Let’s Kill Hitler: A Defence & Analysis (Part 1)
Guest contributor Joshua Yetman revisits one of the revival’s most divisive episodes.
A couple of weeks ago, I submitted my ambling defence of The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon, a story of the show which was, admittedly, very well received by the fanbase and critics alike, and so it didn’t really need much in the way of defence at all (but I regret nothing!). Let’s Kill Hitler, the subject of this defence, however, is another matter altogether…
Let’s Kill Hitler is, simply put, one of the most divisive stories in the show, especially amongst the more dedicated parts of the fanbase. Despite receiving highly positive reviews from critics, it stands as the 8th most divisive story of the revival, according to my analysis of the Best of the Revival polls earlier this year. It has vocal supporters and detractors, and, as I’m sure you can tell from the title, I am firmly embedded amongst the former faction. Indeed, I find Let’s Kill Hitler a tragically underrated, thematically complex, highly emotional and rather thought-provoking story that deserves far more love than it actually gets, like a lot of stories written by Moffat in his era. The point of this article is to illustrate my reasoning for this opinion, by analysing my own interpretation of this little gem.
The metaphorical title and the parallelisms explored by the episode
One common complaint about Let’s Kill Hitler is its “misleading title”. We do, of course, go to 1938 Berlin, but Hitler remains very much alive by the conclusion of the story, being only slightly inconvenienced by being shoved into a cupboard (and no one can surely deny this was an awesome Rory moment). And yes, that’s all true, but the title Let’s Kill Hitler is not only deliberately misleading when taken at face value (and that is a Moffat trademark by this point), but there is a much deeper meaning there explored by the episode that is often overlooked, which I will now explain.
This episode subtly sets up a very surprising comparison between the Doctor and – remarkably – Adolf Hitler. Both individuals differ on almost every possible conceivable aspect, but there is a common theme between them that this episode identifies, which forms a part of the brilliant character development arc for the Doctor in Series 6.
Adolf Hitler and the Doctor are both huge, influential figures (to the Earth and to the universe respectively) who both attempt to carry out their own concept and interpretation of what is “good”, but individuals and organisations have risen up as a result to stop them, in fear of them and to prevent them from continuing further atrocities (from their point of view).
For the Doctor, the idea that he was getting too big was first brought up in “The Pandorica Opens” when it was revealed that the Pandorica was meant to imprison him perpetually, implying that the “nameless, terrible thing soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies. The most feared being in all the cosmos. And nothing could stop it, or hold it or… reason with it. One day it would just drop out of the sky and tear down your world.” quote was, retrospectively, referring to him. So the seeds of this character arc for the Doctor had been planted for a long time and, in this episode, we were first properly informed of one of the particular organisations that had risen up against him, forming very interesting parallels against the enemies of Hitler at the time. I am, of course, talking about the Silence, and their primary weapon, Melody Pond, who was born and raised to assassinate the Doctor. Although the primary aim of the Silence was to prevent the Siege of Trenzalore, they also significantly feared the Doctor, who they truly believed to be a great tyrant of the universe. Thus, from their perspective, in destroying the Doctor they were doing the right thing, which again makes an interesting parallel to Hitler and his enemies at the time.
Finally, from the perspective of Melody Pond, the Doctor must have truly been akin to a Hitler like figure to her (as part of her conditioning). Hence, the title Let’s Kill Hitler, and the themes of assassination become highly representative of the aims of the Silence, whose ethos was essentially “Let’s Kill the Doctor”. The fact it was the Doctor who was the target of assassination in this story further strengthens this particular link between the two individuals.
Furthermore, the idea of going back in time in the name of justice to kill someone who has committed an atrocity is another powerful and related theme of this episode, and a theme which forms the very core of the whole Silence arc. The Teselecta is to Hitler what Melody is to the Doctor, another interesting parallel.
For all these reasons, Let’s Kill Hitler is more than just a mad, comical romp (virtues I will get to momentarily), it’s sitting on a wide array of powerful imagery and parallelisms which, to me, make the episode intrinsically clever from the core. It gives us a frame of reference to consider the actions of the Silence against, and also continues the fantastic character arc about the Doctor getting too influential, and the consequences this was having.
The concept of the Teselecta
Moving on from the aforementioned parallelisms, I thought the Teselecta was a fantastic, unique and very Moffatty idea, and also a fundamentally dark one. A robot full of people sent back in time to punish the tyrants of history is a thought-provoking idea with very questionable ethics, ethics which were nicely explored in the episode and, as I’ve mentioned, juxtaposed well against the other themes of the episode and the core idea of the Silence arc as a whole. You have to give credit to Moffat for the sheer imagination of this idea which explores a very interesting, albeit morally dubious, use of time travel, and it also sets up the finale rather spectacularly in my humble opinion (I seem to be one of the rare people who loved the Teselecta resolution in “The Wedding of River Song”, but I digress).
On another note, the rather polite antibodies were another interesting idea, though used for a more comedic effect. They were still rather enjoyable though, one of those absurd concepts that plays so well in a show like this.
I think Let’s Kill Hitler can lay credible claim to being one of the funniest episodes of the revival, with most of its humour focused in its dialogue. Even the strongest detractor of this story must admit that River’s classic line of “Well. I was on my way to this gay gypsy bar mitzvah for the disabled, when I suddenly thought, “Gosh. The Third Reich’s a bit rubbish. I think I’ll kill the Führer.” Who’s with me?” is utterly hilarious and delivered perfectly by Alex Kingston. Although the episode strayed away (at least directly) from the nature of its setting, it was nice to see this aspect of Nazi Germany addressed. Even as a psychopathic assassin, River comprehends the repulsive ideology of the Nazis, which says a lot!
And of course, there’s the hilarious debunking of the concept of temporal grace (“IT WAS A CLEVER LIE, YOU IDIOT!”), the brilliant stand-off between the Doctor and River (“Is killing you really gonna take all day?”, and “Hello Benjamin!”), the squabblings of the Teselecta crew (“Yeah, that’s what you said when we made Rasputin green!”) and simply how cool Rory was with everything, be it punching Hitler and throwing him in a cupboard, expecting himself to ride a motorbike (as it was just “that kind of day”) and also for his metaphorical comparison of the Teselecta to Amy. Rory was truly a badass here!
Join us tomorrow for Part 2 looking in-depth at River Song and some of the more common complaints.