Monday, August 29, 2011

Doctor Who's Let's Kill Hitler Was Completely Mental

As in, totally bonkers. Batshit crazy. Cor' Blimey.

Damn good stuff.

For this humble fan's opinion on Hitler's BBC cameo, the Doctor's sentimental death scene, Rory and Amy's lifelong best friend, lilliputian time cops inside a robot and, in the words of Matt Smith, "Alex Kingston at her finest" click for more.

We open the post-hiatus premiere with some standard Moffat excitement; Rory and Amy tearing through a crop field to spell out DOCTOR with their car and get his attention. Not usually so desperate, they're trying to find news about their recently kidnapped new born baby Melody Pond - the future River Song. The Doctor shows up, skillfully reassures them he will find her without directly admitting he's failed so far (despite saying at the end of A Good Man Goes To War that he knew exactly where she was) and then things get weird when an attractive, crazy black girl crashes their reunion in a stolen corvette with the cops chasing her and pulls a gun on the Doctor, before demanding "You've got a time machine. I've got a gun. Let's kill Hitler."

Turns out she's Rory and Amy's "best mate" Mels, whom they've known since early childhood. A helpful flashback montage shows them all as kids playing hide and seek, with Amy constantly telling Mels stories about her Raggedy Doctor. Then their age escalates and they show Mels continuously getting into trouble both with teachers and the law. In the end the flashback even credits Mels with awakening Amy's feelings for Rory, or at least illustrating to Amy how deeply in love with her Rory is.

Just as we're getting used to this new character and her significant, long term impact on the lives of two of our main characters, a legitimate accomplishment by Moffat's writing considering we've never even heard of this "best mate" and we've known Amy and Rory for over a year, she gets hit by a stray bullet fired by Hitler at a killer robot. Seriously.

Just a little break from the main plot of the story here for me to say that after a fever pitched first few minutes, the details the episode went into to show the robot and all the little people working inside it and its ability to mimic shapes and the killer 'antibodies' that destroy them while deadpanning if they have the wrong authorization was markedly boring. They hurt the momentum and set up one of those Doctor Who subplots that you know is really just a foil or else a vehicle to aid the main plot and therefore you don't much care and just want to get back to the main stuff, namely with the people with know and care about

Less a Ghost in the Machine and more a bunch of angry, vengeful, not-completely-explained Men in the Machine, the entire robot character manned by tiny people is considerably unoriginal and bothered me for least until I started to look at it as a moderately clever way to aid the story with timely expositions. At various points of the episode the robot accesses historical records to reveal both the Doctor's date and place of death (Lake Silencio, as seen in the main season premiere, the overriding arc of the whole year) and to show Melody Pond just who River Song is.

Anyway, Mels is dying from Hitler's bullet and the Doctor is telling her to stay alive, that he'll marry her if she stays alive, and she responds by saying that he needs her parents' permission but that's easy as her parents are right here. Then she starts regenerating. Into River Song.

Now this is where Moffat has once again thrown a large amount of confusion into his already elaborate intersecting timelines. River/Melody, having been conceived on the TARDIS, is already known to possess certain...powers. After all she was kidnapped by the weird-eyepatch-lady in order to be a warrior in their war against the Doctor, and her DNA was characterized as "human plus." But the fact that she can regenerate means we have no idea how old she is or how many times she's done it. It also implies that she was the little girl in the spacesuit being experimented upon by The Silence, who was incredibly strong to break out of her confinement, and who called Nixon and regenerated in an alley at the end of the two-part premiere.

It also means that Rory and Amy's daughter, knowing that they were her parents, lived beside them as their contemporary and best friend for their entire life. Now was this a retcon she did, knowing who they were and inserting herself into their life? She makes a comment about how they ended up getting to raise her after all. Does this mean they will never find baby Melody who was kidnapped? By all accounts they give up that search at the end of the episode and go on to further adventures.

