Kill the Moon

Well, that was a hell of a lot heavier than yesterday’s episode, and in fact it’s one of the most divisive¬†Doctor Who stories of all time. But before we get on to all that, what’s not up for debate is that this is an absolute thriller. The first half is played for scares and feels noticeably old school, so I was amused to read afterwards that Moffat had instructed Peter Harness to “Hinchcliffe the shit out of it”. He certainly did.

Courtney Woods is an interesting one. I don’t think a stroppy teenager is something the TARDIS team necessarily needs – I was rolling my eyes when she was complaining about the Doctor not thinking she was special – but she matured before our eyes throughout the episode, and she’s really not that bad by the end of it. I probably wouldn’t want her to be around full time, but as a one-off it’s fine as something different.

There’s plenty to like about this episode – the guest cast of Hermione Norris, Phil Cool and Tony Osoba from Porridge/Destiny of the Daleks; killing aliens with cleaning spray; the joke about Lundvik’s gran using Tumblr – and I’d forgotten about all of this, thanks to the big revelation that dominated the contemporary discussion. Regardless of anything else, it needs to be stated that “the Moon is an egg” is simply one of the greatest sci-fi premises of all time – that we all take it seriously despite its inherent hilarity makes this an audacious display of justified confidence.

The issues it brings up are huge and plentiful. The first one is easy: I don’t really care about an alleged lack of scientific rigour that the episode has been roundly criticised for. When the Doctor states a fact, it only needs to be true in his universe – which is clearly not our universe, because our Moon isn’t a big egg – and he should know whether it’s true or not, far better than we do.

The much bigger issue is whether or not the whole thing is an analogy for abortion. I tried to re-examine the dialogue impartially, to determine how much of it is in the text and how much is open to interpretation, and it’s the fact that Clara and Courtney instantly refer to the alien as “a baby” that makes it slightly uncomfortable. There’s even a reference to Lundvik – who’s the only one arguing to detonate the bombs – not having kids of her own, implying that this is relevant to her stance. I tried to separate the sci-fi story from the real world issue, but I just can’t help but see it there.

So if it is an analogy for abortion, the tricky thing is that the characters have to ultimately make a definitive decision about what’s the right thing to do. This is where the earlier talk about babies muddies the waters, because I don’t think for a second that the episode was trying to portray an anti-abortion message. Ultimately, it comes down to the dilemma of one innocent life ended vs billions of innocent lives saved, and that’s a) not what abortion is, and b) something the Doctor has faced before, with little of the same controversy. I totally see why people saw this as a pro-life argument, but I disagree – I think the initial discussion has definite parallels with the abortion debate, but that they’re long since abandoned by the time the countdown to detonation is, ironically, aborted.

Fortunately, when the alien is hatched it instantly lays another egg, which seems weird but hey, let’s just say that this is how reproduction works for this particular species. This allows the Doctor to smugly imply that he knew this would happen all along, and that there was some McCoy-esque masterplan at work. But brilliantly, Clara calls him out on his shit. Her threat to leave seems hollow in retrospect, but it’s a hell of a powerful scene. As I’ve said before, the Twelfth Doctor is always doing the right thing, as I believe he was here by standing back to let the humans decide their own fate, but he’s a bit of a git while he’s doing it, and he deserves a dressing down every now and then.

Despite the numerous and ongoing debates that this episode inspired, I think it’s brilliant that the show is pushing so many boundaries, and giving us so much to think about. It even gave us a scene with Danny Pink where he comes across as quite nice. This series just keeps you guessing.

RATING: 8

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The Caretaker

It’s fairly rare these days for the Doctor to spend a prolonged period of time on contemporary Earth. More often than not, it comes about because he has no choice but to stay in one place, and it usually falls to Gareth Roberts to write it. Like the recent James Cordon-based diversions, this episode is a cheap and cheerful change of pace, but it differs in that it focuses on driving the over-arching stories of the series forward, rather than taking a break from them.

This is the most soapy the show has ever been, and that’s not a criticism; there’s a reason soaps are the most popular dramas on TV, and there’s no reason why Doctor Who shouldn’t aim to have characters who you care enough about to be invested in their personal lives. I guess the crux of this episode is whether you consider Clara to be at that level; I remember not quite being there with her when this went out, but I am now, and so I welcomed the chance to learn more about her in a less-hectic-than-usual episode.

Danny Pink, on the other hand, is a complete knobhead. I can’t help but agree with the Doctor that Clara has “made a boyfriend error”. It’s not that he’s necessarily in the wrong – it’s natural that he’d be suspicious of the Doctor, and keen to protect Clara, and he does have a point about the Doctor being like a military officer. But considering that we barely know him, who does he think he is, coming round here calling our hero a prick? Putting him in direct opposition to the best character in the history of television doesn’t help us to like him.

The bigger issue, though, is how he is with Clara when they’re in private. He’s controlling, demanding and manipulative, asserting his patriarchal dominance and using emotional blackmail to get his own way. He makes her promise to never hide anything from him, as he believes that being her boyfriend entitles him to control her life, and threatens to leave her if she doesn’t comply. He’s not good enough for her – not because he’s an ex-soldier, or because he resembles a P.E teacher, just because he’s a bit of a shit.

Still, I’ve found that I’m able to look past my dislike of Danny Pink more often than not during this rewatch. Perhaps it’s because I’m looking forward to seeing him die fairly soon. Putting him to one side, there was plenty to enjoy here, with Capaldi on great form as usual, and given a fair amount of comedy to do. I loved his assumption that Clara’s boyfriend would be the one who looks vaguely like Matt Smith, and how pleased with himself it made him. Plus Chris Addison has turned up now, raising the prospect of a Malcolm/Ollie reunion.

