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Doctor Who: Kill the Moon (Review)

I don’t like people being sick in my TARDIS. No being sick. And no hanky-panky.

If The Caretaker began the transition into the second half of the season, Kill the Moon completes it. The Twelfth Doctor is established. Peter Capaldi has found his footing. The audience has a clear grasp of what distinguishes his take on the character from the iterations played by David Tennant or Matt Smith. The orderly transition of lead actors is complete; the show can no go about its business. Along with The Caretaker, Kill the Moon marks the point at which the season starts building clearly and concretely towards Death in Heaven.

This is the point at which the show feels free to get a little experimental. With the exception of Listen, the first six stories of the season were all relatively conservative. Deep Breath returned to the Paternoster Gang in order to ease the transition to the new lead. Into the Dalek was the obligatory “Dalek episode.” Although it featured a fictional celebrity, Robot of Sherwood was a throwback to the old school celebrity historical. Time Heist was a light run-around. The Caretaker was the “dump the Doctor into the real world” story.

"Yes, I'm wearing my One Direction shirt. Wanna make something of it?"

“Yes, I’m wearing my One Direction shirt. Wanna make something of it?”

In contrast, the second-half of the season is more bold and experimental. Steven Moffat is not credited as a co-writer, suggesting that the training wheels are coming off. While the first six episodes were all written by established Doctor Who writers, the four episodes between The Caretaker and Dark Water are all credited to newbies. More than that, there is a spirit of experimentation. Kill the Moon and In the Forest of the Night are perhaps two of the most divisive and controversial episodes of the show since it returned in 2005. Only Love and Monsters comes close.

Kill the Moon is bold, provocative, insane and more than a little twisted.

David Tennant has the same tumblr photo...

David Tennant has the same tumblr photo…

This season’s engagement with the Russell T. Davies era continues with Kill the Moon. It’s interesting how much of Peter Capaldi’s first season has been spent playing with tropes and conventions associated with the Davies era, as if meditating and contemplating them, trying to properly digest the story logic that was at play in those early stories. As with Into the Dalek before it, Kill the Moon feels like it is reengaging on ideas at the heart of the Davies era; ideas that had largely been left fallow during Moffat’s first four years as showrunner.

Moffat’s first season as showrunner was consciously structured to resemble Davies’ work, but the following seasons were radically different in structure and in content. This culminated in the decision to undo the destruction of Gallifrey in The Day of the Doctor – probably Davies’ biggest single addition to the show’s back story, and one built in from his very first episode. However, with that out of the way, the eighth season has shown a willingness to engage with the ideas and themes of the Davies era.


Into the Dalek didn’t just revisit the themes of Dalek, it even lifted some winking dialogue and even affectionately named its central Dalek “Rusty.” Robot of Sherwood saw the return of the bona fides celebrity historical for the first time since Vincent and the Doctor, Let’s Kill Hitler not withstanding. The “Doctor infiltrates a school” plot from The Caretaker riffs just a little bit on School Reunion. It is perhaps telling that the season ends with the first proper two-parter finalé since The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang.

More than that, Kill the Moon hits on the sort of angst-driven moral dilemmas associated with the Davies era, allowing the show to contemplate tough moral decisions. Kill the Moon opens with a teaser that clearly outlines the stakes. Speaking into the camera – addressing the viewers at home as much as the inhabitants of a future Earth – Clara clearly outlines the stakes of this particular adventure. “So, an innocent life versus the future of all mankind. We have forty five minutes to decide.”


The teaser is framed in a way that cannot help but evoke Davies’ Children of Earth, possibly the single darkest moment in his entire body of Doctor Who work. Speaking into the camera, Clara is genuinely uncomfortable. She assures the viewer that there is normally a man with a magic box who solves these sorts of problems, but he doesn’t seem to be around. “The man who normally helps, he’s gone. Maybe he’s not coming back. In fact, I really don’t think he is. We’re on our own.” Mankind are left on their own to make a truly terrifying decision.

The sequence seems framed in such a way as to conjure up memories of Gwen Cooper’s tearful video diary from the final episode of Children of Earth, documenting the darkest days in mankind’s history as they prepare to sacrifice millions of children in order to save the planet. It is a decision which has stunning metaphysical and moral implications for the future. Clara even presents the viewer with a similar moral dilemma and a forty-five minute ticking clock. The time limit is not arbitrary.


