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"Doctor Who" — "Let’s Kill Hitler": The Doctor Invokes Godwin’s Law

By C. Robert Dimitri | TV Reviews | August 29, 2011 | Comments ()


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"You named your daughter...after your daughter."

Yes, Steven Moffat truly followed through on that brazen episode title. Like Tarantino's Basterds, Spielberg's Jones boys, and the (thankfully) little-seen British sitcom Heil, Honey, I'm Home, The Doctor finally had his chance to mock Earth's most famous homicidal dictator and most oft-cited source of hyberbole in analogies. Rather, it was Rory's right hook that most directly tweaked Hitler, but we'll come to that. Did Godwin's Law hold true in this case? Does Doctor Who automatically lose by daring to make a space-time continuum stop in 1938 Berlin?

Since our mid-season cliffhanger that yielded the revelation of River Song's parentage, Amy and Rory have been waiting to hear from The Doctor, who took off on his own to track down their kidnapped daughter. You would think the TARDIS would enable The Doctor to pop back in instantaneously rather than leaving Mom and Dad to fret over a fruitless search lasting a few months, but the old sexy TARDIS takes The Doctor where and when he needs to be as always. This time that's in a personalized crop circle made by Rory and Amy to summon The Doctor, and crashing the rendezvous is Amy's wacky, gun-toting, sports-car-stealing childhood best friend Mels.

That sounds like an extreme entrance, right? If you happen to recall the introduction of Poochie The Dog in The Simpsons and equate it with that, you would not be too far off. This intro is particularly jarring when accompanied by a series of flashbacks that inform us of Mels' lifelong history with Rory and Amy. Not only has she had a front row seat for their relationship from the very beginning when little Amelia was oblivious to young Rory's unrequited crush, but she had an obsession with Amelia's imaginary friend The Doctor and longed to meet him. This seems like a rather important character, doesn't it? Why haven't we heard about her before? There's something not quite right about this, and why did Mels' entrance remind me of an entrance that River Song might make?

To escape the cops hot on Mels' tail, she demands that they take the TARDIS for a spin to eliminate Hitler, and The Doctor complies at gunpoint because Mels is in Yosemite Sam mode and shoots a hole in the TARDIS console. Their crash landing into Hitler's office just happens to prevent a shape-shifting robot controlled by miniaturized members of a time-traveling justice corps from assassinating Hitler themselves. (Yes, I can scarcely believe that I typed that sentence either.)

Do not worry, though. These ministers of justice avoid the butterfly effect by only punishing criminals immediately before the end of the established lifespan. Thus, they mistakenly were a little early for Hitler. Now that I have assuaged your fears about Hitler's well-being and the normal path of human history, we can continue.

There is a moment of awkwardness as The Doctor, Amy, and Rory realize a grateful Adolf Hitler stands before them, but that moment ends when Hitler shoots the recovered robot to defend himself and also hits Mels. Rory decks Hitler and stuffs him in a cupboard. The robot is immobilized and seemingly unharmed; Mels is the more immediate concern. As her life force slips away, she cheekily reveals her identity, regenerating into the one and only River Song, except she is not "River Song" quite yet, and Melody Pond dismisses the name.

Alex Kingston chews the scenery, as she has fun reveling in her new form that Time Lady regeneration has brought. Rory and Amy shift into the recognizable demeanor of uncomfortable parents. The discomfort increases, as once the fun is out of the way, River embraces the task at hand that Madame Kovarian and The Silence set for her via brainwash conditioning years before: murdering The Doctor.

The Doctor and Melody engage in a flirtatious battle of wits centered around her attempting to shoot him, but he is a step ahead of each move she makes, leaving her with unloaded guns and a banana loaded with little more than potassium. A quick kiss is his undoing; River Song's younger homicidal self uses fatally poisonous lipstick as opposed to her later preference for the hallucinogenic variety.

Barely able to walk, The Doctor retreats to the TARDIS, where the computer interface settles on the form of young Amelia Pond to let The Doctor know he has 32 minutes to live. (Prior to Amelia, The Doctor rejected his own form out of self-loathing and the forms of Rose, Martha, and Donna due to the guilt they induced.) The Doctor lacks the physical strength to continue, but a mention of "fish fingers and custard" inspires him to carry on.

Amy and Rory have tailed Melody, who is flouting the powers afforded to her during regeneration by killing Nazis and demanding that a ballroom of people ditch their clothes and evacuate so that she can find a new outfit. Tailing Amy and Rory, however, is the aforementioned justice robot known as the Tessalecta. The Tessalecta miniaturizes Amy and Rory and transports them within itself, where they meet the crew. It assumes Amy's form and freezes Melody with a ray and the intent to punish her for the murder of The Doctor. Melody is hazy about the memory of the crime. (Having not reached the bridge of the ship yet, Amy and Rory remain unknowing of this particular crime as it appeared to be committed by their daughter in the season opener.)

Holding on to his last few minutes of life before the poison overcomes him, The Doctor intervenes, chastises the operators of the Tessalecta for their god complex, and encourages Amy to stop them from hurting her daughter. Amy uses The Doctor's sonic screwdriver to turn the ship's robotic antibodies against the crew. The crew escapes via teleportation up to their mother ship, leaving Amy and Rory as the only potential victims of the ship's security. The Doctor is no longer able to stand, and he pleads with Melody not to leave and to instead save her parents. Crawling toward the TARDIS, we see an unmoving robotic Amy Pond over one shoulder of The Doctor and a conflicted Melody Pond over the other.

