Spike: When I was younger I used to have a thousand ideas for short stories and novels. Meticulously crafted, hopelessly convoluted and terribly unworkable, ideas. These would be ideas which were conceptually sound, but were beyond my reach as a writer. What amazes me about Moffat’s run on Doctor Who is that he can translate ideas which should be overly complex, overly insular, and horribly confusing and deliver them with a sort of universal grace. As clever as Moffat’s plotting can be the facet I admire most about his writing is how light on its feet his stories can be, how unburdened by baggage they are. ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ has to;
● reintroduce Season Six to the audience,
● get us to care about a new arrival to the TARDIS crew,
● make good on the promise of its title,
● serve as a bridging point between the story of Melody Pond and River Song,
● maintain interest in the Silence arc,
● move the Doctor’s death story arc forward,
● and be entertaining enough to keep the kids and parents at home entertained.
The fact that it balances all of this without losing track of its own insular narrative is why I think Moffat is one of the best writers to have ever worked on Doctor Who.
There are an amazing number of elements at work in this episode and it’s the sort of episode that completely defies your initial expectations. I don’t know what I had pictured for an episode titled ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ but I certainly didn’t expect the titular dictator to be little more than a punch line and catalyst to the ‘real’ plot. Seeing Melody Song running rampage throughout Nazi Berlin just feels very un-Doctor Who in the best sort of way, it’s unexpected and kind of exciting.
I’ll admit that this season I have tried to keep myself as spoiler-free as possible, I’ve even avoided most adverts for the show, and so the initial reveal of Mels and the subsequent regeneration into Melody completely took me by surprise. I’ve got used to writing long reviews on my own, and I know that we’ve all probably got a lot to say so I’ll hand it over to the team.
What did you guys think of Mels/Melody?
Casey: First off, it kills me sometimes how much Steven Moffat can cram into an episode. There was so much there, and so much set up.
A nice change from the 10th Doctor, was the 11th’s reaction to humans having time travel. There was no “Oh golly gee whiz, you humans are great.” There was much more of a hostile reaction to the humans and their idea of what to do with time travel. I thought it was pretty interesting though that when it came time to get rid of them, Amy’s idea was pretty much in line with a lot of what the 11th’s ideas have been: well, you can save yourself or you can all die – your choice.
I really wish we could have had more of Mels. She seemed like a lot of fun. I loved the fact she spent her whole life being “looked after” by Amy. And I find myself saying out loud “I’ve got a gun. You’ve got a time machine. Let’s kill Hitler.” Such a great start for a character.
Spike: Yeah, I liked Mels although we didn’t really have much time to get to know her. It was really odd because Moffat bait-and-switched me twice with the character. First off when you see the car careening through the field you’re thinking “ah, right. River’s here too”. Then you realise it’s Mels and that Moffat’s playing on your expectations then she turns out to be River after all and it’s like “goddammit Steve”.
I really did like how Mels’ flashback not only quickly clued us into who Mels was, in terms of relationship to Amy and Rory, but also nicely fleshed out another bit of the Amy/Rory dynamic.
Ian: Which leads me to my first point – Arthur Darvill making an eleventh hour (ahem) move for Michael Fassbender’s Bond-in-waiting role. Rory Williams punched Gary Oldman-Hitler in the face yesterday and told him to “shut up.” What did you do? I think if we all ask ourselves that we can truly appreciate how great his transformation from whipping boy to unlikely but captivating hero is. I’m not even kidding; I would happily watch Darvill doing his ACTION DAD! routine in a spin-off. He’s tough, he can handle himself, but he always does what’s best for his family and the woman he loves. The man’s a national – no – international treasure.
As for Melody, I enjoyed what she brought to the existing trio and the fake-out moment with her worked as well as you’d expect from this show. I’m not the biggest fan in the world of introducing a character already well known to the protagonists and asking us to believe his or her role in the story world. How I Met Your Mother does this sort of thing quite lazily sometimes where a “Roy” figure/event is given really weak lip-service and the whole thing just unravels before your eyes. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case here though. Everything with Melody was worth it for the glimpse into Amy and Rory’s past alone.