Of course, this sort of teaser could easily seem like a cheap trick. The idea of opening a story in media res dates back to Homer and beyond. Nevertheless, the past few years have seen television shows frequently jumping to the point of maximum conflict in an attempt to hook the viewer. Breaking Bad was quite fond of this trick, executing it with considerable skill. However, it could easily seem like a cheap trick, a very cynical way of grabbing the viewer’s attention as quickly as possible.

Kill the Moon uses the technique quite brilliantly. The teaser tells the audience everything that they need to know, but in such a way that the details remain mysterious. Clara’s plea sets up the major dramatic stakes of the episode, in a decidedly ambiguous manner. It is highly unlikely that any viewer could work out the big plot twist in the middle of Kill the Moon before the credits, even though the teaser plays entirely fair with the audience. It a gold-standard execution of a familiar narrative trick.


During the teaser, Clara glances awkwardly back to Courtney Wood, the student who accompanied her on this trip to the moon – inviting audiences to wonder just who this “innocent life” might be. Children of Earth ended with the sacrifice of one young boy in order to save an entire planet. In a way, it cemented the idea that Jack Harkness was an imitation of Davies’ version of the Doctor; Jack’s choice is the same as the choice that the Doctor faced at the end of the Time War, albeit on a smaller scale.

Kill the Moon sees Doctor Who meditating on this darkness, confronting this sort of horrific moral dilemma – an impossible choice with incredible stakes. Lundvik is cast in the role of cynic here. After all, she is the character wearing a realistic space suit; not one of the distinctively flimsy red-and-yellow number that have been around since The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit. She is grounded, experienced. She doesn’t travel in a magic box, she flies on a space shuttle that may kill her.


Angrily, she explains to Clara and Courtney that this is just the way the world works. Sometimes there are tough choices, sometimes there are unpleasant decisions. She talks to Courtney with the certainty of a grown-up. “Look, when you’ve grown up a bit, you’ll realise that everything doesn’t have to be nice. Some things are just bad.” According to Lundvik’s view of the universe, the key is to select the least bad option. She has to decide on the safest course for mankind. Pointing to the planet, she insists, “That is the only life that we will ever know.”


It is worth noting that the Doctor doesn’t entirely condemn Lundvik. He disagrees and bickers, but in the same way that he disagrees and bickers with Kate Stewart in Death in Heaven. There is none of the sheer unadulterated contempt that the Doctor directs towards Fenton in Flatline. There is a sense that the Doctor might almost empathise with Lundvik. Certainly, he has made similar decisions before. In Mummy on the Orient Express, he explains his outlook in similar terms. “Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones. But you still have to choose.”

Kill the Moon roundly rejects this sort of moral outlook. It is a story that mercilessly skewers that sort of cynicism. In the context of Kill the Moon, Lundvik is wrong – those horrible choices don’t exist. At the very least, this is not one of those horrible choices. Kill the Moon makes a very elegant and enthusiastic case for optimism, even if things do wrap up just a little bit too neatly and too conveniently. Mankind survives, of course; the shards of moon are just egg shell; the creature is not aggressive; they also get a shiny new replacement moon.


It feels like Kill the Moon might have worked better if there were some minor sense of consequence to all this, even for a future world that we will likely never visit again. Does it really matter that this future Earth has no moon or no tides? Sure, somebody will complain about what it means for The Moonbase, but Doctor Who has never been that concerned with continuity. Any attempt to impose continuity on Doctor Who misses the point somewhat. One of the interesting aspects of Moffat’s Doctor Who is the sense that everything and nothing are simultaneously continuity.

When you start worrying about that level of internal consistency, you end up producing Attack of the Cybermen to explain The Tenth Planet. You may as well ask why the immediate future doesn’t look like The Enemy of the World. Indeed, Kill the Moon is acutely aware of this in its very premise. The episode is set within the lifespan of its audience, and it seems highly unlikely that the children watching today will see the moon give birth to a space whale in thirty-five years time.


So the decision to have the space whale immediately lay an egg to serve as a replacement moon seems a little baffling. Unless Kill the Moon is having a bit of a laugh at the expense of the audience. Since we are unlikely to visit the Earth of 2049 again any time soon, it doesn’t matter whether the show replaces the moon. So a “reset” ending is entirely unnecessary, and only serves to draw attention to its own ridiculousness. Everything is magically perfect and wonderful, and Clara’s decision does not even have the slightest cost attached to it.

