Saturday, September 24, 2011

Hitler: His Part in Who's Downfall

All right, enough procrastination - Let's Talk Hitler. Now that I've seen Night Terrors and as we drift further into Series 2011 Part Two, I'm feeling more positive about the show and so more able to take on the write-up for this episode. Having had a week and a half to mull it over helps too. Readers are thus spared my initial response to Let's Kill Hitler, although if you're interested, my second response was "Tired... so, sooo tiiiiired...".

Let's get this clear first off: this is not the second part of the story begun in A Good Man Goes to War. We have yet to see that second part, if indeed we will ever see it. The trailer suggests that Blackhat McEyepatch will return, and I sincerely hope she'll bring her motivation with her this time, but there's no trace of her here. Let's Kill Hitler is not interested in following up on any of the threads left hanging at the end of the previous episode. It's also not interested in Hitler, title notwithstanding - he's dumped in a cupboard at the first opportunity and never seen again. Perhaps a title like Let's Use Hitler As Gratuitous Story-Tinsel would have given too much away.

I actually liked bits of the episode, specifically the bits involving the Tesselecta. I liked the concept and the execution, and could have done with a full episode based around it. But Let's Kill Hitler isn't even interested in that. It's interested in one thing only, and that's River Song. What we've got here is roughly 30% of a potentially interesting DW story that's hijacked by you-know-who - we don't want any nasty moral debate getting in the way of our hi-jinks - and so the confrontation between the Doctor and the captain of the Tesselecta over just what the Justice Department are doing is wrapped up as quickly and as glibly as possible to make way for yet more ker-razy River Song action.

I realise that many people would say that River Song is the story, and the whole business with the Tesselecta is just bolted-on filler, but that's a view I'm never going to subscribe to. Old Who (and especially early-to-mid-1980s Who) routinely gets kicked for suborning all considerations of plot, character and sanity to the showrunner's urge to bring back Character X (or, under the rules of modern TV drama, to grind out the next gristly bit of arc exposition) - and rightly so. When, say, the inevitable return of the Master is the sole driving force within a story and any original ideas are used (/wasted) as the disposable wrapping for that, you end up with Time-Flight. It isn't pretty. Well, I don't see why New Who should be judged differently.

So anyway, the Doctor grumbles out of the side of his mouth that the Justice Department are playing God, and the matter is shelved there. At first glance (or rather, at first subtextual glance, so I suppose really at second glance) it appears as if Steven Moffat is suggesting that tracking down war criminals who've evaded justice is a bad thing. But I don't want to go there, because it's just too damn easy. It's also not strictly accurate. After all, the Justice Department aren't hunting down living, present-day war criminals - they're going back in time to find long-dead war criminals before their documented death. And when they find these criminals, they're not taking them back to the Time Hague to face trial in a transdimensional equivalent of the ICC - they're torturing them for an indefinite period, then (presumably - we're not told) leaving them to the death that History has waiting for them. This is a far more ambiguous set-up, and it really needed to be laid out and examined in a more than superficial way, which makes it all the more frustrating that it was crumpled into a ball and thrown over the writer's shoulder the minute it was raised.

It's clear that Melody Pond/River Song is the important bit of the story as far as Moffat is concerned. So what has he got for us this time - what does he want to say about baby Pond? Sadly, bugger all that we haven't already heard as of the end of the previous episode. It was a given that at some point we'd see her turn from brainwashed Doctor-killer into familiar (semi-)heroic River Song, although I wasn't expecting that to centre on such an abrupt and limp change of heart. The only new arc material we're given is Mels, a character that makes my brain want to vomit. She's apparently Amy's closest childhood friend, even though this is about as plausible as Rupert the Bear growing up with Rorschach from Watchmen, and she has no existence whatsoever outside the quarter-hour of this episode that she appears in. No groundwork has been laid for her, and I somehow doubt she'll ever be mentioned again. There's not even any effort to bridge the gap between the little girl being raised by the Silence in 1969 Americaville and Mels appearing out of nowhere at Amy's school in 1990s Leadworth - that just sort of happened. Never mind my own viewpoint, I find it hard to believe that even Steven Moffat genuinely cares about this rancid stuff based on the evidence on screen.