RATING: 7

Into the Dalek

I don’t know where to start with this one, as nothing really stood out as being exceptionally good or bad. It was a bit like Dalek, with the focus on one individual Dalek and its philosophical debates with the Doctor, but mixed with The Invisible Enemy, with a little dash of the antibodies from Let’s Kill Hitler thrown in for good measure. A bit of a mish-mash of ideas, but it looked great and it was well directed. Always nice to see Tyres too.

It doesn’t quite hit the heights of¬†Dalek because it only really gets under the skin of the creature in the literal sense. I was hoping that the hippy stuff about Rusty seeing the error of his ways after watching a star being born was all just a ploy, but it seems he meant it. I feel the Dalek should have been more cunning, but then the episode is as much about examining the new Doctor as it is the nature of his enemy.

It offers the theory that they’re very much two sides of the same coin, which is interesting, but my answer to the question of whether the Doctor is a good man is always: “well, of course he is, he’s the Doctor”. You can see that Capaldi is taking a very different approach, but fundamentally all that’s changed is that he’s become less tactful around death. This is admittedly being said with the benefit of hindsight, as you can tell that the intention was to be suggest that he might have gone a bit Colin Baker this time round.

It’s a bold move, and I can sort of see why it put some people off, even though I completely disagree with those people. I’ll admit to being taken aback by how casual he is about the high body count, but the side-effect of the Missy cutaways is that they make it all slightly softer. The people who sacrifice themselves in the Doctor’s name are being plucked from time, raising the hope that they might be saved (even if that hope turns out to be false), and reassuring us that there is a plan behind all of this (even if it’ll be a while before it’s all made clear).

Meanwhile, we’ve also got the introduction of Danny Pink, in scenes that feel very separate from the rest of the episode, which is a consequence of this persistent trend for the companion to live away from the TARDIS. All we learn about him at this stage is that he’s an ex-soldier and that he may well have killed a woman, so he’s not immediately seeming like boyfriend material.

I’m not keen on the Danny Pink element of this series, but it’s early days, and he’s not too infuriating yet. This is a decent if not spectacular episode, and the high point is the way Rusty saunters off after describing the Doctor as a good Dalek, giving him the side-eye all the way out the door. That made me laugh so much, whether it was intended to be funny or not.

RATING: 7

Deep Breath

Onwards we go, headlong into another new era, and we’re very much in the home straight now. For what seems like the dozenth time since Moffat took over, we’ve got a new title sequence and theme tune, and remarkably they’re both still in use at the time of writing. I’ve never been a fan of this high-pitched and heavily synthesised iteration of the music, but the titles have grown on me over the years. I love those eyebrows so much.

I guess it helps that I’m such a fan of the person those eyebrows are attached to. It’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t see Capaldi and think “Doctor”, but he was very much still Malcolm Tucker when I first saw this, especially with his hair that short. I think I recall being slightly worried that he wouldn’t live up to my expectations following this episode, but I thought he was great when I rewatched it tonight, so maybe it’s better when you know where his Doctor is heading – post-regenerative funk is often disorientating and rarely representative of how each actor will play it for the bulk of their time.

It’s a feature length episode to kick things off, and to be fair, it kind of feels like it. All the comedy capers with Strax and Clara were clearly padding, but pretty good nonetheless, and the Paternosters were brilliant throughout, as usual. The story was very bitty – much like the modified clockwork droids, a lot of the individual components were good, but it lacked a little cohesion. Ultimately though, it was all just a framework in which to tell a character-based story, and it’s all about the Twelfth Doctor figuring out who he is, and rebooting his relationship with Clara.

On that note, the one thing that didn’t quite make sense was how freaked out Clara is by the whole concept of regeneration, and by the sight of the Doctor as an old man. This initial rejection of the new incarnation would have worked with virtually any other companion – and indeed has with several of them – so it’s odd that they decided to do it with the only one who’s met all thirteen of him.

I liked that they addressed the issue of the Doctor having the face of a previous guest star. We’re told there’s a reason he subconsciously chose it, and I remember harbouring a theory that it might have been modelled on John Frobisher instead of Caecilius. Like Frobisher, the Doctor exhibits some morally dubious behaviour in the pursuit of a good cause, such as seemingly leaving Clara behind to be killed, causing her to hold her breath until she passes out and hallucinates Courtney Woods. It’s left ambiguous in the end as to whether the Doctor throws the Half Face Man to his death or simply drives him to suicide, but I don’t think either option is entirely ethically sound.

In true Moffat style, just when everything’s wrapped up there’s a couple of extra surprises tagged on at the end, starting with the Matt Smith cameo. I was working on the Saturday night that this aired, and I remember seeing his name trending on Twitter and wondering why, but thankfully I’d forgotten about it by the time I got home and caught up. Lovely to see him, and the purpose is clearly to reassure the kiddies at home, as well as Clara, that having a new Doctor is going to be fine. I like it, but I’m not sure it was necessary to do that, and I wonder if it undermined Capaldi a bit.

And then there’s the first of many post-scripts with Missy in Heaven. I knew right from this first cameo that she was The Master, but then in retrospect I’m not sure there was any real effort made to conceal it – otherwise why give her name as “Missy” straight away? It’s hardly the most fiendish pseudonym she’s ever concocted.

This is one of those write ups where almost everything I’ve said is negative, and yet it’s still an episode that I really like. I think that Capaldi is, for me, one of those Doctors who makes every scene they’re in better just by being there, so take it as read for the remainder of this blog that my default position is an overall thumbs up, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

RATING: 8