It is, of course, interesting to wonder whether Clara’s choice would still have been correct if there were a price attached to it. Would Clara have been correct to overrule the democratic wishes of mankind if there had been consequences? If shards of the moon fell to Earth, killing a couple of thousand – or even a million – would that invalidate her choice? Kill the Moon is not interested in that particularly moral question, which is both a strength and a weakness. No wonder Kill the Moon is one of the most controversial and divisive episodes of the season.


Despite these lingering unanswered questions, there is something quite heart-warming about the way that Kill the Moon rejects cynicism. The story makes it perfectly clear that Clara is correct to elevate her own morality ahead of the entire planet. When Earth votes to kill the creature, Clara overrides that decision. She decides not to honour the vote made by the people on the planet below, instead making her own decision on their behalf. It is a bold and uncompromising choice. One would sense that the Doctor would approve. As he does.

“Humanity made its choice,” the Doctor summates upon his return to the episode. “No, we ignored humanity,” Lundvik clarifies. “Well, there you go,” the Doctor replies, a rather tacit endorsement of Clara’s decision to ignore the opinions of the people on the planet below and to act based upon her own moral compass. “Some decisions are too important not to make on your own,” the Doctor states, and he seems perfectly in line with the ethical outlook of Doctor Who.


A show about a man who drops out of the sky and tears down worlds, Doctor Who has to put absolute moral faith in individual sense of right and wrong. The Doctor does seem to believe that democracy can legitimise terrible decisions; he does not consult with humanity before he changes history. As a rule, Doctor Who is predicated on the assumption that the Doctor’s moral principles – and those he travels with – must be absolute. One suspects that is part of the reason that Moffat took exception to the destruction of Gallifrey was because it very clearly violated that principle.

Kill the Moon also touches on the ethical debate in The Beast Below. The second episode of Moffat’s first season as showrunner, The Beast Below featured a grim future where mankind had been cynically exploiting the last space whale, a decision reinforced by groupthink and majoritarianism. The Doctor rejected this decision as immoral, and Amy came up with a third solution to the dilemma facing him as he tried to decide between the space whale and the people of Earth. The Doctor had no patience for the opinion of mankind in the matter.


Amy’s solution to the problem in The Beast Below is very much Steven Moffat’s vision of Doctor Who in a nutshell. Under Moffat’s tenure, the show roundly rejects these sorts of false moral dilemmas. There is always another way. Faith and trust are virtues, and will be rewarded. When mankind stops abusing the space whale, it offers to help them of its own free will. Similarly, the decision to let the creature birth from the moon proves vitally important to the development of mankind as a species.

Indeed, it seems quite possible that the creature that hatches at the end of Kill the Moon is the same space whale that returned to the planet in The Beast Below. The designs are broadly similar, creating a nice little reference or time loop. The decision to spare the creature here not only inspired mankind to reach towards the stars, it also ultimately ensured mankind’s survival. Well, “Spaceship Britain” at the very least. It’s a nice callback, even if the episode never explicitly identifies the creature as such.


It is also interesting to see Kill the Moon as an example of the show playing with its own iconography and imagery. Kill the Moon looks a feels like a very classic and traditional Doctor Who story for most of its runtime, with the moon setting evoking the Patrick Troughton era. Troughton was the Doctor in the late sixties, at the height of the space race. He seems like an appropriate Doctor to evoke in an episode about “the first woman to walk on the moon.” After all, Troughton visited the moon a couple of times, in episodes like The Moonbase or Seeds of Death.

Seeds of Death is particularly interesting in this context, because Kill the Moon touches on several of the same themes. Seeds of Death was a serial well ahead of its time, cleverly foreseeing that mankind’s fascination with space was something of a fad; that interest in the moon would decline over time as the novelty wore off. It presented space travel as something that would become mundane or boring over time. It was something in which mankind would lose interest.


