Saturday, August 27, 2011

Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mister Hitler?: Danke, Schön Bitte, Schön Wiedersehen

'You should always waste time when you don't have any. Time is not the boss of me.'

Returning from its first proper 'summer break' since about 1976, Doctor Who thankfully remembered an important truism about the Nazis. They might've stomped their big stompy goosestepping leather boots all across Europe for a few years, but they never - not ever - got invited to any of the cool kids parties. That was partly the problem - hence the stomping, one imagines. This is important. And also, funny, ultimately. Which is an interesting prelude to a Doctor Who episode that, actually, in the end had remarkably little to do with either the Nazis in general or Hitler in particular (despite the occasional tomorrow belongs to me vibe). And, despite the title as well. Because what Let's Kill Hitler actually turned out to be, fantastically well-hidden in its pre-publicity, was River Song: Year One. The long, long, long awaited origin story not for who the character was/is, specifially (we knew that already) but rather, and much more importantly, how she actually came to be. 'Shut up dad, I'm focusing on a dress size!' Melody Pond, dear blog reader, 'the woman who killed the Doctor,' and here we actually find out why. And how. Sort of. 'Look at that. Everything changes. Love it! I'm all sort of mature,' River notes after one of the most clever and unexpected regeneration sequences that the programme has ever attempted. As the collective audience just sits there staring at their TV and saying 'But ... But ... But!' And, at that point there's still two-thirds of the episode to go.

Let's Kill Hitler kicks off after the longest and most complex 'Previously On...' round-ups in the history of television - and remember kids, complexity in not a crime, whatever anyone (scum tabloid hack or otherwise) may tell you, unless you actually want it to be. In the pre-titles we get a quite beautiful opening shot establishing a rural idyll of chirping birdsong. And, with the sudden arrival of Rory's orange Mini Cooper (nice!) - crashing through a corn field like its just come off Gambon Corner at the Top Gear test track - a proper sense of time and location. 'Seriously...?!' After that, we get an atypically intense - and amusing - Steven Moffat opening scene, taking in the Doctor (in a really nice new coat) and reintroducing him to Amy and Rory. There's so much going on in this sequence that it's difficult for a while for the viewer to concentrate on any one thing - there's the crop circle iconography, in-jokes and the sudden, unsignposted, arrival of a completely new character, Amy's BFF Mels (Nina Toussaint-White) in her spanking red sports car. Or, at least someone's spanking red sports car anyway. Then, there's a huge info-dump concerning Amy, Rory and Mels' lengthy past. Complete with references to casually naughty teenage pursuits like bus stealing. Well, we've all done it, be fair. Poor Rory - now we understand why he ended up as the sad, crushed victim of society whom we first met in The Eleventh Hour before travelling with the Doctor turned him into The Lone Centurion and a bona-fide action hero. 'Gay!' Yeah, a lot of people thought so. Anyway, we also discover that one of the series most long-lived pieces of 'that never really made any sense' lore - the state of Temporal Grace within which the TARDIS console room is supposed to exist - was, actually, merely 'a clever lie' all along. Yes. A bunch of Cybermen in Earthshock worked that out thirty years ago when their guns worked. Then ... 'you've got a Time Machine, I've got a gun.' Thought you'd never ask. And we're off!
Crash-landing in 1938 in Berlin, the TARDIS arrives just as a shapeshifting robot with a miniaturised crew of time travelling Justice Department alien bureaucrats inside (yes, just like the Numskulls from the Beezer) are about to kill Hitler. Because ... they can. 'Thank you, whoever you are. I think you have just saved my life,' says Das Fuhrer (Albert Welling) having stepped straight out on an episode of 'Allo 'Allo it would seem. 'Believe me, it was an accident,' replies The Doctor with a look on his face that just screams Oh, no! Not again! There's a bit of a kerfuffle and then Rory punches Hitler in the mush and says 'sit still and shut up!' So, definitely not gay, then. 'Rory, take Hitler and put him in the cupboard,' orders The Doctor. 'Right ... Hitler, cupboard.' What happens next wasn't what I suspect most of the audience were expecting at this point, however. Hitler, it turns out is a really rotten shot (and, he's only got one ball, apparently). Himmler, had something similar. Sorry, where were we? Oh yes, seemingly in the middle of The Producers, baby. Hitler's shot missed his intended assassin and hit Mels instead. Just as it appears we're about to say goodbye to a character before we'd even got to know them (Mels, that is, not Hitler), there's a weird glowing yellow light all around her. Hang on, this is all looking a shade familiar. 'It took me years to find you to,' Mels tells Amy. 'I'm glad I did. You see, it all worked out in the end, didn't it?' And, quicker than you can say Raxacoricofallapatorius after six pints of weak lager in the Fitzroy Tavern Mels becomes, of course, River Song. There's a wonderfully played virtually dialogue-free sequence of about twenty seconds as Karen Gillan, Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill sit on Hitler's desk and look blankly at each other whilst Murray Gold's music - elsewhere in the episode all dramatic and eerie - suddenly gets light and fluffy and amused at its own cleverness. Rory pats the Doctor sympathetically on the shoulder as if to say '... No. Me neither, pal!'
As usual with a Moffat episode, the dialogue is truly exceptional. Witty, inventive, smart, occasionally naughty and sometimes just a little bit dangerous: 'You will experience a tingling sensation. Then death,' for instance. And: 'I'm a psychopath, I'm not rude.' And: 'I was on my way to this gay-gypsy Bar Mitzvah for the disabled. When I suddenly though "Gosh, the Third Reich's a bit rubbish! I think I'll kill the Fuhrer!" Who's with me?' And: 'Tip for you all. Never shoot a girl whilst she's regenerating.' And: 'There must be someone in the universe I haven't screwed up yet.' And, of course, it's great stuff - you'd expect little else from Moffat, after all. This is an episode in which, once again, fish fingers and custard saves the universe. Sort of. 'Is anybody else finding today just a bit difficult?' asks Rory. 'I'm getting this sort of banging in my head.' 'Yeah,' replies Amy without blinking. 'I think that's Hitler in the cupboard!' Probably my favourite line of the entire episode is one which will likely have sailed massively over the heads of the majority of the show's younger audience. We get a delighted squeal from River off-screen, followed by 'That's magnificent!' Then she enters the room and exclaims, proudly, that she's going to wear lots of jodpars. Saucy minx! And, at that exact moment, there's confirmation of a piece of information which the drama has been circling around for most of the last three years. 'Meldoy Pond. The woman that kills The Doctor.' Cue a sequence with the banana - always a seasonal highlight for The Moffster, that. Remember kids, if you have a fruit, it's stupid not to use it.
'I'm trapped inside a giant robot replica of my wife. I'm really trying not to see this as a metaphor.' Yes, dear blog reader this was the episode where Rory got most of the best lines! I mean, dozens of them. And he wasn't the only one either. Is killing you going to take all day River asks the Time Lord at one point? Why, are you busy The Doctor demands flirtatiously. And, still the sizzling dialogue continued. 'I'm fine. Well, no, I'm dying. But, I've got a plan.' 'What plan?' demands Amy. 'Not dying!' Can you ride a motorbike Amy asks Rory as he demonstrates, again, his recently acquired action hero credentials. 'I expect so,' he replies with a deadpan look. 'It's that sort of day!' And, all the while old friendships are tested to their absolute limits as The Doctor suffers the ultimate treachery and learns a very harsh lesson in 'the cruellest warfare of all.' Quite literally, he's betrayed by a kiss. Oh, the bottomless pit of dramatic irony. As precious time ebbs away - his, mainly - the Doctor, poisoned by a woman he knows he will, ultimately, love beyond reason - must teach his adversaries (and his friends for that matter) that time travel has both responsibilities and repercussions. And he must succeed before an almighty price is paid. All of this plus an excellent Terminator reference. And, let's not forget the bit where, threatened by merciless alien robotic antibodies, Amy tries the old 'we come in peace' line. 'When has that ever worked?' asks an anguished Rory. The lad's got a point, you know.

