If you are going to make a Doctor Who story about three female characters deciding whether to abort an unborn baby or not, good grief you need to be careful. The sensible thing to do would have been to drop the script straight in the bin, because there was never going to be a way to do this that didn’t upset some people. The end result probably upsets everyone who has strong opinions about the issue. The pro-choicers will read this as pro-life because choosing not to kill the creature in the egg is shown to be the right decision. The pro-lifers will read it as pro-choice because the views of others are ignored and rejected and the female characters make an autonomous decision despite a democratic vote that goes the other way. Talk about opening a can of worms.
But Doctor Who is nothing if not brave, and it does not shy away from one of the most difficult issues it has ever tackled. There are other themes playing into it as well. The problem with democracy is that it relies on the majority making the best choice, which of course doesn’t always happen (there just doesn’t exist a better system). The sight of the whole population choosing to kill the creature to save themselves is bleak but understandable, and fridge logic leads us to ponder whether that was really the people voting or whether governments were cutting the power. You might also notice that only the Northern hemisphere gets a vote, although there is not time for anything else.
The Doctor leaves the decision to the humans. This is absolutely fascinating. Firstly, his logic is flawed, because the decision is placed chiefly in the hands of Clara and Courtney. Yes, they are human. But they are also from a different period in human history, a bit like bringing somebody forward from the 1970s and getting them to make a big decision affecting us today, without having experienced any of human impact of the events leading up to that decision. And Courtney is a child. To think that it is any more valid for them to make the choice than the Doctor, who has experienced more of human life than any actual human, is, well… let’s just say highly debatable. But we can see why he does it if we have been paying attention for the last few years. We have seen at least three occasions where the Doctor does the opposite to what he does here, and every time it has backfired on him.
- The Christmas Invasion. The Doctor interferes in British history by ending the career of Harriet Jones. He cancels out the “golden age” and paves the way for Harold Saxon.
- The Waters of Mars. The Doctor interferes in a key moment in space exploration. It goes wrong and he realises he has gone too far.
- The Beast Below. Here’s the big one, because it is a very similar situation. Does the Doctor kill an innocent life or kill all the humans? He is on the verge of making what he thinks is the best of two horrendous choices but he is going to do the wrong thing, until Amy steps in and saves his bacon. The human is the one who is able to see the best path to follow.
So you can see what motivates him to leave it to the humans, and in the end they manage to make the right decision, which makes Clara’s reaction to the Doctor all the more shocking:
The Doctor: I was helping.
Clara: What, by clearing off?
The Doctor: Yes.
Clara: Well clear off! Go on! You can clear off, get back in your lonely…your lonely bloody TARDIS and you don’t come back!
The series has already brought us to a place where we don’t like the Doctor much at this point. At least we shouldn’t. He has been a complete idiot and has gone around being mean to everyone ever since his regeneration. As I mentioned in my review of The Caretaker, they could just about have gotten away with this if Clara was still a likeable character, but she’s not any more. Her arc is a journey from being brilliant and fun to being, well, pretty horrible to be honest. We have never seen anything quite like this before, and it’s powerful, but it’s also hideous. “Lonely bloody TARDIS” indeed.
And in the end Danny makes the observation that it’s not over because he can still make her angry, taking our final step towards how the relationship will be portrayed between Clara and the Doctor in the next episode: an abusive relationship. Staying because somebody makes her angry shouts out “domestic abuse” loud and clear. And in the end that is what gives the pro-choicers who dislike this episode the greater traction, because they equate pro-life with anti-feminism, rightly or wrongly. Following the superficially pro-feminist sight of three females deciding the fate of the whole planet, the episode takes us to this place, where a man tells a woman that a relationship is not over because she still has anger in her.
