Who needs a full recap when we can sum up this episode with five words from a Beyonce song?
Guess my work here is done. Laterz.
Juuuuuuust kidding! “Kill the Moon” was beyond epic, in my humble opinion, and that means I’m going to spend hours explicating its many merits, including but not limited to the skyrocketing success of wombynkind. Which is totally unconnected to the fact that the Doctor—the only male who was present in more than two scenes and made it out alive by the end of this episode—demonstrated that he can be an utter celestial douchebag.
The episodes opens up back at Coal Hill, with Clara talking to her “space dad” about Miss Courtney “Disruptive Influence” Woods. These days, Courtney is lashing out because the Doctor allegedly told her she wasn’t special. “You say something like that to somebody and it hurts,” Clara insists. “Especially if you’re somebody of her age, and especially if you’re you.”
Thirty seconds into the post-credits part of the episode, and we’ve already hit on two specific points of interest for me. Clara’s job as a teacher is, on one level, to relay pertinent information to students about a particular subject. But on another (less clearly delineated but certainly more important) level, her job is to inspire each student to reach his or her highest potential—in other words, to convince each student that they are special. And what is the figure of the Doctor if not the ultimate teacher? Doctor Who was originally established, back in 1963, as an educational television program that uses time travel to explore historical and scientific facts and figures, and the Doctor has always been at the helm of this journey. But here—and at the end of this episode—we have Clara teaching the Doctor what’s what, exposing the fact that Twelve may know many of the secrets of the universe, but he’s woefully ignorant when it comes to the many secrets of human nature.
Clara’s insistence that the Doctor tell Courtney that she’s “special” makes me wonder if the BBC has been reading my emails to thursdayj, because this is exactly what has been bothering me so much about the Twelfth Doctor versus Doctors Nine through Eleven. Inspiring, oft-quoted lines such as Ten’s “It’s not the time that matters, it’s the person” and Eleven’s “In 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important” preach a Seussian ideal of individual uniqueness, a message that we can all benefit from on a daily basis. And yet Twelve has consistently defied this uplifting motto. Nine, Ten, and Eleven made me feel special, when it’s so easy to be lost and alone in this massive universe. But if I were to ever encounter Twelve, he’d probably crush my spirit by informing me that I am an absolute speck of nothingness. Which is something I’d really rather not think about, tbh. And neither, apparently, would Courtney Woods.
The second idea focuses on the paradoxically fragile-yet-admirably strong mind of a teenage girl, a topic that Pixar deemed notable enough to turn into the plot of the upcoming movie Inside Out. As Amy Poehler put it, “The brain of a young girl is a funny, complex, and miraculous thing.” We’ve all been there—even if you’re not, or never have been, a teenage girl—and this is another lesson the Doctor needs to internalize. Good thing we’ve got Miss Oswald channeling her inner Amy Poehler (among several other feminist goddesses) to sort him out!
The Doctor, as per his wont, deflects Clara’s outright demand for insincere encouragement and instead asks Courtney how she would like to be the first woman on the moon, in order to lend actual, empirical support to her claim of “specialness.” For a moment I thought the BBC had made a massive gaffe, because there must have already been a woman on the moon, right? Wrong! replied Google. We’re apparently still living in the Neolithic Age. Not so in the Whoniverse, where Courtney “Disruptive Influence” Woods leapfrogs ahead of the other women on board the space shuttle in order to claim the title and triumphantly proclaim: “One small thing for a thing! One enormous thing for a thingie thing!” If you weren’t in love with this kid beforehand, her eloquent adaptation of Neil Armstrong’s immortal first words on the moon probably sealed the deal. (In fairness, Courtney, I also tend to mix up the words “step” and “leap” as well as “man” and “mankind.” Also: Sooooo gendered.) As of now, no creepy aliens have hijacked Courtney’s momentous speech. Those Tumblr photos, though…I foresee a seriously terrifying force of destruction emerging from Courtney’s Tumblr account…
When Clara, Courtney, and the Doctor exit the TARDIS, they realize that the Doctor has undershot their moon landing a bit—they land on a shuttle en route to the moon, rather than on the moon itself. No matter: time to make some new frenemies while tossing out (…sometimes literally) a couple fun throwbacks to the Fourth Doctor’s era: Twelve ascertains that the date is 2049 judging by “the prototype version of the Bennett Oscillator,” which was mentioned by the Fourth Doctor in 1975’s “The Ark in Space,” which itself was a nod to the episode’s director, Rodney Bennett. So, yes, Doctor Who did, in fact, just get all meta-self-referential on us.
