Let me just say this: Oy. This week’s episode of “Doctor Who,” “Kill the Moon,” was about just that—killing the moon. Except the moon is a giant egg that’s about to hatch into something that looks like a miniature Smaug. No, it doesn’t make much sense, but hey, you should know the trend with this show by now.
Before I get into the nitty gritty of what I disliked about this episode—and believe me, there are plenty of things to get to—I want to say that the plot was all to lead to the emotional breakthrough at the end of the episode, which I think was very important and very well-done. But the route we took to get there, not so much.
So we’re used to the usual fake science involved in “Doctor Who,” but sometimes the writers just love to go above and beyond the norm, even for this show. I’ll believe sentient adipose tissue and statues that move as soon as you blink an eye. But the moon a giant egg? That’s just not the most believable concept. Wouldn’t someone have noticed? I know people in the future have apparently lost all interest in space (and by the way, I also don’t believe that 35 years in the future, all the astrologers and everyone else in the world just lose interest in the mysteries of the universe), but all the years prior to humanity giving up on space, no one ever mined the surface of the moon for minerals and/or water, just to be surprised by their finding amniotic fluid? Oh, and the surface of the moon just disintegrates? On top of that, immediately after the giant moon dragon is born, it then lays another moon egg in its place. Sure, you could say, “Well, it’s a giant alien moon dragon, so normal patterns of reproduction and gestation are probably moot.” But still, seriously?
The bacteria spiders (which look Shelob knockoffs, by the way) initially appear to be the main cause of conflict of the episode and appear very unremarkably and in the manner of most “Doctor Who” monsters—they lurk in the dark, without our knowing exactly what kind of monsters they are, leave suspicious clues, and pick off the nonessential characters in the episode one by one. Meanwhile, the Doctor runs around trying to figure out what kind of monsters they’re up against and think up a plan to save everyone—all the while making witty statements. There was some of that here, and it was nothing too unique or surprising, but it turns out that was just a means to lead us a much larger conflict—not humanity versus a monster, but humanity versus itself, or better yet, humanity versus its collective morality/conscience. Besides, how seriously can you take monsters that can be killed with Lysol? No, it’s not as absurd as monsters who get defeated with silverware (::ahem:: “Robot of Sherwood”) but it’s still pretty ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as the idea that a teenager would just be carrying around a bottle of disinfectant while they’re traveling through time and space.
But onto the main issue: the debate over whether to kill the moon. As soon as the Doctor leaves Clara and Lundvik to engage in their heated debate about whether to kill the potentially deadly moon monster, we’re suddenly engrossed in a very uncomfortable and thinly veiled representation of the pro-life/pro-choice debate. Of course, when the question of whether abortion is moral and justified comes up in real life, the fate of humanity doesn’t hang in the balance. The question ultimately becomes about how one values life and if one life can be valued above another.
In thinking of this episode and the troubling metaphor it presents, it’s natural to consider writer Steven Moffat and his infamous quotes about women. It’s interesting, then, to think that this issue becomes an argument amongst women and that the Doctor even leaves them to decide the fate of humanity. There’s even a moment in the episode when the writers make sure to point out that there’s a woman president in the White House. So we’ve determined that this episode, which revolves around a women’s issue, is decidedly women-centric. However, it can’t be forgotten that this episode also highlighted the Doctor’s patronizing personality, his being a very unpleasant representation of a powerful ruling class of privileged white male. Of course, he says he’s not a human, so the issue is not his. He says that he respects Clara enough to leave that decision to her, but Clara picks up on his condescendence. It’s not a matter of him respectfully dissociating from an issue in which he thinks he has no say; in fact, he does so all the time, interfering in the course of humanity. He looks as humans as inferior to him. So how does this also relate to this women’s issue? In the same token, he leaves because he’s a male, and this issue is not his. Does that also indicate the same type of condescension and critique of women, particularly of those who are pro-choice, by the writers? Or is it a general critique of those who are pro-choice, indicating that they are immoral or inhumane for supporting the idea that any form of inchoate life can be extinguished when necessary? I’m not going to get any further into the politics of this, but overall, the message seems iffy.
But back to the main plot: When has the Doctor ever just peaced out in his companion in the middle of a seriously dangerous situation? It seems commonplace for the twelfth Doctor at this point, especially since he seemed to abandon Clara as she faced killer robots in the very first episode of the season. But still, at least that became part of the plan to ultimately save her. Here, the Doctor abandons Clara—in addition to a 15-year-old girl, by the way, because the Doctor is the worst babysitter ever—just so he can take a backseat and see what choice Clara will make when the fate of humanity is at stake. It sounds like a joke, a test or a game, with Clara at the receiving end and the Doctor watching from a pedestal. It’s what incites a beautiful moment of anger and vulnerability from Clara, and it’s definitely warranted.
This episode didn’t have much in terms of character development: Courtney is just a normal teenager who ends up tagging along for the ride and supplying quick, sidekick-worthy quips without much substance, and Lundvik is little else but the moral counterpoint to Clara in the “kill the moon” debate. However, Clara’s breakthrough at the end almost makes up for that, because Jenna Coleman’s performance is great and we finally see Clara, who has always been fun, cute, quirky and totally faithful to the Doctor, reach the end of her rope. It’s believable, and even though the writers have been spending this whole season really—and I mean really—stressing how much of an asshole this Doctor is, this moment, when we see Clara really break down, makes him truly unlikeable. Once again, we see Clara come out on top despite being in a terrible situation. In this case, we see her portrayed as the lone beacon of morality and hope (besides Courtney, of course, who I’m only ignoring because of her youth) in a world that is literally in the dark. What else can we think when even she is pushed to the limit?
Danny Pink also makes a short appearance in this episode, and even though it’s small, it’s still poignant. He listens to Clara’s rant and dishes out some wisdom. It’s a change from the awkward, bumbling Danny we were introduced to, and it seems as though the Doctor—specifically, his relationship with Clara—is the cause of this somber change in Danny.
Altogether, the episode was definitely sloppy in some respects, but the emotional fallout between the Doctor and Clara was worth it, and now it leaves us in a now man’s land for a bit. Is Clara actually done with the Doctor? Will the Doctor be flying solo for a while? Does this mean we’ll be getting a new companion soon? Oh, and when are we finding out about Missy? Too many questions.
It looks like next week will be a throwback to Agatha Christie with “Mummy on the Orient Express.” Check back in for my review.