This was a rather bold prediction for the late sixties, but one that bore itself out over time. Mankind did lose interest in space flight and exploration. By the time that we’ve reached Kill the Moon, mankind’s disinterest in journeying to space can be presented as something close to reality. Less than half-a-century into our future, within the lifetime of most viewers, Kill the Moon suggests that the only way to visit the moon would be via a “second-hand shuttle” from museum using “third-hand astronauts.”

“We stopped going into space,” Lundvik states, matter-of-factly. “Nobody cared.” People lost interest, funding was cut, attention wandered. Kill the Moon seems to hark back to the raw potential of mankind’s early forays into space flight, into that raw enthusiasm for the wonder and potential represented by the cosmos above us. It is worth noting that The Impossible Astronaut touched on similar themes at the start of Matt Smith’s second season as the Doctor, treating Neil Armstrong’s arrival on the moon as a point in history where all mankind was united.


In a way, this interest in the moon reflects a wave of sixties nostalgia sweeping through popular culture. Barack Obama is frequently compared to John F. Kennedy. The Star Trek franchise went back to Kirk and Spock and primary colours. Mad Men deconstructed the traditional narrative of the sixties. Christopher Nolan constructed Interstellar as a gigantic homage to space flight and exploration, as if mankind is trying to capture some of that lost enthusiasm.

(If one wanted to push the issue of sixties nostalgia within Moffat’s Doctor Who, the Moffat era seems to have been particularly fond of Patrick Troughton. During the fiftieth anniversary year, both Cold War and Nightmare in Silver seemed to pay homage to his time in the role. Steven Moffat got Matt Smith hooked on the show by asking him to watch Tomb of the Cybermen. Indeed, one could argue that the Moffat era has seen the Cybermen recurring more often than they have since Patrick Troughton was in the role.)


Kill the Moon also plays with the idea of “fixed points” in time. This was an idea that Davies really pushed, as a way of explaining why the Doctor could or could not do a particularly thing. These “fixed points” were often somewhat arbitrary, as if existing to ensure that the world of Doctor Who would never deviate too far from the world as seen by the viewers at home. Tellingly, when the Tenth Doctor decided to break one of those “fixed points”, it was one in the future that would have no affect on the viewer’s time period.

Here, the Doctor suggests the possibility of “fuzzy points” in time – the opposite of “fixed points.” These are moments, the Doctor suggests, when he doesn’t know what is happening. It sounds ridiculous, even if it is a logical extrapolation from “fixed” points. Kill the Moon ultimately reveals that the Doctor is making it up – he is just using this as an excuse to force Courtney and Clara to make the decision. However, if the idea of “fuzzy” points is ridiculous and absurd, doesn’t that imply the same is true of “fixed” points?


During their debate on the topic, the Doctor observes, “The future is no more malleable than the past.” He cites the example of Hitler. He explains that he and Clara have visited Berlin in 1937, but they didn’t “pop off” to kill Hitler. On the surface, this seems like a defence of the idea of “fixed” points. However, Moffat has already explained why the Doctor doesn’t kill Hitler. In Let’s Kill Hitler, the Doctor did not justify his decision not to kill Hitler by reference to the integrity of history.

In keeping with the general aesthetic of the Moffat era – one that seems to present Doctor Who as a self-aware vehicle for exploring stories – the Doctor rejected the idea of killing Hitler because that is not what Doctor Who is about. Having the Doctor kill Hitler would not do anything worthwhile. Hitler would still have killed millions of people, he would just be dead in a television show. That would not help anybody. It is an explanation that only really works if the viewer accepts Doctor Who as a story.


It was a much more candid way of working through that classic time travel trope, one that avoided mistaking narrative convenience for internal story logic. After all, what constituted a “fixed” point in history was always rather arbitrary. Why is the destruction of Pompeii during an alien invasion a “fixed” point in history, but a zombie infestation in Cardiff is subject to change? The obvious is answer is “because the story needs it to be.” The Moffat era is just a lot more candid about that sort of logic.

The Moffat era seems to suggest that time is malleable. That the future may be no more malleable than the past, but it is no less either. “Time can be rewritten,” the Eleventh Doctor would boast. The Moffat era has generally avoided the idea of fixed points in history, accepting that time lines will inevitably re-write and over-write one another, and that in the idea of destiny and fixed points are moral short cuts that let characters off the hook. Kill the Moon feels roughly in keeping with this aesthetic.


