Friday, January 5, 2018

Performances Completely Sell "Let's Kill Hitler!"

The Good: Great acting, Decent plot progression
The Bad: Light on character development
The Basics: "Let's Kill Hitler" might make the character of River Song an explicit tie-in to earlier incarnations of the character and reveal some of her backstory well, but it does not extensively progress the Doctor Who characters.

Explaining who River Song from "Forest Of The Dead" (reviewed here!) was always going to be a massive task. After all, creating a character who has future interactions with The Doctor creates a potential mess of continuity issues. The purpose of much of the sixth season of Doctor Who is to give answers to who and what River Song actually is. River Song, who has been established before now as a criminal in the future who is working off a prison sentence and given that the season began with allies of The Doctor witnessing his death in the future, the identity of his killer has remained a mystery. By "Let's Kill Hitler," the smart money is on the idea that River Song is manipulated into killing The Doctor somehow.

"Let's Kill Hitler" is a direct follow-up to "A Good Man Goes To War" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss it without some references to the prior episode. After all, "A Good Man Goes To War" found Amy giving birth to Melody Pond and River Song arriving to reveal that she is the adult version of Melody Pond. "Let's Kill Hitler" ties together the backstory of River Song with the ongoing mystery of the sixth season brilliantly.

Opening months later with The Doctor responding to Amy and Rory's creating explicit messages to the pair in the form of crop circles, the trio is visited by Mel. Mel is an old friend of Amy and Rory's who takes The Doctor hostage and demands to be taken back to Nazi Germany to kill Hitler. In Berlin, 1938, a crew of time operatives replace a prominent Nazi using their time ship filled with miniaturized people. When the TARDIS crashes in Hitler's office, in the ensuing conflict, Mels is shot. Mels regenerates into River Song!

After briefly exploring her new body, River Song makes multiple attempts to kill The Doctor. When she kisses The Doctor, Melody declares that the deed is done. With 32 minutes before The Doctor dies from the poison from the Judas Tree, Amy, Rory and the temporal police hunt down River Song. When the Justice Department wounds River Song, The Doctor learns that River is the one who killed him in the future. The Doctor also learns about The Silence and the prophecy about The Doctor is revealed. To stop the Justice Department, Amy turns the shipboard antibodies against the crew. With the Justice Department ship incapacitated, The Doctor turns to River Song for help in saving her parents.

"Let's Kill Hitler" includes an extensive backstory for Mels and the whole concept would have worked vastly better if Mels had been a character previously established. Instead, viewers are supposed to believe that Mels was left on the streets in the 1960s in "The Impossible Astronaut" where she regenerated, but then did not significantly age before meeting Amy in the late 1990s or early 2000s?! One supposes the only real answer is that there are multiple unseen regenerations of Melody Pond before she becomes Mel, which is somewhat unsatisfying given that it is not made explicit in the episode. In fact, in the episode that is explicitly contradicted as Mels mentions that her last regeneration left her has a toddler on the streets of New York!

Beyond that, "Let's Kill Hitler" finally makes it explicit that River Song is a conditioned assassin designed to assassinate The Doctor. The previously-seen astronaut suit-wearing girl was conditioned to kill The Doctor and now Melody Pond works to achieve that mission. That explanation is surprisingly satisfying even if the mechanics of it are not.

Alex Kingston breaks out as River Song in "Let's Kill Hitler." River is exceptionally well-written in the episode and Kingston rises to the occasion beautifully. Kingston finds the perfect balance of humor and danger in her acting. Kingston has the incredible ability to emote quite a bit with her eyes and she plays the role of the newly-regenerated Melody Pond in a way that allows her to make great use of those talents. Even the confusion that Kingston plays near the episode's climax is delightfully-delivered.

Similarly, Karen Gillan does a decent job of giving a very physical performance for the various incarnations of Amy Pond in "Let's Kill Hitler." When the Justice Department vehicle turns into Amy Pond, Gillan has to play cold and more mechanical and the contrast between the usual expressiveness of Amy and her alternate version is a good bit of acting.

Even Matt Smith does an excellent job with performing in "Let's Kill Hitler." Smith has a physical role in "Let's Kill Hitler" that allows him to effectively juggle invoking laughter and evoking empathy from the viewer. As The Doctor nears death, Smith's performance actually allows the viewer to invest in the impossible; that "Let's Kill Hitler" could see the end of Matt Smith's version of The Doctor!

The special effects and pacing of "Let's Kill Hitler" allow the episode to be incredibly entertaining and hold up over multiple viewings. "Let's Kill Hitler" is a rare example of an episode that ties together a number of key elements that are established in Doctor Who in a satisfying way. It might be simplistic and only minimally develop the characters, but it works!

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season of Matt Smith as The Doctor here!

For other works with Richard Dillane, please check out my reviews of:
The Dark Knight
Rome - Season 2


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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