Doctor Who: Kill the Moon
In the near future, humanity faces an impossible choice between an innocent life and its own survival, but this time it seems as though they will have to make that choice without the help of the Doctor.
“An innocent life versus the future of all mankind.” Such are the stakes in the most recent episode of Doctor Who, a show that has never been afraid to wander into dark and controversial subject matter. They are stakes we have seen before if you remember that time humanity kept voting to torture that poor star whale in order to continue its journey through the cosmos, but the metaphor in this episode is a little more blatant. It’s pretty obvious that “Kill the Moon” is about abortion. This review contains SPOILERS.
The premise is this: the moon, in a revelation so absurd that it could only fit in the Doctor Who universe, turns out to be a giant egg. And in the near future it’s about to hatch, threatening all of humankind. Fortunately, the Doctor is on the scene, this time with three women: his current companion Clara, her rebellious student Courtney, and an astronaut who has brought nuclear weapons to deal with the lunar problem. After some investigation and a few minor character deaths, they finally realize what is happening with the moon and the danger it poses to humanity. They have to choose between allowing an unknown creature to be born, knowing that it could then devastate Earth if it so chose, and killing it with the nukes, which would allow humankind to continue unthreatened. However, the Doctor excuses himself from the situation entirely, leaving the terrible choice with Clara and the rest of the female cast. “It’s your moon… Womankind,” he tells them. “It’s your choice.”
I can appreciate the courage it takes to tackle a such a high-stakes controversial subject, but the way it is handled is unlikely to really satisfy anyone who has strong feelings about the subject. For instance, the Doctor excusing himself of any responsibility is problematic. In previous encounters with conundrums, he has been the one to shoulder the terrible weight of impossible decisions, as he did in the case of the star whale in the episode “The Beast Below,” or the time he helped to destroy Pompeii, or even his actions in the Time War. So it is notable that he abstains here. He just ups and leaves, abandoning the women of the episode to the choice that he feels is theirs alone without even giving them his opinion on the matter. This is not the way the Doctor has acted in the past. It is as if the subject of abortion is so taboo that even the Doctor, who gets involved with everything, won’t touch it, because in reality, it is championed as a choice only women should be allowed to make. The women in the show then try to contact Earth to put the decision to a vote of sorts (a vote that only includes half the planet, which is also a curious symbolic gesture). Humanity, of course, chooses to destroy the life within the moon to protect itself, but Clara chooses to disregard Earth’s choice, saving the creature. The revelation is that the choice of life is ultimately the correct option, as the creature flies harmlessly away, leaving a brand new egg (moon) in its place. Everything is resolved in the end. All’s well that ends well, and they all live happily ever after.
Actually no, not really–Clara is furious at having been forced to make the choice, but more about that in a moment.
“Kill the Moon” ultimately fails in its attempt at a morality play concerning abortion. What is the audience supposed to learn? Is the episode pro-life because sparing of the lunar creature is demonstrated to be the right choice? Or is it pro-choice, because the Doctor lets the women of the episode decide on their own, without interfering? Or is it really anti-choice because of how Clara is emotionally compromised by being the only person encumbered by the resolution to reject Earth’s determination to kill, which in the minds of the empathetic, is not a real choice at all? The dissonance in this episode stems from its projection that the only women should determine the appropriate action in terms of reproduction, yet it demonstrates that the gravity of such a burden is too much for women to bear on their own. It almost feels like the episode was originally meant to be a rehash of the moral question in the star whale situation (another time when the moral conflict was “an innocent life versus the future of all mankind”), then had the abortion metaphor tacked on in the revision: the end result feels shallow. (If this episode had been a metaphor for God leaving human beings to their own devices I would have found it more interesting, and in spite of its problems it does attempt to pose some serious questions about free will and responsibility, but those attempts are fumbled in the execution.) Neither the Doctor’s apparent lack of an opinion nor the episode’s tidy resolution are satisfactory. There’s this choice that affects everyone, but only certain people get to decide–half the planet, whose votes are then disregarded. At least the decision is given weight in the episode, but the whole thing feels like a mess. And the ending is far, far too clean and convenient.
Until we get back in the TARDIS, that is.
Doctor Who has demanded a great deal of faith from its fans, and at seven episodes into this new era of the show, it hasn’t done much to reward that faith lately. It is as if the heart and soul of the show has been put on a high shelf out of our reach. The Doctor doesn’t seem to care about insignificant human beings anymore. Clara’s old accusation that we’re all ghosts to him has never felt truer.
Which is why it felt so satisfying to watch her rip him apart once they were alone in the TARDIS. Her fight with him that makes last week’s argument between the Doctor and Danny Pink seem tame by comparison. This scene alone is worth the episode’s price of admission. The Doctor tries to defend himself, throws his hands up and claims, “It wasn’t my decision to make, I told you.” But Clara is having none of it. “Do you know what?” she says, “Shut up. I am so sick of listening to you.”
“Shut up” has been the new Doctor’s catchphrase this season, often hurled at the lowly humans who are far less brilliant than he is. His companion throws it back at him with venom. It’s not the only role reversal in the scene.
The Doctor tries to backpedal, saying, “That was me allowing you to make a choice about your own future. That was me… respecting you.”
And Clara replies, “Yeah well, ‘Respected’ is not how I feel.”
The whole showdown culminates with the apparent dissolution of their relationship. The Doctor has often rejected would-be companions (like poor Journey Blue earlier in the season, who he left behind in a war zone because he didn’t want to travel with a soldier), but this time his companion is the one telling him that she wants nothing more to do with him. The scene is emotionally electrified, painful but also really, really satisfying.
Satisfying? When did I start wanting to see the Doctor torn down so much? Since he regenerated into an elitist jerk, that’s when.
The whole reason the Doctor and Clara went to the moon is because they were giving young Courtney a chance to do something special, because the Doctor told her she wasn’t special. The Doctor said that to a young girl. I remember when the Doctor told another young girl that he never met anyone who wasn’t important. When Donna Noble’s father suggested that humanity must look like ants to him, the tenth Doctor said that they looked like giants. I’d really like to see that Doctor again.
The Doctor isn’t the only one who seems to look down on “small” humans. It seems like a metaphor for what the show’s creators have been doing to the fans by making the Doctor far less loveable this season. And maybe they have a plan, something that will make it all feel worthwhile, but respected is not how I feel right now. I want so badly to believe in Capaldi’s Doctor, but at seven episodes in, I feel like siding with Clara. Will that change?
Time will tell.
Content Warning: alien spider-on-human violence and metaphors concerning abortion
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+ Riveting emotional final scene
+ Great performances by the actors
+ Annoying kid (No, I don't actually mind Courtney)
+ Visuals and special effects are solid
- Vague moral lesson
- Messy attempt to take on a controversial issue
- The Doctor is still being a jerk
- Resolution beggars belief (and this is after accepting that the moon is an egg)