DOCTOR WHO (2005) series 8, episode 7
"Kill the Moon"
WRITER: PETER HARNESS
DIRECTOR: PAUL WILMSHURST
AIR DATE: October 4 2014
While cleaning the inside of the TARDIS, Courtney Woods (Ellis George) is excited when the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) offers to take her on an adventure in the time machine. Together with Clara (Jenna Coleman), they materialise in 2049 on a space shuttle carrying nuclear devices and heading for a crash course with the Moon. After surviving a crash landing, they are confronted by three crew members of the shuttle. Using a yo-yo, the Doctor determines that the gravity of the Moon is abnormally high. The crew’s captain, Lundvik (Hermione Norris), explains that they are on a suicide mission to blow up the Moon because changes in its gravity have disrupted Earth’s oceanic tides, resulting in great devastation and millions of deaths. By destroying the Moon, they hope to prevent further catastrophes on Earth and save the human race. In private, Clara expresses doubts about the mission, telling the Doctor that, from her time-travelling experiences, she knows that the Moon will continue to exist in future. The Doctor challenges her assumptions by saying that time is in flux at this point of history and that the outcome is therefore uncertain.
The group heads off to find a Mexican colony based on the Moon, the colonists having inexplicably broken contact with Earth some time ago. The group find the colony base apparently neglected and covered in outsized webs. As they explore the base, one of the shuttle crew goes back to prime the bombs, but is attacked when he stops to explore a mysterious giant cavity on the lunar surface. Back at the base, the group find dead colonists entombed in webbing. The Doctor pores over readings taken by the colonists and discovers that an immense increase of the Moon's mass has occurred, explaining the violent tidal shifts on Earth. An enormous spider-like creature pounces on them, killing one of the shuttle team. Courtney kills the creature using cleaning fluid she had used earlier in the TARDIS. After returning Courtney to the safety of the TARDIS, the Doctor sets off with Clara and Lundvik to investigate the unusual surface cavities. In one hole, they find thousands of spider-like creatures lurking within. To the others' surprise, the Doctor tells them he will return before diving headlong into the hole.
The Who Stuff
As they return to the colony base, Clara and Lundvik witness the shuttle disappearing into a crack on the surface. Once at the base, Lundvik sets about preparing to remotely detonate the nuclear devices despite Clara’s assertion that the Doctor will return. The Doctor appears at the base shortly afterwards in the TARDIS with Courtney. He explains that the Moon is really an ancient egg with a creature inside ready to hatch, and the spider-like creatures are essentially microbes on the surface of the egg. Lundvik still wants to destroy the Moon in case the creature should harm the Earth, but Clara rejects this idea and turns to the Doctor for help. He tells them that they, as representatives of “womankind”, need to make their own decision for the sake of the human race. He then departs alone in the TARDIS, leaving the three women to decide the fate of the creature which will hatch in about an hour and a half.
The minutes pass and the women cannot agree on a solution. As the microbial creatures begin swarming over the surface, Lundvik establishes contact with Earth and Clara broadcasts an impassioned plea for humanity to aid them in their decision, by either turning their lights off to kill the Moon or keeping them on to save the hatching creature. Lundvik starts the countdown to nuclear detonation as they wait for Earth’s response. The Earth goes dark, but Clara intervenes and convinces the others to halt the countdown. At the last moment, the Doctor, knowing that the three women have decided to let the creature live, returns and rescues them from the Moon as it starts breaking up.
On a beach on Earth, the four watch as a winged creature hatches and the shell of the Moon disintegrates. They continue to watch as the newly emerged creature immediately lays another egg, replacing the old Moon with a new one. Later, Clara confronts the Doctor and severely rebukes him for forcing the women to make their agonising choice, reminding him that his own choice to befriend human beings meant that he was not above humanity. Disgusted, she tells him that she no longer wishes to see him. Back at Coal Hill, Clara is comforted by her boyfriend Danny Pink (Samuel Alexander). She tells him that she is finished with the Doctor but Danny senses that she is not truly ready to cut the Doctor out of her life. When she asks him how he became so wise, we learn that he left the army under difficult circumstances following “a really bad day”. Later that evening, Clara stands at her flat window gazing up pensively at the Moon.