But wait, there’s more! The Twelfth Doctor’s yo-yo usage was undoubtedly a callback to the entire Tom Baker era, but more specifically to that very same episode, in which the Fourth Doctor also uses his yo-yo to measure gravity readings. In fact, it seems like the set-up of “Kill the Moon” bears a striking resemblance to the critically acclaimed “Ark in Space.” Here’s the brief synopsis of the latter episode from the Doctor Who Wiki:
The TARDIS lands on a space station orbiting Earth in the distant future. It’s seemingly deserted, but the Doctor, Sarah and Harry soon discover that they are not alone. … A parasitic insect race – the Wirrn – have taken control and threaten the very future of mankind…
Well, showrunner Steven Moffat has mentioned that “Ark” is his favorite episode from the Baker era. Hmmm. Curiouser and curiouser. However, this episode quickly takes on a life of its own (no pun intended, as we’ll see soon enough), helped along in no small part by Murray Gold’s ever-fabulous musical score. Though Eleven’s “I Am the Doctor” will forever be a fandom favorite, Twelve’s theme music—most noticeable when the Doctor first takes off for the moon and when he makes his rousing speech on the beach—is quickly growing on me, and has certainly morphed into one of the highlights of this season.
So: Having established that something fishy is going on, the three amigos team up with a couple of astronauts in order to figure out what to do about the moon situation, which according to the locals from 2049, is causing Really Bad Stuff to happen down on Earth. It turns out that Really Bad Stuff is happening on the moon as well, because two of the lead astronaut’s companions are promptly devoured by ginormous arachnids. The remaining astronaut, a hardened woman by the name of Lundvik, laments the loss of the one called Duke—he had recently had a granddaughter; he was Lundvik’s teacher, taught her how to fly, etc. Much sad. Very tragedy. The Doctor is having none of it.
The Doctor leads the remaining crew out to investigate an abandoned moon base, at which they discover the desiccated skeletons of a Mexican group that had landed on the moon ten years previously. Why hadn’t a rescue attempt been organized sooner? Because the only space shuttle available was currently on display in a museum, and the the global space program was effectively kaput. “We’d stopped going into space,” Lundvik explains, because “nobody cared.” Over in the good ol’ U.S.A, this prognostication is frighteningly realistic.
It’s around this point in time that Clara realizes that she’s probably going to get her miniskirts pants sued off if anything happens to Courtney, a situation that is a distinct possibility given that they are currently wandering around a future, carnivorous moon 238,900 miles from England. So she petitions the Doctor to take Courtney home, but the Doctor is just starting to have fun, and he once again balks at Clara’s request. “She’s fine!” he insists. “What are you, 35?” (Even though Clara has simply had it up to here with the Doctor’s lack of age discrimination, I personally think it’s one of this season’s most hilarious running gags.) They compromise by locking Courtney in the TARDIS until everything is safe and sound, at which point she flounces into a chair and promptly beings uploading pictures to Tumblr, which, let’s be real, is definitely what would happen if any one of us actually ended up riding along in the TARDIS. Courtney Woods, you are us. Love you too, BBC.
Soon afterwards, the Doctor pulls an Arnold Schwarzenegger and then promptly geronimos into a pit of amniotic fluid, leaving Clara and Lundvik to engage in an exasperated session of eye-rolling over the Doctor’s behav…
…wait, amniotic fluid? That’s right: as the Doctor reveals upon his return to the shuttle, the moon is breaking apart because it’s an egg—and it’s hatching. “Is it a chicken?” Courtney asks, “Because for a chicken to have laid an egg—“ and though the Doctor immediately cuts her off, I wondered at the significance of this chicken-and-egg comparison, especially given the brief mention of chicken at the beginning of the episode as well. As the well-worn question goes: “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” Though often considered quite literally, this question also calls to mind the matter of how/when life begins, as well as the issue of the causality of time, both of which are featured heavily in this week’s episode.
Let’s begin with the latter: The Doctor pontificates on the fluxity (a word I just made up and will now be working into daily conversation as much as possible) of time throughout this episode, explaining to Clara that just because she’s been to the future and has seen the moon in the sky, it doesn’t mean that the future she has seen is set in stone. As the Doctors and River Song explain and then retract every other episode: “Time can be rewritten.”
