Written by Peter Harness
Directed by Paul Wilmshurst
Starring: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor); Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald); Ellis George (Courtney Woods); Hermione Norris (Lundvik); Tony Osoba (Duke); Phil Nice (Henry) & Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink)
Here There Be Spoilers.
About halfway through Kill The Moon, the Doctor gets in his TARDIS and leaves Clara, her student Courtney and astronaut Lundvik to solve a world-wide crisis without him, claiming that this is one moment that he cannot force upon the human race; they have to make the decision for themselves. In response to the sight of the disappearing TARDIS, Lundvik says, for the first time in Doctor Who history, “What a pratt.” Clara says nothing, but her final scene with the Doctor shows that she was quite possibly thinking the same thing (maybe was even thinking of word that couldn’t be broadcast). The final judgment on the Doctor’s character, a man who just a few episodes ago asked Clara if he was a good man, is ultimately left up to us, the viewer, and we’re going to have to think long and hard on this question, especially since it seems that Clara is sitting next week’s adventure out. So what is it that has come between our two heroes and how can it possibly be solved?
After a teasing pre-credit sequence that puts Clara in the heart of the crisis, Kill The Moon starts innocently enough; viewers of last week’s episode The Caretaker will remember that fifteen year-old Courtney Woods didn’t exactly impress the Doctor with her initial trip in the TARDIS – upchucking on the floor does not a future-companion make. Clara just wants the Doctor to tell the despondent girl that she’s special but this Doctor is not one for false praise; if Courtney wants to be special, the Doctor is going to make her prove it. Before anyone can say anything, the Doctor whips Clara and Courtney to the year 2049 and wind up on a shuttle heading for the moon. There, they learn from the shuttle crew that the moon has been acting strangely for the last decade: it suddenly has gravity and the tides on Earth rose so high that a portion of the human race perished in flood waters. Mexican colonists from years before are long dead and it isn’t long before our heroes discover the reason why; deadly spider-like creatures are crawling all over the place! But is this simply a monster-of-the-week episode? When the Doctor realizes what the monsters really are, this leads to the episode’s magnificent discovery and to Clara’s and humankind’s terrible choice.
Not counting the sequences taking place on modern-day Earth, this episode has two distinct parts: the scary part and the thought-provoking part. The creatures crawling on the moon’s surface are scary enough to be a worthy addition to the rogue’s gallery of Doctor Who monsters (eat your heart out, Planet of the Spiders) and thanks to some quick thinking from Courtney with her bottle of Windex (there’s a usage for Windex you didn’t get from My Big Fat Greek Wedding) the Doctor realizes that the creatures are actually bacteria… and bacteria of that size can only mean that the creature that they are crawling on must be enormous. Then comes the revelation: the moon is, and has always been, an egg… and something big is hatching out of it. This truly head-turning revelation – a shocker that actually shocks – is followed up almost immediately by Lundvik’s question, “How do we kill it?” This is not an entirely unexpected reaction; those who remember the shuttle passengers from Midnight, cut off from civilization and frightened by a creature they cannot possibly understand and who then react by nearly tossing the Doctor out of the shuttle to his death, will have seen this type of situation before. What we haven’t seen before is the Doctor’s handling of it all: he removes himself completely from the situation. I am inclined to believe the Doctor when he said earlier that they were in the middle of a point in history that he cannot clearly see; later on, when the crisis is over, the Doctor takes a few moments to ponder the outcome and realize that allowing the moon-creature to live renews the humans’ previously moribund interest in space exploration. He isn’t simply lying to Clara just to see what she’ll do. And I have to agree that the Doctor making this decision for the human race is wrong; the planet Earth needs to earn this moment, needs to see beyond their paranoia and fear, needs to put everything that gives them comfort and security on the craps table and roll the dice.
