After last week’s not very good episode, “The Caretaker,” we’re treated to more of an old-fashioned Doctor Who adventure in “Kill the Moon.” Old-fashioned in that it takes place someplace other than Earth, and in the future, and has our heroes fighting monsters and trying to figure out a mystery. I liked it for the most part, but it’s still a bit problematic. I’ll get to that.
NO MAJOR SPOILERS HERE, BUT THEY’RE LIKELY TO COME UP IN COMMENTS, SO CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED!
One of the things I’m liking about season 8 is that there are clear emotional and psychological ramifications to events, something that was blatantly missing last season. It seemed like consequences were being set up in season 7, but then nothing ever happened. Plot lines were introduced only to be dropped, constantly. Take Angie and Artie, for example, the children Clara was nannying. They were taken into space and fought the Cybermen in “Nightmare in Silver,” and after being returned home were never seen again. What happened to them? How did they adjust after that? Is Clara a teacher now because she got fired from that nanny job for endangering the children? We’ll never know. The whole thing was dropped.
But that’s not the case any more. Characters are being allowed to develop again in season 8. Clara has become a more rounded human being. Danny is revealing new facets of his personality and past on a regular basis. And then there’s Courtney, the troubled and trouble-making student from Clara’s school. When I heard she would be a part of “Kill the Moon,” I rolled my eyes. I figured it would be like Angie and Artie all over again — except it wasn’t. The consequences of her coming along are clear and present in her fear and desire to go home in the middle of things, and also in her decision to stay and fight for what she believes is the right thing to do. Character development. Suddenly, I feel like if Courtney were to become a new companion I would be all right with that.
But would the Doctor? Because one of the most problematic, indeed troubling, aspects of “Kill the Moon” is the Doctor’s dismissal of Courtney as “not special.” Why would he say that to someone? Especially a child? It felt out of character for the Doctor. After all, this is a man who once said, “In nine hundred years of time and space, I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important.” That is such an incredibly important part of the character that to have the Doctor tell someone — a child! — that she’s not special didn’t feel right at all. It felt like a ham-handed justification for his taking Courtney to the moon, to make her feel special as an apology. It would have been so much better, and without compromising anyone’s character, if Courtney had stowed away on the TARDIS as the means of becoming involved in the story. It’s happened with countless companions before. It would have worked much better here.
(With the Doctor being so dismissive of Courtney and Danny, and indeed of Mickey back in the day, there’s an uncomfortable racial subtext taking shape. The writers need to keep an eye on this. At the same time, they deserve kudos for what I believe is the first episode this season where the Doctor doesn’t make fun of Clara’s appearance.)
Anyway, back to Courtney. The Doctor asks her if she would like to be the first woman on the moon. She says yes — of course she does — and we’re off to 2049. Apparently, there has not been a single woman on the moon before 2049. Which is rubbish, of course, because Martha was on the moon 2008, along with plenty of other women in the relocated Royal Hope Hospital. But we already know that Moffat-era Doctor Who doesn’t like to acknowledge the first four seasons’ existence, so apparently the Doctor just plain forgot or something?
The plot that follows is nominally a rehash of “The Waters of Mars” (Lundvik even looks reminiscent of Adelaide Brooke) with the future of mankind resting on what happens at this remote, extraterrestrial base, except this time the Doctor steps back and refuses to make the decision for them. And here’s where things start to break down. There are two very important scenes in this episode. The first is the Doctor telling Clara and Lundvik that he can’t make this decision for them. The second is Clara blowing up at him about that. Again, hooray for ramifications. However, in my opinion both scenes needed better writing to make the characters’ motivations and stances clearer. The Doctor definitely could have explained better that it wouldn’t be right for him to make that decision for them. (I also keep wondering how his speech would have been played by Tennant instead of Capaldi, and I see a lot more gravity to it. Capaldi’s delivery was smug, which felt off to me.) Similarly, in Clara’s big scene afterward, I think it really needed to be made clearer how scared she was. She thought she was going to do something terrible, then die as a result of it, not to mention dooming the student who’s under her care to death as well, while the man she trusted to get her out of it abandoned her. But very little of that comes out in her speech, so unfortunately it winds up looking like nothing more than a temper tantrum. Peter Harness, the script writer, really needed to put more into both those scenes to sell them.
But as scary monsters in space episodes go, “Kill the Moon” is pretty good. With the exception of “The Caretaker,” I continue to find season 8 a marked improvement over what we’ve been given these last few seasons.
And now some quick Doctor Who neepery! I’m glad Clara mentioned that the moon still exists past 2049, because there are at least three classic Doctor Who serials that take place on it: “The Moonbase,” in which the Second Doctor fights the Cybermen on the moon in 2070; “The Seeds of Death,” in which the Second Doctor fights the Ice Warriors on the moon sometime after 2070; and “Frontier in Space,” in which the Third Doctor is briefly imprisoned in a prison on the moon in 2540. Additionally, the Fourth Doctor’s yo-yo makes a reappearance here to test the gravity on the moon. There’s also a mention of a Bennett Oscillator, which played a role in the 1975 Fourth Doctor serial “The Ark in Space,” and a brief reference made to not killing Hitler.
Lastly, part of the episode was filmed in Lanzarote, where much of the 1984 Fifth Doctor serial “Planet of Fire” was filmed. This led to wide speculation that A) the Doctor would be returning to the planet Sarn, and B) the Master would be showing up again. Spoiler alert: Neither turns out to be the case.