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DOCTOR WHO Review: “Kill the Moon” Shakes Things Up (SPOILERS)

Soooo, last week’s episode, “The Caretaker,” left me a little flat; wasn’t terrible, just wasn’t my favorite, which in a season is bound to happen, and overall Series 8 of Doctor Who has been superb. Still, I entered the viewing of this week’s episode, “Kill the Moon,” with some serious trepidation. As I detailed in last week’s review, I was concerned about the Next Time trailer which showed Courtney Woods, the precocious student at Coal Hill School played by Ellis George, on the adventure, in a spacesuit, and on the moon. I rolled my eyes quite hard at this idea, given how the last time children under Clara’s care traveled in the TARDIS we got “Nightmare in Silver.” However, as with most of this episode, I was pleasantly surprised by how well Courtney was handled. It was an episode that was scary, moody, conceptually interesting, and had deep consequences to the characters. I think it might be among my favorites of the year.

Written by Peter Harness and directed by Paul Wilmshurst, two people who’d never worked on Doctor Who before, “Kill the Moon” is possibly one of the best looking episodes they’ve ever done. Right away I want to praise Wilmshurst’s direction because it’s simply gorgeous. They really were able to turn the volcanic ground they shot on in Lanzarote, Spain, into a decidedly lunar surface, and the blackness of space, the grayness of the ground, and the orange of the spacesuits really popped onscreen. This is also an episode that featured Moon Spider things (which, we find out, are really bacteria for a much, much larger being) which are suitably terrifying. I thought the Spiders were from Mars, right Ziggy? (I’m the funniest person alive.)

Okay, so we agree it looks awesome, right? Let’s move on. “Kill the Moon” has some really fantastic narrative things going for it: a bonkers sci-fi idea, a huge moral dilemma, peril on all sides, a ticking clock element, an unreliable hero, and a resolution where not everything goes back to the way it was. This is the first episode of the second half of this series and it’s not resting on its laurels at all; it’s attempting to shake up the status quo and make us question whether the man we think of as a hero is really any good at all. Or, at least it’s making Clara ask that question. All series she’s been defending the Doctor’s brash, cranky, and sometimes plainly rude ways to people, but now she’s finally had her limit as well.

We start with the TARDIS still at Coal Hill School (or again there anyway) and Clara chastising the Doctor for having told Courtney that she wasn’t special after she’d gobbed on the floor following her trip into space. She’s demanding to go somewhere again and prove that she’s special. The Doctor wants to toss her out, even if she brought disinfectant with her this time, but doesn’t, because he maybe realizes that he did thrust this whole big world on her without any context or explanation. So, he decides to make her the first woman on the moon. Unfortunately, but fortunately for dramatic purposes, they don’t end up on the moon in 2014; they end up on a shuttle going to the moon in 2049.

Doctor Who (series 8) ep 7

The shuttle is being piloted by Lundvik (Hermione Norris) and her two, let’s face it, elderly cohorts, Duke (Tony Osoba) and Henry (Phil Nice), and they have a whole heap of nuclear weapons onboard. After they land, the Doctor begins jumping around the shuttle while telling the astronauts if they’re going to kill them to start with the little girl, a means of calling their bluff. Why is the Doctor jumping around? Because he’s a genius. He’s testing the gravity and determines that they should be bouncing around but they aren’t, indicating the moon’s mass has gotten greater accelerating the force of gravity. What could be doing that?

The astronauts have come up as a last ditch effort to figure out what’s going on, because the moon changing size and shifting is causing all sorts of horrible things to happen on Earth. These three are Earth’s final hope, and they’re not even a solid B-team, really. They traverse the surface to a Mexican outpost and find all the personnel dead, in grotty ways, and something akin to cobwebs. That doesn’t bode well. Henry goes to check something out and is attacked and killed by something that comes up from a cave (it’s a spider), and later Duke meets the same fate. Courtney almost gets it as well, but luckily, the gravity shifts and she floats (the Doctor tosses her a yo-yo before the gravity is fine again) and then she sprays the spider to death with disinfectant (perhaps one of the few dumb parts of the episode). But! It illustrates that it kills all germs, leading the Doctor to realize they aren’t spiders at all but germs.

The Doctor, using some of the Mexican astronauts’ equipment and his own grabbing of grotty viscous fluid, determines what exactly’s going on, and it’s crazy: the moon isn’t a moon at all, it’s an egg for some enormous, unknown creature that has been gestating for hundreds of millions of years. The spiders are bacteria. The Doctor is excited by this development, the chance to see a whole new species. But Lundvik simply says “How do we kill it?” This makes the Doctor suddenly doubt humanity and decides to leave Clara, Courtney, and Lundvik to decide for themselves what to do. It’s not his planet after all, so he shouldn’t be the one to make the decisions. Clara is aghast but the Doctor leaves in the TARDIS, possibly never to come back.

