Doctor Who #954: Kill the Moon

"That was me... respecting you." "Oh my God, really, was it? Yeah, well, respected is not how I feel."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.4 2014.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor takes Clara and Courtney to the Moon, and leaves them to make a big decision.

REVIEW: Did we learn nothing from Nightmare in Silver? Maybe something about not bringing kids along on adventures? No? Well, truth be told, Courtney makes a far better impression, though not a great one. Her inclusion, along with Hermione Norris (who, in Spooks, showed she was great at being hard-as-nails yet filled with regret, which is the essence of her character Lundvik here), creates a classic tri-generational dynamic between the three women the Doctor leaves to sort things out. They are the Fates, deciding Earth's. The concept of motherhood and the duty of care is certainly one of the themes, explicit in Clara's duty to a student and her anger at the Doctor's paternalistic abandonment, and implicit in their dilemma of whether or not to kill a giant baby. If this is partly about abortion (and that allegory doesn't stand up to scrutiny all the way through), then we should look at the Doctor's departure as strictly pro-choice, but should also compare it to Danny's absolute support of Clara in the epilogue - he's there for her, but won't interfere, while the Doctor simply wants nothing to do with the choice and offers no support system.

Of course, the episode also continues Clara's journey as a would-be Doctor. Left to her own devices, she must play God herself and, just as the Doctor would have, rejects the selfish choice made by humanity. But then, how fair is this choice? Billions of lives against a single one, no matter how unique? I think humanity - or at least, its governments; the way the lights go out in large chunks speaks to massive power shutdowns, not simple folks shutting off the living room lights - probably had it right by erring on the side of caution. Clara is caught between (in Fateful terms) the one who spins life and so chooses it (Courtney), and the one who cuts the thread and chooses killing (Lundvik), and must become the "allotter", the one who chooses how long the thread of life is. Ultimately, the giant chick must be allowed to spread its wings. Capaldi is a force to be reckoned with, sure, but Jenna Coleman is a terrific actress too and gets to show off her stuff here. The way the impossible choice wreaks havoc on her emotions is actually quite moving, and her anger at the Doctor at the end is powerful. As usual Doc12 gets his human psychology completely wrong, and disrespects her in trying to respect her. He's trying to push her out of the nest - that metaphor is à propos - but fails as a friend. It's Doc7 and Ace all over again. Perhaps the Doctor knew the Moon was fine, and certainly once the choice is made, his memory could "update" (confirming notions we've been discussing about unfixed points in history since at least World War Three) and he'd know its consequences. Maybe he traveled to the future and saw there was still a Moon there. It's not clear, nor is it meant to be. And the fact neither we not Clara can trust his statements is part of the problem for her.

While new writer Peter Harness shows great promise in the character and theme departments, he almost sinks the whole enterprise with so terrible, terrible science. His premise is absolutely ludicrous. It started off nicely enough, with a well-realized Moon thanks to the Lanzarote location (last seen in Planet of Fire), atmospheric lighting, and horror movie sequences in the vein of Alien. And then the Doctor identifies the moon spiders as giant germs with gravity shifting powers and it all goes to pot. We're meant to believe the Moon has always been a giant egg with a creature gestating inside, and that this creature - which I almost want to call the Great Bird of the Galaxy - not only doesn't create a tidal and meteoric double-whammy, but also lays an identical egg seconds after its birth, an egg larger than itself to boot, in time to keep The Moonbase and The Seeds of Death in continuity. It's absurd fantasy, which might have worked (even if the rest of the story wouldn't have) if it'd been set on another planet, but keeps pulling the viewer out of the experience this close to home. Speaking of The Moonbase, the giant germs offer the chance for Courtney to play Polly and kill monsters with cleaning fluid, but why would disinfectant have the same effect of giant germs it has on real ones? There's a question of dosage here. Not to mention that I doubt very much eggs get heavier as they mature. That this is now (or has always been) the reason humanity goes to the stars is, if you'll pardon the pun, over-egging the pudding, though it might just be for Courtney's benefit so she feels "special". And no matter how powerful Clara's departure scene is, hindsight has revealed that despite her absence in the trailer for the next episode, she's still with the Doctor in Mummy on the Orient Express, which cheapens it. Just another sin to add to the pile.

