Previously on Doctor Who: The Caretaker.
A moral dilemma, an absent Doctor, and a bit of cardboard cut-out ending. That was Kill the Moon. Jump the cut for the ins and outs of it.
“It’s your choice, womanhood.”
The choice that Clara, Courtney, and Lundvik have to make can easily be seen as a metaphor for abortion. Of course, the allegory falls apart when considering that this isn’t about an individual choice, but a transferred one over someone else’s kid; and I wouldn’t be comfortable with Doctor Who making pro-life politics its dictum under such circumstances. It is telling — and refreshing — however, that it’s three human women making this decision. The underlying conflict may be comparable, of course, but in the end, someone else having a kid or not usually doesn’t affect you, specifically. A creature hatching out of the moon just might, and this is where the metaphor stops working. It’s always easy to tell someone else, “It’s just a baby, it deserves to live!” when you’re not the one who’s going to be “hatching” and, more importantly, raising it.
The moral dilemma itself, however, is one that we’ve often seen both on Doctor Who and other SciFi shows, and the Doctor hasn’t always made the nice decision, hasn’t always been able to keep out of it. Pompeji, for instance, wasn’t such a moment.
The episode ends without a real sense of consequence
In the end, both the audience, the three making the decision, population on Earth, and the Doctor himself are let off way too easy. In a truly deus ex machina move, we see the Doctor whisking them away just when Clara has made the choice not to detonate the bombs, and we see a majestic creature soaring into the sky and laying a new egg, to hatch in another few hundred million years. To be honest, that ending is a bit cheap. The suspense was kept up throughout the decisive scenes between three seriously fantastic characters (and the actresses who did amazing work), but then it just… plummeted in the last eight or so minutes. It’s like the ending was just glued on to the fantastic rest of it, with no real sense of consequence. And the Doctor swooping in to show the ladies, “Look, it’s alright,” was rather jarring, standing on a sandy beach just after the darkness of the moon.
As such, the episode appears as more of a thought experiment — what if? Something to do with kids in school to explore the sense of futility that comes with being faced with a choice like this. There’s no way of knowing what the right decision will be, so you can only hope. And that’s what Clara and Courtney do.
As the Doctor pushes Clara too far, Jenna Coleman knocks it out of the park
The time has come for the Doctor to go too far. Respecting and trusting someone is not the same as leaving them abandoned, without help, terrified to the core, cruelly left in charge of a monstrous decision. Intentions do not make everything alright, that’s one thing the Doctor has to learn. He may have been confident that she would make the right decision — right in his eyes — but he also apparently left her without all the information he could have given her. He rested the world on her shoulders, believing she could do it — but just because someone can do something doesn’t mean they should, or that they’re ready, or willing. Whatever Danny had to do, it didn’t break him, and this hasn’t broken Clara. But it showed them that something went wrong, and it’s everyone’s right to remove themselves from toxic situations. Jenna is brilliant in these scenes, she’s truly showing Clara in a place with no safety net, no sense of control whatsoever. What let her defeat her fear in Deep Breath was that she believed the Doctor always had her back, because that’s what partners do; because she has his back wherever they go. She believes in the duty of care you have for a student, a friend, or a companion. He wasn’t her partner in this, he didn’t have her back, she couldn’t trust him. And that’s when Clara’s fear tilts over into something much more volatile.
He left her and he pushed her too far, pushed not only their relationship to breaking point but her. She has every right to be furious with him and distrust him and yell at him to get gone. The Doctor removed himself from the responsibility by claiming that it had nothing to do with him, and then left it in her hands, for better or for worse — but Earth has always been the Doctor’s second home, and she reminds him of that. They have harboured him when he was exiled, humans have saved him time and time again. I suppose if Clara had let the bombs detonate, he’d have had the gall to be disappointed in her. What Danny said about that CO of his also echoed what Rory told the Eleventh Doctor in The Vampires of Venice: he has no idea how dangerous he makes people to himself when he’s around. He lets people be the best they can be — but he also puts them into unthinkable situations. And as wonderful he is, there is such a thing as too far. Whether she forgives him or not is up to her. This Doctor, in his dismissiveness of human feelings, is a lot closer to One, Four and Seven than any Doctor since. He’s not just rude and not ginger. He’s no-one’s friend.
It’s the first time since Martha that a companion has actively told him to shove off, and the first time in new Who that it’s happened with such finality. And that’s a good thing, I think. We don’t have to forgive him everything. Danny’s advice is great, however, too.
“You’re never finished with anyone while they can still make you angry.”
It’s fantastic because a) he didn’t tell her ‘I told you so,’ b) he didn’t pass any sort of judgement, c) he didn’t make it about himself or factor in any desire he might possibly have to keep her on Earth with him. He just told her to let herself calm down, sleep on it. He knows how important the Doctor is to her, how difficult it is to change your own life like that, and he wants her to make a decision that really is right for her, not one born of anger and upset, because those are never the good ones.
The countdown as a plot device vs. meeting expectations
The “we’ve got 45 minutes” premise falls a bit flat because narrative time doesn’t, in fact, equal narrated time here, because the clock counts down in the last act and we see time passing as they wait for Earth to make its decision, in total narrated time clocks at about two hours. So it’s not just 42 on the moon, but it does sabotage itself a bit with that, choosing Clara’s broadcast as the pre-credits sequence. That might just be nitpicking, but it alters the expectations that the narrative has to meet dramatically, and the way any such narrative would work. The fact that it’s not just 45 minutes narrated time does afford the dialogue to go slower and the characters to linger.
The premise for getting the teenager on board (teenagers on the TARDIS — I don’t have a good track record with this, remember?) is more than flimsy. The Doctor was rude, so we have to chuck her in — only for him, in the end, to reassert his opinion that she’s not really special at all?
Next on Doctor Who: The Mummy on the Orient Express.