I have focussed here exclusively on the one big talking point of the episode, and I hope Mike will offer the other side of the coin, all that wonderful creepy spiders stuff and not-so-wonderful nonsense science. But let’s just reflect for a moment that we appear to be right back where we started in 1963 for this one episode, with the Doctor’s life being viewed through the prism of three major characters: two teachers and a student from Coal Hill School. But we couldn’t be further from those glory days, because this time around there’s nobody for us to like. What is the viewer’s motivation to keep watching this bleak vision of Doctor Who? Over the course of the next handful of episodes, we might just find out… RP
The view from across the pond:
Roger and I often discuss whether Doctor Who really falls into the genre of Science Fiction or Fantasy. When I think “fantasy”, I think Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Elric of Melnibone. What I do not think about is spaceships and alien monsters. Kill the Moon therefore should fit comfortably in the realm of Science Fiction. Location: Moon! Means of arrival: spaceship. Threat: alien spiders. Check, check, check – all indicative that we are looking at a science fiction story. But fantasy isn’t relegated to medieval times only. Alice in Wonderland is fantasy and bears no resemblance to Lord of the Rings. Doctor Who can be quite at home in fantasy.
Let me start off by saying, most of Kill the Moon is quite good. The spiders are actually very unnerving. Think facehuggers from Alien. A low-gravity, airless vacuum, filled with killer spiders… How bad could it be? And Peter Harness, the writer, was instructed to make this story as much like Phillip Hinchcliffe’s era, which was possibly the best era of the classic series for its fear-factor. This had all the hallmarks of being a great story. Plus, following on the heels of The Caretaker, it was almost guaranteed that it would be better than that atrocity, but Harness clearly doesn’t know what the character is all about. He seems to lose sight of who the Doctor is and no one read the script to say “hey, the Doctor is the hero, not the jerk!” And unfortunately, he becomes that.
And so, Kill the Moon loses the plot and falls far closer to fantasy because of a couple of key points.
- The Doctor lets womankind decide the fate of Earth based on their willingness to abort a birth. I wish I were kidding. It’s not that women are left to make the decision; I’m not trying to be funny. It’s that the Doctor seems to know the outcome and leaves this super difficult decision to his “best friend” Clara (who typically is emotionally abused and emotionally abusive – “I’ll smack you so hard, you’ll regenerate…”), a child (who is her class troublemaker) and a jaded scientist who feels a threat should be neutralized regardless of rationale. It’s a terrible choice and of course, they get it right… The Doctor actually leaves Clara behind to make the decision and not even support her through it.
- When the threat has passed and everyone is happily standing on the beach, the Doctor suddenly becomes Dionne Warwick and channels the psychic network, foretelling the future with a quick head snap to the heavens. Why does he need to travel if he’s able to see the outcome of everything just by channeling spirits? The music makes the scene cool to watch, and it has some positive message about how mankind overcomes challenges, but it loses something if thought about for even a moment!
- Rewinding, for me, the worst of it is that, not only is the moon an egg! It’s that the creature that hatches from it, immediately replaces it! If Harness wanted to write that the moon was going to still be intact, it would be so easy to have the creature burst forth without blowing the moon to smithereens. Instead, he treats the dragon that hatches from it, like a damned giant Tribble, born pregnant and replacing the moon like a roll of toilet paper, putting a new one back on the spindle when the last runs out. Are. You. Joking?
All that stuff about the creepy spiders that give Capaldi a chance to re-enact Bela Lugosi’s fight with an octopus in Plan 9 from Outer Space is shot to hell by being nothing more than… what? Antibodies? It’s like Harness saw Star Trek’s The Trouble with Tribbles and The Immunity Syndrome, and thought “how can this be more Who?” Adding facehuggers didn’t make it more Who, although it did add a scare factor that was sorrowfully absent most of the season. They are a welcome addition to the “monster list” in my book. Sadly, the end result is that a solid story falls on its face when jumping that last hurdle. And even though 30 of the 40ish minutes are a good, solid story, those last jumps are a letdown.