THEORIES: Has the Doctor left us to make "big decisions" before? Almost certainly. It perhaps explains why he didn't interfere with the 456 crisis in Torchwood: Children of Earth, or the subsequent immortality-for-all of Miracle Day. Think of Doc11's meeting with Homo Reptilia where he sat humans down at the negotiation table and left them to it. It's a similar idea. Of course, there are many more examples of the Doctor taking or trying to take that decision power out of our hands, but he was a kid back then.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - It's good until the premise starts getting revealed. Too bad, because the thematic, literary and character-driven underpinnings of the episode are actually quite strong.


Paul C said...

This episode sums up the series for me. Exceptionally brilliant character stuff and performances but a plot that's complete bobbins. Not a problem for me though as I feel the character stuff and performances have been so strong it's made the whole series top notch. I'd rather Moff have sorted out the dialogue and characterisation than the plots. The days of River Song talking like a movie trailer all the time ("That man, that wonderful man etc") feel very far away.

Loved this series, loving revisiting it on your blog dude. :)

Siskoid said...

I agree. I'd rather have strong character moments - especially as the actors can more than handle them - than good plots. Though I wouldn't call these plots "bad" because they work in terms of theme, which is important to me, but at the expense of logic sometimes.

This is definitely the best series since Series 4 (Ten and Donna), and I personally like it better.

Toby'c said...

For me, it's the best series since Season 26 (at least in terms of my IMDb scores). Pretty conflicted about this one though, for most of the same reasons you listed, plus a couple of others. I get the feeling this was supposed to be set a lot further in the future, from the joke about Lundvik's grandmother using Tumblr.

Siskoid said...

It was originally pitched for the 2011 season, so for Matt Smith and Amy (would Rory have been the Courtney character?).

As for how far in the future, if we make Lundvik the same age as Hermione Norris, she would be 47 at this point. Say her mom had her when she was 25, and HER mom had her when she was 25 (30 is more likely in both cases, I know), then her granny would be 62 today. Using her mum, who would be 37 in 2014 makes more sense. But then the MOST sense would be for Lundvik herself to have used Tumblr, as she would be 12 today.

Ryan Lohner said...

I loved this one while watching it, but the more I thought about it the more it fell apart. And the abortion stuff doesn't help at all. I'm perfectly willing to accept that it's all accidental (especially since from what I understand, the issue is far less of a controversy in England as the country has more or less settled on a pro-choice position), but my position on this sort of thing is that I shouldn't have to do homework to know what the writer wanted to say, and if it's not clear from the story itself, it's their fault (just look at the My Little Pony episode Feeling Pinkie Keen, where an atheist writer managed to tell a story with the message of "Scientists should admit that God exists" by complete accident).

And so what we're left with is a story about Clara overriding the votes of the entire world due to the pro-life stance initially dictated to her by a man, which proves to be the correct choice. Kirk Cameron nods his silent approval. At least there's a bunch of good character stuff along the way.

Toby'c said...

(just look at the My Little Pony episode Feeling Pinkie Keen, where an atheist writer managed to tell a story with the message of "Scientists should admit that God exists" by complete accident)."

Yes, that's totally a reasonable interpretation of a story about someone determinedly ignoring years of accumulated observable evidence because it doesn't fit her beliefs of how magic is supposed to work.

Anonymous said...

The science here is nuts; they could have scienced it better by having a small neutron star creature in a chamber inside the moon rather than the moon being the egg shell itself. But I don't watch for the science anyway. (Protip: the moon exerts a subtle gyroscopic force on the earth and keeps the earth from just tumbling out of control. Get rid of the moon and the earth loses its seasons, meaning all land plant life gets messed up, meaning all land life dies.)

Did not feel this was an abortion-centric episode, though in the US, it's hard not to sniff politics even in a simple story about moon creatures.

