Doctor Who – Let’s Kill Hitler

Drop-In TV – in which I watch a programme I have little or no experience of, and see what it does to my brain

Spoilers.

The first time I tried this Drop-In TV malarkey was with the Fringe Season 3 finale.  Not being a regular viewer, little bits of my brain melted and ran out of my nose.  When I decided to try the same with Doctor Who (now known as Dr Who for brevity) I thought “This surely won’t be as bad, there won’t be too much to think about”.  Then, in the opening I found out that River Song/Melody, who was the Doctor’s love-interest and occasional companion, was Amy’s daughter.

Disclaimer: time travel makes my head hurt.  As does thinking.  And this episode was a lot to keep up with.  So no doubt I’ll be wrong somewhere, for either not being a fan of the show and missing something, or simply being stupid.  The twist of Mels turning out to be Melody seemed to obscure the fact that Amy had never mentioned Mels to the Doctor.  Almost every appearance Amy has made in the show comes after she made friends with Mels, chronologically-speaking.  Time travel makes for great narrative, but also makes the foundation of any character shaky, as they are open to change.  Yes, I probably am thinking too much.  And badly.

With this in mind, how geekily cool would it been if Mels had been mentioned before?  Dr Who is the perfect format for this kind of reference, appealing to the hardcore fans.  Not that I would’ve seen it of course, but it would be nifty if Amy made an off-hand comment about her friend who loved the Doctor without ever meeting him, then many episodes later that friend was revealed as River.

This, of course, is a utopian idea of TV writing.  Everything is planned out perfectly in advance.  There are no budgetary problems, no scheduling conflicts, no technical or logistical setbacks.  Any good story idea comes to writers months or years in advance, no better ones come up during production.  The Wire stands out as the peak of TV drama.  It finished almost perfectly, with all the major loose ends tied up nicely.  This is mostly due to an incredibly talented and dedicated crew and cast.  But surely luck played a factor.  Though I’m not aware of the production situation, it seemed as if The Wire was the rare show that didn’t suffer from storylines that couldn’t be seen to fruition, actors that had other plans, and changes to staff that affected the tone of the show.  Look at The Sopranos (the death of Livia), Lost (losing Mr Eko), and The West Wing (the firing of Aaron Sorkin from his own show).  Lost and The Sopranos both suffered from circumstances outside of their control.

Mels being plucked out of thing air raises a conundrum.  You’re a writer for Dr Who (congratulations).  Mid-season, you come up with a story idea, one that would work well regardless, but would be better with a little backstory.  You ask your superior if a new character can be mentioned in the next episode to be filmed, in order to set up a big reveal in yours.  Your superior comes back and says no, we can’t find a way to do it, but go ahead any write the story anyway.  Do you write it?  Of course you do.  Better a good, but sub-optimal, story than an unused one.  I’m not the right person to judge, but the Dr Who universe seems better with the Mels storyline than without.  Even if it results in some blogger posting a badly-written article about the flaws in it.

So did Melody, brainwashed as she was, really spend all those years in disguise, hanging around Amy and Rory so she could be with her parents and finally get to the Doctor?  Mels was an unrealistic character, whimsical and selfish.  While this can be explained away by Melody having no need to conform, it gave me little want to empathise with the character in the short time she had.  The flashbacks of her and Amy missed an opportunity to show Mels as a believable character; all they did was portray her as a Doctor-obsessed criminal.  Why would Amy even be friends with her?  It is interesting to note that, in a Back To The Future stylee, it was Rory and Amy’s daughter that pointed out the chemistry between the two.  Did Melody essentially create herself?  Paradox!  I’m not even thinking down those lines, with this barely-functional mind of mine.

I opted to watch this episode because of the great title.  I was amused at how ridiculous some phrases in the episode sounded (“Shut up, Hitler”, “Put Hitler in the cupboard”).  However, to use Hitler as plot fuel and then to completely ignore him seems cheap and an attempt to get the show publicity.  Far as I can see the only reason for that date and location was because River wanted to visit Nazi Germany.  It was also strange that both Hitler and the other Nazi were English.

Dr Who is one of the few shows that’s so kitsch and wacky that it can use Teselectas without them seeing totally ridiculous.  I assumed they were just on a control ship somewhere.  It was only when the woman went upstairs to check the eyes that I realised these people were tiny and actually inside the body they were controlling.  The Antibodies were also very Who, but worked well, and had some great lines like “You will experience a tingling sensation and then death”.
Being robot type things, they had a cold and detached feel, which in American fiction provokes images of the Terminator, but in Britain seems more like stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on demeanour.  Funny and enjoyable.

