Kill the Mood

Review of Kill the Moon
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

Here's where my academic background betrays me.

I have (generally speaking) enjoyed Series Eight so much that I really wanted to like this one, too. But even before the problematic personal interactions surface late in the episode, I had checked out. The plethora of egregious scientific errors pulled me so far out of the narrative I may as well have been orbiting Earth right along with that egg the moon.

Doctor Who has always played fast and loose with the science in its stories, but science fiction (or even "science fantasy," if you feel that description more accurately fits Who) storytelling doesn't work if the writing isn't self-consistent. You can say, for instance, that the sonic screwdriver can unlock anything except a deadlock seal, and your audience will go with it—as long as you don't later use the sonic to unlock a deadlock seal. Similarly, if you're going to set your story on Earth (and its moon), and have the plot hinge on something as well understood as gravity, you'd better not fuck with the basic laws of physics as we all know they work on Earth.

I could roll with it at first. So the moon's got Earth-normal gravity now; somehow it's gained mass. Fine. The Doctor even provides a few science-fictiony explanations that are narratively plausible: "gravity bombs, axis alignment systems, planet shellers..." But when you turn around and say it's because the moon's really an egg, and the fetus's growth has added 1.3 billion tons to the moon's mass—thus completely throwing out conservation of mass, one of the most basic laws of physics—I'm done.

And they didn't even leave it there. They added insult to injury by saying first that the Mexicans didn't find any minerals on the moon 70 bloody years after Apollo 11 brought moon rocks back to Earth, clearly proving the moon's composition (hint: not an egg); and then that the moon was a hundred million years old. At first I thought the writer just said, "Oh, 100 million sounds like a really big number; that should be good enough" instead of looking up the basic astronomical fact that the moon is actually 4.5 billion (yes, with a B) years old. I've since seen it pointed out that the hundred million thing probably comes from the pre-Hiatus series, particularly the capture hypothesis of the moon's formation (popular in the 1970s) that was the impetus for the Silurian stories. No one seems to have bothered to update the Whoniverse.

On first viewing, then, by the time the bacteria-spider-thingies showed up (and why would bacteria leave webs?), I had already checked out. I believe my husband can even vouch for the fact that the actual words "bored now" escaped my lips. Perhaps I can thus be forgiven for letting the heavy-handedness of the message in the second half slide under my irritation radar until later reflection.

I don't want to talk about the abortion allegory (I do my damnedest to avoid that hot-button issue), but it's difficult to discuss the episode without mentioning it at all unless one didn't (for whatever reason) pick up on it. Whether it was intentional or not, there was clear subtext that yes, I noticed.

I have to say that the dynamic between the Doctor and Clara here left me acutely uncomfortable for reasons I couldn't fully define at first. In retrospect, I'm sure some of it has to do with the specific metaphor, but I believe more fundamentally it has to do with the overall breakdown of communication that led to what Clara experienced as a breach of trust.

Clara, and all of humanity, stood at a crossroads. The Doctor even acknowledged it was one of those "little moments in which big things are decided"—and yet he couldn't be bothered to help make that decision. Clara all but begs for his input ("I am asking you for help"), and he still swans off to let "womankind" make the call, claiming "some decisions are too important not to make on your own."

Later, when Clara calls him out for patronizing her, he objects to her characterization of his behavior. "No, that was me allowing you to make a choice about your own future. That was me respecting you." I'm 100% behind her in not feeling that from him.

On the one hand, it's powerful storytelling to see the Doctor fuck up so badly. His judgement in this case was brutally flawed. I can only hope the writers come back to this incident somehow, and explore the damage it's done to the relationship.

On the other, I really didn't want to see such a spectacular fail from the Doctor, of all people. It's not like we haven't seen him push his Companion a little too far ever before (I'm thinking particularly of Ace in Ghost Light), but a moment of crisis in which a life-and-death decision with long-standing consequences for multiple people (in this case the entirety of humanity, not to mention all the other species on the planet) needs to be made is not the time to absolve oneself of responsibility. Especially not when another involved party specifically asks for your input.

The metaphor is overpowering. I have a really hard time watching the Doctor in the role of the father-to-be who steps away "respectfully" when his partner asks him to help her make an excruciating decision. That doesn't mesh with my sense of who the Doctor is. And perhaps that's the crux of my discomfort.

Throughout the season, I've been fascinated by the dichotomy of Twelve. I've never been quite sure I like him, but I've always found him intensely interesting. This time, I knew for certain I didn't like him, and it broke my heart. Since I first got to know him, I've loved the Doctor, each incarnation in a unique way. This week, he behaved in a way that really hurt me, and I, like Clara, am going to need some time to recover.

Although there were other things that bugged me (erroneously aligned phases of the Earth and moon, the tumblr joke, bacteria that make webs), and the plot line suffered from internal consistency issues that detracted from the meat of the story, the acting was top notch, and there is no arguing that this was a very dramatic episode. There was plenty to latch onto and give a myriad of interpretations. (Personal favorite case-in-point: that atmospheric breach fixed by a panel of coincidentally perfect size flying off and covering the hole, exactly sealing said breach. It served no narrative purpose. So is it a red herring, or another case of "the Doctor's wearing his jacket"?)