Adam: OK, you just used a Wanted reference, compared Hitler to Gary Oldman, and suggested Arthur Darvill for James Bond. We’re through the looking glass here, people.
I definitely liked the double fake-out with River, and I thought the same thing that Spike did when the car arrived. I guess we now have confirmation that Time Lords can switch gender AND race when they regenerate. It’s funny, though…everything in this episode has been established as a “rule” in the past, up to and including the healing power of Time Lord regeneration, and yet somehow it all felt a bit like cheating. I don’t know, I sometimes feel like this show uses regeneration as a deus ex machina to get them out of narrative scrapes. It was worse during the Davies years, of course…
Spike: To be honest I found all the stuff about the Doctor being dead, no, for reals this time, to be kind of annoying. Because I knew that they were going to pull something out of the air to resolve it. In situations like that I actually think I’d sacrifice a little bit of peril and have the solution to the problem be stated, but unattainable. I really don’t know why River couldn’t have had a cure to the poison, or why the poison had to be incurable. It is the one thing Doctor Who seems to have a habit of doing, setting up insane situations whose only solution is completely left-field.
Ben: I may be in a minority here, but I actually found the episode a little overcrowded- nothing in it wasn’t good, but I think it’s a bit of a pity none of the myriad ideas at work were given any time to breathe. I’m not about to accuse Moffat of poor plotting or anything- everything here was excellently structured, but it would have been nice had the story mode more use of Mels, or the setting, or the robot full of tiny people (though what we got of that was excellently realised).
Count me in with those caught by the fake-out with the car, too.
Adam: That’s been a consistent thing with Moffat, the way he crams two or even three episodes worth of stories and ideas into a single episode. It does make for an overwhelming, what-did-I-just-watch feeling, but in the long run I think I prefer it. I’ve found the Moffat Who (and even the individual episodes he wrote during the Davies years) to play better the second time around, just because you can catch your breath and put all the pieces together.
Spike: After eight episodes of Torchwood I’m grateful to be watching a show which actually seems to understand the concept of plot momentum and I think Moffat has always been better at overall structure than RTD. Even back in Season 1 his two-parter held together a lot better than any of RTD’s efforts, even ‘Bad Wolf’/ ‘Parting of Ways’ which is arguably RTD’s strongest finale.
Adam: I thought the Justice Robot was used well and got a satisfying amount of airtime (and yes, I’ll bet it pops up again at some point); the bit I needed fleshed out more–and it’s the episode’s biggest flaw to me–is seeing the transition from Melody Pond to River Song. It seemed like they were going to have to break her brainwashing, but no, apparently she just needed a speech and some self-sacrificing behaviour, and her life’s purpose was out the window. I’ll grant that she seemed kind of chaotic, and it’s not hard to imagine her turning on the people who “programmed” her, but that didn’t really come up. Apparently she spent a decade or so obsessing over the Doctor, and then was able to throw it away once she actually met him. That seemed a little contrived.
Ben: Fair point there- was all she needed to stop being a psychopath and go all martyred have something whispered to her by the dying Doctor? You could argue that all the stories Amy told her while they were growing up had a cumulative effect, but that’s not really something the episode went out of its way to cover.
And again, the setting- I’m not sure this episode used the fact it was set in 1930s Berlin properly, except as a giant red herring. A few jokes aside, all the River/Melody plotting could have taken place in any locale.
Don’t get me wrong, though- I remain amazed how Moffat can manage to cram this much plot into a story and still have it fit together and make sense.
Kristina: I’m with Ben here. I felt like setting the story in Nazi Berlin was a mistake, and their almost flippant handling of Hitler felt very crass. I also wasn’t too happy with the way that River’s supposed psychosis was portrayed in this episode. To me, she felt like the same old River that I’ve seen in previous episodes. Once I realized that it was her, I was looking forward to seeing how she would be different during her first meeting with The Doctor, and I felt no tangible difference. Still with the flirty banter and sly personality, and she seemed way too…happy. I was a little disappointed that she wasn’t more of a cold, nasty person, but I suppose that if she was cold and nasty, she wouldn’t have been able to get close enough to deliver the kiss of death to The Doctor.