Of course, it is hard to talk about Kill the Moon without wading into the “abortion” subtext. In a way, the debate around the abortion subtext of Kill the Moon reflects the growing international audience for Doctor Who. Quite simply, abortion is not the same hot-button issue in the United Kingdom as it is in the United States. It is a contentious issue absolutely everywhere, but it does seem to provoke the same heightened emotions as it does in the context of the United States.

It should also be noted that science-fiction allegories or metaphors for real-life issues will always be somewhat fuzzy. It is very hard to argue, for example that the Master’s regeneration into Missy is directly comparable to the experience of transgender individuals, but it will inevitably promote debate and discussion in that context. A story in which the moon is actually a gigantic egg is never going be a one-size-fits-all allegory for abortion, not matter how passionate certain segments of fandom might feel about it.


Nevertheless, Kill the Moon is quite intriguing – it is ambiguous enough that it has been claimed by both sides of the debate. Tellingly, the Doctor leaves the decision about what to do with the egg life-form to three women. The script to Kill the Moon is very consciously aware of gender. Courtney and Lundvik compete to be the first woman to set foot on the moon. The US President is female. The Doctor admits that he is leaving the decision to “womankind.” Clara’s wording evokes abortion. “I’m going to have to be a lot more certain about that if I’m going to kill a baby.”

Of course, Kill the Moon seems to split the metaphorical difference on the topic – a decision that quite cleverly ensures that people on both sides of the debate will find a lot to love and a lot to hate about the story upon examining it as a science-fiction allegory. The Doctor recognises that the women have the right to choose what to do with the egg. However, the women ultimately choose to allow the egg to come to term. In many ways, this feels like a “pro-choice” narrative that recognises the right to make the choice, even if the choice is to keep the child.


While that debate tends to overshadow the rest of the story, Kill the Moon manages a number of very clever twists and turns along the way. There are a number of clever narrative substitutions going on here – a sense that the story is heading one direction, only for it to suddenly twist and head another direction. Appropriately enough for a story set on the moon, it starts as a Troughton era base-under-siege story, with more than a dash of Hinchcliffe. (Harness was apparently informed to “Hinchcliffe the sh!t out of it for the first half.”)

Not wasting a single minute of its forty-five minute runtime, Kill the Moon cleverly has the Doctor arriving after the base has been under siege, and as the threat points even further outwards. Then, swerving sharply, it becomes a classic science-fiction moral dilemma – one life for many. This is still familiar territory. The Doctor makes these sorts of decisions on a regular basis. It’s a rather sudden twist, but we’ve been here before. And then the Doctor just walks out of the story, leaving Clara in charge.


Now, this is surprising. Not the decision that is made. Not the fact that Clara rejects the decision reached by mankind on the planet below. Not the fact that Clara overrules the one person native to this time and place in order to make her decision. No, this twist is surprising because it is Clara herself who makes this decision. The Doctor makes these sorts of decisions all the time, and the narrative supports him in his choices. The companion typically exists to back him up – or maybe occasionally to challenge him.

However, placing this decision in the hand of the companion is a very clever way of catching the audience off-guard. It throws a lot of the expectations about Doctor Who back at the audience. Clara might be right to impose her own will on this version of Earth, or she may be wrong. However, it is very hard to argue that she has any more or any less right to do so than the Doctor himself. It’s a development that challenges the underlying assumptions of Doctor Who in a provocative and exciting manner.


Of course, Kill the Moon gets to have its cake and eat it too. While Clara certainly has no less right to make that decision than the Doctor does, the Doctor still treats her very poorly. When the Doctor makes these sorts of decisions, he can typically count on his companion for moral support and encouragement. The companion will try to steer him right. Donna challenged him in The Fires of Pompeii and eventually took some of the burden herself. Clara convinced the Doctor to save Gallifrey in The Day of the Doctor.

Here, the Doctor just abandons Clara and Courtney to make the right choice. He doesn’t offer any support during the process of actually making the decision. He simply washes his hands and walks off. It is an incredibly cruel and alien act, one that reinforces the complexity and nuance of the Twelfth Doctor. For the first time since Tom Baker or maybe Sylvester McCoy, Peter Capaldi makes the Doctor feel like an alien presence. “The Earth isn’t my home,” he states, bluntly. “The moon isn’t my moon.”