But is dramatic storytelling enough? Not for me, though your mileage may vary. I'd been remarkably pleased with the overall quality of Capaldi's run so far. I suppose, then, it was about time this series laid an egg.

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Comments

I was starting to think I was the only person who couldn't get past the abominable science in this episode! And you even caught a few things that flew right past me, like the age of the moon. Thank you, I feel better now :) Yet another reason why I find your reviews to be among the best on the web.

By Carson (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoy reading my perspective as much as I enjoy sharing it. :)

By mrfranklin

I had one question at the end of this episode: When did the Doctor become such an arse?

Suddenly saving the planet is something he won't do! Another internal inconsistency, and a ruddy big one at that.

On the plus side there was some zippy dialogue that I really enjoyed but the tolerance bank empties pretty quickly if key points in the story do not make sense.

By Wholahoop
mrfranklin's picture

I really do think the Doctor thought he was doing right by Clara by [forcing her to stretch herself / allowing her control over the situation] (strike as you see fit), but it felt awkward and uncomfortable nonetheless.

By mrfranklin

I just feel like the magic is gone. I knew they were trying to move away from the previous new age Doctors, but I like my Doctor goofy and bit eccentric. The Doctor isn't Batman or a plethora of other television characters that are dark and moody, and I for one am just not enjoying it.

By Travis (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

It's definitely a big change, and I can understand why it's not everyone's cup of tea.

By mrfranklin

The Doctor claimed at the beginning of the episode that the events which were about to occur were hidden from him and he had no idea what was going on. I don't believe him. I have the feeling that he knew exactly what was about to happen and just what needed to be done. Leaving Clara to cope with it by herself was some sort ot test for her and the human race in general. If they killed the giant space butterfly he was willing to leave humanity to clean up their mess themselves. If they showed mercy and allowed the space butterfly to hatch then humanity was worthy of his interest.

The problem is, humanity in general and Clara in particurlar didn't have enough information to make an informed decision. For all she knew, Clara could have been championing a giant space cockroach which would have immediately eaten the Earth and then flown off to destroy other inhabited planets and killing it would have been the right thing to do.

The Doctor's always been a bit of an arrogant know it all in all his incarnations but Capaldi's interpretation puts a new high mark on this quality. Matt Smith's Doctor was so cuddly that perhaps they wanted to go as far as they could in the opposite direction. I think they went a little too far towards unlikeability.

By Kara S (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

I have found Capaldi's Doctor deeply intriguing throughout the series. In this episode, though, I very much did not like him. I reacted very strongly to this episode, and not in a good way. There was enough about it that was good storytelling for me to see its merits, but I had a lot of problems with it—not least, how very much I didn't like the Doctor here.

By mrfranklin

To me, the writing for Capaldi's doctor is interesting because he DOES switch so often between likable and unlikable. ex. So far this season, he's able to say lines which would be considered downright misogynistic and controversial regarding Clara's weight, her aging, etc. With a younger actor, such lines would have been unthinkable.

(With Capaldi's doctor, it's believable, uncomfortable, heartless, and comical all at once. I'm kinda enjoying watching a protagonist who is trying to save the world every week while his contempt for humans is expressed pretty clearly in his tone and mannerisms. I think this whole anti-military-and-you-humans-are-so-stupid persona of this latest regeneration is something that's intriguing to watch yet couldn't have been tolerated by the fans if a younger actor had the role.)

As for this episode in particular, I could write off the moon's increasing mass as a by-product of organic growth. ex. plants can increase their mass with little more than sunlight, so I can let it slide that a moon monster could perhaps somehow be absorbing solar radiation or something through the minerals of the moon's surface.

(But. I'll admit it irked me a lot that eight-legged web-spinning carnivores somehow engaged in convergent evolution while remaining as single-celled organisms. The odds of that are akin to a mandrake root which happens to evolve to eventually look identical to Ringo Starr AND be able to play the drums. Sure, I get that a writer might want that in to both increase the tension via horror and to go with the metaphor of Salmonella upon the surface of a chicken egg, but hissing spiders which are actually giant bacteria is pretty bad. My other big complaint was the possibility of a newborn creature laying an egg that looks just as big as the egg it just hatched from. Ouch.)

That being said, the spiders did add an element of tension which otherwise wouldn't have been present with moonquakes. Spiders exist on nearly every continent and are well-known. Earthquakes are personally unknown to many viewers.

Although it's not PC to say so, I'll admit I liked the little background details about third-rate astronauts aboard a second-rate space shuttle and the fact that the previous launch was a Mexican mining company doing analyses of the moon's minerals. That was a nice touch that the Earth was in decline and how it took us ten years to get back up to the moon, too.

(Usually, Doctor Who would have IMO have had the episode's new characters cast as a well-armed and hopelessly bull-headed squad of soldiers who would have lit up a payload of state-of-the-art nukes in downtown Mumbai while shoving the babbling Doctor aside. It was a welcome change of pace to have Earth's last hope being ordinary-sounding people who didn't carry guns nor have state-of-the-art anything.

I did find myself wondering where Torchwood was in all this. :-) The Doctor set up a scenario that Torchwood was designed to thrive upon: how can the Earth fend off alien threats when the Doctor is out to lunch?

By John H. Beckwith (not verified)
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