And the human race blows it. The inhabitants of the Earth vote to remain locked in a cocoon of fear, despite the fact that they have no idea if the creature emerging from its shell will do them any harm (“That was defense,” we can almost hear Harriet Jones say after giving the order to destroy the retreating Sycorax’s ship in The Christmas Invasion). To her credit, Courtney protests and not just because setting off the bombs will lead to her own death. But it is Clara, the one human in the room who has seen more than anyone else on Earth and who understands, just like the Doctor, that life is a right for all creatures, who takes it upon herself to make the decision for the entire planet; at the last moment, she aborts the detonation. And the events of history duly move forward: the moon-creature is born and flies away (pausing to thoughtfully lay another egg and give the planet its moon back) and the human race will join the rest of the universe amongst the stars (it is good of writer Peter Harness to set this episode in 2049 since the tragic of events of Captain Adelaide Brooke at Bowie Base One from The Waters Of Mars takes place in 2059 – continuity is maintained). But this is only because Clara, a teacher, has forced a lesson on all of humanity. The Doctor has taught her about the value of life in the universe throughout their travels and now she has passed the lesson on to the entire planet. When the Doctor says to Lundvik, “Shouldn’t you be saying ‘Thank you’,” she pointedly thanks Clara, not the Doctor. Clara’s student can now move forward and pioneer the space program that she always dreamed of; it’s just a shame that Clara is not exactly in the “it-all-worked-out-in-the-end” mood.
In Deep Breath, Clara thought that the Doctor had abandoned her to torture and death and relied on her faith in him to know that he had her back. In The Caretaker, Danny warned Clara that the Doctor could push her too far. Those two moments come back to haunt us in this episode’s final TARDIS sequence. Clara wants to know exactly why the Doctor abandoned her to make that decision on her own. The Doctor, not an hour after telling Clara that it’s time to take the training wheels off, is now heaping praise on her and saying that he always knew she would make the right decision, but Clara is having none of it. She confesses that she nearly allowed the detonation to happen and resents the Doctor for putting her in that position. Here, we are seeing the angry Clara who bared her claws against Madame Vastra in Deep Breath for suggesting that the only reason she traveled with the Doctor was because she fancied his former, younger-looking face. It hasn’t escaped my notice that the Doctor has, of late, seemed to hold humanity in some degree of contempt and has been rather flippant with his only human friend, making wise remarks about her height, her looks, and her choice of men. It hasn’t escaped Clara’s notice either. Yes, there have been many humans in the last few episodes who have tried the Doctor’s patience (Journey Blue, The Sheriff of Nottingham, Madam Karabraxos, Lundvik and, to a lesser extent, Danny and Courtney) but the occasional exasperation of humankind exhibited by Eccleston, Tennant and Smith has reached a zenith with Capaldi’s Doctor; maybe it’s the writing… or the accent… or the eyebrows… but as of late, Capaldi’s Doctor has been as smug as Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor chiding Peri for being frightened. But Clara is tired of putting up with it; she points out that the Doctor has made Earth his new home and it is wrong for him to look down on its populace (not to mention that he is lumping her in with all the rest of Earth’s normal, everyday, non-time-traveling inhabitants). Before we realize what is happening, Clara is telling the Doctor to push off, quite like she did to Danny during their first, miserable date. And she sounds like she means it. Once outside the TARDIS and in the presence of Danny, she vents her frustration but is confronted with the truth that she is not truly finished yet with the Doctor; her frustration may soon ebb, but what will become of the Doctor now that he, as far as he knows, has lost his best friend? Will next week’s traipse into space be simply a fun-filled and thrilling adventure or will he realize a hole in his existence that remains bare if Clara isn’t there beside him?
Despite a recent review online that has taken serious umbrage at some of the faux-science taking place on the moon (eggs apparently don’t gain weight – like the moon does – as they reach incubation and the votes of light from the Earth would never be seen by Clara from the moon), and not to mention that it is almost ridiculous that a new-born creature would immediately lay an egg the size of a new moon to maintain status quo (which we don’t even see happening – Courtney describes it happening off-screen like this was a sci-fi television episode from the 1950’s that needed an actor to describe off-screen horrors due to lack of believable effects (“My God… it’s a hundred feet tall… and it has eighty tentacles…!)), Kill The Moon is top-notch Doctor Who, it thrills and forces us to confront difficult questions that, considering the attitudes of its two leads, have no real easy answers. It also succeeds in its initial endeavor: the nowhere-near special Courtney Woods earns her stripes as a real potential Doctor Who companion; her best line has her telling Lundvik that she can be the first woman on the new Moon (and did I hear the Doctor say that Courtney will one day be President of the United States? I guess she was born in America and her parents emigrated when she was young). This was a thrilling and troubling episode that, ultimately, did what any television episode has to do: get people tuning in next week.
Well, I’ll be there next week and the week after. What exactly is going to happen next week that might help the Doctor see that he needs to mellow out a bit? How is Clara going to resolve her feelings for the Doctor and is Danny ever going to go traveling? We’ll just have to wait and see.