Monday, 6 October 2014

It's Only An Eggy Moon

Doctor Who
Kill The Moon
Series Eight, Episode Seven

There's a simple test to see if you'll like the latest Doctor Who episode, Kill The Moon.  Are you ready?  Listen to these four words.

The moon's an egg.

If you just winced, or made pantomime vomit motions with your fingers, Kill The Moon is going to annoy you.  Of course there's more to it, some of it just as contentious as the egg thing, but there will be a portion of viewers who just won't get past the whimsypoo.

Oh my god, New Writer!
I forgot those were a thing!
Now, Doctor Who has had some pretty wacky ideas about planets in the past.  We've had the Earth forming around a spider's spaceship; Earth having a long-lost twin planet; the arrival of the moon sending a race of lizard people (who were here before us) into panicked hibernation.  Suspension Of Disbelief is in the rules, and always has been.  But the moon as an egg?  I dunno: for me, that's a bit of a stretch, sci-fi bordering on fantasy.  While we're on the subject, this ain't one for the scientists in the audience, although it does sometimes try to be.  Kill The Moon hops light-footedly between asking exactly the sort of common-sense questions I want answered, and trading in the laws of the universe for gumdrops and rainbows.  It's one of those episodes where you find out your own personal tolerance for flim-flam.

It begins at full pelt, which is what I like to see.  Clara and co. are already on the moon, sending an appeal to Earth.  Should they kill a massive potentially-dangerous life-form, or let it live and brave the consequences?  We have 45 minutes to decide.  For a moment I thought we were in for a countdown episode, like the similarly futuristic (and, y'know, rubbish) 42.  Turns out we are not – it's just one of those begin-at-the-end-then-cut-back-to-the-start openings they do in movies when the opening isn't strong enough.  But one thing's for sure: this is an Impossible Choice episode.  And those make me distinctly nervous, because Doctor Who isn't very good at them.  (It's usually a case of, Dramatic Option A, or Dramatic Option B?  I know: Hitherto Unmentioned Option C!)

The moon is cracking apart.  When the thing inside hatches, it will send chunks of moon smashing into the Earth, not to mention the chaos that might be unleashed by the newborn creature.  Plus, no moon = disaster in general.  On the other hand, the creature might be benevolent.  Chunks of moon might not smash into the Earth.  And maybe we'll be all right without a moon?

Hmm.  The case Against is noticeably flimsier than the case For, which is probably why humanity votes to Do What The Title Says.  (Although how blowing up a mega-fetus with 100 nuclear bombs is going to avoid a shower of moon chunks, especially with only seconds to spare from it hatching, is a bit of a grey area.)  The voting thing sounds great, but doesn't quite work in practice.  People on Earth don't have all the facts, only the people who hear Clara's message will vote, and then only the people facing the moon.  It could be 50/50 and she wouldn't know.  In any case, they seem to vote No, and Clara decides to ignore them.  Fortunately, all is well.  The thing hatches, the moon chunks disintegrate.  We even get to have our cake and eat it, because the thing lays another egg, of – one presumes – roughly the same mass as the original one.  Everything's tidied up, with humanity spurred on to explore the stars into the bargain.  How lovely.

Except for all the bollocks.  The moon chunks disintegrate because, says Clara, "The moon isn't made of rock and stone, is it?  It's made of egg-shell!"  Er, no, it's made of egg-shell that's made of rock and stone.  It's an egg, but not a chicken's egg.  The moon is definitely rock!  People have stood on it!  So it's a stupendously lucky break that we didn't get flattened after all.  Plus we've got a new moon – which is an even bigger bag of bollocks, because something can't possibly contain something that's bigger than itself.  (With the honourable exception of TARDISes, which have consistency with the laws of Doctor Who, and even the occasional explanation.)  If Moon 2.0 isn't roughly the same size, or isn't on quite the same orbit, humanity's surely looking at a whole new host of problems.  As for Clara's natty observation earlier on – that nobody in the future ever mentions how the moon turned out to be a bloody great egg, hatched, and got replaced by another one – that still stands.  Are all moons secretly eggs?  Who's laying them, if this life-form is (as the Doctor suspects) the only one in the universe?

Is it a Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice thing?
For me, it stops being analogous when there are chunks of moon
threatening to crush all life on Earth.  I'm thinking: Unintended Subtext.
Like I said, it's down to your own personal tolerance for flim-flam.  You're meant to find it heartening and sweet that Clara voted Yes, and that humanity is inspired to explore space, after all that post-vote awkwardness.  It helps to bear in mind that this is a future where we've given up on space exploration and alien life for some reason; assuming you can get your head around how and why, given the constant arrival of aliens in Doctor Who's version of Earth, it is sort of nice to set humanity back on the right path.  Also intended to make you smile: the moon isn't what you thought it was.  I'm in Camp Thinks It's Bollocks But Can Understand Why Some People Think It's Sweet.  It is a grumpy place.