Overcoming her psychopathic programming and using her kinship with the TARDIS, Melody pilots it into the Tessalecta, saving Amy and Rory from the antibody robots at the last possible moment. Back outside, The Doctor succumbs and with his dying words asks Melody to take a message to River Song. Melody asks Amy who River Song is, and Amy uses her privileges as a relative to the judged to ask the Tessalecta to take the form of River Song. Melody is moved by the sight of her future self and uses the remainder of her regeneration energy - and what we learn is also all of her remaining regenerations - to bring The Doctor back to life.

The Doctor, Amy, and Rory drop Melody off at the Sisters of the Infinite Schism, the best hospital in the universe. The Doctor leaves behind the blue diary that we later see her use in tracking their meetings across time and space. Amy and Rory are emotionally torn by the situation; they never had the opportunity to raise River as their own child, even as they spent so much of their youth with her. The Doctor tells them that they have too much foreknowledge to do anything except leave her alone at this point, even as he furtively glances at data that he downloaded from the Tessalecta: the foreknowledge of the time and place of his own death.

***********

If a paradoxical Moebius strip of time travel is what you wanted, "Let's Kill Hitler" delivers.

To review: Amy and Rory conceive a child on the TARDIS. That child Melody is kidnapped and conditioned to murder The Doctor. That murder takes place in Utah in 2011 (or so it would appear), as the still pregnant Amy and Rory watch, along with the adult version of the same child. Afterward, Melody escapes from her captors, regenerates, and finds her way to Scotland to be best friends with her own parents. Once Melody reaches young adulthood, she meets The Doctor for the first time with a clear, conscious awareness of her own actions and tries to kill him again in 1938. After dodging punishment there for the murder that will take place in 2011, she studies to become an archaeologist in the distant future so that she can plant various summons for The Doctor to find her, joins The Doctor on several adventures, and serves jail time for the crime of murdering him. The two of them might marry at some point, and the entire basis for each one's past is his or her interaction with the other in the future.

I do not recommend attempting to conceptualize the logical cause and effect of all those events.

Evil River Song is fun. She is so much fun that at the end of the episode I was disappointed that this seems to be all that we will see of her. I think she had the potential to be a great recurring villain before her inevitable redemption. Alternatively, I thought an incarnation of River prior to the Alex Kingston edition could one day be a regular companion for The Doctor, but that possibility also seems to have been precluded.

I do have a few questions about Melody and her motivations: why did she decide to grow up with her parents after her first regeneration? Was her intent to guarantee her own existence by bringing Amy and Rory together? Knowing that her mother would travel with The Doctor in the future, was her goal to meet The Doctor and kill him? If this is the case, is she compelled to kill The Doctor across all points in the space-time continuum over and over? Is it simple bloodlust that drives her to attempt to kill him in 1938 Berlin when she knows the assassination will later (later from his perspective, that is) be successful? She expresses awareness if not a clear memory of killing The Doctor in 2011 (in her past). Perhaps this knowledge aids in overcoming the conditioning and allying with The Doctor and her parents.

Friends of mine that enjoy Doctor Who have issues with the increasing passivity of Amy within the framework of the story. That is, she and Rory are still actively involved, but - AT&T-sponsored motion comic of a motorcycle chase notwithstanding - there is not much that makes them uniquely necessary, and Amy seems emotionally detached at certain times. I recognize their point to some extent, although I think part of the problem owes to attempting to cram many things in a relatively short period of time. There were still a few beats within the story that kept me emotionally invested in their journey. Tying Melody back into their history and catapulting them into the role of parents to a hellion that they already know well worked for me, even if it was rushed.

As for Godwin's Law, Moffat denied the rule and prevailed in my opinion. Keeping Hitler's presence to a cameo and not dwelling on the well-covered time-travel story lore of the dangers of altering history was a wise decision. Granted, this might be the most serialization-dependent adventure in Doctor Who history; a new viewer would be very lost jumping into the program at this point.

Matt Smith's performance carried the day once again in my opinion. He displays chemistry with Melody/River, he falls and crawls over the place as the poison takes effect, and he delivers the usual rapid dialogue, which in this episode included building on his list of "rules" for his companions that travel in the TARDIS.

There might be another surprise or two down the road, but it seems like Moffat has given us the complete basic framework of the story of River Song. Are you satisfied? Disappointed? Are we absolutely certain that was young Melody shooting The Doctor in the spacesuit? How is Moffat going to write his way out of this "fixed point" of The Doctor's death? If Amy and Rory end companion duty with this season, will that be on good terms?

Please discuss in the comment section, but never knowingly be serious and remember that time is not the boss of you.

C. Robert Dimitri would use a time machine simply to learn answers to the big mysteries of history rather than attempt to dispense justice. As Abe Simpson advised Homer Simpson on his wedding day: "If you ever travel back in time, don't step on anything, because even the tiniest change can alter the future in ways you can't imagine."




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