The Twelfth Doctor’s introductory season has been a bumpy one. The opener was a bore and just about each episode since has been a mix of highs and lows. With “Listen” and “The Caretaker,” Series 8 has begun to come into its own, better defining its characters. “Kill the Moon” builds off those previous installments and ways I never expected, and it all pays off tremendously well.
It shouldn’t be all that surprising for an episode of Doctor Who written by a series newcomer like Peter Harness to do something completely new, but at first glance “Kill the Moon” doesn’t come off as all that revolutionary. For reasons beyond my comprehension, Clara insists The Doctor help her convince the young Courtney (Remember her? The disruptive influence?) is indeed “special”, after he told her otherwise when she threw up in the TARDIS. Rather than tell her, The Doctor chooses to bring her on an adventure where she can be special.
This whole setup is rather forced and children traveling in the TARDIS is typically a sign of disaster. Not real disaster, mind you, because having a child on board basically cancels out any real threats to their well-being. That being said, the way in which “Kill the Moon” handles having Courtney tag along is surprisingly nuanced. She isn’t turned into a whiz-kid who’s the only one who can save the day, she isn’t shown rapidly adapting to their predicament like it’s no big deal, and she also isn’t used as a liability; instead, Courtney is one of the more realistic teenagers ever on Doctor Who, responding to their situation with a believable mix of fear and confidence.
It takes perhaps a bit too long before we get to real heart of this episode, and we lose a pair of “redshirts” to those germ spiders in the process. But just like how the alien-robot thingy from last week’s episode wasn’t all that important, these badger-sized bacteria aren’t the real threat. In fact, there is no easily identifiable threat in “Kill the Moon”, it’s more of a dilemma of consequences.
The most dire being, what to do with the giant space baby about to hatch from the moon-egg!? Sure, it’s scientifically ridiculous, but is now really the time to begin debating Doctor Who‘s scientific accuracy? No, simply swallow its giant ‘do the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the one?’ metaphor and move on. There’s two options: either wait and see what hatches, which appears to be how The Doctor would choose, or kill it, as suggested by Captain Lundvik (Hermione Norris, in a role that’s basically Captain Adelaide-lite).
There’s no denying it’s a tough call, and one that would be best decided with input by all available council. Except… their best expert on what’s actually happening – The Doctor – throws a Time Lord tantrum, claiming it isn’t his planet so it’s not his problem, and leaves this massive decision up to an astronaut, a teenager, and her teacher. Similarities can be drawn to The Doctor leaving the humans and Silurians to debate in “Cold Blood”, but where that moment came across more like an opportunity this feels like downright abandonment.
And it is. This is The Doctor shirking his responsibility, throwing up his hands and yelling, “You figure it out!” Which he basically does when he coldly tells Clara, “It’s time to take the stabilizers off your bike.” His sudden disinterest in what happens next, his lack of concern over whether or not these three women are capable of making such a decision is unnerving. And it’s perhaps a sign of just how detached and fickle of an alien The Doctor really is.
That has seemed to sort of be the point of Series 8 so far: The Doctor isn’t human. A fact we’ve always known because it’s what makes him so interesting, but more than once it’s been his lack of humanity (read: compassion) that’s put him in the wrong before. It’s why he shouldn’t travel alone, he needs a companion, a conscious–a human, to put it bluntly, but when did it become humanity’s responsibility to be there to reel him in?
Oh… around the time The Doctor couldn’t go a few weeks without popping in on his favorite spot in the universe: Earth. I mean, how can he seriously consider himself in no way connected to Earth and its tiny-brained humans when he’s spent so much of life protecting them!? You can’t simply leave when there comes a choice that’s too hard. It’s utterly irresponsible and mean-spirited, and thank you Clara for shoving it in his face.
Last week it was Danny giving The Doctor what’s for, speaking truth to power, and it seems Clara took note. In the end she made the right call, saved the giant space baby and Earth, even got the planet back on track towards space exploration – but that wasn’t the point. She would have come to the same decision had The Doctor been there, her compassionate and caring nature would have ensured it, but he instead left her alone and frightened.
That’s not what friends do – that’s something a commanding officer would do, which is just the point Danny was making. Being someone’s friend implies equality, but somewhere along the way The Doctor has seemed to have forgotten that, falling back on old prejudices, where’s he’s the quasi-omniscient Time Lord and his companions are the monkeys asking too many questions.
Clara’s fierce rebuke of The Doctor’s shenanigans is fantastic. It could very well become the defining moment of Jenna Coleman’s time in the TARDIS because no companion has ever talked back the The Doctor like that. And Capaldi’s reaction is perfect, both confused and heart(s)broken. There’s no doubt this scene will have profound consequences going forward, and not only for The Doctor and Clara, but quite possibly for every companion from here on out.
Doctor Who airs Saturday at 9pm on BBC America.
Watch a preview of next week’s episode – “Mummy on the Orient Express”: