Doctor Who: “Kill the Moon”

After last week’s not very good episode, “The Caretaker,” we’re treated to more of an old-fashioned Doctor Who adventure in “Kill the Moon.” Old-fashioned in that it takes place someplace other than Earth, and in the future, and has our heroes fighting monsters and trying to figure out a mystery. I liked it for the most part, but it’s still a bit problematic. I’ll get to that.

NO MAJOR SPOILERS HERE, BUT THEY’RE LIKELY TO COME UP IN COMMENTS, SO CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED!

One of the things I’m liking about season 8 is that there are clear emotional and psychological ramifications to events, something that was blatantly missing last season. It seemed like consequences were being set up in season 7, but then nothing ever happened. Plot lines were introduced only to be dropped, constantly. Take Angie and Artie, for example, the children Clara was nannying. They were taken into space and fought the Cybermen in “Nightmare in Silver,” and after being returned home were never seen again. What happened to them? How did they adjust after that? Is Clara a teacher now because she got fired from that nanny job for endangering the children? We’ll never know. The whole thing was dropped.

But that’s not the case any more. Characters are being allowed to develop again in season 8. Clara has become a more rounded human being. Danny is revealing new facets of his personality and past on a regular basis. And then there’s Courtney, the troubled and trouble-making student from Clara’s school. When I heard she would be a part of “Kill the Moon,” I rolled my eyes. I figured it would be like Angie and Artie all over again — except it wasn’t. The consequences of her coming along are clear and present in her fear and desire to go home in the middle of things, and also in her decision to stay and fight for what she believes is the right thing to do. Character development. Suddenly, I feel like if Courtney were to become a new companion I would be all right with that.

But would the Doctor? Because one of the most problematic, indeed troubling, aspects of “Kill the Moon” is the Doctor’s dismissal of Courtney as “not special.” Why would he say that to someone? Especially a child? It felt out of character for the Doctor. After all, this is a man who once said, “In nine hundred years of time and space, I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important.” That is such an incredibly important part of the character that to have the Doctor tell someone — a child! — that she’s not special didn’t feel right at all. It felt like a ham-handed justification for his taking Courtney to the moon, to make her feel special as an apology. It would have been so much better, and without compromising anyone’s character, if Courtney had stowed away on the TARDIS as the means of becoming involved in the story. It’s happened with countless companions before. It would have worked much better here.

(With the Doctor being so dismissive of Courtney and Danny, and indeed of Mickey back in the day, there’s an uncomfortable racial subtext taking shape. The writers need to keep an eye on this. At the same time, they deserve kudos for what I believe is the first episode this season where the Doctor doesn’t make fun of Clara’s appearance.)

Anyway, back to Courtney. The Doctor asks her if she would like to be the first woman on the moon. She says yes — of course she does — and we’re off to 2049. Apparently, there has not been a single woman on the moon before 2049. Which is rubbish, of course, because Martha was on the moon 2008, along with plenty of other women in the relocated Royal Hope Hospital. But we already know that Moffat-era Doctor Who doesn’t like to acknowledge the first four seasons’ existence, so apparently the Doctor just plain forgot or something?

The plot that follows is nominally a rehash of “The Waters of Mars” (Lundvik even looks reminiscent of Adelaide Brooke) with the future of mankind resting on what happens at this remote, extraterrestrial base, except this time the Doctor steps back and refuses to make the decision for them. And here’s where things start to break down. There are two very important scenes in this episode. The first is the Doctor telling Clara and Lundvik that he can’t make this decision for them. The second is Clara blowing up at him about that. Again, hooray for ramifications. However, in my opinion both scenes needed better writing to make the characters’ motivations and stances clearer. The Doctor definitely could have explained better that it wouldn’t be right for him to make that decision for them. (I also keep wondering how his speech would have been played by Tennant instead of Capaldi, and I see a lot more gravity to it. Capaldi’s delivery was smug, which felt off to me.) Similarly, in Clara’s big scene afterward, I think it really needed to be made clearer how scared she was. She thought she was going to do something terrible, then die as a result of it, not to mention dooming the student who’s under her care to death as well, while the man she trusted to get her out of it abandoned her. But very little of that comes out in her speech, so unfortunately it winds up looking like nothing more than a temper tantrum. Peter Harness, the script writer, really needed to put more into both those scenes to sell them.

