Kill the Moon

Story No. 269 Baby Dragon!
Production Code Series 8, Episode 7
Dates October 4, 2014

With Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman
Written by Peter Harness Directed by Paul Wilmshurst
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin.

Synopsis: The moon is threatening humanity. Should it be destroyed?


A Review by Harry O'Driscoll 27/5/15

I've staved off reviewing Kill the Moon for a while, partially because I wanted to wait a few months and re-watch it to see if my initial opinion was more than just a snap judgement. And partially because I struggled to assemble my thoughts on this episode into something vaguely coherent. I say "struggled", but even now it seems hard.

There are some flaws in this that are difficult to respond to. The opening scene with the Doctor and Courtney is utterly stupid and artificial. The inclusion of a child isn't necessarily a bad idea but on the surface it does not work here, partially because, as child actresses go, Ellis George is not the best, but also because Peter Harness simply does not seem sure what to do with her.

People have already called out the bad science, so I'm not going to labour the point. What I will say is that, while it is definitely appalling, I don't take particular objection to the criticisms about the dragon not being able to survive in space and being able to lay another egg immediately. It's a space dragon are you seriously going to act as some expert as to what an alien species can and can't do? It reminds me of that scene in The Daleks where Ian rubbishes the idea of a living creature being made out of metal and the Doctor mocks him for being unable to understand life unless it is in our image.

Upon re-watching, I appreciated smaller aspects of this story. Upon arrival on the space shuttle, I found I loved the distant humming of machinery and the faint echo of characters' voices, which gave the impression of not being in a TV studio dressed up like a space shuttle. Although I did find the music cloying; I'm not usually one to criticise Murray Gold but in the cold, distant landscape of the moon, his music really ruins the moment. Although once in the base he does put it to better use.

But the direction here is rather brilliant: this is slow, considered and allows the audience to soak in the environment. This one feels almost like a return to the programme's roots in the Hartnell era. That's why much of the tension in the first half comes from the suspenseful exploration of the base rather than the spiders themselves.

The spiders are... ok. They're plainly needed to justify the unease at the beginning, but they seem fairly unremarkable. I did like the scene where the Doctor peers down and finds the moon is teaming with them, but it felt like a let-down when it's revealed that they can't survive in sunlight. But of course they are not the important part of the episode so it's easy to brush them aside in the second half.

And I loved the contrast of the suspense and horror of the opening half only to discover that the spiders are the result of a child. The idea of the moon being an egg is sheer brilliance, I don't care what anyone says.

So this is the world of 2049, where the human race is no longer interested in space travel, in discovery. Only a handful of astronauts left and an antiquated space shuttle, a faded memory of the time when humanity had a curiosity about the world, before that all became boring. The sort of world that loses an expedition on the moon and it isn't until the moon actually presents a danger to them that they care enough to investigate.

It is easy to understand Lundvik's fear and cold-hearted pragmatism in the face of alien life. Earth has been subjected to alien invasions on a ridiculous level, so it's not surprising if everyone on Earth shares Lundvik's sense of how fragile the Earth is and of the dangers the Universe presents. It's like in Everything Changes where Suzie speculates that the universe is really a wonderful place and wonders why it's Earth that just gets the shit. That's why I can understand why people turned their lights out when confronted with the choice.

I did actually read an interesting theory online wondering that given the way the lights are shown to be going out, the government is actually forcing the power off, depriving the people of their voice.

There is obviously a parallel here with abortion, which a lot of people have picked up on. A lot of the divisiveness has been caused by Doctor Who taking that controversial choice to make a pro-life stance. I liked it, the very idea of the moon being an egg is a wonderfully Who-ish idea and of course Doctor Who is always going to take the pro-life side. Although it is not exactly a straight parallel, given that the moral dilemma is weighed far more to kill the creature than it is for an actual abortion. The whole of humanity is not threatened if you give birth to a baby. Lundvik's argument is perfectly rational.

But in the end the Clara's decision is the right one. Because it is fundamentally a choice about murdering a child and that is an objective wrong regardless of how people vote. It can be considered a stinging critique on the failings of democracy, how people can sometimes make the wrong choice especially when they are scared. Whatever the implications for the Earth might be, to actually have the finger on the button, to kill a life that has unlimited potential ahead of it, is something Clara simply could not live with.