And at the end, we (or perhaps I should say the Ponds) are left in the same position as at the end of A Good Man Goes to War, just with an additional galling twist. We've gone from "Rory and Amy's daughter has been kidnapped by evil cultists, but it's all right because she grew up to be River Song" to "Rory and Amy's daughter has been kidnapped by evil cultists, but it's all right because she spent years with them as Amy's staggeringly unlikely psychopathic criminal friend, and then grew up to be River Song". None of the trauma Amy and Rory were put through in Series 2011 Part One has been resolved - in fact, watching their best childhood friend threaten the Doctor with a gun and get shot herself would add to that trauma if anything - but you wouldn't know it from their behaviour here. It's more obvious than ever before that these characters are empty ciphers - the fact that a character like Mels can be jammed into Amy's backstory without anyone turning a hair speaks volumes. This episode hasn't progressed the characters or the story arc in any meaningful way at all. That makes two disposable arc-significant episodes in a row.

If this story had turned up in another season, with all of the arc stuff gone and the spare thirty minutes spent examining the ethics around the Tesselecta, maybe letting Hitler back out of the cupboard, maybe - who knows? - fleshing out some of the regular and secondary characters, then I think I could have rated it quite highly. As it is, I'm plumping for a low 3 out of 10. I'm also going to have to retroactively downgrade Good Man from a 5 to a 4, because without a resolution it can only stand (or rather, fall) on the set pieces. On the plus side, it looks as though the bloody tiresome story arc will be taking a back seat for the next few episodes.


Matthew Kilburn said...

The nonchalance with which Moffat dismisses the emotional credibility of his regular characters in this season is breathtaking, but I am still enough of an optimist to hope for redemption in the final episode.

Christopher Pittard said...

Yes, this was tedious indeed. At about the 35 minute mark it got relegated to background television and as a result I wasn't concentrating when that seemingly important stuff about the Silence was trotted out. The thing is, I can't be arsed to go back and watch it again. I also failed to see the tension in the risk of the Doctor dying when we know he doesn't (and someone in the episode actually spells this out for us). And am I missing something, but how the hell do Amy and Rory get from the end of "War" to the beginning of this one? I mean, in the most literal sense, how do they get there? I seem to recall them being left on a space station while the Doctor fucks the fuck off with the only bit of time travel kit around.

Unless, of course, River Song has some kind of magic time bangle. Ah yes, River Song. She used to be a character; now I suspect Moffat saves time on his scripts by simply putting "INSERT SASS HERE" next to her name. Oh, and the TARDIS parade of companions - didn't this kind of thing do for Who in the 80s? (Amusing to see that Freema Agyeman's just as wooden an actor in an inanimate image, though).

I'm afraid this was where I seriously began to consider parting company with nu-Who, and considering I held on during the more wretched moments of series two and three, that's saying something. I'd probably go for 2/10.

John Toon said...

Dr K: I think we're all hoping for the finale to make it right. I wonder if "time can be rewritten" is going to play a significant part in that. The big ol' reset button may not be popular with a lot of fans, but I suspect it's actually the best available option in this case.

Dr P: Verily, ye have called it. The time when I was interested in finding out more about River Song is long since past. 2 out of 10 is tempting, but I'm sticking with my low 3 for now.

Re how everyone bar the Doctor gets back from the end of the previous episode: your question erroneously assumes that there is any kind of rapport at all between that episode and this. I refer you to my earlier rantings. But yes, River Song may have some kind of magic time bangle. She had to procure one in order to turn up at last year's finale - whether she had it in Good Man depends on exactly where that fits into what I laughingly call her continuity. Perhaps they rode back on the slipstream of Danny Boy's magic time-travelling space Spitfire, or some such. (That's "such" pronounced to rhyme with "hit".)

Strabec said...

I think one of my problems with this series is the 'the doctor is going to die' bit. Except it's obvious he isn't, the series next year and the (regular? inevitable?) Christmas special being a bit of a hint.
My patience with the River Song story line ran out a while ago. She was a fun character to start with but something new would be nice. The sassy female companion was a rarity in the old series but since Nu-who has started there has been a glut. I'm not saying "let's return to the screamers" but rather have independent female characters with different personalities instead of the copy/paste efforts we have seen so far.
Nice to see you agree with some of my comments on this episode though!