So, on board the Justice Department Tessilekta, Rory and Amy get to watch the dying Doctor's confrontation with River through a robot's eyes. 'At least I'm not a time-travelling shapeshifting robot operated by miniaturised cross people. Which I have got to admit, I didn't see coming!' This is woman who, according to their records, kills the Doctor, the ship's Captain charges. To which The Doctor merely replies 'I'm The Doctor, what's it got to do with you?' There's a lengthy explanation about who The Silence and their allies are and when and why they believe that silence will fall. Which, ultimately, turns out to be unknown. 'A fat lot of good you are, you big ginge!' The Doctor tells the Amy robot. There's a rather convoluted five minute sequence in which, the aliens go away leaving Amy and Rory trapped inside their tiny spaceship with psychotic antibodies for company and River comes to understand who she is and what her relationship with The Doctor was, is and will be. See, that's the trouble with time travel, the tenses all get mixed up. 'Never run when you're scared. Rule seven.' The music gets eerie, River is impressed by The Doctor's continued ability to care, even on the edge of death and helps him to rescue her parents, Amy and Rory. 'The Doctor says I'm the child of the TARDIS, what does he mean?' The dying Doctor gives the Ponds' daughter a final instruction, to 'find' River Song. And then he dies - alone and silent just like everybody else.

Of course, that's not the end. How could it be? River does 'find' herself, with Amy's help (and the robot's, to be fair!) And, in a moment dripping with all sorts of religious, iconic and metaphysical overtones, behold, The Miracle of the Resurrection as River gives up her future regenerations to let The Doctor live again. 'Just tell me. The Doctor? Is he worth it?' she asks. Of course he is. 'She did kill me. And then she used the rest of her lives to bring me back. As first dates go, I'd say that was mixed signals.' There's still time for a rather lovely little coda which includes one of the great lines of the series in recent years. 'Rule one: The Doctor lies.' Store that one away for future reference, I've a feeling we may be hearing it again sooner rather than later. River will recover with the Sisters of the Infinite Schism, will return again in future episodes and will be, as The Doctor notes, amazing. Especially, let it be said, if she's wearing jodhpurs. But, much of the mystery that made the character so intriguing and popular with fandom in the first place has now gone and it will be interesting to see the next time The Doctor encounters her, what the knowledge that they now both share will do to their relationship. 'Dangerous thing, foreknowledge,' says The Doctor setting up what I presume will be the plot for series finale with a clang of the Cloister Bell in the distance. True. But then again, 'spoilers' can be equally as tricky.
Doctor Who, dear blog reader, is back. And, as usual, it's about time.

So, after all that, what we need for the latest Keith Telly Topping's 33 of the Day, is clearly, something German. Achtung, Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle, can you oblige us mit eine kleine Nachtmusik? Of course you can!