What They Say:
In the near future, the Doctor and Clara find themselves on a space shuttle making a suicide mission to the moon. Crash-landing on the lunar surface, they find a mining base full of corpses, vicious spider-like creatures poised to attack, and a terrible dilemma. When Clara turns to the Doctor for help, she gets the shock of her life.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Kill the Moon may just be an almost definitive episode that wraps up much of what I love about the modern Doctor Who series in a bow using what I dislike of modern Sci-Fi writing (including more than a few Doctor Who episodes. This created a final product that helped create an environment for me to take almost a year off from the series before sliding back into the show after watching most of the rest of the episodes from the start of the franchise re-launch. I can’t put all the blame on this episode by itself for that pause, but the episode does reflect some of what had me alright with taking so much time off.
Oddly enough considering my hiatus, I enjoyed a great deal of this episode on its face and have spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out how this season was just not clicking with me and I think I may have some of the answers, though not all. I think part of my problem is that I simply don’t have a handle on the 12th Doctor and it has taken me time to be comfortable with the fact that, unlike so many of the other Doctors that I have loved, the writing team this time around appears to have decided to spend more time having him discover who he is as opposed to having the new Doctor having a chance to have pretty good fleshing out in the first or second episodes of their appearance and then roll on from there more or less defined in their persona.
The premise of the episode worked pretty well for me for the most part, with the pre-opening tease of a crisis of a monumental decision that pit a single life versus the future of humanity being used to build a sense of urgency right from the get go. This situation is then further compounded by Clara stating that the man she relies on in such situations has left which leaves her to figure out the solution without any idea of how it may play out as she has come to rely on his future knowledge, while attempting to serve as a moral compass to a man who often seems to be murky about that concept at the best of times.
Frankly given the Doctor’s own performance in many of these situations it may be more that Clara relies on the Doctor to bear the weight of the decisions and that this reliance and shifting of responsibility seems to actually at the heart of this episode as almost everything from the start to finish revolve around some sort of responsibility for actions taken or for what comes from actions not taken. Events are kicked into motion as Clara demands that the Doctor take responsibility for telling Courtney Woods (the youth he previously took on a trip in the TARDIS only to find that she gets space and/or time sick) that she isn’t special which Courtney has used as an excuse for a recent bout of behavior that has gotten her in trouble (well, more than usual as she also has been aided by having swiped the Doctor’s psychic paper to help her).
When confronted by Courtney as well as Clara the Doctor appears to change his tune about the role he played in her current state of mind and he decides to offer Courtney the chance to be the first woman on the moon if that will placate her desire to feel she is special. The part I really love is that, depending on how one looks at the episode, this could be the Doctor offering to help a youth out (and possibly helping her have the ‘special’ future the Doctor already knew she would have of being President of the United States) and making amends for his own tendency to speak his thoughts without any sort of a filter as to how they may be taken. Alternately though, this episode could also possibly be one giant lesson by the Doctor (probably more to Clara then Courtney, though given her future that he mentions one she should also glean from) on just what it means in his eyes to be ‘special’, and the horrible burden that is asked out of those few beings out of the entirety of the universe who find the curse placed upon them of having to live up to the moment that will then define them as such.
The fact that the TARDIS just happens to land on a shuttle heading to the moon at a critical point kind of feels less like a situation of the TARDIS pulling the Doctor where he needs to go than in this case like the Doctor having an idea what he is intending to aim at. How this episode plays out to each viewer I think depends greatly on how the audience reads both this arrival and some of the Doctor’s dialogue which seems to be a bit ambiguous at times, which given the man he seems to be is almost certainly a deliberate choice by the writing team to help cloak just who this Doctor is at heart (or perhaps it is just me wildly reading into things, which is also very possible).
As the Doctor goes about gathering information about what is going on we see hints that either he is a master of psychology or else is very callous toward his companions through his reaction to the threat of force against them while at the same time he haves no trouble acting in a way that may cause him to be seen as a fool as he assesses what has lead this shuttle to the moon which may also play into a persona that lowers the guard of those threatening the use of force. Through this exchange it is revealed that the moon seems to have changed its weight over the last decade, throwing everything in Earth’s orbit and much of the areas anywhere near large bodies of water into chaos.
The sudden change of gravity on the moon wrecking havoc on the Earth isn’t then deemed as dangerous and climactic enough by the writing team, so of course there are almost medium dog sized spider things that took out a previous exploration team on the moon adding pressure to the investigation to help keep the sense of tension built from the pre-open tease.
And for the most part, this all works well when getting back to that teased moment as the story displays how the Doctor has decide that he is going to divorce himself from this event in Earth’s history (or future…time travel makes for tricky tenses) and he makes a show of telling Clara he feels it is time should took a burden on herself, and this is it. This leaves Clara trapped both on the giant rock psychologically and physically with the TARDIS having dematerialized and having no escape from facing the impossible position of finding herself owning the responsibility for whatever outcome proceeds from this decision to either kill an innocent creature and hope the moon stays together or to roll the dice and chance that the worst case scenarios won’t come to pass for the Earth if the trio leave it alone to finish whatever it is that is causing the moon to fall apart.
