This week’s episode was a real surprise. It’s a big broad plot that eventually turns into a really intense scene between the Doctor and Clara that’s been building ever since the regeneration. It boasts one of the smallest casts I’ve ever seen in a Doctor Who episode, and one of the greatest titles. It’s time to “Kill the Moon”!
The episode opens with Clara addressing Earth from the TARDIS. She alludes to the Doctor being gone. Also, she’s wearing a spacesuit as is Courtney. Courtney is back on the TARDIS! Anyway, she asks the people of Earth to weigh an innocent life against the future of mankind, and they have forty-five minutes (the length of an episode without the commercials) to do so.
And then we jump back in time to Clara complaining to the Doctor about Courtney – she’s become completely unmanageable and even stole some psychic paper to use as fake ID. The Doctor doesn’t know who that is, until Clara reminds him that she threw up in the TARDIS. The problem is that he told her she wasn’t special, and that kind of sent her around the bend. And then they get to the TARDIS, and Courtney is in there with some stolen vortex manipulators. Clara demands that he tell Courtney that she’s special, and instead of doing that, the Doctor decides to let her be the first woman on the moon and thus, special.
They exit the TARDIS… onto a space shuttle. The Doctor works out that it’s 2049, there’s gravity on the ship, and it’s full of nuclear bombs. The ship comes in for a rough landing on the moon and then the crew finds them. The Doctor threatens them while testing the gravity (including using a yo-you) and finally explains that he can help. He explains that the moon has put on weight, which is why it has gravity now. The increasing weight caused massive tidal waves on Earth and set them back decades. The crew is there to determine what’s happening and blow up the moon if need be. On a moonwalk, the Captain (named Lundvik), leads them to an abandoned mining colony, which is covered in cobwebs.
They investigate and find nothing but corpses and more cobwebs. On the surface, one of the astronauts is attacked by a weird spider creature. The Doctor and crew see more of those creatures inside and Courtney gets briefly locked in a room with one of them. She sprays it with cleaning product that “kills 99% of known germs”, which promptly kills it. They head back to the TARDIS, minus Lundvik’s crewmen who were eaten by germ-spiders and drop Courtney off.
Clara thinks they can leave because obviously the moon doesn’t get destroyed – she’s been to the future, and there’s a moon. The Doctor says that could be a hologram or even a completely new moon. He also says there are moments in time that he can’t see. Fuzzy moments “in which big things are decided”. He doesn’t know what happens to the moon because it hasn’t been decided yet, and that means it’s up to them. Lundvik says they’re blowing up the moon and she needs their help.
The Doctor wants to investigate to find out what’s killing the moon and comes upon a nest of the spider germs. Then they find a pit full of amniotic fluid, so he heads down there with nothing but his yo-yo and cleaning spray, telling them to prepare the bombs and get back to the TARDIS.
As Lundvik and Clara make their way back, there’s a funny bit about Courtney posting her moon pictures to Tumblr, and then the moon starts to shake and swallow up the shuttle. The Doctor emerges from a crack in the moon and leads them to an indoor facility. Clara’s worried about Courtney, since the TARDIS was on the shuttle, but the Doctor takes it quite well. He’s much more upset that she’s putting pictures of him online. But he gets to more important things – the moon isn’t breaking apart in the traditional sense. It’s hatching. Yep, the moon is an egg and the Doctor is delighted by that. (Capaldi’s delivery of “The moon is an egg!” is the best thing.) Whatever is inside is the only one of its kind in the entire universe, and Lundvik only wants to know how to kill it.
The Doctor allows that, yes, Lundvik could still blow up the moon, killing the hatchling and leaving an immense corpse in the sky. The Doctor opens communication with Courtney and tells her she can bring the TARDIS back using some DVDs in the console. The Doctor refuses to make the decision as to whether or not to kill the moon. Humanity’s path depends on this choice, and they have to make it themselves. He explains that this is why hasn’t killed Hitler and when Courtney returns the TARDIS, the Doctor hops inside and leaves them behind to make the big decision.
The spiders, which we now know to be bacteria, advance on the lab. Clara, Courtney, and Lundvik debate the dangers of blowing up the moon or letting it hatch. Lundvik very much wants to kill it, but Clara and Courtney aren’t convinced it’s the right thing to do. Lundvik sets the timer on the bomb and says they’ll wait for the Doctor who, after all, probably isn’t going to leave them to die. Ground control makes contact and Clara asks them to broadcast a signal to the planet. And that’s what we saw at the beginning. She explains the situation and asks everybody to vote. Turn on your lights to let it live, turn off your lights to kill it. Gradually, everybody on Earth turns out their lights.
With seconds left, and in defiance of the will of the planet, Clara aborts the countdown and deactivates the bomb. At that moment, the Doctor returns with the TARDIS to show them something. He brings them to Earth and they watch the moon hatch, revealing a lovely, harmless creature. And in its place, it leaves a new moon. With time solidified, the Doctor now knows that this changed the course of history. Mankind looked up, not down. Realizing the possibilities the universe has to offer, they develop interstellar travel instead of fighting to survive. Clara has ensured that mankind will exist until the end of time. Lundvik thanks Clara for stopping her, and with that, they’re headed back home.