Clara in Space
While this episode was a clear improvement on last week’s episode, "The Caretaker", it had one glaring fault that prevented it from being a truly great episode. But we’ll come to that later. First, on the plus side, it was full of drama, tension and scares, elevating it above the average Doctor Who fare. The location of the colony base on the Moon was very well realised by the special effects team, and the scenes with the main characters exploring the spooky and shadowy base were tense. The discovery of dead colonists scattered around the base was very reminiscent of John Carpenter’s cult classic, The Thing – atmospheric and moody, a nice combination of sci-fi and horror. Although the spider-like creatures (humongous furry germs, to be precise), were not that good visually, they did have a decidedly creepy quality, and having them move around like jittery spiders was a good judgement call. It meant that the threat they posed felt credible and, in some ways therefore, the polar opposite of the plodding robot we were forced to endure in the previous episode. The scene where the Doctor stared into a cavity on the Moon’s surface only to have a creature jump menacingly onto his helmet was a great moment, even if not entirely unexpected.
As with all good Doctor Who episodes, though, the best moments are always to be found in the character interactions, and this episode was no exception. The best scene occurred near the end of the episode when the Doctor decided to dump all responsibility for saving the human race onto the three women’s shoulders, abandoning them and heaping the momentous choice squarely upon them and them alone. It somehow felt cruel but entirely in keeping with the Twelfth Doctor’s colder persona. You could feel the women’s anguish as it palpably spilled off the screen. If the Doctor thought this was a good way to train Clara in the ways of a Gallifreyan Timelord, then he urgently needed a fresh lesson in humanity. It was like witnessing someone watching three people hanging off a cliff and telling them to get out of their own predicament before nonchalantly walking away – except that it was the fate of the whole human race which was in the balance! No wonder Clara tore strips off him later, even though the final outcome was favourable enough for humanity. And boy, was Clara seriously angry! The scene where she fired into him was quite easily one of the best of the whole season. In some ways it was also shocking, because although the Doctor has been taken down a notch or two by companions in the past, this was a reprimand in its own league – outstanding in its ferocious reasoning and defiant in the extreme. It was some great acting by Jenna Coleman and a key moment that lifted up this episode – make that the entire season - considerably.
However – and I’m afraid there’s a big however – marks need to be taken off for a hugely duff plot point and some really crappy pseudo-science. The Moon a giant egg? Really!? Let’s just think about that for a second. (I know it’s only escapist fantasy, but indulge me.) The creature within would have been constantly growing over thousands of years and so the Moon would have been constantly getting heavier – and not just all of a sudden increasing its mass as was postulated – and therefore the Earth would have been subjected to gravitational fluxes over a much longer period of time. Or am I the crappy scientist/biologist/physicist? As for the winged creature immediately replacing the old egg with a new one, it didn’t make sense on a number of levels. For a start, the egg was as big as the creature – that’s a hell of a load to carry for a new-born. And why would a baby space dragon (think Smaug in space) bother to replace the Moon? Because it had a conscience to save the Earth and yet had already clearly brought about millions of human deaths through flooding? Nah! It made no sense whatsoever. This exasperating story element therefore results in the loss of a full star from my rating of the episode. I am being generous here, having swithered between 3.5 and 4 stars, but the angry Clara moment was a genuine gob smacker, and so I am feeling charitable. But Who writers please take note – ground your ideas in some decent logic, even if it is the invented logic of fantasy.
Anyway, one big technical folly aside, this was a superior episode, full of horror-tinged atmosphere and with some excellent character development, especially Clara who is definitely growing on me. She still has a way to go to reach Amy Pond status, but it was a massive step in the right direction.