If she had just been a bit darker, then her decision to help The Doctor at the end wouldn’t have been met with a mere shrug from me. A potentially powerful moment was a blip on the radar for me. Also, Amy and Rory are way too calm about this entire situation. Their child is a brain-washed psychotic assassin, but this information isn’t well-conveyed in their performances. They’re saying things like “She’s my daughter, I can’t just leave her”, but their actions and their faces aren’t selling me on their emotions about this situation. Can’t believe I’m going to say this, but Xena: Warrior Princess handled a similar storyline far more effectively than what I’m seeing so far. Then again, Xena wasn’t a family show and could afford to go a bit darker with the material.
Adam: The Hitler thing was another interesting issue, I’m not sure you’d call it a problem per se, but it raised certain expectations. The episode features Hitler and a time-travelling war crimes tribunal, and for a moment it looks like they’re going to continue the issue raised in A Good Man Goes to War, the fact that the Doctor has gone from a kindly pacifist who helps people to, in the minds of many, a genocidal monster. But then they more or less drop it and confine the antagonism towards the Doctor to the Silence. The Justice-Bot folks don’t seem to have a moral issue with the Doctor at all. While I’ve been pretty insistent that the Doctor didn’t commit genocide in ‘Day of the Moon’, clearly the question is worth raising, and I thought they copped out of that. It may come up again, of course.
Spike: Well the thing with the Silence-a-cide was that no one knows that it happened. The Silence were promptly slaughtered and then forgotten about, which is probably the thing which weirded me out about the entire issue.
Kristina: Giving humanity the green light to eradicate The Silence (“You should kill us all on sight!”) counts as genocide to me, even if they are the (supposed) villains of the season. Hell, at this point, The Doctor’s got Hitler beat in terms of the highest body count.
Ben: Technically, the Doctor got put on trial for genocide back in the 80s (even if the resulting storyline was a bit wobbly), and I’m not sure Moffat’d go over old ground that way.
Aside from that, though, I saw the Doctor-as-Monster business in ‘Good Man Goes to War’ as a hangover from the Davies era, a kind of logical conclusion to Ten’s messianic antics and habit of driving people off purely with his name and reputation. If you put that hand-in-hand with the cracks in time cleaning up things like the Cyberking and the Stolen Earth, there’s actually an argument to be made that this whole storyline is a rather elaborate ret-con of Davies’s plotting.
(Though, if you want to be really pedantic about it, writing the Doctor as a terrifying figure first popped up in the last couple of seasons of classic Who- it just wasn’t as front-and-centre as Davies made it)
On that note, the brief exchange at the beginning about whether guns work in the TARDIS? That was Moffat tying up a decades-old bit of continuity.
Adam: But the thing is, they raised the accusations of genocide in AGMGTW, but they didn’t really follow through. And I think this goes beyond the 80s thing (you’re referring to Trial of a Time Lord, right?) where, from what I understand, the hook was “The Doctor accused of committing genocide? THAT’S CRAZY!” Whereas the “genocide”/”force of destruction”/”oncoming storm” thing now evolves naturally out of what’s happened on the show itself, and on the concerns that some of the show’s fans have raised about it. It’s a really valid point, and something I think the show should start to focus on. I always think shows are at their best when they try to engage fully with the issues that they raise, the stuff that gets the fans talking, even when that wasn’t necessarily part of the show runner’s plan. Whereas attempting to blow something off with a few lines of dialogue or whatever always seems a bit cheap. ‘AGMGTW’ seemed like the former; this episode seemed like it was skirting the latter.