The Doctor's inaction is an interesting moment and it is worth remembering The Christmas Invasion. Remember when the Doctor gave Harriet Jones a bollocking for shooting down the Sycorax spaceship; the more I think about that scene, the less I like it.

Because Harriet Jones is right, the Doctor isn't always around to save the day and the human race can't be dependent on him. It needs to stand up for itself. For the Doctor to decry this feels almost like egotism, like he wants the humanity to remain in his shadow. The Doctor is in the convenient position; for him, dispatching the alien menace is usually so easy. Never is he asked the question: what should we do? At his best, the Doctor is about showing people there is another way, not shouting down people for taking their own initiative to defend themselves.

So initially this moment in Kill the Moon felt refreshing: humanity has the power to solve the problem. The key issue is what should we do, not what do we do. The Doctor is not there to act as moral arbitrator, his trusting of humanity to make the right decision actually felt very good. At first, I couldn't stand Clara for her whining diatribe at him.

And then I thought about it some more, mainly Clara's line "that was you, my friend, making me feel scared!" and I saw it differently. For the Doctor to declare that what humanity decides is none of his business doesn't stack up. Given how long the Doctor has known the human race, how much of a difference he has made to them and them to him, Clara is right. The Doctor abandoning Clara to shoulder that sort of responsibility feels almost callous.

So in the end Clara cannot go through with it, even though from a logical perspective the certain death of one life seems a worthy price for the possible death of millions. And humanity looks up at the Moon and is proven wrong. They expected the worse from the unknown and instead found something beautiful, and it feels right that the Earth's nuclear arsenal is lost. For once they learnt that the unknown is not something to be lashed out against.

And I loved the line "thank you for giving me the moon back", because it's about humanity rediscovering the fascination with space. Where the human race after years of learning that the universe was full of horrors looked up and saw it was not all like that. That the universe was a vast opportunity and that Earth is so small, not in the nihilistic philosophy in Children of Earth that the human race is nothing and that there is no point to anything. But in that the universe is teeming with life and that is something to discover not live in fear of.

And that's why I really don't care about how the scene with the egg hatching is not possible. Because it is about how diverse life in the universe is and how there is more to life than what humanity understands.

And I don't care about those that criticise that we never saw the impact the moon's gravity had on the Earth or humanity's reaction that Clara had not gone with their decision. Classic Who long specialised in trying to convey worlds that we couldn't see and leaving viewers' imaginations to do the rest of the work.

Doctor Who is about otherness, it is about escapism from the modern world. More importantly, it is about understanding how wide the world is. The first time watching Kill the Moon I felt a little unsure what to make of it, but got a feeling that I liked it. The more I think about it and the more I re-watch, the more I love it. This might be one of the best episodes I've seen in ages.

"Split down the middle" by Thomas Cookson 20/12/19

I caught Kill the Moon late, and before watching it I was aware it'd already provoked severely marmite reactions. I will say I actually found it an utterly riveting first-time watch that momentarily drew me back into the show's fiction after a waning interest. However, in hindsight it's a one-trick pony.

It's a story of three ill-fitting halves. A contrived set-up, then the dramatic meat of the piece, topped off with an incongruous twee resolution. The malignant trouble-maker Courtney becomes guest companion this week, after Clara nagged Capaldi to apologise and make up to her after he'd apparently hurt her fee-fees in The Caretaker. This is typical. Capaldi being played up as a sharp-worded, unsentimental curmudgeon just so the narrative can tell him he's stupid and wrong for it.

When Courtney claims he so damaged her esteem by labelling her 'not special' a hole was kicked in her heart, I found it indigestible, coming from such a sociopath. Into the Dalek showed Courtney engaging in the kind of merciless classroom bullying that's driven some victimised teachers to breakdowns. I kept expecting this to turn out to be crocodile tears. A ploy to get what she wants by playing them for the do-gooder fools they are. Alas, doesn't happen.

But we reach the moon quickly, and most of the goods come promptly. The hints that something is wrong with the Moon's gravity are a nicely ominous set-up. To my delight, the shuttle contained Earth's entire complement of nukes. A total global disarmament precluding any possible future cold war. Meaning my prayers are answered: Warriors of the Deep has finally been completely decanonised! However, we get some clunky, glaring exposition about recent history of Earth's environmental catastrophes.

