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…
Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in Kill the Moon.
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Peter Capaldi (The Doctor)
Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald)
Ellis George (Courtney Woods)
Hermione Norris (Lundvik)
Tony Osaba (Duke)
Phil Nice (Henry)
Written by: Peter Harness
Directed by: Paul Wilmshurst
Gifs by: J-Ru
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Kill the Moon is an old-school episode, channeling the era of the Third and Fourth Doctors with an alien-yet-familiar landscape, flimsy science that holds up for the sake of the plot, and the Doctor pushing humanity to make the right decision. But the Doctor’s intentions backfire as Clara finally snaps and lets him know that she’s had enough of the way he treats her. With a creepy enemy and a hopeful, uplifting ending, Kill the Moon is one that will definitely be remembered by the fandom as one of this season’s standouts.
Kill the Moon highlights the many flaws of Doctor Who. Science that falls apart under any sort of scrutiny, badly written and acted secondary characters, a monster that looks cool but really doesn’t matter in the long run, and high-handedness that drives home just how much of humanity are bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling, while making the Doctor look even more like a sociopathic jerk. Kill the Moon is one that will definitely be remembered by the fandom as one of this season’s major misfires.
Both of the above statements could apply to this episode, one that’s divided the fandom as the closing scene is one of the best in the show’s history that’s been brought about by the Doctor acting completely against any of his past incarnation’s natures, forcing Clara to have a great character moment by stepping away at a critical moment in time, moments where the Doctor has always been involved. While it might be a sign of just how different Capaldi’s Doctor is, it’s very jarring and throws Kill the Moon off kilter.
Clara admonishes the Doctor for telling one of her students, Courtney, that she isn’t special. In order to make her feel better, the Doctor takes them to the moon in the year 2049. Instead of arriving on the lunar surface, the TARDIS deposits them in a refurbished space shuttle, filled with over 100 nuclear bombs, as it crashes lands on the moon. The crew’s mission? To figure out what has happened to the moon. The moon has changed somehow, and the change has caused the oceans on Earth to swell up and swallow coastal cities under an extreme high tide. The Doctor soon realizes that the fluctuations in the tides have been caused by a massive change in the moon’s mass. Deep underneath the surface, something is coming to life…
Peter Harness is a well-known playwright and screenwriter, having worked with Kenneth Branagh on the award-winning BBC series Wallander. Kill the Moon is the first script Harness has written for Doctor Who, and it shows in both its positive and negative aspects. Harness’ script is simple in concept; something is wrong with the moon. It’s simple in terms of its monster. Who doesn’t get creeped out by spiders, especially spiders who we barely get a good solid glimpse of and who’s mandibles look like a cross between those of a Predator’s and those of a Xenomorph’s? It’s simple in terms of its crucial moment. Kill one life to save millions? The core of Kill the Moon is rock-solid, unlike the title satellite. Once you break through the thin outer layer, though, the story falls apart. There is a reason Doctor Who is called “science fiction” as opposed to “science fact.” Science is, for the most part, given lip service or hand-waved with terms like “translation circuit” or “Blinovich Effect.” But sometimes, science gets absolutely taken to the woodshed, and that happens here. “The Moon is gaining mass because it’s a hatching egg.” Eggs don’t work that way! A newborn creature lays an egg bigger than itself? Eggs don’t work that way! Humanity can either blow up the moon, at which point the tides and gravity go completely sideways, or they can let the moon “hatch” and…there’s no more moon, which means the tides and gravity go completely sideways. Or, humanity blows up the moon and there’s a giant flying corpse in the sky…which means there’s no more moon, and the tides and gravity go completely sideways. Or maybe the gravity of the dead corpse means the egg is “hard boiled” and the surface of the moon is fine, but now there’s a dead radioactive corpse floating around the Earth…
And if a small Mexican private company can send three men to the moon WITH a fully-operational habitat, and all contact is lost with them right before the moon goes crazy, is it really going to take TEN years with mid-21st century technology to put together a space program using an old space shuttle, when the United States managed to put a man on the moon in less than that using mid 20th century pre-processor technology? And in ten years, ALL of humanity could barely scrape together a second-rate shuttle and a third-rate astronaut? Science can be handwaved, but the internal rules still have to be consistent, and they certainly weren’t in Kill the Moon when my nine year old stepdaughter looked at me (out from under the blanket because of the spiders) and said “Egg’s don’t work that way.” Her words, not mine. Kill the Moon definitely needed a pass with the editor’s brush or a science advisor’s microscope, as a few changes in dialogue could have fixed a lot of these scientific hiccups. To quote a fine individual with a Sylvester McCoy avatar, “Kill the Moon is the show’s Threshold in terms of scientific perspective.” Props have to be given, though, to the direction of Paul Wilmshurst, another first-timer for Doctor Who, for mixing some very polished CGI with the stark landscape of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands.