Okay, so about the Doctor forcing Clara to make a tough choice. Here's how I see it:

1) The Doctor is more comfortable making choices if he can see the outcomes, or can see that there won't be any sweeping consequences. This was not one of those moments, so ...

2) Should it even be the Doctor's decision? On the one hand, the Doctor is the only Time Lord in the universe; he's got to realize how biased he is when it comes to unique specimens. On the other hand, this decision does steer the direction the human race will take. Sounds to me like this is a decision that humans should make.

I do think that, as of the next episode, Clara should explicitly forgive the Doctor for making her make the tough call for once. (Spoiler: it won't happen.) That said, whether or not the Doctor was sincere about knowing Clara would make the right choice, it sure sounded phony.

One more detail that they mentioned in passing: the Doctor doesn't know the rules on his new set of regenerations. We've all assumed he gets exactly twelve more, but this is uncharted territory. The rules on regeneration are hazy under the best of circumstances, and we only learn about them when Time Lords gloss over them in conversation (like how, when 8 turned to War, he could choose age / gender / temperament, so presumably all of those are possibilities whenever a Time Lord regenerates).

Paul C said...

"Though I wouldn't call these plots "bad" because they work in terms of theme, which is important to me, but at the expense of logic sometimes."

Yes, you're right, plot wasn't the right choice of word. Bad execution of the sci-fi perhaps? But, yeah, it doesn't really matter as everything else clicks so well.

jheaton said...

My thought was that the Doctor was being a bit coy about what he did or did not know about what was going to happen. I figure he knew that 2049 was the year that humanity began its spread across the universe, but didn't know what exactly caused that. Having to abandon the Earth because of the Moon blowing up is as plausible reason to leave as the birth of a space-butterfly rekindling their interest in exploring the cosmos.

(like how, when 8 turned to War, he could choose age / gender / temperament, so presumably all of those are possibilities whenever a Time Lord regenerates).

Wasn't thqat explained in the episode as being possible due to the involvement of the Sisterhood of Karn? So presumably it's not something any old Time Lord could do at any time. But there again, there's the whole Romana II situation, though I'm inclined to wave it off as Romana having a bit of fun with the Doctor by using one of those holographic projector things from "Time of the Doctor."

LiamKav said...

Doctor Who's relationship with science fiction has always been, at the very least, fluid. I suppose the science fiction approach is to have rules, but then try to work around them. DW sometimes tries to have rules (there are fixed points in time that can never be changed), and then sometimes shrugs them off (oh, we can ignore the fixed points in time this episode because "amusing line").

I suppose a Star Trek equivalent would be a rule where the Enterprise can't go faster than Warp 9.6. In a dire emergency, Geordi can do some [TECH] and get it up to 9.8 for 10 minutes. That's fine. What wouldn't be fine is if he got it up to 9.8 because it was Worf's birthday and they needed to buy him a cake.

Anyway, I did have a point. And it was that I can swallow an awful lot of science fantasy in the name of magic/wonder/feeling like a child again. But the moon is a giant egg that then hatches and produces an identical moon? No. Sorry, just no.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't thqat explained in the episode as being possible due to the involvement of the Sisterhood of Karn? So presumably it's not something any old Time Lord could do at any time.

The Sisterhood of Karn let the Doctor choose, yes. My point wasn't that the Doctor can choose, so much as it's likely-ish that, in any given regeneration, he could end up young or old, soldier or scholar, male or female, albeit with little ability to direct the outcome. Roll of the dice.

That said, I wouldn't be surprised if there's a little subconscious direction at work. Like maybe it's no coincidence that the Doctor ended up with the same face as that Roman he saved despite breaking "the rules", as a reminder that he can choose to be a good man. Who knows.

Siskoid said...

I like that, Anon. Where DO the faces come from?

Just as, perhaps, the 5th Doctor decided not to let everyone walk all over him anymore and chose an a-hole's face, i.e. Maxil's.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

"and that this creature - which I almost want to call the Great Bird of the Galaxy"

You win, sir. You win all the points. Best reference EVER. :-)

Siskoid said...

Fans of New Frontier unite!


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