The show's often burdened by visual limitations, meaning it can't always show rather than tell. Thus writers had to develop a subtle, eloquent skill of painting pictures and events with the power of words. But this suffers badly for its emphasis on telling rather than showing.

Had the story played out longer, it could've teased us the mystery of why the astronauts are here, and made the exposition about recent environmental events feel a reward for our patience rather than a blatant substitute for the lacking budget it only draws attention to. This is actually one of the most thickly atmospheric episodes in a while, so it could've worked. We could've felt, like the characters, cut off from an Earth they know is beyond recognition, haunted by ghosts of those they lost. The exposition's so clunky we're always, on cue, told a boatload of trivial background details about each character after they've snuffed it to make us care.

The killer spiders, however, really drew me in and maintained suspense for the right amount of time. When they become allergic to sunlight and begin retreating, conveniently lowering the stakes for the characters on that front, I was already hooked. I didn't know what'd happen next or where it would go from here. It didn't seem contrived, because I didn't trust for a minute it really was over.

Then the greater stakes to Earth are established. Capaldi muses on the grey parts of time he can't see or predict. His most Doctorish moment so far. Glimpsing just how strange the show's universe of space-time is and how alien and incomprehensible the Doctor's mind is in his ability to make sense of it. It's a throwback to The Fires of Pompeii's dilemma, with emphasis on establishing how different Capaldi's Doctor is to Tennant.

Tennant was RTD's leftist do-gooder, power-fantasy figure, beginning his era by facilitating an old wish-fulfilment that Thatcher actually got her comeuppance for sinking the retreating Belgrano during the Falklands. This left a nasty aftertaste with some fans. The real Belgrano wasn't populated by treacherous space pirates with tremendous voodoo powers that could bring entire worlds to their knees, but by young men just obeying orders. RTD's allegory cheapened the position of those horrified by Thatcher's act of killing for killing's sake.

Harriet genuinely was acting to secure her world, and ensure the murder of her staff didn't go unpunished. She had every reason to assume this enemy's going to honour no agreements. Her actions probably did the wider galaxy a favour. Tennant's response betrayed his unreasonable, bizarre, hysterical pre-judgement of mankind as apparently being always 'the coming monsters', even when they were the helpless prey. Suddenly the Sycorax were so innocent and 'victimized' all along.

By contrast Capaldi declares he's done with his predecessor's high-handed moral authority, and will now let human affairs and moral quandaries be handled by ourselves. Maybe leaving behind RTD's Who was a more painful transition than I realized. RTD's era was an intensely emotional, feminine life experience that some of us never experienced before and was previously alien to us, which afterwards we ached over in various conflicting ways. Now we were entering a more unsentimental era, reminiscent of McCoy's colder, Machiavellian moments. Perhaps it was about time.

However, it seems the wrong time for Capaldi to back out of what's genuinely a moral dilemma for us. It's basically Moffat playing to his critics. It's fans who complained about Tennant acting like an interfering, messiah-complex afflicted moral arbiter and wished he'd stop. Capaldi's hissy fit storm-off is an exasperated reaction to those fan viewers. But when did Clara ever complain about him overriding others' authority?

Legally speaking, Earth has no jurisdiction over this lunar alien life form to decide whether it lives or dies. Whilst mankind is adopting the panic response of using its most advanced military technology available, Capaldi has the advantage of knowing alternative scientific measures he could be sharing with us for our sakes. To save the planet and the child, and spare our conscience from doing something terrible. Maybe by placing the weapons strategically to repel the Moon from Earth without harming the creature. For that matter, the devastating consequences of Earth losing the moon never come up.

It doesn't help that Journey's End's 'towing the Earth home' did enough damage to raise questions why Capaldi can't tow the Moon away to hatch at safe distance? The fact he doesn't even suggest anything, treating the whole dilemma flippantly and storming off, makes him come across as beyond immature.

Moffat's promotion of a more alien Doctor so far has just reduced him further into a stunted stroppy teenager prone to forced, flippant behaviour. His obstinacy feels forced. Reinforcing how Capaldi's characterisation is completely inconsistent from episode to episode. It defines Capaldi in the worst way as a grumpy, insufferable armchair Hitler, lacking the Doctor's will and inner steel. He swaggers and insults, but hasn't exhibited any of the Doctor's necessary conviction or force of personality. As though being the Doctor is some irritating chore he can barely be bothered with. His impatient misanthropy is meaningless when his complaints about humanity are so superficial, petty and almost incoherently drunkard.