Quite shrewdly, Kill the Moon refuses to let the Doctor get away with this. “Listen, there are moments in every civilisation’s history in which the whole path of that civilisation is decided,” he argues. “The whole future path. Whatever future humanity might have depends upon the choice that is made right here and right now.” How come that logic does not apply in situations like The Beast Below, where the Doctor can brazenly insist that “nobody human has anything to say to me today” while yelling at Amy for making his choice for him.

Clara quite rightly calls him out on this. She refuses to buy his argument that he had no idea what was coming. “Did you know?” she demands. Cleverly avoiding confirming that he did know, the Doctor enigmatically responds, “You made your decision.” Pushed for an answer, he admits, “I knew that eggs are not bombs. I know they don’t usually destroy their nests. Essentially, what I knew was that you would always make the best choice. I had faith that you would always make the right choice.”


Clara is having none of it. As with Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, Clara acknowledges that the Doctor is trying to control his own narrative of events, to play off stock story elements and familiar tropes. “Good guys do not have zombie creatures,” she warned the Eleventh Doctor. “Rule one basic storytelling.” Here, she refuses to buy into the Twelfth Doctor’s story about human pride and self-determination. “Honestly, do you have music playing in your head when you say rubbish like that?”

“That was me allowing you to make a choice about your own future,” the Doctor insists. “That was me respecting you.” Clara is understandably upset and betrayed by that. “Oh, my God, really? Was it? Yeah, well, respected is not how I feel.” Kill the Moon is very willing to let Clara call the Doctor out for his behaviour. Indeed, his decision to abandon his friend and refuse to help with a situation that he created is perhaps the most morally ambiguous action taken by the Twelfth Doctor in his first season; the most indefensible choice.


Of course, it fits quite comfortably with the the character arcs running across the season. The Twelfth Doctor is on something of an internalised self-pity binge. Although he might not externalise his angst in the same way that the Ninth or Tenth Doctors do, it is clear that he resents being forced to make the tough choices. So when Clara insists that he tell Courtney Woods that she is “special”, the Twelfth Doctor demonstrates what being “special” actually entails to him; it means making impossible choices, holding the fate of worlds in your hand.

It also firmly sets up Clara’s character arc for the second half of the year. Jenna-Louise Coleman was originally planning to depart at the end of the season, and her character arc is structured so as to build towards that (inevitably subverted) departure. In fact, it is clear that Last Christmas featured a companion departure scene so effective that the show was reluctant to part with it. Having the best of both worlds, Last Christmas opted to keep the companion departure scene and the companion.


Still, Kill the Moon starts that ball rolling – kicking off the arcs towards the back end of the season. Clara kicks the Doctor out of her life, accepting that their relationship may not be as healthy as she would like it to be. Clara’s mini-departure at the end of Kill the Moon and her return at the start of Mummy on the Orient Express sets up a pattern; it makes it clear that Clara will not leave until something disastrous happens. Editing Clara out of the “next time” promo at the end of Kill the Moon is a fantastic touch.

Kill the Moon also sets up the idea of Clara as a character who might evolve into her own version of the Doctor. Here, she is tasked with an impossible choice, the kind of choice the Doctor makes everyday. Mummy on the Orient Express has the character come to a deeper understanding of her travelling companion. Flatline casts her as a more proactive heroine in the mold of the Doctor. This all culminates in a very clever credits gag at the start of Death in Heaven, in which Clara actually manages to transform herself into the Doctor by force of will. For a minute or so.


(It is also interesting to wonder whether the idea for Kill the Moon originated once Peter Capaldi decided to keep his Scottish accent for the role. Smith and Jones was infamously written to tease David Tennant about his decision to use an estuary accent when he played the Doctor. It is, after all, very hard to hide a Scottish accent with lines like “a Judoon platoon upon the moon.” In contrast, Kill the Moon may have been written to celebrate Capaldi’s distinctive brogue.)

The core themes of the season are in play once again. Indeed, the eighth season has place considerable emphasis on Clara’s role as a teacher. Into the Dalek was essentially a story about Clara teaching the Doctor an important lesson. In Listen, she taught the Doctor not to be afraid of fear. Here, the Doctor pushes that idea to its logical conclusion. Clara’s unilateral decision teaches the world to look up in wonder at the sky again, inspiring an entire generation to look up at the stars and dream.