It’s a hefty, hefty decision and despite the Doctor’s assertion that a school girl, her teacher, and an astronaut are perfect choices to make it (womankind, show your mettle), Clara is full of doubt: either they destroy the moon, the creature, and themselves in the process with the nuclear weapons, or they don’t and let whatever fate befall the Earth after the creature does hatch. They send a message to all of humanity (or at least the side of it facing them) that if they want to blow up the moon, turn out their lights and if they don’t, to leave them on. During the 45 minutes for the bomb, all or most of the lights they can see turn out and just as Lundvik is about to let it blow, both Clara and Courtney hit the abort button.

Doctor Who (series 8) ep 7

Immediately, the TARDIS appears and takes everybody down to Earth to see what they’ve just done. The moon hatches, a huge flying critter comes out and flies away, and the moon debris dissolves. The Doctor tells them that this is the day, this is the moment, when humanity decided to stop looking down and instead to go out and explore what else they don’t know about the universe, leading to space travel and colonization until the end of time, and it was those three ladies who helped make it happen.

This is where the show kicks it up a notch from a character standpoint, and where the episode becomes something truly special, I think. Courtney’s fairly satisfied, Lundvik is satisfied, despite being 2,500 miles away from NASA, but Clara decidedly is not. She lays into the Doctor about how much he knew, since he claims to have grey areas in the ol’ memory. He says he was helping them by making them make their own decisions, that he was respecting Clara and her judgement because she’d always make the right choice. Clara does not see it this way; she was abandoned by her friend, again, when she needed him the most. He left her to make an impossibly hard decision on her own and even she didn’t know what she’d do. As much as the Doctor tries to justify it (and I do think in his mind he was 100% respecting her and not holding her hand again), Clara leaves and tells him to go away on his own.

This is huge. Immensely huge. How often has a companion told the Doctor to shove off? If your answer is zero, you are correct. This isn’t just “I’m not going with you anymore,” this is “You need to go away and never come back.” She’s been disrespected by him one too many times now and she’s done with it. She tells Danny the whole story and he knows she’s not REALLY done with the Doctor because she’s still so angry. This reminds Danny of when he left the army, something else he loved, because he too had a very bad day. I imagine we’ll see or hear more of this and why Danny’s so touchy about his time in the military. Or at least I hope we do.

Ultimately, “Kill the Moon” is much, much more than just a nifty premise and some fancy camera work; it’s a story of the Doctor leading everyone around and then setting them adrift to fend for themselves when they need him the most. Maybe he’s doing them a favor, maybe he isn’t, but this is the kind of Doctor the Twelfth is. He’s not going to just shoulder all the responsibility himself. He’s teaching, even if the students are pissed at him for doing it. This is an episode to mull over and think about for awhile for the moral complexities of the Doctor’s actions, and the no-win scenario he places on people who might need a bit more guidance.

Next week, we don’t know if Clara will be back, judging by the Next Time trailer (but, come on). It’s “Mummy on the Orient Express” written by another newcomer to Who, Jamie Mathieson, and again directed by Paul Wilmshurst. This looks real weird. Have a look, and let me know what you thought of “Kill the Moon” in the comments below.


Images: BBC

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  1. Cecilia says:

    Does no one have an issue with this comparison to Pro-choice movement? And, yet again, the abortion was not done and everything turned out all right. IN real life, if it was always the right decision, babe and children wouldn’t be starved, beaten, raped, sold for sex, and all the other myriad, horrendous things that happen to children born to parent(s) that shouldn’t have been.

  2. Grayden says:

    I find the Doctor’s behavior apt and welcome. I think we as viewers sometimes forget that our oft savior isn’t human, despite his choice long ago to make Earth his adopted home. Clara has become a singular metaphor for humanity on the whole. Now that they have been through a number of alien encounters in which the Doctor has participated, and aided them in, it makes sense that they are getting a bit dependant on him. Clara manifests this need clearly this episode. In stark contrast, Courtney is the naive companion who doesn’t yet know the full breadth and width of the Doctor’s abilities. She doesn’t need the Doctor’s help; in fact, she’s the one who first objects to killing the moon. Clara just stands there waiting for the Doctor to fix the problem. It’s a fantastic bit of sci-fi we got this week. No matter how cozy humanity might get with time travelling alien who can do so much more than anyone on Earth, there are times when humanity has to choose it’s own path, for good or ill. It made me respect the Doctor far more, and see Clara in a petty, vindictive light. Regardless of what her expectations are for the Doctor, he isn’t beholden to her. I think this season is very much about the audience seeing the Doctor as his own person, not a lapdog to come when beckoned and not some flitting fancy to be had on the side. 

