In regards to last week’s Doctor Who episode “The Caretaker,” the author of the WordPress blog A Succession of Busy Nothings wrote “Occasionally, an episode of Doctor Who comes along that leaves me… confused. Not confused about the plot, mind you, confused about just what I thought of it.” Well, that is exactly how I felt about this week’s episode, “Kill the Moon.” It has been several hours since I watched it, and I still cannot make up my mind. This review is an effort to try to organize my thoughts concerning Peter Harness’ script. I hope that it makes at least a little bit of sense!
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) takes Clara (Jenna Coleman) and her rebellious pupil Courtney (Ellis George) on a trip to the Moon in the year 2049. They arrive to find that it is falling apart, creating devastating tidal waves that are decimating human civilization on Earth. There is no longer any sort of space program, and the worlds’ governments have hauled a space shuttle out of a museum, loaded it with dozens of nuclear bombs, and launched it at the Moon. The makeshift expedition is headed up by Lundvik (Hermione Norris) whose task it is to determine what is disrupting the Moon’s stability and blow it up.
After being pursued about the Moon by a horde of bacterial organisms that resemble giant spiders which kill most of Lundvik’s crew, the Doctor discovers what is occurring. The Moon is, in fact, a giant egg, and an immense alien organism is about to hatch. Clara and Courtney ask the Doctor what they ought to do: should they go along with Lundvik’s plan to detonate the nukes and kill the alien baby before its birth possibly causes even more devastation to the Earth, or should they wait and allow nature to take its course? The Doctor stubbornly refuses to answer. He bluntly states that this is a moment in time where humanity’s future path is determined, and that they have to come to that decision on their own. “Kill it or let it live, I can’t make this decision for you,” he coldly tells them. “Some decisions are too important not to make on your own.” With that the Doctor ducks into the TARDIS and dematerializes, as Clara angrily shouts his name.
Now Clara, Courtney and Lundvik are left by themselves to decide. Clara broadcasts a message to the Earth informing them of the situation. She asks the whole of humanity to vote. If they choose to let the alien in the Moon live leave their lights on, if they vote to kill it then turn off their lights. And Clara then looks out the window of the base on the Moon at distant Earth, and sadly sees all the lights going off, as humanity makes its choice. Even then, Clara cannot abide by it, and seconds before detonation she hits the abort button. At that the TARDIS returns and the Doctor takes them all back to Earth, where in the sky they see the creature hatching harmlessly and laying a new egg, a New Moon, before flying off into the universe.
The Doctor explains to them “Mid twenty-first century, humankind starts creeping off into the stars. It spreads its way through the galaxy to the very edges of the universe and it endures until the end of time. And it does all that because one day in the year 2049 when it stopped thinking about going to the stars, something occurred that made it look up, not down. It looked out there into the blackness and it saw something beautiful, something wonderful, that for once it didn’t want to destroy. And in that one moment the whole course of history was changed.”
Nevertheless Clara is absolutely furious at the Doctor. “Don’t you ever tell me to take the stabilizers off my bike and don’t you dare lump me in with all the rest of the little humans that you think are so tiny and silly and predictable. You walk our Earth, Doctor, you breathe our air. You make us your friend, and that is your Moon too and you can damn well help us when we need it!” Completely livid, Clara demands the Doctor return her to her own time & place, which he does, dropping her off at Coal Hill School in 2014, where she confides in Danny (Samuel Anderson) about what has just happened.
I think that the reason why I found “Kill the Moon” so unsettling and complicated, so difficult to up make my mind about, is that in the end the Doctor and Clara were both right. The Doctor has on countless occasions had to decide the fate of billions of lives. Perhaps he has decided that he is tired of being put in that position. There are times in the past where the Doctor attempted to play God and decided to alter the course of human history. “The Christmas Invasion” and “The Waters of Mars” are probably the two most notable examples. On both those occasions, the Doctor’s actions came back to bite him in the ass, and the results of his interference were catastrophic. Now he is being taken to task by Clara for not becoming involved, for not making a crucial decision on behalf of humanity.
At the same time, I understand Clara’s frustration with the Doctor for just running off. Perhaps he could have done a better job of explaining why he felt it was not his place to interfere in this historical event, to articulate why humanity had to determine its own destiny. In that respect Clara was possibly justified in her anger.
Yet on the other hand she was basically telling the Doctor that she wanted to abrogate any responsibility of her own, that she did not want to have to make such a monumental choice. Clara would rather have the Doctor get his hands dirty once again than have to make a difficult decision herself. She is furious at the Doctor for regarding humanity as “tiny and silly and predictable,” yet at the same time she wants him to decide what is best for humanity, rather than allowing us to stand on our own two feet.
