by Karl J. Paloucek
I have to admit that although I’ve never personally been much of a fan of the Doctor Who series — I gave it a go when that guy with the big, long scarf had the lead role — I often like the idea of it, regardless. Some of what the show supposes is brilliantly thought out and the premises for some of the episodes I’ve heard of or seen in part are definitely compelling. For a long time, I’d still occasionally leave it on if there was nothing better showing and see if it could suck me into its vortex. (Invariably, some guy or gal would walk on with grease paint and foam rubber all over his or her face and it would just kill any suspension of belief, and away I’d go.)
But yesterday BBC America sent out as interesting a press release for the series as any I may have seen. After a cliffhanger ending to the midseason finale that ended with the words “Let’s Kill Hitler” on the screen, the second half of the season picks up this Saturday, Aug. 27, with the TARDIS crashing in on 1930s Berlin, where he comes “face to face with the greatest war criminal in the universe — and Hitler.”
It’s a potentially careless and dangerous thing to play that “Just add Hitler” game, though I’m willing to give the writers of Doctor Who the benefit of the doubt that they’re up to the task of making it work and doing so appropriately, or at the very least reserve judgment. (Though the fact that the press release also mentions Little Britain‘s David Walliams as a guest star of the forthcoming six episodes could give me cause for pause.) But it does point to the larger and more complex issue of what I sometimes refer to as “the Hitler
industry.” People have a natural attraction to things that are evil, particularly if they’re difficult to understand and as complicated a figure as Hitler is. People are still fascinated by him, and the number of movies, books, newspapers and other media that have been sold in the wake of his actions is incalculable. Based on that knowledge, it always seems troubling that some would manipulate that attraction to his brand of evil to increase viewers, sales, Google hits or what have you.
Not to intentionally single out any particular entity, but look at History. Back when it was still The History Channel, the network made its mark by presenting documentary after documentary based on the rise of the Austrian corporal or on any of his military campaigns during World War II. So pervasive was Hitler’s face on the programming schedule that it became popularly, if unofficially, known as The Hitler Channel. Intentionally or not, History went about changing that image, shortening its name and eventually rebranding itself as the home for reality series like Ice Road Truckers, American Pickers and of course, Top Shot. Hitler still shows his face on History, but not nearly as often as in the old days.
It’s a thoroughly layered issue, and one that’s really too heavy to adequately explore in the detail it deserves on a blog devoted to television, but television is one place where “just adding Hitler” happens to greatest effect. Look at the existence of this blog entry in the first place — would I have written a specific entry about this episode had it not been for the inclusion of Hitler? Probably not. A fictitious despot’s name wouldn’t have registered the same impact, and no other dictator, aside from possibly Stalin, is quite so thoroughly recognized for the evil he personified.
One thing is certain, though: “Just adding Hitler” — whether it’s to secure ratings, increase Google hits or just to make a show more compelling — still gets people talking about the man and his motives. I won’t say that it prevents his kind from visiting the same brand of evil on the world, because we’ve never stopped talking about Hitler, and similar events have taken place and still are taking place in the world. But the distance from Hitler’s era is growing. Maybe constant reminders, even if they’re part of a sci-fi show’s premise, are what’s needed as the decades pass and new generations have to acquaint themselves with that evil of the past. Maybe frivolous use of Hitler’s persona in fictional programming dilutes the popular impression people have of the man and his agenda, and serves to soften the warning to those in the future. It’s hard to say. But it’s not something that’s going to end anytime soon.
Photo: ©BBC BBCW Credit: Adrian Rogers