Frankly through this point I found myself going along with the theme and pace of events as I felt the writers did a credible job of developing an oppressive and menacing atmosphere for the most part while placing enough dangers in the path to keep me focused in. To their credit I was able to suspend disbelief for the most part and go along with a plausible (enough, considering) reason for why everyone on the show wasn’t bouncing around in low G, which has the benefit of not just underscore a credible disaster but which is also very budget friendly as it demanded that the characters move as if they are on Earth (minus one scene used for effect). I was even with them through the reveal of what the spidery creatures were and how they play into the overall mystery (even if they seemed a bit too convenient for creating drama) through the big reveal, which I think I’ve seen somewhere in Sci-fi before but which was done well enough that it still worked here.
What broke the episode for me was the moment where it turns out that despite all the heavy drama, the overwhelming danger and all sorts of potential –and frankly horrible- possibilities that were postulated that there turned out to be not just a ‘right’ answer, but that the writers weren’t content for it to just be correct and they went farther and made it so perfect as to remove any negative consequence at all to the decision that Clara winds up making. I really, really despise this manner of storytelling on its face as creating situations with no fallout to great moments of peril and decisions made feels completely cheep to me. Perhaps it is just me, but if I am really going to buy into a character and their trials I can’t just see happy ending that happens basically undercut all the strife they went through in making a decision and still feel that the strife mattered.
It also doesn’t help that with almost certainty there would be consequences in the real world even for the ‘right’ choice having been made in the face of the potential negative results. At the very least there would have been an outcry from the people on Earth who thought they had a voice in the decision and suddenly find that they didn’t which is glossed over by the Doctor, Clara and Courtney simply flying off in the TARDIS almost immediately after the end of the decision is shown (though perhaps the consequence is that this event may have played a role in the creation of the Order of the Silence that went to war with the previous Doctor).
My other problem with this ‘perfect’ end is that the solution by the writing staff as how not to undercut so many previous stories that have already happened which were set in the future (and again, time travel and tenses don’t mix well at all) proved a bridge to far for me to jump. There is an old saw I’ve seen that a story can ask its audience to accept one impossible thing in the telling but that any more may be asking too much. While I don’t know if that is always true or not, for me it came into play here (the obvious provision being that I’ve already bought into the premise of a 2000 year old time traveling alien over time ant that being baked into the cake as it were, leaving each story free to have a go at its own one impossible thing to build around) for me as the ‘what happens to the moon after’ revelation was one impossible thing too much and it kind of broke the somewhat tenuous connection I’ve developed with this new Doctor and the stories that have been told to date.
Obviously as I am writing this I did come back, and while I still can’t stand the way the episode made sure that the events with the moon wouldn’t wind up having re-written time (as the series puts it) I just feel that the need to return to ‘normal’ just pulled me completely out of the narrative. I think though that after some time away I have a better appreciation for why Clara feels as angry at the Doctor at the end as she does as I had been so taken out of the flow in my initial viewing that I simply couldn’t relate to her (justified) indignation as I’d hit a major stumbling block and hadn’t recovered. Its only in coming back and watching with a bit of a gap that I wonder if the Doctor isn’t trying to make Clara more like him, something that the previous Doctor had been outright accused of by one of his companions when the Doctor made him face a momentous choice.
This now has me wondering if perhaps being the last of his kind in the universe (minus whatever happened to Gallifrey, the 10th incarnation’s ‘daughter’ and …other possible surprises) has him subconsciously (or worse, consciously) trying to create someone to fill that void and so he is pushing Clara in that direction. I think there certainly is enough material in both his actions as well as dialogue in the season so far for me to buy into this particular line of thought, but it may simply be that this time he may be testing his companion to see if she can choose a decision that the Doctor would and perhaps see if she is ready to understand some of the burden he accepts when making such choices.
Whatever the case may be, it creates a situation where it seems that the writers are looking to define Clara more than the Doctor in this episode which feels a bit weird in this case to me as I felt Clara was pretty defined already. Perhaps by doing so they are trying to polish up the mirror which the Doctor (and the audience) use to see himself while keeping himself from losing sight of who he wants to be in his best moments and Kill the Moon provides that opportunity while throwing out what might be hints as to what kind of man this Doctor is.
Or it may simply be a chance for the writers to do a big show with a big effect, create some tension in the characters, and have a throwback moment for long time fans with a yo-yo while also providing the bonus of leaving enough material to have some fans read too much into events.
Kill the Moon brings an obvious world of tension and urgency to the table with an impending crisis on the moon leading to a danger for all living on Earth but the real meat of the material is the tension and urgency that is developed between the Doctor and Clara as Clara finds herself put into a position of having to make a Doctor like choice without the aid of having any idea how the future is supposed to unfurl, or even the comfort of having someone she trusts around to bounce an idea off. With a possible end of the road in sight for the Earth it may be this special relationship that is in the most trouble as a mostly very well written episode challenges to travelers who may now be seeing what the bounds of their bonds really are.