There's more to the episode than the Impossible Choice That Kind Of Takes Care Of Itself, i.e. the setup.  It takes a while for the characters to figure out what's going on, although the opening teaser, the episode title and an early scene where the Doctor describes a sizeable creature as "bacteria" do sort of give it away.  The setup is all fairly standard Scary Space Station: astronauts are sent to investigate the troubled moon, only to find gravity, cobwebs and corpses.  The gravity is one of the sciencey bits I'm glad somebody brought up – and it's a major plot-point.  The cobwebs are the work of the "bacteria", aka giant spiders that eat intruders.  (I'm not sure that's what bacteria would look like on a larger scale, but Suspension Of Disbelief...)  It's all suitably creepy, though it gets totally defanged once the Impossible You-Know-What shows up.  The spiders just cease to be important, and obviously the tone warps away from Planet Scary before the end.  It's fun while it lasts.

It's also fun to watch Peter Capaldi investigate things, with his now traditional lack of giving two hoots about anybody else.  He does at least try to rescue Courtney (the disruptive schoolgirl from last week's episode), though it's still up to her to save her own skin.  There's a hilarious bit where he suggests the astronauts shoot Courtney and Clara before himself, which is more about making them think again rather than employing a couple of human shields.  He's crotchety, funny, and has a glinty-eyed glee at the discovery of new life.  All very right, as far as I'm concerned.

Now, I've had some trouble enjoying Capaldi's take on the character this year; he's often rude in a way that suggests he's a horrible person, rather than a non-human one, and we've got a dozen-or-so previous Doctors for context.  But he is, mostly, quite Doctorly in this one.  I don't, for example, have any problem with him leaving Clara and co. to decide the fate of the moon.  It's not the first time he's left Earth's history up to the humans, whether it's deciding if they can co-exist with lizard people, or letting history take its course because of Fixed Points.  His choice of phrase, "time to take the training wheels off your bike", is horribly patronising, but it's still a human decision, and it should be up to the humans to make it.  So Clara's dramatic meltdown at the Doctor over this is, I think, rather uncalled for.  Leaving them in danger (with the moon collapsing, spiders approaching, suicide a possibility) is a bit of a bastardly thing to do.  But leaving the decision up to humanity, and up to Clara, isn't.  And that's mostly the bit she's mad at.  Kill The Moon's brutal, emotional climax – those two falling out – is sadly a bit of a muddle.

"But... you can't leave.  It's not the finale yet."
Where the Doctor isn't to my liking this week is simple: Courtney.  The reason she's on-board the TARDIS is to make up for the Doctor telling her she's not special, and sorry, but that's go-to-the-back-of-the-class bollocks where the Doctor is concerned.  The Doctor thinks people are special.  He's interested in, and cares about, humans.  He doesn't think we're insignificant, and he doesn't think our lives are meaningless if we haven't been to the moon.  That's not seeing the Doctor from a new angle, that's wrong.  There are recent examples of him saying the exact opposite – saying he's never met anyone who wasn't important in A Christmas Carol, explaining how each life is precious in The Rings Of Akhaten – and yes, Matt Smith counts as him, since it's all the same ruddy Time Lord.  It's one thing to make him grumpy, or even a bit of a misanthrope, but actual contempt for the qualities of individual people is not the Doctor.  Take it away.

So, the Doctor is a mix of the very good and the very wrong.  Clara's... fine, although Jenna Coleman's cry acting isn't her greatest strength, and it's odd that she's chosen now to throw a tantrum and pack her bags.  Here's a bit you probably didn't see coming: I quite like Courtney.  She's not actually necessary to the story (apart from carrying some handy anti-bacterial spray), and it's bizarre to gain a new companion on such a whim, but at least she's not obnoxious like the last couple of TARDIS kids.  Her delivery of several lines, especially "Night night", made me laugh.  The astronauts are overly whimsical and pretty much just fodder, with Hermione Norris doing the requisite arguing-with-the-Doctor bit; it's not a great role because most of the decision making falls on the Earth and then on Clara.  Adelaide Brooke she ain't, but at least when she challenges the Doctor's authority, she prompts Capaldi's hilarious retort: "You say run, then!"

Kill The Moon is an Impossible Choice episode, and the Impossible Choice is always the most important bit.  And it's not that well handled.  Not enough seems to be at stake, especially when you add all the bollocksy stuff about egg-shells and new moons.  As usual, the problem resolves itself, and the emotional fall-out doesn't make total sense.  But there are times when it feels like it's got its head screwed on (Clara continually asking questions), and times when it does something drastic that's actually in keeping with Doctor Who (him leaving us to it).  It feels like the most consistent episode of Doctor Who for a while, even if it has an annoyingly consistent supply of damp squibs.


  1. The sciency bits that annoyed me were:
    1) where did the moon get the extra mass from? (In a shelled egg, stored mass changes from 'fuel reserve' into 'embryo'. It's not as if the egg absorbs lots from outside - and if it does, it's mostly air an mass-less heat, neither of which would increase the mass of the moon)
    2) Creature, freshly born, laying egg of its own size? No!
    3) Egg-shells not crushing Earth. What exactly did they disintegrate into?
    4) Shuttle? Crash-landing? Why? (And how did it survive? That is not a way to land on the moon!)
    5) What exactly was the plan with the nuclear weapons? How were they supposed to make the moon lighter? (And why, once they realised the moon was breaking up, did anyone thing it would be a good idea to add bombs to the mix?)

