Kill the Moon
The Doctor: Today’s the day, humankind.
Doctor Who Season: S34 (Ep7).
Story Number: 248.
That was different…
The previous Lanzarote-location-filming Doctor Who is renowned for two big things: Peri’s spectacular introduction; Turlough’s departure.
Lanzarote isn’t Sarn this time, but a lovely grey colour-graded Moon, the volcanic landscapes suitably unearthly. There are introductions and departures though for the TARDIS-travellers, and although there are fascinating FX for this episode it’s really all about four characters.
Courtney Woods – she actually went on short TARDIS-trip last episode, which resulted in vomit on the console-room floor rather than the start of a new companion-era. This episode is her first proper Doctor Who adventure.
What prompts this though, is that the Doctor regards her as “an Adam”, or at least that’s what Courtney has told Clara, without using those words. “An Adam” – a curious phenomenon of the 21st Century era of the Doctor Who television programme, it’s when a potential companion has been deemed unworthy of travelling in the TARDIS (see 2005’s story Dalek). We never really know quite what the Doctor has said to Courtney, and this is a running theme for this episode – us never quite knowing what the Doctor is actually thinking.
Captain Lundvik – she has the best line in this. “Thank you for giving me the Moon back”. She is perhaps emblematic of a great many people on the Earth below. The wild romance of space-travel was something she once believed in, but she was now cynical. What was once a dream destination for her was to be her grave, having set out on her grim mission.
This story was very much Hard Science Fiction in its use of the mothballed Space Shuttle Program. It’s a sad reality that the iconic craft has already flown its last mission, and is now something for a museum. Yes there was the recent unmanned Mars mission from India, but Earth has scaled down its space-travel ambitions since the early days of the Space Age.
The episode was saying something then about the great spirit of adventure that the idea of space-travel gives to humanity, and from a Doctor Who-continuity perspective fits nicely with it being set 10 years before The Waters of Mars (with its Mars base and same theme of the beginnings of human expansion to the stars).
Hard Science Fiction then, like the film 2001: A Space Odyssey concerned with the nitty gritty of humanity’s first steps beyond the Solar System (though with less balletic spaceships), and like 2001: A Space Odyssey something is up with the Moon, something inexplicable. (Though with both stories it’s partially explained. There is enough left for awesome wonder each time.)
Clara Oswald – the departure. Whether this is a Tegan Time-Flight-style departure is yet to be confirmed by the next few episodes.
Before this episode Jenna Coleman has already had a much more 3-dimensional character written for her for 2014 (something much remark’d upon), but to read in DWM that Peter Harness’s scripted scene for her (that scene) is Steven Moffat’s favourite of the season is unsurprising (having now seen the scene), as it’s an utterly superb sequence of characterisation, one that Jenna fully brings to electrifying life as Clara berates the Doctor in a fashion never before seen in Doctor Who.
The build-up to this scene is equally impressive, though much more subtle. When Lundvik is happily thanking Clara, the Doctor’s companion is gazing at him with an expression that gives some hint of the eruption to come.
Doctor Who himself – across this episode Capaldi manages the tightrope trick of being lovably cold, of entrancing us with his charm and disturbing us with his aloofness. The Doctor is not human, not of this Earth, as he literally reminds us this episode.
We never quite know what his plan was. He’s literally leaping about, jigging to test the gravity, plunging into fissures, but whether this is a dance he’s already planned the steps of is unclear. It seems though he must know quite a lot more than he was prepared to reveal before he left his companion (and her two companions) with their terrible, frightening decision.
“We didn’t nip out after pudding and kill Hitler. I’ve never killed Hitler. And you wouldn’t expect me to kill Hitler. The future is no more malleable than the past” – there’s a whole universe of potential Doctor Who allusions in those few lines, from The Aztecs to Let’s Kill Hitler, and the mystery of time-travel is still that, a mystery, as we’re not quite sure if the Doctor is being upfront with us.
The Doctor does love humanity (and The Ark in Space resonates again with his ceremony and speech on the beach), but for this Doctor it’s perhaps from a distance – the tragedy is Clara feels this distance, and departs.