Given Moffat’s history as a teacher, it is interesting that the eighth season has placed such emphasis on the profession. The season has a very romantic and idealistic view of teaching – one that is very conscious about legacy and history. After all, this is a show about time travel. The eighth season has touched on the idea that these encounters have lingering and lasting consequences. Inspiring and encouraging others pays dividends across entire generations.

It is a very optimistic conclusion, and one that fits very well in the context of Kill the Moon. It is no wonder that the show is set within the lifespan of those watching at home. One suspects that the show is trying to make a point, to demonstrate what is possible. One wonders how many audience members left their lights on after Clara’s speech, passively buying into the show’s optimism and hope. There is something very heart-warming about this, as Kill the Moon acknowledges the power of inspiration and encouragement.


Kill the Moon is a fascinating and thoughtful episode, continuing the season’s strong trend.

You might enjoy our other reviews from Peter Capaldi’s first season of Doctor Who:

10 Responses

  1. What an emotional rollercoaster this was for me. I was so pleased with myself for spotting the Tom Baker era yo-yo, the Troughton stuff just sailed right past me!

    Have to say that, while I enjoyed this episode, Clara is getting just a bit unbearable. I appreciate that Moffat is doing more with her, but I’d like to see the Doctor go back to being the main character in his own series.

    • Good spot on the yo-yo! I think I was just in tune with the Troughton stuff because the moon setting had me on look-out. Also, it occurs to me that it is a beautifully ironic base under siege story, except it starts after the base has been under siege and the threat is no longer strictly internal any longer. It’s like the Doctor arrived late to a Troughton-era base under siege.

      Regarding the roller coaster, I remember reading a quote that Peter Harness was told to “Hinchcliffe the sh!t” out of the first few acts of Kill the Moon, and I think it works. It does start as the most archetypal Baker/Troughton-esque story ever and then becomes something altogether different. I does that very Moffat era thing of “you think you’re getting [x], but it’s actually [y].” Sort of like how A Good Man Goes to War starts out as rape-revenge “Oncoming Storm” story and then becomes an introspective tragedy, or The Caretaker starts as a comedy and ends as a three-person drama.

      That said, I actually find myself liking Clara a lot more this year than last, perhaps because of this character and world building. I loved Amy and Rory, but it is interesting to ease back into the Davies era “companion has a life we get to see” setting. I’m not sure I would be up for another season of it – I’ll readily admit that Rose started out great and became unbearable towards the end of the second season – but I am quite happy to go along with it for now.

  2. I think I have to agree with jake kale that I could do with a respite from the Clara Show (and I like Clara!)

    For me there was something deeply offputting about the fact that humanity of 2049 (as represented by Lundvik) is essentially overruled by two women from another time in there own choice of survival. Clara and Courtney (who is frankly insufferable) are not really making a choice about their world; they are deciding it for Lundvik’s world. It really should have been the real astronaut’s call.

    • I can see that, but I do think that Kill the Moon is very candid about the ethical system of Doctor Who. Except that it is traditionally the Doctor who comes in and imposes his own will on the world – often against the wishes of the majority people who inhabit that world.

      Kill the Moon just substituted the companion into a basic plot structure that has been in place for decades, which does a wonderful job of making it seem fresh and compelling, as well inviting the audience to look at it a different way. Does Clara have the right to make that call? Maybe, maybe not. But does she have any more or any less right than the Doctor would?

      There are definitely issues worthy of debate in the choice Clara has to make, but those same issues are at play whenever the Doctor decides to meddle – the show has just been doing that so often that Doctor Who takes his right to do that for granted. I think that placing the power in the hands of a companion is an interesting twist which does poke at the audience a little bit.

      (Which is, incidentally, why I like that Clara/Doctor scene at the end. When the Doctor does something like this, he typically has a companion to offer him moral support. Donna challenges him and then holds the lever in Fires of Pompeii, Sarah Jane and Harry stand beside him in Genesis of the Daleks, Clara is there in the barn during the Time War. Clara has also been vital to his ethical process in Into the Dalek, for example. The fact that the Doctor was companionless is treated as part of the reason of his moral lapse in Waters of Mars. Here, the Doctor leaves Clara entirely by herself. He gives her no moral support, even if it is simply to stand there and assure her that she’s still doing the right thing. Here, he tells her he’s sure she’ll make the right choice and then flies away from a situation in which he placed her. That is a fundamentally crappy thing to do.)

