Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Let's Kill Hitler"

Moffat's series arc is really starting to show its flabbiness by this point. What could have been quite an interesting sci-fi adventure based on the title premise ends up being a rather unfortunately sentimental romp laden with magic thinking and somewhat ineffectual drama. It's relatively amusing and sufficiently obvious considering time travel to see the crop circle being an effective means of summoning the Doctor and while the point at which Mels intrudes and threatens the Doctor is rather shocking before the admittedly rather obvious "Mels is River" revelation she is incredibly annoying and tiresome to watch. Pre-River Mels reeks of an RTD style filler character and performed with the most by-the-numbers modern British young person acting imaginable. Obviously we're seeing River early on with conditioning and brainwashing enabling her behaviour but there's a lot of kookiness involving sizing up her new appearance, wanting to buy clothes and weigh herself and a lot of stereotypical female behaviour which is a little out of character for the rather strong River but I suppose that's the point. Then again the problem is that the driving force of this episode is the characterisation of River Song and the nature of this initial meeting and the character drama between her, her parents and the Doctor which certainly makes it feel kind of soapy and daft.
I've said countless times that Doctor Who should strive to do more than character drama but it's the order of the day at the moment and while it doesn't feel very Doctor Who I suppose at least it's something new. This whole arc has been an interesting experiment but in my opinion it's not playing to the strengths of the program. I realise it was a massive tease to call the episode "Let's Kill Hitler", to set it in Berlin in 1938 and to set up the Tesselecta and Justice Department Crew and then reduce these elements to backdrop features rather than the main dramatic force of the show but you can't help but feel like these might have been the cleverer ideas and that while it was very "clever" in a different way for Moffat to establish these preconceptions over the break and then dash them it doesn't mean that what we got instead was somehow superior. The poisoning of the Doctor in particular seems pointless - we know, much like the Tesselecta crew, that the Doctor is going to die in Utah in 2011 and I don't see why Moffat bothered with this poisoning plot when he could have had the Doctor busy doing something more interesting than staggering around in pain. It seems like an excuse to get River to use up her remaining regenerations to explain why she didn't survive in the Library, although I believe River herself stated in "Forest of the Dead" that the uplink would overpower regeneration anyway.
Regardless, I believe the idea that we could have explored the consequences of interfering in time might have been explored more. Certainly Mels goes on in the flashback section about how the Doctor is responsible for all these atrocities of history due to not intervening and it might have been an interesting idea to develop. I realise killing Hitler in time travel stories is somewhat trite but I think the Tesselecta was an interesting concept and it could have been used for a greater purpose than to provide pointless danger through the antibodies and to act as an information dump about River and the Silence. Speaking of which, how do the Tesselcta crew get all the way into Hitler's office and freeze him before realising that they're seven years early? It seems like a pretty stupid plot hole. Hitler's just there for a big gag about Rory punching him and putting him in a cupboard and the entire Third Reich is treated in a very trivial way which is somewhat disappointing for Doctor Who. We really could have done with a nice juicy speculative episode where the Doctor had to engage with the Tesselecta crew about the rights and wrongs of killing Hitler, perhaps with observed consequences like the post-Sutekh 1980 in "Pyramids of Mars" and a dark and edgy view of the Third Reich but I think Moffat probably considers that sort of thing unsuitable for Who's "family show" status because the scariness for him these days derives from more overt horror archetypes. I just think it's a missed opportunity.
While I think Rory got a lot of good moments and Amy was serviceable, psychotic conditioned River was too cheeky, flirty and excitable to be anything more than cringe-inducing and for some reason Moffat decided to poison the Doctor so that instead of letting the Smith do the energetic performance at which he excels we have to see him gasping and moaning. It's quite powerful to see the Doctor so vulnerable but at the same time it's Doctor Who, and we want to see the Doctor in action. His dressing in the tuxedo is a pointless visual gag and the sequence with the TARDIS voice interface is an incredibly weak excuse to show rather cardboardy publicity shots of Eccly/Tennant's companions for the sake of nothing more than some stupid continuity showing what were mostly crap characters anyway for the benefit of New Series fanboys. Even young Amelia is poorly used in this sequence and pointless. The whole "poisoned Doctor" thing is just a waste of time. They must spend at least twenty minutes effectively just having a big chin wag in that Berlin restaurant, virtually half the episode, and it makes the narrative seem stretched and static. They give a slight change with the Tesselecta interior but it's underused and weakened by the insultingly arbitrary "antibodies" which exist only for the sake of a pointless threat of violence.
The problem is while the "first meeting with River" plot is all well and good it needed a substantial parallel plot to maintain its integrity and since the Hitler/Justice Department stuff gets railroaded so early it makes the River plot seem long-winded, self-indulgent and clunky. The magic Time Lord golden light of plot solving is also incredibly frustrating to see again and I hope Moffat is careful about how much of this kind of magic thinking he puts into these episodes. There's nothing wrong with the performances, per se. It's just that the story isn't interesting and it feels like arc-building which can only be useful within an extremely specific context. It doesn't have enough sticking power to work on its own, and what makes this unfortunate is that the pre-war Nazi Germany and time-travelling Justice were such good ideas so needlessly squandered. As I say, it's been an interesting experiment, but if it's proved anything I think it's that character-focused arcs really aren't the show's strength. It feels like a let-down after the break and rather than the plot hooks encouraging further watching for me it's the fervent hope that the show is going to become noticeably good again.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.