Kill The Moon Review

Clint Hassell gives his verdict on the seventh episode of Series 8.

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Apparently the lynchpin of Series 8, “Kill the Moon” has been heavily promoted by the production team as featuring a “life-changing dilemma” that affects both Clara and the Doctor. Cosmic in scope, yet focused on character interaction, the episode is a terrific example of what great science fiction strives to be. The episode is sure to receive acclaim from both critics and fans, as it actually lives up to the hype of its pre-air publicity.

“Kill the Moon” is also terrible, presenting a version of science so incorrect that is almost creates a new genre – “not-so-science fiction,” if you will – a substantial feat, considering Doctor Who regularly involves fantastical elements far removed from the realm of possibility. Some of the most egregious offenses:

  • It’s not possible for unicellular organisms, such as the spidery “germs,” to grow to “badger” size as the surface area of the cell exterior would be insufficient to absorb enough nutrients to sustain the greatly increased interior volume.
  • Once laid, eggs do not increase in mass. Due to the loss of water vapor, eggs actually weigh less as they age, not more. Yes, the organism contained within is increasing in size; however, it does so by consuming the egg’s nutrient stores, creating, for argument’s sake, a closed, zero-sum system.
  • While there are areas on the Moon where the density of the crust is so great that it creates a positive gravity anomaly – they’re called mascons, and they’re why NASA can’t keep a lunar satellite in orbit for longer than a few months, or land a lunar module with pinpoint accuracy – they increase, not decrease, the weight of nearby objects. Even if the entirety of the organism within the egg moved to the other side of the Moon, (a) it wouldn’t cancel out Courtney’s weight entirely, and (b) it would affect a large area, and not pinpoint Courtney, specifically.
  • The reflected light from the areas of the Earth that are experiencing daytime would be so great as to drown out any manmade lights, making it impossible to tally Earth’s “votes.”
  • Sound cannot travel through the vacuum of space, so the Doctor, standing on a beach, on Earth, would not hear the roar of the newly hatched space creature. Further, as the Moon is 238,900 miles away, and the speed of sound is only 761 miles per hour, the Doctor would have to wait more than 13 days to hear the shriek, after seeing the creature roar.
  • While not every organism needs to mate in order to lay an egg, to expect a newborn creature to lay an egg the same size as the one from which it just hatched, mere seconds after being born, is sheer lunacy.

kill-the-moon-examineWhen the Doctor spouts off obviously make-believe, sciencey-wiencey facts and jargon – “gravity bombs, axis alignment systems, planet shellers,” for example – no one cares, because it makes the Doctor seem smart, and it’s part of the fun inherent to the show. When he states blatantly wrong science “facts” because the writer couldn’t be bothered to think rationally, or consult a scientist, well, that makes the Doctor look like an idiot, and it hurts his character because, ironically, it ruins part of the believability of the show. While a doctorate in astrophysics shouldn’t be necessary to enjoy an episode of Doctor Who, the viewer should neither be required to self-lobotomize.

Despite being almost ruined by the science behind its fundamentally flawed premise, “Kill the Moon” uses the fantastic elements of its narrative as a backdrop to examine aspects of the human condition, seemingly qualifying the episode as a great example of science fiction. Not only does the script comment on the stagnant state of space exploration, it introduces the concept that killing the Moon will leave a giant corpse hanging in the sky, an ever-present reminder of mankind’s cruelty (or mankind’s will to survive, depending on one’s viewpoint).

More impressively, “Kill the Moon” asks several open-ended questions that beg the audience not only for repeat viewings, but also for continued discussion. Several examples:

  • At what point does the Doctor figure out that the Moon is an egg, and that the Earth will be safe? Could he have known as early as his first, “there are times I can’t see” speech? There is evidence that he knows much earlier than he admits: he doesn’t use the sonic screwdriver to analyze the fluid on the end of the yo-yo. He already knows it is amniotic fluid; perhaps, he was even looking to find it.
  • As the people of Earth vote to kill or spare the hatching space creature, the lights on the planet’s surface seem to turn off in large chunks – i.e., whole towns, provinces, districts. Could it be that the governments of the world were cutting the power to entire grids, robbing their citizens of the ability to vote individually?
  • While the newly hatched space creature does not attack Earth, could releasing it into the cosmos mean a world of trouble for another civilization, somewhere else? Did Clara just condemn some other world to a terrible fate?
  • Further, if this one event is the cause for mankind’s renewed interest in space exploration – an endeavor that takes them from the Earth to the edges of the Universe – then how is it not a fixed point in time? Perhaps it is, and that’s why the Doctor left, either because he knew it would work out as destined, or to keep himself from interfering.