      • That’s a fair point, and a very good analysis.

        Still I can’t get past the fact that Clara essentially put her own morality above that of the entire human race when everything seemed their existence was at stake, or that she offered them a ‘choice’ she clearly had no intention of recognising if they chose ‘wrong’. That is an intensely arrogant position, especially since (unlike the Doctor, usually) she wasn’t arguing from a position of advanced knowledge.

        I don’t know… the show has posed ethical concerns before but I guess I have to say that in this case neither the Doctor nor Clara (nor the cretinous Courtney) had the right to make the choice. They had the right to beg the people of 2049 Earth, to appeal to them to make the moral choice but the show crossed a line for me here.

        It also seriously warped the ending aesop for me because humanity did not make the big choice in 2049 – an outsider did.

  3. Excellent and thoughtful review, as always.
    Interesting to also compare this episode to Waters of Mars – it seems that whether points in time are fixed or fuzzy, the Doctor has perhaps learned from his past interferences that he should leave well enough alone. The Doctors whole demeanour here seems to be the antithesis to – and possibly a deliberate reaction against – the scars that are still be felt from the damage caused by the”time lord victorious”.

    What made the ending so powerful for me was that Clara couldn’t really know those mistakes from The Doctor’s past and is essentially – and emotionally – asking him to be that man again. To make those decisions that may not really be his to make. Clara wants a hero rather than an alien – but doesn’t understand the damage that the hero can be capable of causing. Her concept of making moral choices is not the same as this incarnation of The Doctor. She doesn’t see things in the way he sees things. She has seen the doctor as the hero and she wants that back, but this doctor simply has a different way of making moral choices. He is more conflicted, less inclined to grand gestures of reassurance, and more aligned to the complexity and compromises of the universe. Clara’s arguments are powerful – the are all about taking a stand, being counted, making a difference – but then again, she wasn’t there on Mars.

    Essentially, whatever man the Doctor chooses to be, the hero or the alien, it’s a lose lose situation in one way or another.

    For sure, things are getting interesting….

    • I am really loving Capaldi’s take on the character. He’s the most alien Doctor we’ve had since Baker. “It’s not my moon,” is just an absolutely gutting line. After three (or four) Doctors who have revelled in their love for humanity (even the Ninth Doctor’s occasional frustration for “stupid apes” was tempered by the concession that he no longer had a home beyond Earth), it is fascinating to get one who seems to have a more distant relationship to mankind.

      I also like the way that the Doctor doesn’t understand why Clara and Courtney would be upset with him about his decision to let them make the decision themselves, without any moral support or encouragement. Moffat’s Doctors are typically very bad at understanding how people work. (Davies’ Doctors were quite sensitive to interpersonal dynamics, even if they could be self-centred.)

      The Eleventh Doctor doesn’t understand why Amy and Rory wouldn’t want bunk beds, or why having them spend their wedding night in the TARDIS might be a bad idea. The Twelfth Doctor’s misunderstandings are less cute, but just as fundamental. He doesn’t understand why telling somebody they aren’t special might be a bad thing, and then immediately over-compensates in the worst possible way.

  4. Ignoring all the weighty issues that the episode asks us to consider (especially Clara’s choice at the very end of the story)… let’s get back to Troughton-era continuity. The Gravitron in “The Moonbase” was implied to have been constructed in 2050. It controls the weather. “Kill the Moon” takes place in 2049 after 10 years of tidal flooding (i.e. climate control). One could easily make the connection that Earth government in 2049 decided to go back to the moon and construct the Gravitron as a direct response to the events in this story…

    Or, not. 🙂

  5. This episode takes a lot of heat, mainly for the physics involved with the moon being an egg, and the fact that the monsters are supposedly single-celled organisms, whereas in the real world single-celled organisms are mainly algae.

    Other than that, I think this episode is pretty fantastic. Cool atmosphere, solid pacing, good production values, interesting moral quandary, and a fantastic final scene as well. Which actually recurs in “In the Forest of the Night”, when the Doctor decides to stay and help having heeded Clara’s justified outburst at him from the end of this episode.

    ….But tell me again how the Capaldi era was let down by bad writing?

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