Okay. Let’s talk about this week’s episode of Doctor Who, “Kill the Moon”.
This season has been slowly but surely restoring my faith in the series. We have a feisty and decidedly non-adorable Doctor, we’ve gotten some character development on Clara (which I personally find even more interesting since she’s a high school teacher and I can totally relate to making decisions through that lens), and we’ve even gotten some genuine creepiness.
Now, personally I don’t think that’s a terribly difficult decision, but maybe that’s just me. I was a bit worried, from the way that Clara was looking at Courtney, that the “innocent life” that was at stake was Courtney’s herself; as a teacher, I understand how that would be a painful dilemma.
I thought that was a pretty standard setup, and I expected a pretty standard solution; the doctor would figure out a way for everybody to live, or the “innocent life” would sacrifice itself, or they would decide to sacrifice the “innocent life” and it would somehow end up not dying, or the “innocent life” would end up being not so innocent, and it wouldn’t be hard to decide to destroy it.
But oh, was I wrong.
Spoilers ahead. Also some stronger language than I tend to use. Also, rants. Lots of rants.
First of all, the Doctor’s paternalistic attitude (which we saw rearing its ugly head when he was judging Clara’s choice of boyfriend last week) came out in full force this episode.
See, it turns out Courtney Woods is upset because the Doctor told her she’s not special. He offers to bring her to the moon, in a gesture that struck me as similar to avoiding talking to your child about how you hurt his feelings and instead offering him an expensive toy, putting a band-aid on the situation instead of actually addressing anything.
I get that this Doctor is still relatively new, and that his inability to understand the niceties of everyday human interaction is supposed to be part of his charm, but this rubbed me the wrong way.
In their attempt to get to the moon, the Doctor, Clara, and Courtney end up, as you do, in the nuclear weapon-filled belly of a “recycled space shuttle” that’s about to crash-land on the moon in 2049, and face to face with a presumably American space team with inexplicably British accents, led by the icy Captain Lundvik.
After some antics on the Doctor’s part – dancing around and using a yo-yo to prove that there’s gravity (instead of, you know, the fact that his head isn’t bouncing off the ceiling), they determine that the moon must be putting on weight. Apparently the lunar weight gain has been causing chaos on earth, what with the tides and all.
Captain Lundvik is immediately set up in her role as the cold-hearted human bent on destroying things as she proposes that it must be something alien and therefore destroyed, as she coolly says to the Doctor, “That’s what you do with aliens, isn’t it? Blow them up?”
It’s implied that a team of Mexican scientists, in a mining survey, set something off to cause the disaster; the cobwebs on their base signal that something is indeed amiss.
After some exposition, it turns out the Mexican scientists did not find any minerals on the moon. “Nada”. However, what they did find was evidence that some of the cracks and fissures in the moon were expanding. The Doctor gives his pronouncement that the moon is “in the process of falling to bits” as an earthquake dramatically shakes the room.
Flash to the bumbling, incompetent astronaut who’s been sent back to the shuttle to prime the bombs; he finds a cave from which the sounds of thousands of giant insect-y feet can be heard and is killed by whatever’s inside.
We have our bad guy! Back at the base, the same scuttling feet and eerie shriek are heard – the call is coming from inside the abandoned lunar base! – as we get our first look at the giant space-spider, which is inexplicably covered in red lights.
It kills Duke, quickly leaving Lundvik as the only surviving member of her crew. Gravity goes wonky, leaving Courtney stranded mid-air as the space-spider menacingly crawls the walls, and she (again, inexplicably) kills it with disinfectant.
This quick thinking on her part reveals that the spider was a germ. We also learn that Courtney flew because gravity shifted and that the mass of the moon is unstable (but only in that one room, apparently).
In a moment of Latin foreshadowing, the Doctor asks “Which way to the Mare Fecunditatis?” and leads them all outside.
When Clara points out that in the future the moon is still there and that Earth hasn’t been destroyed, so they should just go and everything will be fine, the Doctor hesitates. In a dramatic monologue, he introduces the idea that there are “grey moments”, moments in time that he can’t see, “little moments in which big things are decided”.
Stuff happens, the Doctor dramatically leaps into a pool of amniotic fluid (he’s doing a lot of things dramatically this episode), there’s a joke about Lundvik’s granny posting things on Tumblr, and the Doctor reappears to announce “the moon is an egg”.
And this is where things began to go downhill for me.
First of all, the Doctor immediately jumps to saying that the moon-fetus is “utterly beautiful,” unique and one-of-a-kind. This kind of pronouncement isn’t TOTALLY out of character for him, but it seemed a little weird for him to base his pronouncement on complete conjecture without any kind of evidence.
The cold-hearted lady-scientist asks, as cold-hearted lady-scientists are wont to do, “How do we kill it?”
The mood shifts. Clara looks at her and asks, in a faux-confused, judging manner, “Why do you want to kill it?” AS IF THERE IS NO LOGICAL ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION THAT SHE CAN DISCERN, and Courtney says, indignantly, “It’s a little baby!”
Lundvik repeats her question, and the Doctor immediately hisses at her, condemning her desire to kill a “living, vulnerable creature” who “will never feel the sun on its back,” even though to kill it would likely prevent the moon’s breaking up because “the gravity of the little dead baby” would hold it all together.
This is where my friend and I turned to each other and said, “what the fuck is going on here?”
Again, it’s not TOTALLY unusual for the Doctor to scorn humans for their habit of jumping to violence as a solution, nor is it unusual for him to want to protect a creature, especially one that’s likely the last of its kind. But the speed with which the situation escalated, along with his condescending, sarcastic speech to Lundvik instead of an attempt at any kind of discussion, was jarring.
As was the decidedly pro-life language he was using.
We don’t know what this creature is. We don’t know why the egg is there. Perhaps it was left there because its mother knew that once it hatched, it could devour earth for nourishment. Perhaps it was the last of an evil race who would use the earth’s energy to reinstate its kind as powerful denizens of the galaxy. Perhaps it was left there by complete and random chance.
We don’t know. And tellingly, none of the characters ask. None of them speculate. There is no back-story and no reason for the egg’s existence. We’re thrown headfirst into a completely forced moral dilemma (thanks to Andy for helping me clarify this point).
The Doctor spitefully says that a gigantic dragon-corpse in the sky would be “difficult to explain to your kids” (Um, “well, there was an egg that was going to destroy all of us, but luckily someone was able to destroy it first”? Not THAT difficult. You could even crack a joke about making omelettes and breaking eggs).
Obviously, I was not okay with this: both with the incredibly obvious and rather forced anti-abortion message but also with the complete arbitrariness of the Doctor’s venom towards Lundvik (who reveals that she doesn’t have kids, because of course she is a heartless lady-scientist who does not reproduce and fulfill her natural purpose in the world, but instead wants to learn science and kill babies).
There’s more back and forth, using anti-choice rhetoric about how this creature “hasn’t even been born” and “you can’t blame a baby for kicking” and “this is a life,” with Lundvik trying to point out that this “life” is going to destroy humanity.
At this point, the Doctor’s mood shifted again, and he became so viciously unlikeable that we were again confused about what was going on (there was a lot of pausing the episode for discussion).
See, Clara asks for the Doctor’s guidance, and he suddenly goes all nonchalant, flippantly telling her that he can’t help, that she can just “kill it. Or don’t,” and that it’s not his planet or his moon so he won’t provide support. Easy-breezey, just like that.
He steps back, gestures to the women, and says: “It’s your moon – womankind – it’s your choice”.
I know some people have claimed that the Doctor’s saying that actually puts a pro-choice spin on the whole episode, but it doesn’t. It really, really doesn’t.
The Doctor is being alternately sanctimonious and indifferent, throwing a huge decision at these women without giving them any help or guidance (when, in theory, he’s the one who would be best suited to do so) while implying that he will condemn almost any decision they make (but mainly the decision to kill the moon-fetus).
He tells the women (now joined by Courtney) that “some decisions are too important not to make on your own” and then callously fucks off.
What he is saying could sound totally pro-choice, but the attitude with which he is treating this decision is anything but.
As soon as the TARDIS fades, an earthquake hits. Clara says that she’s TOTALLY COOL with there being no moon if they let the creature hatch – she can live without tides, internet, or cell phones (um, that’s great for you, Clara, but that’d throw the world’s economy into turmoil – probably the climate and ecosystem too). She makes the argument that no matter how much it’s going to change life on earth for the worse, it is worth letting the creature live.
Lundvik makes the entirely rational, pro-choice argument that just not killing the creature doesn’t solve the problem, because when it hatches it will STILL BE THERE. And it will still potentially harm earth.
She points out, in an attempt to rationalize the decision, that it’s likely that the creature is an exo-parasite, like a flea or head louse, and Clara self-righteously crosses her arms and says “I’m going to have to be a lot more certain than that if I’m going to kill a baby”. Mm, like as certain as the Doctor was when he made his speculation about what the creature is?
Lundvik asks Clara if she wants to have kids one day, and of course Clara does because she is a good girl who wants to fulfill her reproductive destiny, further setting up her and Lundvik as foils in this episode. Lundvik points out that Clara probably has kids – grandkids even – down there on earth, and that they will die because Clara didn’t want to make an “unfair decision”. Again, logic.
So Lundvik sets the bomb and clarifies that unless the Doctor comes back they’ll all die.
Suddenly, there’s a blast of static from the intercom – earth is making contact! Ground control says that things are really really bad on earth. Clara asks if she can broadcast on the same signal that they’re receiving on, and she asks Earth to make a decision. If humankind wants them to kill the creature, they should turn their lights off, and Clara, Lundvik, and Courtney will be able to see their decision.
They make a break for the window, and see that all of the countries are turning their lights off (duh). (As the camera passed over the US, my friend said “I wonder if the southern states will leave their lights on” and we all had a good laugh). But I guess you only get a vote if you live in a place with electric lights where it happens to be night? Also, how is it night-time in both eastern Europe and California at the same time?
I don’t know, I get that the lights turning off across the planet was a dramatic visual, but the whole thing reminded me a little bit too much of “If this photo gets 500,000 likes, this child will get the cancer treatment she needs!”
So yeah, Lundvik is resigned to the fact that they’re all going to die, the clock ticks down… three… two… one… Clara jumps in and hits the stop button, and the word “ABORTED” appears in large lights (you know, just in case you didn’t get the theme) just as the TARDIS wheezes onto the scene and the Doctor whisks the three women inside.
Lundvik is understandably enraged, and the Doctor dismisses her concerns with an exasperated “nobody’s going to die!” He then flips a lever with a bit of a knowing, “I’m so clever” look on his face, and brings them down to a beach where they watch the creature hatch, feel the sun on its back, get warm (although isn’t space really really cold?), and then fly away using wings that would be completely useless in space since there’s nothing to push against (thanks to my physics friends for pointing that out).
The Doctor says, “See? Harmless!” in a way that insinuates that that’s what he’d been telling them all along, as if he knew all the time, as if it was obvious. He reveals that humanity was so inspired by the beauty of the physics-defying space-fetus that it renewed its interest in space travel and endured til the end of time.
So you see? Letting it live was the right choice! Obviously! It even laid an egg to replace the old one! Even though the conservation of mass makes it highly unlikely that something could lay an egg the size of itself, physics isn’t important when you’ve got a pro-life parable to tell!
The barren lady-scientist gives Clara a heartfelt thanks for stopping her, for showing her the error of her ways, and then presumably goes off to re-invigorate earth’s space program.
The Doctor casually tells Clara that he thinks she made the right decision, and that he had faith that she would always make the right decision (obviously lining up “not killing babies that could potentially ruin your life” as the right decision).
Clara’s speech at the end was really good. She very aptly accuses the Doctor of being “cheap” and “patronizing” in his actions, and when he tries to defend himself by saying he was “respecting” her by letting her make that decision, she flips out on him and tells him to leave. I would have been more affected by her speech had it not been preceded by the hogwash that it was.
I get that I’m missing a lot of points about how this episode was originally written for Matt Smith, or that the Doctor’s behavior was in line with his “I’m new here” schtick, or that they had to shoehorn in an episode that showed the Doctor pushing Clara too far, just like Danny predicted he would.
But I can tell you one thing; when an episode of Doctor Who leaves two feminists huddled under a duvet whimpering “We want Steven Moffat back,” you know something’s wrong.