Ian: Couldn’t agree more. It might not have sounded like it when I jumped straight into my Rory-rant, but I thought Ben’s first comments summed up the episode nicely. I’m just getting to the stage now where I realise that when Moffat is scripting, I’m going to keep coming back to the same niggles, albeit to varying degrees. “L.K.H.” leans more to the positive side of the scale than, say, ‘The Impossible Astronaut’, but the pudding still feels a little over-egged for my liking here. Like Ben said, there’s nothing clinically “wrong” with the episode. It certainly fulfils its requirements in terms of the bullet points you set out at the start, Spike; and in some style at times. Yet I can’t help but feel like Moffat falls a little too much in love with his own work as he writes. As the snowball gathers speed tumbling down the hill, taking on more and more weight with every idea, it sometimes blasts right past the obvious solution. The first one or two main ideas are probably more than enough to necessitate the running time, making the other 1 or 2 additional ideas/sub-plots we get caught somewhere between “bonus” material and “extraneous.”
I’d like to see him less concerned with killing Hitler and more worried about killing some of his darlings at the computer.
That said, you’d be hard pressed to find a writer better at peppering his episodes with hidden gems. It can be something as simple as a little dig at R.T.D. (guilt multiplied by guilt multiplied by yet more guilt = too much guilt) or an off-hand remark from a background character about turning Rasputin green that goes further than just hinting at the epic universe the story takes place in; they actually bring it to life with remarkable ease. Flourishes like these make it hard for me to have a go at Moffat – as I said before the summer break – biting off more than he can chew sometimes with the idea juggling. As far as dialogue and details go, he gets things so right, making the occasional overloading the show is prone to that bit more frustrating.
Spike: Moffat’s got a real gift for world-building without making it seem like we’re missing out. RTD used to have his characters make off-hand mentions of other adventures and when you were trawling through something as dreary as ‘42’ or ‘Fear Her’ it just made you contemptuous of these fun sounding unseen adventures.
Ian: Like, maybe it’s just me, but did anyone else find it a bit odd how the crew of the U.S.S. Amy-bot just seemed quite content to sit around as Amy and Rory hashed out a hasty plan for saving Moll Flanders? Did I miss something (I wouldn’t bet against it) or did they just turn their backs and give them all the time they needed to sabotage their mission and vessel? The whole “privileges” thing wasn’t fully explained so it just seemed a tad on the convenient side, what with the Captain being all Bond-villain overconfident and all.
Spike: I was too busy being charmed by the lethal cordiality of the anti-bodies to pay attention to plot mechanics, once again it’s the Moffat voodoo. The man can make pithy dialogue just seem perfectly natural, an example being the exchange between Amy and Rory about the miniaturising ray which should have felt very forced but felt very naturally, and very funny.
Adam: “Rory punched Hitler. What did YOU do today?” (Never mind, it’s really not worth seeing the movie to see what I’m talking about.)
Ian: I love that you got that reference, Adam. Always nice to sneak a wee nod to another franchise into these things (even if I’m not aware I did it like with Wanted.)
Casey: Seeing Author Darvill in interviews, he could totally play Bond. He comes off as the coolest of the three. So yeah, nice to see him get his action punch of Hitler there, and I will be glad to throw him in the mix with Fassbender for the next Bond.
I don’t think River has changed at all by the way. I think River is clearly our Big Bad for the second half of the season. I think her saving the Doctor was more a reaction to her parents being there and the moment. But clearly her going into archaeology is so she can hunt down the Doctor, since she is a time traveller without access to a time machine. Archaeology is the next best thing.
By the way, I was happy she was unaware of the name River Song yet. Since she was taken as baby there would be no reason for her to be going by that name yet (and only figures they kept calling her Melody).
Adam: I kinda think you guys are crazy. I mean, I love Darvill, but as James Bond? Sheesh.
I’m going to appear to do a complete 180 here by emphasizing that, for all my nit-picky griping, I actually really enjoyed this episode. In fact, I’m realizing that this season is quite strong. A lot of people are complaining that it’s not as good as last season, but while arguably the show hit the bulls-eye emotionally more consistently in S5, this season has been way more ambitious and twisty and attempted much more, creatively speaking. It seems like Moffat’s episodes in S5 were a little scaled-back from the epic mind jobs of ‘Blink’ or ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’; other than the setup in ‘The Eleventh Hour’ and the big cliff-hanger of ‘The Pandorica Opens’. Not just the Moffat episodes, but the excellent Neil Gaiman episode, which was similarly ambitious, and even the Rebel Flesh two-parter turned out to be more twisty and satisfying than I was expecting. Only that miserable pirate episode felt like it was going through the paces.