The script for “Kill the Moon” contains several easily missed references that become important later in the narrative, often shading the characters with a deeper level of unspoken motive. For example, note that Lundvik and her crew arrive on the Moon via a space shuttle, a vehicle that is neither equipped to land in an airless environment, nor capable of launching without additional solid rocket boosters. This not only hints at how ill-prepared the space program has become, but also alerts keen-eyed viewers to what Lundvik herself later admits: the astronauts are on a suicide mission, and do not expect to return home. Suddenly, it makes sense that, faced with a wondrous new life form, Lundvik’s first response is, “How do we kill it?” It’s not just that she has seen the destruction on Earth caused by the creature’s presence; to her knowledge, she has already sacrificed her own life, so she is singularly-focused on accomplishing her mission.

landing-kill-the-moonSimilarly, Murray Gold’s score actually contributes to the narrative, as it surges to an epic crescendo when Courtney first leaves the space shuttle and steps onto the Moon’s surface. Not only does the music emphasize what is obviously an important character moment for Courtney, it serves as a subtle aural reminder that humanity is also experiencing a reawakening. Remember, barring a small mining expedition, a decade earlier, mankind has basically given up on space exploration. At the episode’s climax, as the Doctor tells Lundvik, Clara, and Courtney of humanity’s journey into space, Gold’s pensive score mirrors mankind’s future, its jaunty beat barely contained and ready to burst forth into action.

Conversely, the soundtrack is used to the exact opposite effect as it swells during Lundvik’s speech about how Courtney is too young to understand that life is not always just. Right at the moment the music has reached its zentih, and Clara asks, “Doctor, what do we do?” the music drops out to emphasize the Doctor’s unexpected answer: “Nothing.”

Speaking of Clara, she shines in this episode, a portrait of a woman pushed to her breaking point by a decision too weighty for one who merely wants to travel the stars. Jenna Coleman turns in her best work to date, the opening teaser placing her incredible talent front and center. Peter Capaldi is captivating as the Doctor, and has definitely made the role his own. However, when Clara demands, through a fury of barely contained tears, “Tell me what you knew or else I’ll smack you so hard, you’ll regenerate” – undoubtedly one of the greatest lines ever spoken by a companion to the Doctor – it is evident that Jenna Coleman is Doctor Who’s greatest resource. Coleman gamely made the most of what little the Series 7 scripts offered Clara; it is immensely rewarding to see what she is capable of accomplishing, now that her character is more consistently well-written.

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That being said, the star of the episode this week is Ellis George as Courtney Woods. At times overly-confident and brash, then self-absorbed and scared, Courtney is both idealistic and disrespectful, making her a believable 15-year-old girl. “Kill the Moon” utilizes Courtney both to demonstrate growth in Clara – she is certainly aware of her duty of care, after “Nightmare in Silver” – and to illustrate the cold, callous nature of the Twelfth Doctor.

The Doctor is cruel to tell Courtney that she isn’t special. What happened to “in 900 years of time and space . . . I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important”? While several aspects of the Doctor change with each regeneration, “never cruel, nor cowardly” seems like part of his core character that should remain constant. It’s heartbreaking to see that Courtney takes him at his word. Why shouldn’t she? The Doctor has traveled the cosmos and probably seen countless numbers of “special” events – and he’s dismissed her. It’s poignant that Clara admonishes that “[the Doctor’s comments] can affect [Courtney’s] whole life,” so soon after seeing how the Doctor’s careless actions with young Rupert affected Danny as an adult.

When the Doctor flatly refuses Clara’s demand that he tell Courtney that she is special, he seems uncaring, but at episode’s end, Twelve is revealed to be more misguided than misanthropic. It is evident that the Doctor confuses recognizing someone’s innate, special qualities with him making them “special” by taking them on as a companion and offering them a unique experience.