I am very much left wondering if, in the end, Clara made the correct decision to override humanity’s vote and save the alien baby. Yes, it turns out that it all seemingly worked out. The egg hatched without any more harm befalling Earth. But did Clara really have the right to single-handedly determine humanity’s destiny? I know there is such a thing as the tyranny of the majority. But there is also the tyranny of the individual. Was Clara imposing her will upon the rest of the world?
More significantly, in the long run did Clara actually do humanity an injustice? I expect that the whole point of the Doctor wanting humanity to make the decision on its own was because it would have demonstrated that we were ready to leave this little planet of ours and spread out into the universe. But, really, humanity learned nothing. It voted out of fear to sacrifice the unborn alien in the Moon rather than risk the Earth’s destruction. By overriding that choice, Clara allowed the alien to be born, which demonstrated to humanity that there is life and wonder out there, inspiring us to reach for the stars, but without us having grown and matured in the process. As a result of Clara’s actions in 2049, the humanity that travels out to the stars is still ruled by fear, still ready to utilize violence as a first and only resort.
There have been a number of Doctor Who stories over the decades that have demonstrated the terrible cost of a humanity still consumed by greed and arrogance and violence spreading throughout the universe. ‘The Sensorites,” “The Rescue,” “The Ark,” “The Colony in Space,” “The Mutants,” “The Frontier in Space,” “The Power of Kroll,” “Nightmare of Eden,” “Kinda,” “Planet of the Ood” and “The Beast Below” all spotlight how the worst qualities of humanity are still present many centuries and millennia in the future, now let loose upon the other denizens of the cosmos to tragic, bitter results. It could perhaps be argued that the death of the alien in the Moon would have been a small price to pay if it kept humanity grounded on the Earth for a few more centuries, until we finally developed the maturity and morality to expand out into the universe responsibly.
Possibly part of my discomfort is the uncertainty of how I would have decided if I had been in Clara’s shoes. Faced with the choice of definitely killing an unborn alien or possibly allowing billions of humans to die, I really do not know how I would have chosen. Perhaps I would have taken Lundvik’s stance that this was a conundrum with no right answers, only two terrible ones, one of which was somewhat less bad than the other. I really do not know. Until you are actually faced with that sort of dilemma you really have no idea how you would choose.
I do have to acknowledge that Peter Harness wrote an episode that in extremely complex and thought-provoking. It really does make you think, and raises some difficult questions.
Capaldi was once more superb as the Twelfth Doctor. I’ve mentioned in past reviews that he seemed to have been very influenced by Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor. At the same time, hints of some of his other predecessors’ performances have popped up here and there. The most notable example was the aloof, alien presence that Capaldi projected in “Listen,” which very much brought to mind both William Hartnell and Colin Baker. Yes, that was also a quality of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, but it was often balanced out by his oddball bohemian humor. In contrast, both the First and Sixth Doctors were often difficult to like, and they had complex, adversarial relationships with their human companions. That was very much on display in “Kill the Moon,” and I could easily imagine the Doctor in his First or Sixth incarnations acting very similarly, if not identically, to how the Twelfth did here.
There was also a manipulative aspect to the Capaldi’s Doctor in “Kill the Moon” which recalled Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor, who was at times characterized as a cosmic chess master. That quality of his was carried over to and amplified within the New Adventures prose novels that were published in the early 1990s. Jason Miller, in his write-up of “The Caretaker” on his WordPress blog, observed that the Doctor Who New Adventures had a major influence on the television show when it was revived in 2005, with many of the authors of the novels becoming intimately involved in the production of the series. I was again reminded of that with “Kill the Moon.”
Within the New Adventures the Seventh Doctor’s human companion Ace gradually began to tire of his machinations. She reached a breaking point in Love and War by Paul Cornell. Tired of the Doctor’s plots, of his utilizing others like pawns, of his sacrificing lives for the “greater good,” Ace departed the TARDIS in anger & disgust. And while she did eventually rejoin the Doctor in a later novel, she now had a wary, distrustful regard for him. Clara’s angry exit from the TARDIS at the end of “Kill the Moon” is certainly reminiscent of the conclusion of Love and War. I am curious how Clara will be depicted in the remainder of Series Eight’s episodes, if she will now, like Ace, have a much more tentative, distant relationship with the Doctor.
I was happy to see Courtney again, this time traveling with the Doctor and Clara in the TARDIS. She was both well-written and well-acted. The development of the character was quite good, with Courtney starting out as an over-enthusiastic teenager, before panicking about being in way over her head, and then struggling to find the bravery she needed to deal with the dangerous situation she found herself in. I hope we get to see more of her in Series Eight.
So what happens next with the Doctor and Clara? We shall have to wait until next week to find out. The suspense is killing me.
By the way, I recommend reading Hannah Givens’ sharp & insightful critique of “Kill the Moon.” She makes some excellent observations.