But as scary monsters in space episodes go, “Kill the Moon” is pretty good. With the exception of “The Caretaker,” I continue to find season 8 a marked improvement over what we’ve been given these last few seasons.

And now some quick Doctor Who neepery! I’m glad Clara mentioned that the moon still exists past 2049, because there are at least three classic Doctor Who serials that take place on it: “The Moonbase,” in which the Second Doctor fights the Cybermen on the moon in 2070; “The Seeds of Death,” in which the Second Doctor fights the Ice Warriors on the moon sometime after 2070; and “Frontier in Space,” in which the Third Doctor is briefly imprisoned in a prison on the moon in 2540. Additionally, the Fourth Doctor’s yo-yo makes a reappearance here to test the gravity on the moon. There’s also a mention of a Bennett Oscillator, which played a role in the 1975 Fourth Doctor serial “The Ark in Space,” and a brief reference made to not killing Hitler.

Lastly, part of the episode was filmed in Lanzarote, where much of the 1984 Fifth Doctor serial “Planet of Fire” was filmed. This led to wide speculation that A) the Doctor would be returning to the planet Sarn, and B) the Master would be showing up again. Spoiler alert: Neither turns out to be the case.

6 responses to “Doctor Who: “Kill the Moon””

  1. R. Francis Smith says:

    Okay, so I had two major gripes that had little to do with the plot itself, and you mentioned one of them: the Doctor’s complete inconsistency with previous beliefs about people being special. That was really off, and it’s not like it’s with something a long time ago. Consider 11: “You are enormous parts of my life, and you are all I ever remember.” Okay, Courtney’s not a companion (yet, anyway), but there’s the quote you mention. The Doctor changes faces and, yes, personalities, but entire frameworks of belief? Really off.

    And the second gripe I had is much like the first: what’s with all the pretending he doesn’t know the first thing about humans? “What are you, 35?” “15!” No, that’s just stupid. Strax gets to do that. So maybe the Doctor was joking, but if so, it was terribly timed and not a very good joke anyway. Basically either it makes no sense at all, or he was being a complete dick. Which leads me to one of the good points, I guess…

    I was very pleased that there was payoff at the end about him being a jerk a lot. I don’t disagree that it could have been written better, but it needed to happen and I’m quite glad it did, mostly because it suggests that resolution will have to happen. I am guardedly hopeful the resolution won’t be “we learn why the Doctor is right and the others are wrong” because that’s not correct. He’s acting almost as bad as 6 did for a while. (Granted, he hasn’t tried to throttle Clara. Yet.) Has this regeneration gone a bit wrong? Will they just forget all about it? We’ll see, I guess. But this made me a bit hopeful, and I care a lot about more about the “the Doctor needs to chill” arc than I do about the whateversphere and Missy. It’s certainly more compelling.

    They attempt to have science in this episode but boy does none of it make sense. (How did the moon abruptly — apparently very abruptly, particularly relatively speaking — gain all that mass? I’m not sure the writer understands how growth occurs.) Fortunately, I’ve seen Doctor Who before so this barely fazes me at this point. Silly hand-waving, intriguing story. It wasn’t spoiled by the couple of things above, but they did yank me out of the story briefly.

    I would actually be okay if they had pulled a fast one and wrap up Clara’s time earlier than expected, because consequences are something the show needs, as you point out. But the Doctor needs some sorting out before anyone else sets foot on the TARDIS, I think.

    I was disappointed he never quite got to “if I make this decision, then your entire destiny is now run by an alien, and that would be as wrong as if the Daleks or anyone else took over” as well, but at least they thought about it. It’s always been a difficulty for the show trying to explain why it’s okay for him to do this and not do that, and why this can be changed but this shouldn’t or can’t be, and this was not a bad addition to that collection of canon. Just, yeah, it wasn’t as clear as it could have been.

    This seems more and more like a troubled season full of good stories fairly well executed in and of themselves. The old series didn’t have the same pitfalls as there are only two season arcs I can think of (and if one looks hard at the Key to Time, it is kind of a stupid framework full of [mostly] good stories, I guess.) And then there’s the characterization glitches which are pretty frustrating, but then again, not unprecedented (1 started out as nearly a bad guy, 4 was a terrible jerk for a while, 3 was paternalistic and patronizing from start to finish, and great googly moogly 6…) IF it gets sorted out. I just hope we can have a few seasons of an improved 12 so he isn’t historically the one who called Clara fat and old and homely and didn’t think a girl was special.

    • Nick says:

      I liked that Clara told the Doctor off, but I think it was also a missed opportunity to bring it back to the “Am I a good man?” question. She should have said something like, “You asked me once if you were a good man. After what you did today, I think the answer is no, you’re not.” And then she storms out. I think that would have been powerful. Instead, we get the equivalent of a temper tantrum: “Don’t tell me what to do!” *door slam*

      I don’t need DOCTOR WHO’s science to be legit, I just need them to sell it well enough for me to buy. They did that here, mostly, though I think they should have shown some of the damage to the Earth, too. You’ll notice they never do. It’s all told to us, never shown, and even when they land on that beach at the end, nothing looks damaged or cataclysmic.

      Clara’s not gone yet. My understanding is that she’s in all the episodes through the Christmas special.

  2. R. Francis Smith says:

    Oh, yeah, I didn’t mind I think that they _will_ sneakily exit her a little early (even just in the season finale), just that I’d accept it as a demonstration of consequences. I think one of the most powerful bits of the series to date is Tegan’s second departure, even if one doesn’t like Tegan, because it’s a moment where a companion looks at the horrible parts and says “it’s just too horrible” and walks. (On a personal level, Martha sort of does this, but it’s too tied up in the “everyone’s in love with the Doctor” thing so it doesn’t move me as much.) I can’t immediately think of other cases like that — most companions leave to get married or to go back home, of course, with rare exceptions that die (I suppose we’ll include the Ponds here… sort of… okay let’s just not talk about it) and others that stay somewhere unfamiliar to do some good (Stephen and Nyssa come to mind.)

    Oh, Victoria’s another one that leaves because it’s too awful, but that was almost inevitable as she spent her entire tenure screaming and crying. Still, though.

    You know what would have made it all make sense? If when Clara returned to Trenzalore, the Doctor had been turned into a completely mentally scarred terrible-to-be-around person, the kind they all pretended the War Doctor was; the Time Lords could and would still fix him up to fight another day and ultimately we get the Recovery Doctor — he’s still being a jackass but he’s trying to find his way back to being a Good Man. I think the Doctor has often regenerated into the person he needed to be right then and I’m not seeing it, but it could have been that way. (No, I can’t make a good argument for 6 being a nutter; I said “often”.)

    They should have us write this show.

    • Nick says:

      I liked Martha leaving because she *chose* to leave. There was no tragic arc involved, which every other companion of the revamped show has had, mostly because the writers can’t imagine why anyone would ever *want* to leave. But if Clara leaves because she’s had it and just wants a normal life with Danny, I’ll like that a lot, too. If Clara dies and River shows up and is all, “Sorry, man, that’s a bummer. Want to kiss or something?” I’ll shoot my television.

      If they had me writing this show, the very first scene of my very first episode would be the Tenth Doctor waking up and saying, “Oh, what a terrible dream.” And then I would hire Paul Cornell and Robert Shearman to write every episode afterward.

      • R. Francis Smith says:

        As much as I like Capaldi himself, you know what would’ve been clever? End Time of the Doctor with his status unknown. Sure, sure, big explosion of regeneration energy or whatever, but when the dust settles… nothing. Clara runs back into the TARDIS and the doors slam behind her with the camera left outside as the TARDIS vanishes. Dust blows where it once stood… and the main storyline takes a break while we do some mini-series about the 8 and the War Doctor, both of who could use some more screen time. Give people a chance to really wonder what’s next in the going-forward story or indeed, whether anything is next. Let Capaldi do season 2 of The Musketeers.

        Then come back — if you must — with the Paternoster Gang, but instead of what we got, like this: Vasta’s been hearing things, as she does. Something’s moving out there. Settling some old scores, handling some old problems. Fixing old mistakes (you know, like 12 said but hasn’t shown a single sign of doing that I can tell.) And finally, after an episode dedicated to the Gang, at the end the TARDIS appears, and a thoroughly settled 12 and Clara, seasoned time traveler and ass kicker in general, make their first appearance.

        And that’s when Paul Cornell takes over as show runner.

        • Nick says:

          I love it, but most of all I love the 8th Doctor/War Doctor miniseries. Make that happen!

          (John Hurt was amazing in “Day of the Doctor.” Like, seriously amazing. However, part of me wishes they had just used Paul McGann, because he would have been amazing, too, and they wouldn’t have had to mess up the count with a “secret” incarnation.)

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