Something that always get on my nerves during the Dr Who revival is the audience’s low standards for special effects.  So many accepted the bad effects as ‘distinctly Dr Who’, ‘appropriately low budget’ etc etc.  To me they didn’t look intentionally poor, just poor.  A low budget, lack of technical expertise or time, something more seemed responsible than just a tribute to older seasons.  This episode is hopefully part of an improvement.  The effects on both the Teselecta robot and River’s regeneration were well done, the best effects I’ve seen (in my limited experience) from the show.  The robots transformation was reminiscent of the Terminator 2 cloning scene.  As an aside, the Teselectas reminded me of Innerspace, which is never a bad thing.

The Teselectas seemingly got so close to their mission objective when they got to Hitler.  Only then did they notice that they were far too early.  They couldn’t have checked that out earlier?  Bad writing.

To me, the uninitiated, Rory seems to be the token awkward, shy character, lacking the confidence to be aggressive or dominant in any of the Who adventures, whether they involve the more experienced Doctor or not.  But despite his shyness, are we to really believe that he went ten years with no bitches?  No action at all, so aimed was his love (and his meat-gun) at Amy?  As much as fiction loves to paint the picture of unrequited, finally requited love, there wasn’t one point where a woman draped herself all over Rory, and his frustrations over Amy’s love- blindness caused him to end up with girlfriend?

Dr Who was always a show I wanted to like but could never manage to.  Watching this episode, I realise why I wanted it.  There’s something weekend-y, cosy and British about sitting down with a cup of tea (I don’t even drink tea) and watching the Doctor and his time-spanning adventures.  I had tried before; I liked Billie Piper but couldn’t deal with Tenant’s hammy Doctor.  I don’t know if I could ever warm to the zany Doctor, regardless of who plays him, but Matt Smith isn’t that annoying, which is the best I could hope for.

I assume/hope that it’s been covered already, but I hope the characters find it weird that the Doctor is in love with his friend’s daughter.

River, aka Melody, doesn’t recognise the name Melody.  This means that she hasn’t been given it yet, so….nah I don’t understand, I’ll just stop there.  The moment where Melody looks for ways to kill the Doctor, only to find he had prepared for it, was quite clever.  Played as an ‘I knew you knew that I knew’ moment, it was funny, but the banana was a step too far.

I think I heard a line about Melody that she was “Brainwashed by Silence, academy of the Question”.  The Silence are the aliens seen in the recap at the start of the episode.  They’re somehow responsible for the Doctor’s death.  I brilliantly deduced this from the fact that he dies at Lake Silencio.  Some clever naming there.

It must be very hard for the writers to keep continuity with all the time-travelling that goes on.

Although knowing that the Doctor had another death organised, and this one couldn’t really happen (could it?), this episode had all the drama of a season finale.  I’d love a show to play up a main character’s death as if it’ll happen in the finale, then surprise the audience and throw it into an earlier episode.  It takes guts to do it, and it might be impossible for a show as big as Who to stop spoilers leaking out.  The Wire killed off a number of main characters (D’Angelo and Stringer spring to mind) before the season finale, making the show tense to watch as you never really know when a characters time will come.  I became completely sold on Alias when it had a major plot point (the CIA’s takedown of SD-6) happen mid-season, as I expected it to happen at the end.  Messing with your audience’s expectations must be fun.

Melody mentioned that the Tardis taught her how to pilot it, because, with Amy as her mother, she is a ‘child of the Tardis’.  I don’t understand the Tardis having a personality, but I’m intrigued by the idea.  I first heard of the concept during the publicity for the episode that Neil Gaiman had written, The Doctor’s Wife.

Regardless of the effects of her brainwashing, Melody’s change from killer to caring was unconvincing, at least to the uninitiated like me.  There was no postural change, nothing in her mannerisms or character or much alteration to her emotional state to suggest that this was the true Melody we were seeing.

Besides that, the scene with the Doctor’s ‘death’ was otherwise solid, with good direction and a good score.  It was tainted with Melody’s “Hello, sweetie” line.  Regardless of whether this was a reference or not, it sounded horrible.

All in all, Let’s Kill Hitler was a good episode.  In my various forays into the Who world, this was by far the most watchable.  I lot of it I didn’t understand.  The Hitler part just seemed cheap and unnecessary.  Besides that, a strong showing.  I will consider watching again.

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