Doctor Who reviews: Kill the Moon

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!

Doctor Who Kill the Moon

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.

Doctor Who Kill the Moon egg hatching

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, as well as the rest of the universe, a major disservice? 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.

Doctor Who Love and War

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.

Doctor Who reviews: The Caretaker

The Doctor Who episode “The Caretaker,” co-written by Gareth Roberts & Steven Moffat, jumps in feet first with a hectic pre-credit sequence. We alternate between glimpses of the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) on their various adventures through time & space, and Clara’s romance with Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson).  Very quickly it becomes obvious that Clara is having a very difficult time balancing her travels with the Doctor with her relationship with Danny, especially as the later is being kept completely in the dark about the former.

Then one day the Doctor announces to Clara that he wants to be alone for a while, that he is going “undercover.” Clara is unsuccessful at getting the Doctor to reveal what he is up to, and reluctantly shrugs it off, returning to her job as a teacher at Coal Hill School.  However she quickly discovers to her alarm & dismay that the Doctor’s “deep cover” mission is posing as John Smith the temporary caretaker at Coal Hill.  Much like Gareth Roberts’ earlier 2010 episode “The Lodger,” this latest entry sees the Doctor attempting to pose as a normal human & blend in to everyday life on Earth, only to fumble about with humorous results.  And all of that causes Clara to become increasingly exasperated, as the oblivious Doctor intrudes upon her personal life.

The Doctor is impersonating a janitorial professional so that he can locate an alien war machine that has become stranded on Earth and lure it into a trap, all without attracting any attention. This once again betrays the Doctor’s overconfidence and egoism.  On the one hand, it is understandable that he doesn’t want Earth’s military to engage the heavily armed Skovox Blitzer, as such a confrontation would no doubt result in a catastrophic loss of human life.  On the other hand, the Doctor is absolutely convinced that he is the only person capable of dealing with the threat, to the point that he keeps Clara completely in the dark about what is going on.  And when Danny Pink, who understandably has no clue that anything odd is going on, accidentally trips up the Doctor’s attempt to trap the Blitzer, the time traveler goes to town on him, hurling every insult imaginable at the poor teacher.

Truthfully, the Skovox Blitzer, although very cool looking, is something of a side issue. This episode could have featured nearly any alien menace.  The real focus of “The Caretaker” is the relationship between the Doctor and Clara, the romance between Clara and Danny which is being undermined by the former’s secrecy, and the tension between Danny and the Doctor.  Roberts & Moffat do a good job scripting these interactions, and the three actors play their roles especially well.

Doctor Who The Caretaker promo image

Once again, I was very much reminded of the Third Doctor by Peter Capaldi’s performance. It’s not surprising that Jon Pertwee is a major influence on how Capaldi has decided to approach the role.  Capaldi was a tremendous fan of Doctor Who back in the early 1970s when it starred Pertwee.  Much like his third incarnation, the Twelfth Doctor for all his bravery and genius is also an arrogant, condescending jerk.

When he first meets Danny, the Doctor simply cannot wrap his head around the idea that a former soldier now teaches math, instead becoming stubbornly convinced that Danny must be Coal Hill’s phys ed teacher (no doubt a nod to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart’s stint as a math instructor, and the Doctor’s accompanying surprise, in “Mawdryn Undead”). The Doctor incorrectly (and egotistically) assumes that Clara is dating someone completely different, another of her co-workers, one who bears more than a passing resemblance to his last incarnation, complete with bow tie.  When the Doctor finally learns that Clara is involved with Danny, he is disgusted.  In a display of appalling rudeness, the Doctor asks Clara, with Danny standing right next to her, “Why would you go out with a soldier? Why not get a dog or a big plant?”