Regardless, this newly awoken River Song is not exactly the River we know. For the first time ever in River's body, she's also the product of extensive brainwashing and training, all designed for the purpose of killing the Doctor. Which she manages to accomplish, after a fun scene of her and the Doctor matching wits, by kissing him quickly with her notorious poison lipstick. Leaving him to die slowly, and apparently no longer very interested or invested in her parents, she heads off into the streets of Berlin to be, well, herself. River Song/Melody Pond/Mels is apparently just as impulsive and foolhardy and remarkably adept at fighting as ever, except even more so in this newborn incarnation. One of the best lines comes when she's surrounded by Nazis and claims to have just returned from a gay disabled bar-mitzvah (or something along those lines) and when they open fire on her she, in her still-regenerating state, absorbs all the bullets and returns them, killing them all.

Spontaneous, dangerous and with superpowers, River Song, despite her new malevolence, is wonderful in this episode, and a completely different if still recognizable character from the one we've grown to appreciate as the Doctor's friend, eventual lover, and in certain ways his superior. For instance her first interaction with the TARDIS, of whom she is in some ways the child of, and the way it teaches her how to fly it, explains many past occurrences of her managing the controls better than the Doctor, and was a stirring and effective way to start catalyzing River's change into a normal, non-brainwashed human being.

She takes a further step in the right direction when, the Doctor having died from the poison, she saves his life by expending every regeneration she is ever capable of. She discovers that the River whom he holds in such high esteem, the one he whispers to her about (ostensibly saying he loves her) is her future self, asks her parents if he's worth it, and saves him. They leave her in a trusted hospital--Amy sitting over her recovering daughter is one of the few times we actually get to see Amy acting like a mother--with the blank TARDIS book for her to record her Doctor experiences, and we see her next steps towards an archeology degree, pursued in an attempt to locate the Doctor again.

So now we don't know what happens to baby Melody, aside from extensive brainwashing. We DO know that the mini-robot-justice-people have her as the killer of the Doctor, and have his death down as that Lake Silencio 2011 date we all witnessed. We learned that The Silence is a religious organization of somekind, seeking the answer to the fundamental Question that will end the universe. We also know Melody/River was the girl regenerating and walking around in a spacesuit way back when. Ergo, River Song is the one who shoots  and kills the Doctor mid-regeneration on the shores of that lake. What we don't know is why. 

A particularly nice twist for the rest of the season is that the Doctor now knows all about his impending death. Naturally he won't share anything, so while everyone on the TARDIS knows the truth and most likely wish to avert it, they aren't talking to each other about it.

The actual interaction with Hitler was mercifully brief; he gets socked by Rory and spends the episode locked in a cupboard. The choice of setting was rather incidental, just a lark by the crazy Melody. The robot machine was a tired trope, but eminently useful in revealing facts and driving the story, and the season, forward. Amy and Rory were good and loyal as ever, but understandably don't seem capable of acting like parents towards a grown-up version of their daughter, and no doubt long for a normal parenthood experience. Melody/River takes her first steps towards being a new kind of space and time travelling superhero, and the Doctor takes his own steps towards being something completely new for him; a lover and a husband. And then, while dying, finds out when he's really going to die.

Even with all the action, and the revelations, and the intricate time line confusion (rather fun to unravel, actually) my favorite scene was the Doctor in the TARDIS, dying painfully of poison, and talking to the TARDIS' voice controlled hologram. At first it's an image of him, but he asks for someone he actually likes. Then we see Rose Tyler for a blessed moment, and he asks for someone who doesn't fill him with guilt. Then we see Martha Jones, followed by Donna Noble, with the same reactions of overwhelming guilt, and he begs for someone whose life he hasn't ruined. Rather than Amy, we get young Amelia Pond, trusting and open to wonder and sweet and untainted. Considering her inhuman state, it's not as sentimental a conversation as the Doctor is hoping for, but at the extreme moment he hears, or believes he hears, that classic "Fish Fingers and Custard" line, that bond between them, and finds the strength to go on.

And naturally the Doctor's version of "go on" is to dress up in his tux and top hat (with a sonic cane!!!), show up leaning against the TARDIS, and give us a zoom in shot of him looking awesome and saying "Doctor who?"

Like all the truly good Doctor Who episodes, this one needs more than one rewatch to comprehend all the details. Still, having only seen it once so far, I can say without much doubt that this is already a classic.

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