Kill The Moon
Series Eight, Episode Seven
There's a simple test to see if you'll like the latest Doctor Who episode, Kill The Moon. Are you ready? Listen to these four words.
The moon's an egg.
If you just winced, or made pantomime vomit motions with your fingers, Kill The Moon is going to annoy you. Of course there's more to it, some of it just as contentious as the egg thing, but there will be a portion of viewers who just won't get past the whimsypoo.
|Oh my god, New Writer!|
I forgot those were a thing!
It begins at full pelt, which is what I like to see. Clara and co. are already on the moon, sending an appeal to Earth. Should they kill a massive potentially-dangerous life-form, or let it live and brave the consequences? We have 45 minutes to decide. For a moment I thought we were in for a countdown episode, like the similarly futuristic (and, y'know, rubbish) 42. Turns out we are not – it's just one of those begin-at-the-end-then-cut-back-to-the-start openings they do in movies when the opening isn't strong enough. But one thing's for sure: this is an Impossible Choice episode. And those make me distinctly nervous, because Doctor Who isn't very good at them. (It's usually a case of, Dramatic Option A, or Dramatic Option B? I know: Hitherto Unmentioned Option C!)
The moon is cracking apart. When the thing inside hatches, it will send chunks of moon smashing into the Earth, not to mention the chaos that might be unleashed by the newborn creature. Plus, no moon = disaster in general. On the other hand, the creature might be benevolent. Chunks of moon might not smash into the Earth. And maybe we'll be all right without a moon?
Hmm. The case Against is noticeably flimsier than the case For, which is probably why humanity votes to Do What The Title Says. (Although how blowing up a mega-fetus with 100 nuclear bombs is going to avoid a shower of moon chunks, especially with only seconds to spare from it hatching, is a bit of a grey area.) The voting thing sounds great, but doesn't quite work in practice. People on Earth don't have all the facts, only the people who hear Clara's message will vote, and then only the people facing the moon. It could be 50/50 and she wouldn't know. In any case, they seem to vote No, and Clara decides to ignore them. Fortunately, all is well. The thing hatches, the moon chunks disintegrate. We even get to have our cake and eat it, because the thing lays another egg, of – one presumes – roughly the same mass as the original one. Everything's tidied up, with humanity spurred on to explore the stars into the bargain. How lovely.
Except for all the bollocks. The moon chunks disintegrate because, says Clara, "The moon isn't made of rock and stone, is it? It's made of egg-shell!" Er, no, it's made of egg-shell that's made of rock and stone. It's an egg, but not a chicken's egg. The moon is definitely rock! People have stood on it! So it's a stupendously lucky break that we didn't get flattened after all. Plus we've got a new moon – which is an even bigger bag of bollocks, because something can't possibly contain something that's bigger than itself. (With the honourable exception of TARDISes, which have consistency with the laws of Doctor Who, and even the occasional explanation.) If Moon 2.0 isn't roughly the same size, or isn't on quite the same orbit, humanity's surely looking at a whole new host of problems. As for Clara's natty observation earlier on – that nobody in the future ever mentions how the moon turned out to be a bloody great egg, hatched, and got replaced by another one – that still stands. Are all moons secretly eggs? Who's laying them, if this life-form is (as the Doctor suspects) the only one in the universe?
|Is it a Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice thing?|
For me, it stops being analogous when there are chunks of moon
threatening to crush all life on Earth. I'm thinking: Unintended Subtext.
There's more to the episode than the Impossible Choice That Kind Of Takes Care Of Itself, i.e. the setup. It takes a while for the characters to figure out what's going on, although the opening teaser, the episode title and an early scene where the Doctor describes a sizeable creature as "bacteria" do sort of give it away. The setup is all fairly standard Scary Space Station: astronauts are sent to investigate the troubled moon, only to find gravity, cobwebs and corpses. The gravity is one of the sciencey bits I'm glad somebody brought up – and it's a major plot-point. The cobwebs are the work of the "bacteria", aka giant spiders that eat intruders. (I'm not sure that's what bacteria would look like on a larger scale, but Suspension Of Disbelief...) It's all suitably creepy, though it gets totally defanged once the Impossible You-Know-What shows up. The spiders just cease to be important, and obviously the tone warps away from Planet Scary before the end. It's fun while it lasts.
It's also fun to watch Peter Capaldi investigate things, with his now traditional lack of giving two hoots about anybody else. He does at least try to rescue Courtney (the disruptive schoolgirl from last week's episode), though it's still up to her to save her own skin. There's a hilarious bit where he suggests the astronauts shoot Courtney and Clara before himself, which is more about making them think again rather than employing a couple of human shields. He's crotchety, funny, and has a glinty-eyed glee at the discovery of new life. All very right, as far as I'm concerned.
Now, I've had some trouble enjoying Capaldi's take on the character this year; he's often rude in a way that suggests he's a horrible person, rather than a non-human one, and we've got a dozen-or-so previous Doctors for context. But he is, mostly, quite Doctorly in this one. I don't, for example, have any problem with him leaving Clara and co. to decide the fate of the moon. It's not the first time he's left Earth's history up to the humans, whether it's deciding if they can co-exist with lizard people, or letting history take its course because of Fixed Points. His choice of phrase, "time to take the training wheels off your bike", is horribly patronising, but it's still a human decision, and it should be up to the humans to make it. So Clara's dramatic meltdown at the Doctor over this is, I think, rather uncalled for. Leaving them in danger (with the moon collapsing, spiders approaching, suicide a possibility) is a bit of a bastardly thing to do. But leaving the decision up to humanity, and up to Clara, isn't. And that's mostly the bit she's mad at. Kill The Moon's brutal, emotional climax – those two falling out – is sadly a bit of a muddle.
|"But... you can't leave. It's not the finale yet."|
So, the Doctor is a mix of the very good and the very wrong. Clara's... fine, although Jenna Coleman's cry acting isn't her greatest strength, and it's odd that she's chosen now to throw a tantrum and pack her bags. Here's a bit you probably didn't see coming: I quite like Courtney. She's not actually necessary to the story (apart from carrying some handy anti-bacterial spray), and it's bizarre to gain a new companion on such a whim, but at least she's not obnoxious like the last couple of TARDIS kids. Her delivery of several lines, especially "Night night", made me laugh. The astronauts are overly whimsical and pretty much just fodder, with Hermione Norris doing the requisite arguing-with-the-Doctor bit; it's not a great role because most of the decision making falls on the Earth and then on Clara. Adelaide Brooke she ain't, but at least when she challenges the Doctor's authority, she prompts Capaldi's hilarious retort: "You say run, then!"
Kill The Moon is an Impossible Choice episode, and the Impossible Choice is always the most important bit. And it's not that well handled. Not enough seems to be at stake, especially when you add all the bollocksy stuff about egg-shells and new moons. As usual, the problem resolves itself, and the emotional fall-out doesn't make total sense. But there are times when it feels like it's got its head screwed on (Clara continually asking questions), and times when it does something drastic that's actually in keeping with Doctor Who (him leaving us to it). It feels like the most consistent episode of Doctor Who for a while, even if it has an annoyingly consistent supply of damp squibs.