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Monday, October 6, 2014

Doctor Who: Kill the Moon

It strikes me just how different Doctor Who is now compared to its stint under R.T. Davies. It's hard to pin-point what exactly: the characters, the plots, the atmosphere? But something fundamental has changed to the point where it feels like I'm watching an entirely different show.

In any case, here are twelve thoughts on Kill the Moon:

1. Did Doctor Who just do a pro-life episode?


 
Er... we'll get to this in a bit.

2. The cold opening flash-forward has Clara inform us that an innocent life is at stake and a terrible choice must be made in forty-five minutes. And what are the odds? That's the same length of an episode!

Okay, I'm being snarky but the fact that the timer was set well into the episode's forty-five minute run meant that the line was a fun bit of meta rather than another take on season three's 42.

3. I do wish the Doctor wasn't Sherlock. Swanning about arrogantly, telling children that they're not special (didn't he once assert the exact opposite?), espousing his own intelligence and treating people like annoyances.

Look, I get that they're trying to do something different with his personality, and he's thankfully called out on his behaviour by everyone from Clara to Courtney to Lundvik – but it's not like he's actually going to modify his unpleasantness, right? Which leaves him as Sherlock: too brilliant to care.

4. I'm willing to hand-wave that the Doctor is always able to talk his way into and out of situations that he has no right to be involved with (well, except that one time), though I had to laugh at the completely casual acceptance of his presence on a space shuttle that he could not have possibly stowed away on. Judging from Lundvik's expression, you'd think that doctors, teachers and teenagers popping up out of nowhere was completely normal.

5. I was initially torn on Courtney Woods, disruptive influence, fluctuating as she did between annoying and amusing – but I ultimately settled on amusing. I suppose I'm still scarred by those awful brats of last season, but Courtney had an appropriate reaction to being on the moon (awe and excitement), followed up with a botched Neil Armstrong quote and a shot of her cheerfully taking pictures on her phone.


6. Ah, those orange spacesuits. A trip down memory lane, and so much better than the bulky plastic grey ones.

7. At about the twenty-minute mark this generic episode with stock characters got really interesting, though up until that point it was a standard re-tread of a typical episode. The abandoned space station, the bodies fixed to the wall, the spidery aliens that crawl out of the darkness, the Red Shirts that die to prove how dire the situation is and who get a couple of seconds of post-mortem characterization as their friends recall how great they were...

There were even a few silly bits just to keep us off our guard, including the use of spray-and-wipe to repel giant spiders and a line so clichéd that it made me blink in astonishment: "don't try this at home."

But all this was a smoke-screen to lull us into a sense of uninterested security, designed to make the outrageously awesome reveal all the more gob-smacking:

The moon is an egg, and it's about to hatch.

In a single moment our perception of the silvery orb is changed forever, and I realize just how fond I am of its presence in the night sky.

8. Before we get to the juicy stuff, I just want to point out how much I enjoyed the rapport between Clara and Courtney. As ever, Clara's first instinct is to look after the child in her vicinity, and most of the protective body language was (I like to think) down to Jenna Louise Coleman.

9. There was some interesting commentary here on the nature of history and the foreknowledge/responsibility of those who move through it.

The Doctor speaks of "grey areas" in which he's unaware of course history will take; I honestly don't know if he was telling the truth or just trying to prep Clara for her decisive moment, but instead of just being a half-hearted attempt at creating some tension, this mini-speech served to really make us wonder at Clara's insistence that she had already been into the future and seen the moon, safe and sound. Had she? Or was it, as the Doctor suggested, just a hologram or a model?

This episode's consciousness of time and its passage was beautifully captured in a few throwaway lines: Lundvik's amused recollection that: "my Gran used to put things on Tumblr," and the Doctor's off-handed mention of Courtney becoming President.

10. And the moon's an egg. Did I mention that? It's not collapsing but hatching, which is causing havoc with the tides down on earth, and results in our characters facing a typical science-fiction moral dilemma: do they take an innocent life in order to kill millions more?

The question may be a clich̩, but the way it played out is certainly not. The Doctor unexpectedly bows out, declaring that this is a problem for mankind Рsorry, womankind Рto deal with on their own. And we're left with an astronaut, a school teacher and a teenage girl in a room together, disagreeing on their best course of action whilst simultaneously high-jumping over the Bechdel Test.

Clara feels the weight of this decision more than anyone. Courtney is adamant on saving the creature, but is too young to really feel what's at stake (after all, she's still at an age where adults make the decisions for her). Lundvik is determined to destroy it, and perfectly ready to die in the bid to save millions more. Clara is the mediating force between the two, and overwhelmed by the responsibility, she turns to Earth's population to decide.

Her broadcast instructs them – us – to turn off the lights if they want to save their own lives; to keep them lit if they're willing to take a leap of faith and see what emerges from the egg. And when the Earth responds with the unsurprising response (a black out), it's clear why the writer decided to put three women at the focal point of this episode.

I'm not going to come out and say that this episode contained a deliberate pro-life message. I think the writer came up with the brilliant idea to make the moon an egg, sketched out an ethical dilemma around its hatching, and then realized the real-world connotations. So it becomes a pro-choice episode, in which three women, not men, decide the fate of the orbiting sphere that has so long been associated with femininity and womanly cycles.

They ignore the message from mankind and make their own decision. That, for me, makes it more pro-choice than anti-abortion. Your views may differ.

11. By letting the moon hatch the women reopen the wondrous possibility of exploration in the stars, though Clara is severely shaken by the whole experience. The entire planet was placed in her hands, even when she tried to pass responsibility to everyone else (literally) so when she lashes out at the Doctor for the position he put her in, I could understand her anger.

She was nowhere to be seen in the preview for next week's episode, and I don't much blame her.

12. But what a perfect ending. Clara, alone in her apartment, glass of wine in hand, staring out at the moon – still waiting to hatch.

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