But I’ll leave the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff to other Whovians, because I want to focus on the significance of a life. As an elated Doctor enlightens Clara, Courtney, and Lundvik on the nature of the being growing inside the eggshell of the moon: “I think that it’s unique. I think that it’s the only one of its kind in the universe. I think that that…is…utterly beautiful.”
Though the “last of its kind” trope has been overused ad nauseum as it relates to the Doctor, I can’t get enough of the “only one of its kind” theme; as I mentioned earlier, that’s what I loved about Doctors Ten and Eleven: they truly made everyone feel special. Though this Doctor is a bit more terse in expressing this idea—and certainly engages in a roundabout method of demonstrating this to Courtney, as per Clara’s request—I was ecstatic to see him finally subscribing to the “wide-eyed wonder” character trait of the Doctors before him. Its core message is certainly reminiscent of the Eleventh Doctor’s words of encouragement to young Merry Gallel in “The Rings of Akhaten”:
Whether the Doctor meant that whatever is about to hatch from the moon-egg is unique as an individual or unique as a species, the consensus is clear: It’s “utterly beautiful.”
Without missing a beat, a steely-eyed Lundvik whispers: “How do we kill it?” The contrast is jarring. And the ensuing conversation is so reminiscent of the abortion debate, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least recap the buzzwords used to describe the situation at hand:
On the anti-abortion side, we have…
A living, vulnerable creature
It’ll never feel the sun on its back
[Something] trying to force its way out
Little, dead baby
It wouldn’t be very pretty—you’d have an enormous corpse floating in the sky.
It’s just a little baby!
It’s not even been born!
This is a life
You can’t blame a baby for kicking
With the pro-abortion stance, we have Lundvik:
It is killing people!
I don’t want to get into the politics of this extremely traumatizing and very real issue, but I do think the topic was strongly alluded to (or, well, blatantly referenced) as a means of lending additional gravity* to the situation at hand. Because the way Clara put it at the opening of the episode– “An innocent life versus the future of all mankind”—made the decision seem pretty easy, albeit painful for the ones actually pushing the button. One life versus an untold infinity? Even the staunchest deontologist would have trouble debating the moral logic of deciding to knock off that single life. But putting the debate in these terms certainly makes it feel more personal and more daunting. The conversation took an even more significant turn when the topic of children comes up: “You might have some very difficult conversations to have with your kids,” the Doctor says, condescendingly, regarding the dead fetus hanging in the sky. “I don’t have any kids,” Lundvik replies. Later, as the debate rages on, Clara agonizes over “killing a baby” and Lundvik shoots back, “Oh you want to talk about babies? You’ve probably go babies down there! Do you want to have babies?” At which a tearful Clara responds—with an expression that has got to be one of the finest dramatic moments of Jenna Coleman’s career—“Yeah.” The two women discuss the fate of the human race in the context of a very female-centric issue, and they do so with sensitivity, clarity, and a very appropriate dose of anguish.
All because, of course, the Doctor PEACED THE HELL OUT the instant he realized an impossible decision was to be made, or because he knew it would all work out in the end, or whatever—all under the guise of helping the puny little humans “take the stabilizers off” of their bikes. “It’s your moon, womankind,” he all but sneers. “It’s your choice.”
At which point I said, GOOD RIDDANCE, BRO.
I noticed early on that this episode was (pleasantly) very female-centric—the moon itself is an age-old symbol of femininity, the discussions about birth; and when the only two human males in “Kill the Moon” make their way to the Nethersphere (maybe), we’re left with the Doctor and three leading ladies to carry the plot to its finish, a gender imbalance that feels way too refreshing in light of the reversed ratio in most other sci-fi series. (The rebooted Doctor Who series has always been very attentive to this imbalance, and Russel T. Davies in particular was careful to put forth a diverse cast. In season 8, “Into the Dalek” has been by far the most progressive episode to date in this regard—until, perhaps, “Kill the Moon.”) And when the Doctor vacates the premises halfway through the episode, only Clara, Lundvik, and Courtney remain, and they’ve got the (fate of the) whole world in their hands. (Because apparently the female president of the United States is too busy running the world from down below at the moment.) The abortion debate could all boil down to the fact that what happens to a woman’s body should be her choice and her choice only; in this episode, what happens to the entire planet is the choice of three very different, very important, and very strong—in all variations of that term—women.