For the first time this season, the secondary cast is a drag on the episode, especially the two male astronauts who were in the episode solely to die in a horrible manner. Hermione Morris, as mission commander Lundvik, is supposed to be the hard-edge military voice of “reason,” but her presence is barely felt in the story other than as the person carrying around the nuclear McGuffin. I never got the feeling she was in charge in any capacity, even when she was arguing with Clara and Courtney. It’s an absolute waste of the character and the actress. As for Ellis George as student Courtney Woods, reprising her role from last week’s The Caretaker, her entire purpose in this episode was to hit the standard “kid in danger” cliché. She’s upset enough at being told that she isn’t special that it takes a freaking trip to the moon to cheer her up. Once she’s there, her excitement wanes, and she wants to back to the TARDIS once she realizes how dangerous things are. And then, she wants to come back once the decisions are being made, but barely adds any input to the discussion between Lundvik and Clara. It’s feels like she’s just a plot device solely to make sure the TARDIS is there for the Doctor to take off in, especially because at no point, even when Courtney is in danger, she isn’t in danger. It’s the same problem that Nightmare in Silver had; no Doctor Who script writer is ever going to off a kid. Two of the people who are going to be making the big decision about the fate of this creature and the fate of humanity have very little to contribute to the plot outside of their mere presence.
It all comes down to Clara. Jenna Coleman, with what she is given, knocks it out of the park. She’s upset that the Doctor, someone who’s always held up that everyone is unique, has told one of her students that she isn’t special, and while a trip to the moon isn’t exactly the apology Clara had in mind, it’s nice to see the teacher side of her, the protective side, shine through, both here and later on when she insists Courtney be safe inside the TARDIS. When the decision has to be made about the fate of the creature being born underneath the surface of the moon, it’s Clara who steps up, imploring all of humanity to make the right decision…and then going against the decision at the very last moment, being told by the Doctor that she made the “right” decision out of two nearly impossible ones. Coleman sells the moral quandary with aplomb, remaining convinced of her position while acknowledging the difficulty of the choice. She attempted to hand the decision over to humanity, but in the end, she took responsibility of the the choice.
On the other side of the coin, Peter Capaldi once again sells just how different and alien the Twelfth Doctor is with a convincing portrayal of a difficult role. The Doctor says he doesn’t know what is going to happen at this juncture in time, talking about “fluxes in time” being the opposite of “fixed points in time.” I believe he’s lying here (Rule #1 – the Doctor lies), especially because blowing up the moon would have killed Clara and Courtney and there’s no way, after Adric, that he was going to let a companion and an innocent child die on his watch. He’s in rare form as he figures out what the secret of the moon’s self-destruction is and coaches his advice to Lundvik and Clara with certain words and phrases. His action to leave Clara and the other two behind to make the decision themselves came as a complete shock to me, even though I knew the Doctor would be back. That’s how well Capaldi sold that moment, that I believed the Doctor had abandoned Clara.
The portion of Kill the Moon that the fandom will remember is Clara finally letting the Doctor have it. The Doctor tells Clara that he left her behind to help her grow as a person, to “take the training wheels off” by making an impossible decision. The Doctor has done things like this before, from minor things to insulting Sarah Jane in The Ark in Space when she gets stuck in an air duct to the cutting loose on humanity as a whole during the events of The Beast Below, specifically at Amy for choosing to forget the difficult choice she had to make. The Twelfth Doctor has just taken it to a much, much larger extreme, forcing Clara to make the “right choice” that he knew she would make. It had the potential to be a large character defining moment for Clara, and it was, but not in the way anyone expected, especially the Doctor. Clara screams at him for abandoning her, her best friend stepping away when she needed him most with a condescending comment along the lines of “you need to grow up” as an explanation. And she also cuts loose into him for saying that, for all he’s done for Earth, for all the time he’s spent on Earth, for all the times he’s protected the Earth, that it was just as much his decision as hers.
Clara is absolutely right, and after the teasing and the Doctor’s obliviousness to her appearance and treatment of Danny in the previous episode, the Doctor deserves the shallacking she gives him. It is a very good scene, one where Clara just lets it all pour out and the Doctor looks on in confusion, wondering where he went wrong. It’s an incredibly powerful scene, but it loses its impact because of just HOW we get there. The Doctor does what he’s never done before and steps away at a critical moment in history, which after twelve incarnations is a major shock. If one believe that the hatching of the egg of a “flux point in time,” then there’s no way the Doctor would have left such a mystery unsolved without his input and action. If the Doctor knew the end result, then him stepping away was an incredibly dick thing to do to Clara, and he deserves every scathing comment she gives him. But the Doctor should NEVER have stepped away in the first place.
Unless, this is a whole new Doctor who truly is that detached from humanity. After spending over 300 years defending Christmas, 300 years among humanity, growing old and being a vital part of their lives , maybe the Twelfth Doctor’s actions are a direct, deliberate contrast brought about by his regeneration from Eleven. If this is the case, then…well, I kind of hope it is, that Moffat’s long-term story arc for this season is the Doctor realizing he has been a major jerk and trying to make amends for it, much like what was planned for Colin Baker’s time as the Sixth’s Doctor. Because the gentle teasing and back-and-forth between the Doctor and Clara ever since Deep Breath has led up to this moment, and I can handle a Doctor with a few rough edges, but a deep caring for both humanity as a whole and humans as individuals. What I can’t handle is the Doctor being nothing more than a detached asshat.
Next up – The Doctor boards the Orient Express but a deadly creature is stalking the passengers. …
Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in…Mummy on the Orient Express.