    As for the human characters, they felt all messy and inconsistent to me. Courtney seemed written to be a little dim, but then the writers noticed, got embarrassed, and tried to make her less dim, and I just did not understand what they were trying to do with her (except have the Doctor get between Clara and the safety of her pupils). The chief astronaut seemed so very depressed. Missions to moon are not usually staffed by Eeyore. Even if they have 'second-hand shuttle, third-hand astronauts' (and really? The Mexicans can send their best, but NASA sends its misfits? I guess it was meant to be a one way trip, but even so...) The spiders were a big threat, and then suddenly, they weren't, and could not go out in the light ('the best disinfectant' - really?!?).

    Meanwhile, Clara's boyfriend seems be intended as a wise and calm counterpoint to the prejudiced, misanthropic and angry doctor. "When did you get to be so wise?" Clara asks, and I wonder the same thing. He started out PTSD-ridden, liable to cry or lose his temper, socially awkward, and is now the font of therapeutic zen. That's not character development, that's cheating.

    Just about the only thing I like about this Doctor is that he is in full control of his Tardis. No more whimsy 'getting lost' / incompetent time & space navigation. He is no longer a whimsy mad man in a box. Now he's an angry man with a timetravelling spaceship. If only he weren't so angry... He's meant to be The Doctor, not Doctor House.

    1. What a stupendous collection of points. Bravo!

      I do quite like the TARDIS being unreliable, but to an extent that it hasn't been since the '60s. The Doctor used to have no ability to pilot it at all - it was a case of dematerialise-and-never-looked-back. It made the TARDIS, and making sure you get back to it, far more important and concrete in story terms, and not such a cheat card. You also didn't need a particular pretext for each new setting. Just hit dematerialise, go anywhere, and start your episode! Nowadays, he needs a reason to go anywhere.

    2. There are so many MANY MANY pieces of stupid science in here it's breathtaking, down to the creature flapping its wings (in a vacuum) and making noises (in a vacuum). What makes us angry about that is that it's not a question of a blooper nobody thought about until it was too late, it's that they can't even be bothered attempting something even remotely approaching plausibility. Seethe.

      You like Courtney? You're dead to us. Well, OK, you're not actually dead to us, but re the not special thing, we do see your point, but he certainly had provocation, given that Courtney had been consistently nothing but rude and irritating ever since he met her. (Comma-tastic!) For us, he's allowed a tetchy moment, but perhaps that's just because we'd love to shove Courtney out of the TARDIS doors while it was in flight.

      Re the patronising thing, yep, the training wheels thing is totally patronising, but isn't being patronising a hallmark of the Doctor's? There are some we can think of for whom it was their primary calling card.

    3. Perhaps I should rephrase: Courtney didn't irritate me. She is totally pointless to the story, of course. As for rude and irritating, if that's the Doctor's criteria for "not special", he can add himself! Although I do see why Courtney wouldn't strike you as "special", I'm just pissed off that he'd say that about *anybody*. I think that's way, way off-piste for the Doctor. I think they're trying really hard to make him edgier and nastier, and they occasionally stroll merrily into Writing A Completely Different Person. It's infuriating.

    4. We had a giant discussion about the special thing after responding to you (probably should have been the other way around....). What we were thinking of wasn't that rude and irritating equals not special, but rather that the Doctor may not have been in the frame of mind to be handing out compliments. About the specialness thing itself, for us it comes down to a matter of definition. We agree entirely that the Doctor does think of every life as precious, so if special is defined in that way you're absolutely right. What got up our noses, as it does on a daily basis, is the notion of special meaning better than everybody else. On that level, we'd contend that the vast majority of people, including us, are pretty ordinary. We're all unique, obviously, but we can't all be better than everybody else. As Gilbert and Sullivan had it, "If everybody's somebody, then no one's anybody". Laying that aside, however, you have definitely persuaded us that as used it was a Very Bad Thing.

    5. The whole point of the TARDIS is that is doesn't work.

  2. People voting whether to cause harm to a huge lifeform for their own welfare, and choosing themselves? Sounds like The Beast Below. And that was a SHITE episode. I mean, I love season 5, but ain't no way I'm ever watching The Beast Below ever ever again. And THAT had Matt Smith in it.

    1. Thank you for reminding me about The Beast Below. Oh, wait, not thank you. I meant that other one.

      You're right, though. And it's almost as muddled as the impossible choice in that one - where you're wondering, why didn't the other countries need space whales? Hasn't anyone got any engine parts? Where are the engineers? Is there a possibility that the thing *won't* smash us to bits in revenge?

      This time the only thing that would convince them to Vote Yes would be an assurance that the moon is really made of "egg-shell", which (being a physical impossibility they disprove *in the episode*) isn't an easy sell. Fortunately, egg-shell ahoy. It might as well be made of f**king cheese for all the science involved.