Ever the democrats, the adults in the room decide to put it to a vote on Earth, devising a totally impractical scheme so that all of Earth can signal its decision w/r/t to the unborn alien fetus inhabiting the moon-egg. The white smoke goes up—or, rather, doesn’t, as all of Earth’s lights are extinguished in order to signal mankind’s decision: kill it. #Scumbag earthlings.
Fortunately, Clara’s compassion kicks in and compels her to halt the detonation at the last possible second. Like clockwork, the Doctor reappears and pats them all on the back for a job well done.
Like Lundvik said: “What a prat.”
Because Clara’s rant to the Doctor at the end of the episode was absolutely, 1000% spot-on. She felt insulted, she felt disrespected, she felt patronized, and she let. him. have it. And though as a viewer, I was thrilled by the moral dilemmas and psychological finagling that went on over the course of this episode, the Doctor did act irresponsibly, and he deserved to be, as Clara colorfully put it, slapped so hard that he’d regenerate. Because this new regeneration will have been all for naught if he doesn’t learn a little something about taking responsibility.
Clara’s tirade was also exhilarating because it served as the climax of Jenna Coleman’s unparalleled performance in this episode. I have made no secret of my pervasive loathing for Clara, so know that I speak genuinely when I say that I was floored by Jenna Coleman’s portrayal of the character in “Kill the Moon.” I’ve heard it said that Clara is at her most sympathetic when interacting with children—it’s why she made such a great governess and such a great nanny in the many incarnations of her character—and, here, she has a wonderful dynamic with 15-year-old Courtney Woods. This relationship heightened her likability in my eyes by a millionfold, as she sticks up for her student (one she doesn’t even particularly like, by the way!) in front of the Doctor and strives to protect her physically and emotionally every step of the way. There was also this rather odd little exchange between the duo in which Clara tells Courtney to call her by her first name, and a bemused Courtney says something along the lines of, “I think I’ll stick to ‘Miss,’ Miss.” It’s almost as if Courtney was speaking on behalf of a dozen other voices by telling Clara to own her position of authority, and to hold firm in the face of (male) opposition. And at the end, Clara does so, sticking up for herself in front of the over-pompous Doctor.
Like Danny Pink predicted, the Doctor finally pushed her too far. And Clara, after months of meekly and rather blindly letting the Doctor tell her what to do, says: Enough.
On a positive note, however, I did absolutely adore the scene on the beach. The setting, the echoing sound of the seagulls and then the swell of the musical score that accompanies the Doctor’s words, Peter Capaldi’s emotionally resonant presentation…To echo the Doctor earlier in the episode: Utterly beautiful.
In the mid-21st-century, humankind starts creeping off into the stars, spreads its way through the galaxy, to the very edges of the universe, and it…endures till the end of time. And it does all that because one day in the year 2049 when it stopped thinking about going to the stars, something occurred that made it look up, not down. It looked out there into the blackness and it saw something beautiful, something wonderful. that for once it didn’t want to destroy, and in that one moment the whole course of history was changed.
That, to me, is Doctor Who in a nutshell. Well, an eggshell. The show is only technically the story of a Time Lord; at its core, it is the story of humanity, in all of its glorious multitudes, and of the profound power and influence of the beauty of the imagination. And of course, there’s the metaphor of the moon-creature laying an egg as it departs, just as each Doctor, even when he leaves, regenerates into a new Doctor. And so Doctor Who will continue its cycle of life and death and life again, forever and ever, amen.
And if this episode was any indication, it’s high time we had a Time Lady take the reins as well. Amiright or amiright?
Oods and Ends:
- Missy Watch – So, um, people died in this episode?
- River Song Watch – Astronaut suits! Kickass female characters! Hanky-panky in the TARDIS! #Bring Back River Song
- Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield was on the board in Clara’s classroom at the end. Any thoughts?
- “Goodnight Earth” when Earth turned all of its lights out—I love the eerie parallel to the classic children’s tale Goodnight Moon.
- Arguably the best line of the episode came up in the first few seconds: Clara complains that Courtney Woods is completely uncontrollable, and that she stole the Doctor’s psychic paper and is using it as a fake I.D. The Doctor: “To get into museums?” Bless your hearts, Doctor.
- “I am a super-intelligent alien being who flies in time and space,” he says, as he jumps up and down like a total doofus and does a little wiggle dance in order to “test gravity.” Seems like he retained a tiny bit of Eleven’s quirkiness after all.
- COURTNEY WOODS FOR PRESIDENT 2048
* In the immortal words of the Tenth Doctor: I am so, so sorry.