Saturday, 11 October 2014

Kill The Moon

"Sort it or abort it."

I was looking forward to Kill The Moon very much. From the previews and descriptions, I thought it could be the first 10/10 of Series 8. It looked terrifying, atmospheric, and we were promised an episode which would change the show forever. I for one have grown very tired of silly promises like that, but nonetheless a moral dilemma and some serious emotional fallout is always pretty cool.

To a certain extent, the episode lives up the hype. While still overstated, this really is the turning point of Series 8, particularly with regards to The Doctor and Clara's relationship. While not as scary as the likes of The Empty Child, it certainly has its share of scare. While not as gut-wrenching as The Girl Who Waited, the emotional thread is... Oh, you get the idea.

The story is best described as the love child of The Waters of Mars and The Beast Below. The Doctor takes Clara and school girl Courtney Woods to the Moon in 2049. The Moon has put on weight; falling to bits; spider-like bacteria are crawling around in the dark, and the last space shuttle has landed armed with nuclear weapons. We learn that the Moon is an egg! The creature inside is ready to hatch, and Clara is left with an impossible choice: Kill the creature - kill the Moon - or allow it to hatch and let Earth deal with the consequences.

After using a very unscientific variant of the infamous "Lights on, lights off" debate to help her decide, Clara decides to ignore the Earth's decision (curiously the lights turn off in entire countries so I wonder how the decision was actually made...) and let the creature live. The viewers were promised some long lasting consequences this series, and it appears that this could be the first!... Except it's not. Not only does the moon dragon fly away peacefully, it also immediately lays a new Moon in its place and everything is fine. The story wraps up far too cleanly for a story which is otherwise so dark and well-explored, and it's an ugly convenience which wasn't even strictly necessary.

The Doctor abandons Clara and Courtney to make this decision, in a move vaguely comparable to Ten's Time Lord Victorious moment. We know from the pre-credits teaser that The Doctor is going to leave at some point, but it doesn't make it any less of a shock when he "takes the stabilisers off [Clara's] bike" and abandons them because "it's not [his] Moon." Jenna Coleman puts in her best performance so far as Clara as she is pushed to her breaking point and utterly abandoned by her friend. It is very easy to accuse Clara of having too much screen time this series, but it is starting to pay off as of the episodes conclusion.

It all comes to a head in the final scenes as Clara basically tells The Doctor to f**k the f**k off, calling him out on his callous treatment. The way in which the argument is handled means that it would be very easy for The Doctor to be so totally awful and disagreeable, but it's constructed well enough that The Doctor's angle of future events being just as sacred as the past is easy to be fooled by.

One fault with Kill The Moon is something which is unlikely to bother many people, but it certainly annoys me is shameless science wankery. Doctor Who is ultimately science fiction; I can accept that; but I don't appreciate just how bloody stupid some aspects of this story are. Among other things:  a number of factors make it impossible for much of Earth to have given their 'votes';  eggs do not gain mass once they have been laid; unicellular prokaryotes cannot grow to the size of the spiders; my knowledge of physics isn't vast, but I'm fairly sure even a large movement of the egg creature couldn't cancel out Courtney's weight to the extent it did, and certainly not with such specific accuracy.

Yes, this is a show where the central concept is a ship which is bigger on the inside and can travel in time. It runs on such soft science it may as well be (and sometimes explicitly is) magic. References to devices like gravity bombs are just fine. The show never has presented a particularly accurate scientific world, neither does it need to. But there must be some attention to detail, else the alternative is to have Lamborghini's casually strolling into shot in Ancient Greece. That is the magnitude of the issue here: contradictions some completely illogical it is literally unbelievable.

For the sake of my sanity, I'm going to ignore any and all parallels this episode appeared to draw with aborting a human fetus.

Murray Gold's score for the episode is also a possible point of contention for me. While for the most part it follows Series 8s trend for being more atmospheric than before (and used in very good effect in places, such as the triumphant swelling before falling to silence when The Doctor says he's not helping), there are moments where the music's deployment could be better. The Doctor's theme edges on being a bit overplayed in the latter half of the story.

Ah yes, speaking of the tone: For a story which can feel a bit disconnected in places, the tone is remarkably well handled, if not entirely consistent. Peter Harness was told to "Hinchcliffe the s**t out of" the first half - essentially meaning to make it scary. While there's a lack of terrifying scenes, the tense atmosphere certainly lends weight to them. It smoothly transitions, very similar to The Waters of Mars, into a more dramatic and introspective direction as the episode develops. But with the comparison to The Waters of Mars come the reminders that it's not quite as good!

Courtney Woods is still a goddess, by the way. Albeit handled a bit awkwardly and suffering from some patchy dialogue. The Doctor's way of making her special instead of merely telling her allows us to see how alien his perspective is without the usual misanthropy or commenting on Clara's appearance, which I'd like to see more of. We also have Hermione Norris as the weekly "person who could be a companion - giving an interesting and layered (if ultimately upstaged) performance.

Despite the fundamentally broken story, I still find myself liking Kill The Moon quite a lot. It's good, but an undercurrent of problems with the plot and many individual elements not quite as strong as they could be means that it never truly reaches greatness. Ultimately, and unfortunately, it fails to cohere into a classic. Still the strongest of the season yet, though.