The criticisms of packing too much in and doing narrative loop-de-loops for their own sake are totally vaild, but there’s been so much to unpack in all these episodes, from trying to puzzle out what’s going on to trying to analyse the thematic depth, as I did with the genocide thing above. Moffat’s arguably biting off more than he can chew, but I often prefer an ambitious, interesting failure to something that plays it safe and delivers something that’s merely watchable or amusing. I think Nu Who has too frequently fallen into that latter trap, so it’s long past time we saw the writers attempting something this crazy. If nothing else, it makes our job as commentators easier. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to sit here and come up with something interesting to say about ‘The Lazarus Experiment’ or ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’.
Spike: I will say this, I’ve been chatting with the kids of some of my friends (it’s a commonality which makes them not attack my shins with Tonka toys on sight) and the kids seem to be completely on Moffat’s wavelength when it comes to the plotting. It’s like Moffat knows exactly how to speak to kids, without talking down to kids, and they seem genuinely invested and engaged by the overall plot despite its apparent convolutedness.
Casey: Oh the monkey totally goes for it. He ran around after the show quoting it and giggling at how much fun it was. I think his favourite bit was the line about “Never shoot a woman while she’s regenerating.” He thought that was a great scene, probably because it is the most superheroesque scene of the whole show.
Question, all those times Mels mocked teachers by invoking the Doctor, do others think she was somehow trying to get him to reveal his self to Amy and Mels?
Ian: Tongue was very much in cheek with the initial Darvill-Bond remark, Adam. I was on a bit of a high after United’s resounding 8-2 victory over Arsenal yesterday so maybe it seemed more serious than I intended it to. Anyway, my point is the guy has range beyond what people give him credit for. He’s tremendously watchable when he’s doing more than just providing comic relief or serving as the occasional foil in a more sombre moment. That not everybody took it to be a joke says a lot about how impressive and versatile he continues to be.
Your point about interesting failures / muddled stories vs. boring, ultra-simplistic episodes is a good one, and I’m inclined to agree with you for the most part. I’m definitely not hankering for a stripped down, bare bones approach; I want this show to be as magical as I know it can be. What I was saying before is the same thing I’ve been thinking pretty much all season: this series is close to striking a lovely balance between the kind of quick-fire, energetic storytelling we all expect and a meatier, more balanced approach. It’s like Moffat et al have the actual structure in place already, but it’s buried within another one; so they’re just chipping and chipping away at it (with these episodes) until – hopefully – the perfect version of what they’re going for emerges.
This might seem like a strange way to underline the point, but part of why I know what I’m feeling isn’t just nit-picking is because I never really feel like I’ve “been” somewhere with a lot of scenes. The pacing is a big part of it, but it also has something to do with the attention paid to individual moments. Again, I’m really not suggesting the show be figuratively slowed-down. I’d just like a sequence that engages me for long enough that I have a chance to miss it when it’s time to move on. It often seems to me like certain aspects don’t get their due because it’s all a mad dash to the finish line. It’s a lot easier for peril to feel inconsequential (or less perilous, anyway) when there’s so much in the pot; and, inevitably, some ingredients are less refined than others.
For me, ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ is the only time these issues were put to bed so far this season. It did what it had to in terms of the bullet-points we talked about earlier (fitting into the wider story and so on), yet it never lost sight of its own tale. There was breathing room. It’s still far and away the episode to beat this season, as far as I’m concerned.
Spike: As someone who has just spent eight weeks reviewing the low hanging fruit that is Torchwood: Miracle Day, I’m just overjoyed that I’ve got a show I can realistically talk about. Because even episodes which don’t quite hit the mark, like the ‘gangers episode, have at least a little thematic meat to talk about and enough qualities to squabble about. It’s just nice having a show with a specific vision and style to talk about again and I’m genuinely excited about where the show goes from here.