It'd be easy contriving some way Capaldi's decision could feel natural. He could've insisted Clara leave with him because they mustn't interfere. She could've stayed behind on principle. Thus both could be seen to stick to their guns on believable, genuine convictions rather than on contrived hissy fits.

Some fan criticisms have missed the mark. Clara's strategy of giving only the side of Earth facing the moon a vote, for instance. Fans missed the point that it's supposed to be a bad system of gauging the vote, but the best one available in this scenario. Some question what the actual moral is, and if the author himself knew what the story's message supposedly means for the real world. Well it's about moral responsibility, and how difficult that becomes the closer you come to the button itself. Fans accused this of portraying Clara as a Mary Sue who's totally, morally in the right. But actually she's shown as quite cowardly.

Clara asked the people to vote because she knew and feared this terrible deed had to be done. She wanted peace of mind of knowing the decision was made for her. That condemning the creature to die weighs less on her conscience if she's serving majority interest. Conversely if she 'aborts' on their vote and mankind suffers extinction, it wasn't because of her sentimentality but because of what mankind as a whole decided.

Likewise, the voters believe themselves far away enough to judge and make the decision guiltlessly, and that their vote is one insignificant drop in the ocean. How people may vote in favour of the immoral or inhuman when they're scared, when they never would've under ordinary circumstances.

The point was Clara still couldn't do it. The instinct to never kill was too strong. She was too close to the event. It could've been a failing that led to our destruction, but it would be us going out because there are certain guilty and compassionate natures the best of us can't shake. Ultimately it was perhaps conveniently the right instinct that was worth listening to, and to be proud of. It was in the end about a moral courage Clara didn't even realize she had until that moment.

I adored Clara's long-brewing beautifully inarticulate rant to Capaldi, trying to find the words to describe how she feels about being tested, and finding the courage on the spot to reject him. I'd begun to find Clara an irritant this season, but I was completely on her side here. I would've preferred however if her threat hadn't been undermined of its sting by her past violent hissy fits. It would've meant far more and emphasised the betrayal if we knew this was unlike Clara.

"I'll smack you so hard you'll regenerate" feels so right that it'd feel equally right if we'd never seen Clara's unhinged, violent raging control-freak tendencies before. It doesn't feel forced, but in such a way it exposes how the rest of their conflict this season utterly has. However whilst Clara shows all the sense, Capaldi's still written like an immature swaggering idiot.

For much of its length, Kill the Moon looked like it might even be a sublime success. Yet in hindsight, when it's over, one could easily forget it even happened at all. The problem is, we can only feel involved in the moral dilemma for so long before it's over, consequence-free, and frankly afterwards, we're left frustrated. Wondering what any of this was even about. Yes it's about an alien lifeform about to hatch, but the moment it's born, it disappears from the story and ceases to matter.

The Silurians managed to convince that Silurian history seamlessly fits Earth history. Kill the Moon doesn't. In just 45 minutes, it can't. Perhaps this gets to the heart of why fans hated this story.

The Silurians and Genesis' moral dilemmas were ones that evolved organically from the storytelling. Here it's blatantly clear they needed a heavy-handed moral dilemma that'd break the Doctor-companion relationship, and worked backwards to contrive a story that'd force it to happen. The problem is, such priority's given to that moral resolution that the story overall doesn't feel well-balanced in its component pieces. Ultimately, it ends up feeling calamitously less than the sum of its parts.

It's just not sustainable at its episode length, so afterwards the moral dilemma just comes off sensationalist, and ultimately hollow. Whether you object to the battering of established astronomy science to reach this pre-determined conclusion or how it hinges on Capaldi's inexplicable immaturity, ultimately it doesn't feel like a storytelling experience that mattered or felt real, but as one designed to end this way.

I couldn't swallow the shell conveniently disintegrating harmlessly without colliding with Earth. All too conveniently, without any natural, evolutionary reason why it would, beyond authorial fiat. They could've even explained the creature's gravitational mass keeping the pieces from careening toward Earth. That would've worked.

Instead, alas, the happy ending makes the whole thing feel suddenly ingenuine and trivial. In the end, it feels on similar, inconsequential footing to one of the weaker, sillier New Series tie-in novels.