Monday, October 6, 2014

Doctor Who, "Kill the Moon"

In this week’s episode, still on Earth, Clara is chiding the Doctor for not telling 15-year-old Courtney - “Disruptive Influence,” who created her own “spillage” in the TARDIS last week - that she’s “special.” Exasperated, the Doctor abruptly takes Clara and Courtney to the moon, circa 2049. The three discover that the moon has much higher gravity than it should, and that three astronauts in a U.S. Space Shuttle have arrived with 100 nuclear bombs to destroy the moon before the higher gravity wreaks havoc on Earth.

After two of the astronauts are killed by spider-like creatures that the Doctor determines are very large bacteria (in a hilarious scene, Courtney uses anti-bacterial spray on one, stopping it in its tracks), and the Doctor uncovers amniotic fluid in a crevasse, he concludes that the moon is actually incubating a huge creature that is about to hatch. If the moon fractures when the creature hatches chunks of the moon could fall on Earth with devastating consequences. If they detonate the bombs, they will kill the creature, which may be the only one of its kind. As the surviving American astronaut and Clara debate what they should do, and ask the Doctor his plan, the Doctor tells them that it’s their planet and their decision to make, then leaves in the TARDIS.

At the last moment, Clara stops the detonation sequence, allowing the creature to hatch. The Doctor returns, takes all three to Earth, where they watch the creature fly off and the shell harmlessly disintegrate into the atmosphere. Later, in the TARDIS, Clara is furious with the Doctor for abandoning them and allowing them to come so close to making the wrong decision. She tells him not to return and storms out, later comforted by Danny.

Where to start in thinking about this one? The science is more of a mess than usual, so one has to simply go with the narrative flow and not consider the details too much. (For example, how much extra mass would be necessary to create an Earth-like gravity on the moon? Wouldn’t someone have noticed this well before 2049? Don’t bacteria need an atmosphere to survive?) I was more bothered by the Doctor once again taking a child into the TARDIS and into danger. Didn’t the Eleventh Doctor learn (in “Nightmare in Silver”) that no good ever comes of this? And as amusing as Courtney has been in small doses, she can’t carry an episode, and merely comes across like an immature brat, unwilling to stay and help, sulking in the TARDIS, and unable to keep from touching things.

When deciding what to do about the creature, Clara finds a way to poll humanity, which firmly wants the crew to detonate the nuclear bombs and save Earth. Instead, Clara, having asked the question in the first place, ignores their desires and stops the detonation. On instinct? Surely she knows better than any human other than the Doctor’s former companions how dangerous the universe can be. But, of course, in the context of the story her decision is the “right” one.

The Doctor surely knew about much of what would transpire - otherwise, his choice of this moment in 2049 to take Courtney is too much of a coincidence. We can infer that his purposes were twofold: first, to not merely tell Courtney that she’s special but to allow her to do something special; and, second, to give to Clara control over the outcome, trusting that Clara would do the right thing and, in so doing, help propel humanity to the stars.

Did this work? In the context of the episode, the first one did - Courtney seems happier with herself - while the second one didn’t - Clara is very angry with the Doctor. But this is backward: Courtney didn’t actually do anything special, she was merely an observer to an historic moment. (And no one will believe her if she tells them.) Conversely, Clara actually did make the decision with the Doctor nowhere around. For better or worse, she chose the outcome. Yet she complained to the Doctor that he was patronizing her. I don’t see that.

In sum, this was a difficult episode, and not an entirely successful one, although I liked the themes contained in it. I look forward to reading/hearing some of the other commentary on the episode. (I try to write these based only on my reactions to the episode.) One point that keeps coming back to me over the course of this season is that this is a very adult season of Doctor Who, in part because the Twelfth Doctor isn’t an easy person to like, in part because Clara has some difficult parts of her personality, but in large part because of the issues and interpersonal conflicts that keep arising. Doctor Who for adults might not always be easy viewing, but it’s proving to be very interesting viewing.

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