After they drop off Courtney, Clara lets the Doctor have it. He admits that he suspected it was best to not destroy the moon, and he had faith in Clara to make the right decision. But Clara is hurt and mad – she thinks that what he did was patronizing, and he kind of blows it when he says he respects her but “that was me allowing you to make a choice about your own future”. She’s upset because she almost let the bomb go off and it was her friend that put her in that position. Clara tells him to go away and never come back, and then she leaves the TARDIS.
Back in school, she runs into Danny. She explains the situation and he says that the way she feels now is the way he felt when he left the army. But if she’s still mad at the Doctor, then she’s not finished with him. Clara goes home to her apartment and look sadly at the moon.
–Wow. This one seemed like a throwaway at first. It feels like one of those guest-writer oneshots that doesn’t figure into the season arc, but as it goes on, it’s anything but. It’s a huge turning point for the Doctor and Clara – I’m surprised that Moffat didn’t co-write this one, frankly.
Here’s the thing – I’m not sure that the Doctor is wrong. It reminds me of the old “Must There Be a Superman?” story from the seventies where Superman starts to wonder if he’s holding mankind back by solving so many problems. The idea is that we needed to develop, say, space travel on our own without his help. Otherwise, we start to depend on Superman for everything and do our species a disservice. This is the Doctor backing away and letting humanity make an important decision. He’s not wrong, except for the way he handled it.
That’s where Clara’s right – he abandoned her and made it seem like he was doing her a favor. I can see the previous Doctors in this same situation, but they wouldn’t have left. I can see Eleven admitting that he couldn’t count on himself to make this choice, but supporting Amy Pond as she struggled. Ten would have laid out both sides and maybe questioned Rose or Donna’s judgment the whole way, but he wouldn’t have left. And Nine, still struggling with Time War PTSD, would have acknowledged that he already has one big, possibly wrong, choice on his conscience and couldn’t bear another. They wouldn’t have told Clara to be a big girl and disappeared.
And even if they had, I think they could have justified it. But this Doctor has so much less regard for humanity than we’ve seen before, so he’s not going into this from a great position. We’ve seen the Doctor get really arrogant before – check out David Tennant in “Waters of Mars” for an amazing example. But that’s baseline arrogance for Capaldi’s Doctor. Danny wasn’t kidding when he called him the aristocracy.
The ad for next week makes it look like he’s traveling without Clara, and traveling alone always brings out the worst in the Doctor. I’m genuinely worried about this.
–As for the bit about Courtney not being special, I haven’t really settled on that. I’m just old enough that I grew up in the era before that was a thing. I have a really negative reaction to that idea, because too often it’s used to justify bad behavior. Follow a twenty-year old on Twitter for a while, and you’ll see what I mean. Everybody is unique, but that doesn’t get you a free pass, you know? But I’d never want to say that to a kid. I actually like the way the Doctor decides to help Courtney be special rather than placating her.
But this isn’t about me, and I think past Doctors would disagree with Capaldi. I think it was Matt Smith’s Doctor who said he never once met anybody who wasn’t special. The Doctor’s view of humans is getting very cynical, and it feels like having to spend 1200 years stuck with a bunch of them didn’t help. And the fact that every human being except for Clara and Courtney made the wrong choice regarding the moon is just another point against us.
–The bit with the Doctor’s memories solidifying was odd. He has a different relationship with time than previous Doctors, and this is yet another example. It’s like a psychic connection to the timeline. I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen anything like that before – the only thing similar was in “Waters of Mars”, and that was more of way to get the information across to viewers rather than something the Doctor was experiencing.
–So, per the Doctor’s speech, Courtney is going to be President. Which seems odd, given that she’s not an American citizen. But I’m willing to accept that, fifty years from now, we open the doors to naturalized citizens. Or else it’s a Futurama situation where there’s a President of Earth. Also, she’s going to marry a man named Blinovitch. The “Blinovitch Limitation Effect” is a recurring bit of Who jargon from its earliest days – it has to do with time travelers interacting with themselves. They ignore it on a regular basis, depending on plot needs, but it’s still a nice shout-out. (I feel certain that Eccleston actually mentioned Blinovitch in “Father’s Day”, but I might be wrong.)
–This episode was written by playwright Peter Harness. It’s his first episode of Doctor Who. Also, Tony Osoba, who plays ill-fated astronaut Duke, was the first black Scottish actor to appear on primetime television. That’s pretty cool. (Back in the seventies – he wasn’t the first black Scottish actor just this last week.)
–Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are amazing, right? I have no further insight except to point out the obvious.
–Last thing. The same week this aired, the Thrilling Adventure Hour / Welcome to Night Vale crossover album came out. The two podcasts teamed up for a story about… destroying the moon. (“The First Annual Destroy the Moon Festival…”) If you listen to either show, you should really get the crossover on iTunes. It stars official spunkybuddies Marc Evan Jackson and Hal Lublin, and other great folks. It’s not related to Doctor Who (though there is a time-traveling British person), but I liked it a lot and the plot similarity is pretty funny.
Next week, the Doctor’s alone and he has to deal with a mummy on a space train. Stuff like that is why I got into recapping!