Note: I am writing this with no knowledge of the episode content, other than the title.
In twenty-four short little hours, Doctor Who will be back on our screens with the provocatively titled "Let's Kill Hitler". If you were in a time machine, landing in 1930s Germany, would Hitler not be a tempting target?
It's a story which had to happen at some point, sooner or later our time travelling Time Lord would arrive in the midst of Germany in World War 2. I couldn't imagine this happening in 'Classic Who' due to the proximity of that tumultuous event for the audience, but given enough time, anything can become sufficiently distant for drama not to have to tread too lightly. I don't think we'll reach that point for Hitler in my lifetime, if ever.
He's certainly appeared in drama before (the excellent 'Downfall' for instance) - but he's hardly a figure one could use without a second thought.
That said, it's true that Hitler has been used in narratives other than dramas. He has appeared in comedies - 'The Producers' (1968) with 'Springtime for Hitler' springs to mind. I can think of people who see this as a step to far, despite the film being careful to show Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder's characters showing contempt for the insignia. Indeed 'The Producers' chose the topic because it wasn't proper, and Hitler himself was shown as a buffoon (which lead to the producers' plans falling apart).
Hitler was also famously dealt with in 'The Great Dictator', Charlie Chaplin's film of 1940, this was a comedy which made for very powerful viewing at a time when the USA was neutral in the second world war - and mocking a contemporary figure for propaganda is very different to interacting with them directly in a drama.
So, Hitler has been seen in drama and in comedy. He has been parodied, and mocked. He has been dramatised. However, he has never (as far as I know) been treated flippantly (The same is not true of the era - "'Allo 'Allo" with 'Herr Flick of ze Gestapo' is probably the prime example).
Given the Doctor is to meet the 'real' Hitler, and not a parody, I would be horrified if he is presented lightly, therefore the cover of DWM raises an eyebrow for me. I do hope it is not suggesting a working relationship. It's obviously a composite put together by the magazine, but it's a magazine with strong relationships with the production team.
Obviously, Hitler can't be killed (at least, not permanently) - as this would place Dr. Who outside of 'our universe', and this isn't a step that I think they'd want to take. It'd remove the possibility of the Doctor walking into your life, an important conceit for its core young audience. Also, "Let's Kill Hitler" is not the same thing as "We Killed Hitler".
In pure story terms, we have been here before. The fourth doctor, Tom Baker, was sent to exterminate the Daleks before they became the scourge of the Universe in 'Genesis of the Daleks'. He questions his right to commit genocide, he reasons that though the Daleks are evil and themselves committed genocide, they provided or rather, they would provide a rationale for many beings to stop fighting and form alliances. It is true that one man (Hitler) is different to an entire race (the Daleks), but nonetheless the Doctor could make the same argument for not killing Hitler. It is true that he tore Europe apart and he had a devastating effect on the lives of millions - but since World War 2, Europe has been fundamentally stable (albeit divided until the late eighties), Germany itself has become an economic powerhouse, Britain, France and Germany are at the core of NATO and the EU - something that would have been unimaginable in the 19th century. It is also unclear that events would not have still evolved along similar lines with some other figurehead in Hitler's place - Himmler, perhaps.
Thinking about how Hitler might be characterised, it is true, I think, that an evil man won't see themselves as evil. Hitler, I'm sure, will have considered his actions to be for the greater good (of the German people). This was handled to an extent with Davros in 'Genesis of the Daleks' - though he was evil to any outside observer, he had his own internal logic. Davros noted that war was caused by conflict between species - thus he could end war by ensuring one species remained, the Daleks. We have also seen the internal logic of the 'evil' character laid out for us in other series, such as with the Vorlons and the Shadows in Babylon 5. For much of the first three and a half years, the Vorlons were presented as enigmatic allies, and the Shadows as evil menaces (although they were introduced slowly). Then, in the fourth season the internal logic of the Vorlon and Shadow viewpoints was laid out for us and it was handled in such a way that the audience became split, and a lot of the audience found themselves siding with the point of view of the Shadows, who had previously been the unmitigated 'evil villains'.
In Doctor Who Davros and The Master are figures of great evil. To the Doctor, Hitler of the 1930s and Davros in 'Genesis' should be equivalent - though this cannot be true for the audience at home. The second world war finished over 65 years ago but it is still an emotive subject, and there are many, many pitfalls. Unlike for Davros, or the Shadows, it would be very hard to make a 'rounded characterisation' palatable in the case of Hitler. This would be both a very difficult path for Steven Moffat to take, and rather unwise; I think prohibitively so, as any false step would bring a lot of criticism on both the series and the BBC. With this in mind I would be amazed if we saw any sympathy for this character at all.
This does not mean that the Doctor could not have a conversation with Hitler - Tom Baker sat down to talk with Davros in 'Genesis of the Daleks', Pertwee could be very sympathetic to The Master in 'The Sea Devils' (and many others). The conversation between Davros and the Doctor in particular served to both underline the internal consistency of Davros, but also his warped sense of ethics. I cannot conceive of how this might occur for Hitler without either trivialising the matter or legitimising his views. Therefore I would expect any confrontation to be much less amiable than we have seen with the likes of Davros.
There is the possibility that we could see the Doctor working with Hitler against some greater threat, I don't think that this could be done well in a single episode - unless excellently handled it would be beyond the pale for me.
What do I think will happen?
Rory and/or Amy (probably Rory) will get it into their heads that it'd be a good idea to Kill Hitler, it'd save a lot of suffering in the 20th Century. The Doctor, seeing the role that very evil people (perhaps especially very evil people) play in history, decides that Rory must be stopped - and regretfully he must save Hitler.
I could imagine the Tardis crew being captured by Hitler and his cronies, and then having to find a way to escape.
This does all provoke a rather interesting philosophical question for me (though I doubt it'd be addressed on screen except perhaps with a throwaway line about 'fixed moments in time'): What makes Hitler from the Doctors point of view, any different from Davros? Why can the Doctor feel free to work against the Dalek invasion of Earth, but not the Nazi invasion of Poland? Obviously they are different for the viewer with the former is fictitious and the latter not - but what is the internal logic of the series in this regard? It could be that the Dalek invasion of Earth is extra-terrestrial, but the Nazi invasion of Poland is an 'internal earth matter' - but in that case, why interfere between Kaled and Thaal? Why interfere between Silurian and Human? Another solution could perhaps be the proximity to his chosen companions - if we assume that time 'finds a way to get back on track', then events close to the era of his companions affect them and thus inhibit his actions, whereas events further back, won't (my intuition says the exact opposite would be the case, but I am looking for an internal logic).
This isn't simply a story set in World War 2. We've had those before. We have already seen Churchill, and in 'Big Finish' we've seen Colditz). This is a story where we see the Doctor interacting with one of the most reviled men of the 20th century. There will be people in the audience (myself included) who will take the deepest offence if it's treated flippantly. I really have my fingers crossed for this episode. If they get it right, it could be a slice of fried gold. If they get it wrong it has the potential to form a storm of epic proportions for Dr. Who and the BBC.
One thing that gives comfort, I am sure the production team will have thought through these issues and will be aware of the tightrope they walk. I trust the concept will be good, they wouldn't waste the opportunity on something weak, would they? If so, the final perception of the episode will be down to issues of taste, and to the execution of the episode.
As an aside, I would not be surprised if the Silents appeared, this is before the events of 1969, and they'd look intimidating in the SS uniform.
Since writing the above, I've seen this video.
Karen Gillan calls the episode 'Quite Humorous' and 'Not inappropriate in any way'.... it'll be interesting to see how this is pulled off.