Let’s Kill Hitler
Tony Fyler has a gun and a time machine – let’s kill Hitler.
Let’s Kill Hitler is one of those Who stories that splits the fandom right down the middle.
On the one hand, it’s a story that needlessly complicates the legend of River Song for a whole other iteration. When we see the child in The Day Of The Moon regenerate, there’s no reason she couldn’t regenerate into the adult River we know, but instead she becomes a toddler and has to a) survive, b) find her way from new York to Leadworth and c) be ‘raised’ by her parents-to-be, the absolutely infant Amy and Rory. It’s a wrinkle that adds more unbelievability to the legend than it can really bear – the whole idea of Mels being important enough in Amy and Rory’s life that they’d name their daughter after her, but that they’d allow her not to attend their wedding simply on the basis that she ‘doesn’t do weddings’ is authorial convenience of the most blatant kind, and ‘Oh shut up, I’m dying’ is used to avoid some other awkward questions, more it seems on the basis that they irritate the writer than because the writer wants to keep us guessing.
Plenty more about the episode doesn’t make sense too – how the Tessalecta’s records can call something ‘the first question, the oldest question, hiding in plain sight’ but when asked what it actually is, they cop out with ‘Unknown,’ in a channelling of Douglas Adams’ malarkey over the ‘ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.’ How, despite regeneration being disabled, an infusion of regeneration energy from River can bring the Doctor back to life. How the Doctor thinks about regeneration as an option when later events would make him the thirteenth incarnation (the obvious answer to that one being ‘Cut Steven Moffat a break, he hadn’t thought of that yet.’).
But suffice it to say, for those who take their Who seriously, Let’s Kill Hitler is an example of ‘all the things wrong with the Moffat era’ – it even has River Song in it, just to cover all the bases.
On the other hand, it’s important to look at what it is, its position in the Series 6 run, and what it therefore had to achieve. As the opening episode of the second half of a split run, it had to pick up all the elements of the first half and then turbo-charge the storytelling, to re-engage the audience, to say ‘Doctor Who is back, and you shouldn’t look away for a minute.’
In those terms, it’s hard to judge Let’s Kill Hitler anything other than a success – the pace of the story is insane, driven by Minis and sports cars and motorbikes and guns and the funny-psychotic personality of Mels/Melody. By the time the Doctor is dying in the Tardis, begging for an interface he likes, we’re actually only halfway through the story that’s taken us from a cornfield in Leadworth to Berlin in 1938, through the Tesselecta and beyond Mels’ regeneration. We’ve gone past the battle of the sickeningly clever people in which Melody and the Doctor engage when she’s trying to kill him and he’s trying not to let her. Hitler’s been in a cupboard for quite some time.
The second half of the episode is more or less taken up with the Doctor, Androzani-like, trying not to die just yet because people are relying on him, and Rory and Amy trying to figure out where their daughter is. There are touches of brilliance throughout Let’s Kill Hitler – the idea itself, the shoving of the Fuhrer into a cupboard, the Sonic Cane, River’s ‘Gosh, the Third Reich’s a bit rubbish’ speech and the Doctor’s self-awareness when alone in the Tardis – ‘Great. More guilt. There must be someone in all the universe that I haven’t screwed up yet!’ Matt Smith brings his skills as a physical comedian strongly to the fore in the ‘dying Doctor’ moments with his legs going to sleep, though you do get a sense of a competition between Smith and Arthur Darvill after Rory’s Death-athon in Series 5 to see who can die most often without it noticeably affecting their schedule. Certainly the pace slows down noticeably, which rather exposes the fairly substantial lack of any good reason for the Tessalecta’s justice squad to exist, except to provide an alternative to the Ganger solution to the whole ‘Doctor dying at Lake Silencio’ palaver. It also rather exposes the ‘Thunderbirds’ naffness of the antibodies, and the plotting weakness of filling a body-shaped ship with killers who will come for you unless you’re wearing the right protocol discs (How did that idea ever get past Health and Safety at the Justice Department, we wonder).
But does any of it really affect the pleasure of watching Let’s Kill Hitler?
Wellll, yes…and no.
If you have to ask all those questions to which the episode demands you get no answers, Let’s Kill Hitler can break your concentration flow simply for the sake of its own mystery. And far be it for us to harp on this, but some of Melody’s lines show a depressing thread of reductivism in the writing – from Mels ‘concentrating on a dress size’ as she’s regenerating, to her almost-immediate need to weigh herself post-regeneration, giving girls in the audience the message that weight is one of the most important metrics by which they should judge themselves, and by which the universe will judge them. You could make almost the same claim for Melody’s intention to ‘take the age down, gradually, just to freak people out,’ a line that highlights the importance of youth for women in a way that’s rarely been a concern for the Doctor.
Bottom line, Let’s Kill Hitler is two things at one and the same time. It is Schrodinger’s Doctor Who Story. Just as River is both the woman who kills the Doctor and the woman who saves the Doctor, so Let’s Kill Hitler is both a great, fun, high-octane episode of Doctor Who to rewatch and an annoying collection of moments where style beats substance over the head until it’s deader than Rory ever was. It also over-complicates the River Song storyline more than was necessary or productive, while at the same time taking the opportunity to stick it to some Nazis. Whenever you think you’ve got a handle on Let’s Kill Hitler, give it five minutes and you’ll think of a reason why your previous assessment was entirely wrong.
Divorce it from the rest of the series it’s in, divorce it from logic and the slightly cynical reasons for its existence, and stop asking relevant questions though, and Let’s Kill Hitler can still give you an hour of fun and banter and Matt Smith being good at something. There are better, more concentrated ways of getting all three of those things into your system, but Let’s Kill Hitler is always an option if you fancy a slick and easy rewatch from the middle of what was otherwise a fairly turgid and self-revolving series of Who.