Hello Whovians and DAPS-devotees, and welcome back to another edition of the Doctor Who Review. The fate of the world or the fate of the moon – which would you decide? And are the two choices all they appear to be? The Doctor lands on a space shuttle on a mission to obliterate the Moon, and the fate of Earth and its lunar companion lies in Clara’s hands. The future of humanity or the life of one, a monumental turning point in human history, lies in the hands of a schoolteacher in Doctor Who “Kill the Moon.” Warning, spoilers ahead!
Clara’s student Courtney Woods has always been referred to as a “disruptive influence,” but never something as hurtful as not special – at least, until the Doctor opened his increasingly grumpy mouth. As an apology, he seeks to make her the first woman on the moon, only to find himself and the two girls in 2049 onboard a shuttle sent to destroy the moon. Somehow, the moon’s gravity has been increasing, creating devastating tidal waves on Earth that threaten to wipe out humanity. Yet the moon is not all that it seems, and the decision to destroy it goes from black-and-white to morally uncomfortable shades of gray. Worse yet, the Doctor leaves this decision to Clara and humanity itself. Will Clara make the right choice, or will the Doctor’s test prove too much to bear.
“Kill the Moon” is an odd mesh of horror and thriller – the first half of the episode leaves viewers aghast at terrifying, spider-like creatures while the latter has them biting their nails in suspense as the fate of the moon (and what’s causing the gravity fluctuations) is decided. Episode writer Peter Harness is no stranger to story-writing; despite his career not even spanning a decade, he has already adapted numerous stories and co-written many series for the BBC. His ability to adapt pre-existing material shows in his Doctor Who debut, taking a new spin on an oft-visited lunar location. While his ingenuity borders between creative and absurd, he creates an unpredictable and engaging story from start to finish.
Throughout the season, the Doctor has been unapologetically callous and brash, but it would be a stretch to call him cruel – until now. He does something I cannot recall of any Doctor before – he calls someone essentially unimportant, more specifically a fifteen year-old girl. While the Doctor is no stranger to calling someone out on their intelligence (or lack thereof), he’s never negated someone’s entire existence by making them feel small and unworthy. It’s a shock, and a rather unwelcome one at that in comparison to someone like the 10th Doctor.
Or even the 11th Doctor.
At first it seems he wants to make up for wounding Courtney by taking her someplace extraordinary and during a pivotal point in humanity’s history, one he cannot fully see but knows of its importance. While he still has his crass moments, the Doctor fights to protect Clara and Courtney on several occasions and investigates the moon’s mystery for himself. No, the real double-take occurs when it’s revealed (spoilers) that the moon isn’t a moon at all – it’s an egg for an unfathomable creature that has been in its shell for over a hundred million years and is beginning to hatch. The Doctor’s initial delight and wonder is brought down when the suggestion to kill it in order to save the Earth is brought up. He’s silent for a moment before sarcastically informing them of how to destroy the creature before it can hatch and potentially devastate the planet below. When Clara asks him what they should do, he leaves it to both her and humanity to decide before leaving in his TARDIS and stranding both Clara and Courtney with the last remaining astronaut from the shuttle. His abrupt departure with no hint of returning not only scares Clara – it scares the audience. While it can be assumed that he’ll return before story’s end, it comes off as out-of-character and unsettling that the universe’s ultimate meddler is side-stepping the future of the human race. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth and a huge weight on Clara’s shoulders.
Clara has been through life-changing events with the Doctor before and usually came out no worse for wear, a little rattled perhaps but otherwise fine. She has held the Doctor’s life and her own in her hands, risking everything with the faith that the Doctor would come through for her and have her back. This episode shattered that trend. While Clara is used to being placed in danger, she showed resistance and agitation having her student, a young adult in her charge, in a similar situation; it was not enough to make her question her faith in the Doctor. The breaking point came when she turned to him for guidance and was left standing alone with the fate of humanity as her burden. She was left for an hour and a half debating the worthiness of an innocent life versus the potential future of mankind. When she eventually turned to the people of Earth for an answer and was given one she couldn’t agree with, she decided for not only for herself but also for every soul that was and would be alive until the end of time. While these are the sort of decisions the Doctor has had to make before, even for his own planet, this has never been left to a companion on such a scale, and the fear that sort of burden brings left a scar on Clara. She lashed out at the Doctor (using far more swear words than I’ve ever heard on a Doctor Who episode before), calling him out for his insensitivity and irresponsibility. Clara reflects what many viewers and critics have been saying this whole season – that the Doctor is acting without giving any thought to who he hurts or how he affects others. It’s enough to finally break Clara of her disillusionment with the Doctor and his wonders, and Jenna Louise Coleman plays it with a shaking voice and breaking will that breaks any viewer’s heart.
The other two mentionable characters are Courtney Woods (played by Ellis George), also known as “Ms. Disruptive Influence” by classmates and school staff alike, and Lundvik (played by Hermoine Norris), the last astronaut and hope for humanity in 2049. While child actors are typically viewed with reservation, Ellis George plays a troubled teenager finding her way fairly well. She is realistically sarcastic, rebellious, and afraid when the time calls for it, but she also shows exemplary bravery and kindness when debating on the fate of the moon. While it’s not a stand-out performance, it is a solid one. Hermoine Norris plays the trope of an “at-all-costs” authoritarian, willing to do or kill anything to for what she believes to be the greater good. It’s a standard performance if a bit predictable, and she serves as a foil for Clara’s optimism and hope. An honorable mention goes to Tony Osoba, an actor with the rare but growing privilege of having been in both Classic and New Who episodes.
A new category to address is the production team’s wonderful work in creating a desolate lunar scene with a quarry, old costumes, and some special effects.Doctor Who (and the BBC for that matter) is known for reusing sets and props, to the point where it has become a game for loyal BBC viewers. However, their creativity with the quarry and expert lighting made for a masterful Moon set.
Much like Clara at the end of the episode, the viewer is left with mixed feelings about the Doctor. While the episode itself is well-written, well-directed, and acted brilliantly, the ending leaves an unsettling feeling in the pit of the stomach as to the future of the Doctor and Clara’s friendship. While it’s refreshing to see the audience’s thoughts mirrored in Clara’s outburst, the realization being brought to the script makes it hit closer to home. While I’ve enjoyed Capaldi’s grumpy and snarky approach to the Doctor, I admit I’m relieved to have him called out on his actions and not just have it exist for no apparent reason. As beloved as he is, the Doctor has to be held accountable by both Clara and the audience; I just hope it doesn’t cost a friendship or an otherwise dedicated fanbase.