The fact is, I like Kill the Moon, but it is flawed. I think the setting is different enough that I can turn a blind eye to mistakes that I could not let go in The Caretaker and that is largely because I like good science fiction. The story is full of good science fiction, but the fantasy is flawed and the character of the Doctor is grossly misunderstood. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Mummy on the Orient Express
In fairness to the writer there are certain types of Butterfly which are born pregnant
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There are all manner of problems with the episode and a bit of questionable science wouldn’t be top of my list. I like your point about the butterfly, but in any case I don’t think an alien in a television series necessarily needs to have an equivalent in nature to make sense.
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I wonder if the whole abortion aspect was intended or just an unwitting side element. Personally I think the first half of the episode works well. The second not so much, the speech the Doctor gives as the creature emerges might have been useful earlier on
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It’s such a can of worms that I suspect it was unintentional, but an interesting parallel is of course worthy of discussion whether writer intent is there or not. Those kinds of things are hard to pin down.
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The 12th Doctor’s attempt to not go too far with his own decision-making can also be seen as a potential redemption for the 10th Doctor’s near-breaking-point in The Waters Of Mars. At least I feel that way about his specific wisdom in Kill The Moon. From Star Trek’s Journey To Babel to Babylon 5’s Atonement, sci-fi/fantasy can reputably take this subject matter to such extremes. I might be bold enough to suggest that Kill The Moon’s gender-themed resolution could somehow have influenced the 13th Doctor’s regeneration to be female.
Because I for one would really like to see the Doctor tone down his forcefulness and tentatively arrogant approach to decision making. Not that I presume that all male heroes are inevitably or dangerously arrogant. But with the 12th Doctor’s response to the Master’s sexist question: “Will the future be ‘all girl’?” being “Let’s hope so.”, it may have imaginably been the crux for how the 12th Doctor’s moral ambiguity and conflicts were more enhanced than with his previous selves.
I know it sounds like I’m suggesting that the Doctor always wanted to be a woman and, given the transgender responses and critiques for the new female Doctor, it can enhance how controversy nourishes any continuing interest and fascination with Dr. Who. So was Kill The Moon additional with all the build-ups for Capaldi’s successor being a woman? It’s just a theory on my part. But I know for sure that Jodie’s contribution will mellow the role of the Doctor, both as a role model for women and for the paradigm feminine/masculine reunification that the whole world needs and is experiencing now, can encourage us all to take even more critical chances with moral dramas in our television and cinema than ever before.
Thank you both for your very insightful reviews.
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(A dim light emanates from the depths of the balcony)
Kill the Moon wasn’t so bad and I agree with ML that it was great until the end. Moon didn’t let three women decide the fate of the egg, Clara asked the people on Earth what to do and they all turned their lights off meaning the people of Earth collectively “agreed” to kill the egg to save themselves. I think the Doctor did the right thing by stepping away from the situation. He may have went about it completely wrong but he was right in stating that humanity needed to forge its own path and provided excellent examples of why he shouldn’t interfere with the BIG milestones(Hitler, etc). We’ve also seen humanity in other stories way past this date so we know they make out OK in the end.
The Doctor was a bit abrasive with the learning curve he provided to Clara. That was basically the “No Mans Sky” (video game) learning curve on saving your species. He’s provided each companion to date with a “learning moment” but Clara’s was indeed intense. Clara had a right to be upset and you can’t really blame her. No one even yourself knows how one will react in certain situations. She has never had that kind of pressure before AND she was also taking care of her student at the same time. I mean talk about a stacked deck against you. You can argue all you want but for Clara, she made the choices that she thought were best at the time even if we disagree with them and being arm-chair critics, its easy to condemn.
I didn’t understand the spiders in the episode as to why they were there since it was an egg. The creature is that of Sci-fi so laying an egg directly after hatching is a survival mechanism for its species. I do wonder why they chose to land on the bank of a lake/ocean when there should have been massive swells and turbulent water but we’ll overlook that since The Doctor is busy channeling Miss Cleo.
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Welcome back to the balcony 🙂
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