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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Review: Doctor Who, Kill the Moon

One of the most challenging components of a historical, all-ages show like Doctor Who is: How safe is too safe? Doctor Who is for families and children, but it is also science fiction. At its most bold, science fiction pushes boundaries. It uses space and science and the future and possibility to hold a mirror up to humanity and confront it with questions about our values, morals and philosophies.

At its most bland, science fiction is a label lazily attached to any story that has some vague implication of using advanced technology or societies.

Kill the Moon is one of the most divisive episodes of Doctor Who we've seen in a long time. It ticks so many contentious boxes:
  • Science and physics are largely sacrificed in the interest of story telling
  • The initial "baddie" is an irrelevant red herring 
  • The Doctor continues to be brash and rude and completely unsexy 
  • Clara finally acts brash and rude and completely unsexy 

That last bullet point is an annoying one to have to even include, but perhaps unsurprisingly it is a knee-jerk reaction from a minority of vocal fans ("What was up with Clara?").

In the background, a more serious implication lingers, though. This is ultimately an episode in which a group of women are charged with deciding whether an alien creature should hatch or be destroyed. My immediate take wasn't "abortion subtext," but based on how all of those things added up, I can understand the concern.

For what it's worth: I don't think this episode was about whether it would be considered murder to destroy a creature poking out of its eggshell. The moral conundrum at hand was, in my opinion, whether it is justified to pre-emptively take someone's life before that life has taken an action to harm you.  Baby Hitler, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Cuban Missile Crisis, what have you. It also throws in a dash of "Do the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many?" and a smidge of harsh commentary about our fiscal approach to the space program.

Potential pro-life subtext or not, this was probably my favorite episode of the season so far. For all of the above, but mostly for this bullet point
  • Clara is finally brash and rude and completely unsexy
In a perfect world, this episode would have had more consequences. Its biggest misstep was putting humanity in danger by removing the egg/moon, only to replace it in seconds with another, same-sized egg/moon. The threat seemed real, and then it completely wasn't, as is always the case with Doctor Who.

But if they couldn't deliver large-scale consequences, at least they delivered on more personal ones. The Doctor treated Clara like an outsider in this episode. He had an opinion and knew what the right thing to do was, but he refused to share it because he wanted to test her. This is generally contrary to not only The Doctor-Humanity relationship, which sees The Doctor as its ultimate savior, but also to The Doctor-Companion relationship, which sees The Doctor frequently relying on his companions for insight or support and vice-versa.

The Doctor also allowed himself to manipulate the situation while pretending he wasn't. He pretended he wasn't a stakeholder or a participant and that he didn't have an influence on its outcome. But without his meddling, the will of the world and the will of the astronaut from that world would have won out and the creature would have been destroyed. He brought Clara along because he knew the choice she would make; because he's been training her for months. 

In the end, Clara didn't kill an innocent bystander, but she almost did. I assume this will directly correlate with Danny Pink's experience, in which he presumably killed a civilian due to a false perception of threat under heavy pressure from his superior. These are all heavy issues for a family-friendly show, and I have to give the show kudos for going into all of it.

Overall, Kill the Moon managed to harness the conflicting morality issues of Series 5's The Beast Below while still exploring new territory within the concept, and for once we see a permanent sense of damage caused to the relationship between The Doctor and his companion. It wasn't without missteps, but I'll take the controversial Kill the Moon episodes over the safe Dinosaur on a Spaceship episodes any day. 

Final thoughts:
  • Peter Capaldi's Doctor testing gravity and going all wibbly wobbly was fantastic
  • I've never related to anyone more than I related to Courtney windexing a spider to death
  • Next week's trailer showed no mention of  Clara - perhaps we'll see her and The Doctor spending some time apart?
  • Lundvik gets line of the night: "My Gran used to put things on Tumblr"
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