  3. Jillian Hall says:

    I didn’t like Clara telling off the Doctor. This episode reminded me a lot of Eleven making the humans and the Silurians decide their future for themselves. The reason I didn’t like Clara telling off the Doctor is because her doubt of him doesn’t feel like it actually comes from her. While her doubt has been a somewhat recurring theme this season, it feels like Danny Pink keeps feeding the doubt. I feel like he is bringing out the worst in her. In The Day of the Doctor, Clara helped remind the Doctor of who he is and I think that it illustrated that she is a great companion for him because she is what he needs. This season however when he needs her to help him, she keeps letting him down. I feel like the Doctor making her choose was his way of saying “I have faith in you and you should have faith in me.” I love Capaldi as the Doctor and I loved Clara with him in Inside the Dalek, Listen and Time Heist and would love to see her have more faith in him again. 

    • Vegas Bob says:

      Up until the last two episodes, I felt Clara was making the transition from being the “Impossible Girl” to a true Companion. . .but with the last two, she is becoming more the “Impossible to deal with Girl”. . .and I do think that Danny Pink is part of the problem. . .it is strange because in the Caretaker, Danny asked her why she acted as bait, and she told him it was because “she trusted” the Doctor. . .and it has gone downhill since then. . .maybe it is their  way to start transitioning to a different Companion. . .

  4. ian says:

    he’s old for a time lord? have you seen william hartnell?

  5. Ollie says:

    Actually, this episode was shot on the island of Lanzarote because it has a volcanic, rocky landscape. I guess it’s down to personal taste. I really liked this episode and I thought it looked visually very impressive. I also like how they’re shaking things up with Clara and the Doctor’s unstable relationship. Apparently she has her own episode in a couple of weeks, like how ‘Blink’ did not feature the Doctor much…

  6. Ollie says:

    I don’t get why everyone hates Clara! Last year didn’t go so well for her, but she has really come into her own this year and I think she’s very good. Part of me wants her to stay, part of me thinks it’s time for a new companion. Perhaps the Doctor could go without a companion for a series or two…

  7. Ollie says:

    That’s a bit harsh. I quite like Clara this year and I like what they have done to her character. Maybe she could stay for one more series…half a series? Christmas?

  8. Chitarra says:

    Mae… exactly!!  That’s exactly it!!  You hit the nail on the head perfectly.

  9. Borsch'ed says:

    I really don’t think mrgllot is referring to the actors age, ian.   I think he is referring to the “Last” Time Lord in his 2nd regeneration cycle that has gone through the ropes of.. “this is the last me” and given a second chance now full well knowing about how quickly those iterations of him can burn (after all.. only the last regeneration “ended” by old age) or how there’s only one of him to hold the fort (e.g. Christmas) while other horrors happen (daleks vs. church)

  10. thom says:

    I think that the where did the mass come from and how did it lay a new egg thing can be solved if the creature was something that can draw energy from other dimensions.
    Though that does not excuse them for not doing the research on the moons age, on how ridiculous it is to be using a space shuttle to get to the moon, and they probably could have been a little more convincing with their portrayal of an airless environment. 

    Personally, I think writers need to learn a little about space before being allowed to write about it.

  11. tom says:

    I think not replacing the moon was pretty important- the influence it has on Earth is more important than most would think. 
    I don’t think the writers of this episode fully knew that either.

  12. t says:

    That is true, but there is a difference between things not being science fiction, and just being plain wrong
     There are some things we know, some things we don’t know.
     We don’t know if time travel is possible, or if face changing aliens could exist. In a fantasy, we are aware of magic making impossible things possible. In soft science fiction, magic like technology, and unknown phenomena play this role. 

    However, we do know that there is no air on the moon, that mass doesn’t come from nowhere, that the space shuttle could never get to the moon. 

    It is jarring when something like that is included without offering some explanation, or handwaveing it away. It is  insulting- like the writer thinks audience won’t realise something doesn’t add up. It is also a little disappointing to see them being careless when writing for a show you enjoy.

  13. Johann says:

    He’s still not really that old by time lord standards, if we assume 11th spent a 800 years or so on Trenzelore, that gives us ~1100 years of age when he regenerates, that translates to an estimated lifespan of over 14 thousand years counting all his original regeneration cycles, he’s around two thousand years old now, which is about 14% of his lifespan, so in a way, he’s just a kid alone in the universe

  14. Brian says:

    @Johann Presumably he would have regenerated sooner than that if he had been able to. The 11th doctors extreme age has always been a bit of a loop for me. When the master forced the tenth doctor to age 1000 years he looked like a little elf by the end. And the war doctor started regenerating because “it was about time” even though he couldn’t have been more than 50-100 years. I still don’t know how I feel about the whole doctor thing lorewise that he has literally spent 1/2 of his life in Christmas as the 11th doctor. It makes the brief handful of years he spent as the tenth and ninth doctors somehow seem less relevant. That and he spent literally the last 500 years of his life in constant war with every race, an event that had to feel at least a little bit like a mini-time war. That’s got to be at least some of the reason Capaldi’s character is so crass and rude.