Of course, we soon discover that Danny is no one’s door mat, and he can give as good as he gets. The next day, upon overhearing that the Doctor is a Time Lord, Danny gets right in the Doctor’s face in a blisteringly insightful exchange…

Danny: “Time Lord!”  Might have known.
The Doctor: Might have known what?
Danny: Well, the accent’s good, but you can always spot the aristocracy.  It’s in the … the attitude.
Clara: Danny!
Danny: Now, uh, Time Lords, do you salute those?
The Doctor: Definitely not.
Danny: Well, sir!  [Danny sarcastically salutes the Doctor.]
The Doctor: You do not call me “sir.”
Danny: As you wish, sir!  Absolutely, sir!
The Doctor: You, get out of my TARDIS!
Danny: Immediately, sir!
Clara: Doctor, this is stupid!  This is unfair!
Danny: One thing, Clara.  I’m a soldier. Guilty as charged. You see him? He’s an officer!
The Doctor: I am not an officer!
Danny: I’m the one who carries you out of the fire.  He’s the one who lights it.
The Doctor:  Out now!
Danny: Right away, sir?  Straight now?
The Doctor: Yes!
Danny: Am I dismissed?
The Doctor: Yes, you are!
Danny: That’s him.  Look at him, right now.  That’s who he is.

Doctor Who The Caretaker Danny salutes

The Doctor does not like Danny because he associates soldiers with people who do not use their intelligence, who believe that the answer to every problem is violence. Danny, in turn, does not like the Doctor because he reminds Danny of his former superior officers, and of the politicians, the ones who start wars and then send people like him into the battlefield to fight and die in order to do the dirty work of cleaning up those messes.  And, yes, I do think that there is some truth to Danny’s comparison.  I was once again reminded of the scathing observation made by Davros in “Journey’s End” concerning the Doctor, a line I’ve quoted before:

“The man who abhors violence, never carrying a gun. But this is the truth, Doctor. You take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons.”

In the end, though, the Doctor is not able to stop the Skovox Blitzer on his own. Without a much-needed assist from Danny, the Blitzer would have engaged its self-destruct device, obliterating the Doctor, Clara and probably a good chunk of London.  The Doctor is forced to acknowledge a grudging admiration for Danny.  As for Danny, he doesn’t care what the Doctor thinks of him.  All that matters to him is that the Doctor recognizes that Danny is good enough for Clara, and stops questioning their relationship.

I am interested in seeing where things develop from here. How will this affect the relationship between Clara and Danny going forward, and between Clara and the Doctor?  Will Danny be joining the Doctor and Clara on any of their travels in the TARDIS?  If so, how will that turn out?  It could lead to plenty of interesting drama.

Another aspect of “The Caretaker” I enjoyed was the interaction between the Doctor and Courtney (Ellis George), one of Clara’s students at Coal Hill. The inquisitive, headstrong Courtney keeps prying into the Doctor’s affairs, attempting to learn why the new caretaker is hiding a police box in the supply room.  We are told that Courtney is referred to as a “disruptive influence” by the school staff.  It makes sense that the Doctor simultaneously is annoyed by and fond of Courtney.  They are probably very much alike.  I would not be at all surprised to learn that many centuries past, back on Gallifrey, the teenage Doctor had also been labeled a “disruptive influence” by his elders.  The Doctor does eventually let the persistent Courtney take a trip on the TARDIS, although she ends up quite unsettled by the experience!

Doctor Who The Caretaker Courtney

I was initially skeptical of the character of Danny, and of his relationship with Clara, upon his introduction earlier this season. However, after the developments of “The Caretaker” Danny is definitely shaping up to be an interesting, assertive, likeable figure, and his romance with Clara seems real & natural.

I do think that the Doctor’s blatant disdain towards soldiers was heavy-handed, and I hope that before Series Eight concludes Moffat will delve into the specific reasons for his feelings. I’ve suggested before that it could be rooted in the Doctor’s involvement in the Time War.  His present aversion to the military, which is much more pronounced that it ever was in most of his early incarnations, is perhaps a reflection of his self-disgust at the acts he committed during that apocalyptic conflict, and his fears concerning his continued capacity for violence.  That’s something worth exploring.