Doctor Who series 8, episode 7, “Kill the Moon,” by Peter Harness is, in my opinion, the weakest of the season so far. Despite the best efforts of Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald) and Ellis George (Courtney Woods), this episode falls flat, and I think it’s because the script is bad. Before I go further let me just say that even though I’ve raised questions and noted dislikes with several previous episodes, this is the only one so far I’ve given a complete thumbs-down to. If this turns out to be the only one, I’ll consider it a great season. I’ve tried not to read anyone else’s reviews until this is done, and I’m curious to know what the Internet is saying about it because I often find that when I dislike an episode, tons and tons of other people absolutely love it.
Lets start with the positives, shall we? The premise is good, and so is the visual production. I love the orange space suits. I also like the way this episode plays with the “fixed moment in time” drama from “The Waters of Mars” by having the Doctor deal with a contingent but very important moment in time and choosing to leave the outcome to others. The problems I have are in the execution and in the ending.
The episode takes place on the moon in the year 2029. The Doctor, Clara, and Courtney find a group of astronauts preparing to blow up the moon because it’s gained so much weight, it’s wreaking havoc with Earth’s climate and killing people. Turns out the moon is an egg that’s about to hatch. The adventurers are faced with the choice of destroying a fledgling (and possibly unique) creature to save Earth, or allowing the egg to hatch and seeing what happens. The Doctor leaves Clara, Courtney, and the astronaut commander to make the choice and exits the scene in the TARDIS. Clara passes the buck to the Earth’s population. The population says to destroy the egg, but Clara aborts the explosion at the last minute. The egg hatches, the “shell” disintegrates harmlessly, and the creature flies off after leaving a new “egg” in its place.
This isn’t as spoilerish as it seems, though. I knew the moon was an egg well before the Doctor figured it out. Once he confirmed it, I saw how the rest of the episode was going to play out, plot-wise. Right down to the new moon being left to replace the old one. The only thing I didn’t forsee was the Doctor leaving the decision entirely to the humans. I liked that part of it, and I didn’t like the way Clara reacted after it was all said and done, which brings me to the two big problems that just killed this episode for me.
First, I don’t expect hard science fiction from Doctor Who. One of the things I enjoy most about it is that it incorporates elements of fantasy and sometimes includes scientific impossibilities. That said, you can’t suspend the laws of physics entirely when your whole story is set on the moon, and this episode comes pretty close to doing that. This one I could overlook in the interest of entertainment, though, if it weren’t for the problem of Clara’s reaction to the Doctor’s refusal to intervene. That one’s complicated, and will take a bit of discussion to get at, but seeing these two problems together in a single episode just left me groaning.
It’s always been clear that the Doctor views humans as small, limited creatures in need of guidance. Sometimes he comes off as a kindly older relative. Sometimes it’s just condescending. The 12th Doctor has taken the condescension to a new level. The one surprise of this episode was that he chose to leave this momentous moral decision in the hands of three humans and completely check out until it was over. It’s the last thing I expected him to do. As I see it, there are (at least) three ways to read it:
- The Doctor knew the outcome, despite the fact that he said he didn’t know what was going to happen;
- The Doctor didn’t want to be responsible for the decision, because it could have gone bad either way; or
- The Doctor decided that if these humans are ever going to “grow up,” they needed to make this choice for themselves without interference.
Option three is the most interesting reading by far. It could also be the beginning of a turn in the 12th Doctor’s character. Perhaps he’s on his way to being a bit more respectful of humanity’s autonomy. It’s too early to say, but I hope that’s what’s going on.
Once the situation with the creature is resolved, Clara parts company with the Doctor. As I interpret their conversation at the end, she doesn’t want to see him any more because he abandoned humanity in the moment of crisis. Or something. The break itself is no surprise. It’s been foreshadowed all season in the Doctor’s threats to refuse to travel with Clara if she didn’t obey his orders and in Clara’s refusal to say the Doctor is good. It’s also sound from a story-plotting perspective. Now we get a reconciliation, a run-up to the season finale, and a final farewell. Not original perhaps, but serviceable. This is television.
It just seems to me that if you have a problem with the Doctor because he looks down on humanity as “pudding heads” and such, you shouldn’t punish him on the one occasion when he leaves humanity to make its own choice without interference. Clara obviously doesn’t read the situation that way, and I have to wonder why. Perhaps it’s a matter of anger and stress. Or perhaps she’s right about the Doctor and he really just bailed. There’s no way of knowing until we see how this plays out, but I found the drama in the last scene contrived and unconvincing. I felt as though the Clara who tells The Doctor to take a hike is a different character entirely than the one who tried to pick up the pole arm in “Robot of Sherwood.” And I find that unfortunate.
I’m strapped today, so no time for a ton of links. I must give We Geek Girls a shout-out for their perfect timing with this post of production images from “Kill the Moon.” The link hit my Twtter feed 25 minutes before the episode aired and you know, I just had click. 🙂