travelling with or being with him, throughout the episode.
To the villainous Silence briefly then. They’re a religious order. And who reckons “the question” could be the one Matt Smith uttered in this episode; Doctor Who? They did say it was hiding in plain sight and the Doctor may well have whispered his name to River. But the real question is why would his actual name be so important? And who does River eventually become to the Doctor? Oo and how does Melody still kill him, is it a child version of her in that astronaut suit? So many questions.
That’s quite enough for this week. Next week Mark Gatiss, a brilliant actor and successful writer with Sherlock and other shows, finally looks like he might write an excellent episode of Doctor Who, set in that classic setting of a child’s bedroom. Don’t have Night Terrors in the meantime.
Doctor Who: Series 6: Episode 7 – A Good Man Goes to War
Before you read on: Spoilers sweetie.
The Guardian series blog, written by Dan Martin, has been my first port of call as soon as the credits roll after every episode of this series. The story arc is so layered and baffling, with the hints and in jokes so carefully hidden, that even after a second viewing it’s difficult to pick up on everything. Thankfully the Guardian blog has been there whenever I’ve really struggled to get my head together and form some thoughts of my own. And the comments section is the perfect breeding ground for theories about where things are going.
This week’s mid-series finale gets a rather bruising verdict on the Guardian website. Very rarely do I disagree with it but this week I definitely do. I see where they’re coming from. It’s certainly true that not a lot happened despite the build up and the scale. And the cleric characters on Demon’s Run, particularly the token gay couple, the thin/fat marines, are chucked into the mix briefly and rather pointlessly. It was undoubtedly disappointing that the Cybermen were waggled before us in the pre titles sequence and that the Doctor’s dark side, whilst brilliant, did not plumb any seriously shocking new depths. But I think Dan Martin is missing the point of A Good Man Goes to War.
In many ways it matters little that the standalone story element was lacking this week because this was an epic conclusion to the first seven episodes. Rather than a war, this was the climactic battle. After the weaknesses of the flesh based double bill, I actually thought the story was improved to a much greater level and it was a joy to get Moffat’s writing back. The Doctor’s dialogue was so much wittier, cleverer and funnier.
Indeed the most surprising thing about A Good Man Goes to War was just how funny it was. The variety of the humour on show really added to the cinematic and epic feel. Besides the usual comedy deriving from Smith’s performance, for example in the scene where he’s trying to work out how Melody came to have Time Lord DNA, there are laughs from the other characters Moffat brings in as the Doctor’s allies.
The Sontaran nurse was absolute genius and perfectly in keeping with what the Doctor would do. When he tells Colonel Runaway to keep his back straight so as not to damage his posture, I laughed, during my first and second viewing. However it was only on my second viewing that I noticed a filthy lesbian tongue joke between the mysterious Silurian detective and her female sidekick, after the Silurian asks “why do you ever put up with me?”. I can see an adult spin-off show, with the potential to be far better than Torchwood, for those two. There was also a jolly fat blue thing that we’ve seen before, who was a delightfully wise presence.
With all the grim seriousness and concentration required to keep up with the secrets and twists of the story arc, the laughs were absolutely essential to making A Good Man Goes to War enjoyable. After the endless tension that has been coiling and tightening over the preceding weeks, I thought that this seventh episode actually had merits of its own, by leaving the ongoing secrets for the dramatic and emotional final ten minutes. Even if it didn’t go as far as it could’ve done, this episode was a fascinating exploration of the Doctor’s character.
We get to see the theatrical, arrogant side of the Doctor as he pulls off his genius takeover of the base. Matt Smith is in his element here and the impact of his performance is all the greater because Moffat kept him off the screen during the beginning as the team assembled, using the TARDIS alone. Moffat has previously said he wanted to put the “who” back into Doctor Who, and he’s done that with his confused, overlapping timelines and references to off screen adventures. But in A Good Man Goes to War he asks the question more directly and the Doctor ponders his own legacy, just as he did at the end of the last series when the monster sealed within the Pandorica turned out to be him. River Song then delivers some home truths. This episode may have been light on story but all of the key characters are explored in greater depth than before.
To River then. Finally we know who she is! And at last we have substantial answers to big questions looming since the beginning of the series. I was genuinely more satisfied by the big reveal than I thought I would be. But at the same time I am left craving more. I want to see the next episode. Moffat has, predictably, left an awful lot of questions unanswered. With a title like “Let’s Kill Hitler” my mind is already in a whirlwind of excited anticipation about the next episode itself too, let alone the answering of more secrets.
People tend to focus on the big question of this series: the Doctor’s death. But I am still waiting for the unresolved events of The Big Bang at the end of Series 5 to be explained. Who manipulated the TARDIS? Who organised the coalition of baddies to imprison the Doctor? Surely they must have some sort of connection to this year’s big enemies? Why are the clerics anti-Doctor now after working with him against the Weeping Angels in the last series? Who is Madame Kovarian?
So many questions and so many throwaway lines I can’t dwell on, partly because it would be useless and dull for you if I asked questions forever and also because I am falling asleep. Stevie Wonder performed in 1814 London. Just remembered that. But we mustn’t tell him!
See you in the Autumn.
EDIT: Blimey forgot the Headless Monks completely. And not because they were bad. A good idea but underdeveloped. Worth it just for having new monsters and that wonderful moment when the Doctor disarms all the clerics.
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