The Best and the Worst of Doctor Who

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Terrible science but great story

This episode gets an A for the story it told, but gets an F for the insanely unbelievable science that centers it. It’s an episode where my feelings for it change every single time I think about it or watch it, because it reaches so high but is hobbled by a fatal flaw.

Science

The largest problem with “Kill the Moon” is that it tries to center a story around the Moon being an egg. Now, on it’s own this is an okay premise. Where it gets really unbelievable is where the egg abruptly gains mass as the embryo inside develops. The problem with this development is that the science is so wrong, so so wrong, that your suspension of disbelief just gets shot to hell. It’s Doctor Who, so there’s a pretty high bar before I just go “Okay, come on, that’s utterly insane”, but this episode reached that point less than halfway through. And what’s worse — it never gets better.

Kill the Moon” attempts to pass off giant spiders as unicellular. For no reason whatsoever. “Kill the Moon” seems to think that if the Moon is an egg, then the surface of the Moon is eggshell. Not in a figurative, “yeah it’s an egg so anything around it is an eggshell” but in a literal “now that the Moon is an egg the surface literally is like a chicken egg” way. The Doctor even claims that there aren’t any minerals on the Moon anymore. And then, in case you haven’t already given up on this episode, when the child space dragon hatches, it lays another egg. An egg, by the way, that is bigger than the thing that came out of it.

This episode kills brain cells and it’s really unfortunate that it does so because it really didn’t have to. A little bit of imaginative thinking and some understanding of conservation of mass could have lead a writer to keep the story of this episode and work around the science in a way that was believable. But Peter Harness, the writer of “Kill the Moon”, doesn’t seem to care about plausibility at all, or knows nothing about science. It’s one or the other, and whatever it is, it kills this episode on first watch. F.

Story

It’s rather unfortunate, because otherwise, “Kill the Moon” has an excellent story, centered around education, morality, democracy, and responsibility. The episode start with the Doctor getting complaints (and some emotional manipulation) directed at him because he claimed that Courtney Woods wasn’t “special”. Now, if you’ve ever seen any helicopter parent (or politically correct teacher), this sounds super familiar. Everyone’s special. Well, the Doctor doesn’t think so, and (partly out of frustration) decides that if Courtney and Clara want to feel special, it’s time to get them out of their comfort zone and force them to grow.

So, the Doctor dumps them on the Moon, in 2049. Some bad science happens1, and suddenly, the Doctor, Clara, Courtney, and an astronaut from the time period has to make a decision — kill the embryo in the egg, possibly the last of its kind, or let the Moon be destroyed, potentially killing many many humans on Earth. This is one of those decisions where the Doctor generally takes charge2. This time, partly because of the nature of this event (similar to “The Waters of Mars”, the Doctor shouldn’t intervene in this moment and this time, knows the consequences of doing so) and the demands of Clara and Courtney (the “we want to be special” brigade), the Doctor just leaves.

This is a phenomenal development, since for the first time, from the Doctor’s perspective, he’s letting his companion make the decision. The show often has seen criticism of the fact that the Doctor generally makes the decisions and the companions just follow. This time the Doctor gives Clara some power, and it shows his view on becoming special — shouldering responsibility makes you special.

Of course, with power comes responsibility, and Clara suddenly realizes that she doesn’t want it. Now, in “Kill the Moon”, she doesn’t have a choice — it’s hers. She tries to reduce it in various ways, including a hastily set up voting process so that the people of Earth can vote3. In the end, Clara makes the decision to save the embryo (ignoring the vote), and things work out okay. But Clara’s had enough, leaving the Doctor before he can possibly put her in that situation ever again.

This is another phenomenal development, the first time a companion really rails into the Doctor. Clara finally understands something about the Doctor that have always really been part of his character, but somewhat hidden up until now — the Doctor, despite his fondness for humanity, considers himself separate and above humanity. What the Doctor saw as a teaching exercise Clara viewed as a lack of respect, and they’re both right. That disconnect between the Doctor and the companion is what makes “Kill the Moon” a phenomenal story. A.

Stray Observations

  • I say this every time, but Peter Capaldi was born to play the Doctor. Nobody else could sell those character beats. This episode was written for Matt Smith but I can’t see him being effective playing this side of the Doctor.

  • This story sets up a companion-lite and a Doctor-lite story, the first in several years. I’m kinda excited, although Doctor-lite stories have been hit-or-miss.

  • I still have no idea where the season is building up to.


  1. See above. 

  2. See “The Beast Below”. Save a whale or save humanity. The Doctor actually chose to save humanity and kill the whale, incidentally, until Amy Pond realized that it wasn’t really a choice that needed to be made. 

  3. The vote system is severely flawed but it’s not like there was a lot of alternatives.