If it weren’t already clear by now, we’re heading into choppy waters. The Doctor said it best during Into the Dalek:
Clara: So where are we going, then?
The Doctor: Into darkness.
On the nose? Yeah. A bit. Especially given the behind the scenes complaints regarding Series 7’s lack of real impact or firm structure, or the perceived notion that the Doctor became, as the Twelfth refutes in Deep Breath, akin to a boyfriend.
But as time goes on, that little exchange – however blunt and obvious – really encapsulates the journey we’re on now. The lighter, fluffier days of Doctor Who are behind. We’re getting back to the moral quandaries of Dalek, the megalomaniacal underpinnings of The Waters of Mars, the live-or-die accidental interventions of The Fires of Pompeii. We’ve spent time establishing our Doctor, re-establishing Clara and bringing things back to the good ol’ Moffat days before he got too clever with himself. Time to pull at some tough strings.
By far, Kill the Moon more strongly pulls those strings and rearranges them into a shape you never thought string could become. The eponymous quarrel of the episode does form most of its second half – and that scene in the space base once the Doctor vamooses feels like it’s its own episode with the amount of time spent dwelling on Clara and the astronaut – but dammit if it doesn’t leave impact. Throwing a companion and her erstwhile student into an ethical quandary that could potentially kill millions is the kind of “thrown in the deep end” forced moral speculation that I can’t recall if Doctor Who‘s ever done so well, or ever. I mean, sure, Donna was alongside the Doctor’s fateful and accidental choices at Pompeii, but has there ever been a prior companion story where such a monumental, potentially irrevocable choice had to be made sans Time Lord? Feel free to tell me if there has, but I’d presume it didn’t have anywhere near the stakes or lasting effect Kill the Moon did; if it had, it’d be the kind of story forums would endlessly debate, refute, accept, reject and breathe fire on in equal measure.
In a similar vein, has there even been a story to so negatively skew perceptions of time traveling with the Doctor as was done in Mummy on the Orient Express? Again, the downsides of companionship have been explored before; Amy and Rory’s prolonged travels took emotional and marital tolls, Martha’s unrequited love informed problems experienced in the end of Series 3, and Donna’s own experiences left her, for all intents and purposes, permanently brain damaged (or as near as one can get on a show ostensibly for kids). But the question Clara asks at Mummy‘s end, as to whether time in the TARDIS is like an addiction… Man. It’s an obvious comparison I’d never really considered before. Has Doctor Who secretly been an in-practice British comparison to Breaking Bad all this time? My world suddenly doesn’t make sense.
But that’s what we get with a season, and a Doctor, seemingly hell-bent on taking established Who paradigms, throwing them against the wall and repeatedly shooting them. Guess we’d better get used to it.
If there’s one thing Series 8 has gone to great length to establish, it’s that this Doctor may certainly be there to help, but it doesn’t mean he has to be friendly about it. Ditching Clara to decide the fate of her home’s moon is one thing, but the cold, clinical and borderline-sociopathic way he twists the final moments of the Mummy’s victims into scientific discoveries really speaks towards his difference regarding his prior two, and possibly three, incarnations. Ten and Eleven would’ve comforted those passengers while an invisible ancient killer was stalking towards them, and Nine might’ve even repeatedly told them “I’m sorry” in a way that’d make his successor blush. But Twelve is an immediate contrast by going the dispassionate, scientific route; he could waste sixty-six seconds giving those people a little piece of mind or an apology before the bright white light takes them away. Or, he could be ruthlessly efficient and use those final moments to extrapolate ways to prevent any more sixty-six second walks down the green mile. Sure, the latter might paint him almost as emotionally deficit as Gus the homicidal AI, but maybe an anti-heroic gesture like that might be more beneficial in ways Ten and Eleven’s empathy never could have been.
This isn’t to entirely validate the apparent…well, ‘moral grey’ seems a bit too strong since the Doctor remains unquestionably a ‘good guy’ (or, at least, not as willing to kill people as the Daleks are). But it’s definitely in that vein. Excuses surrounding “making your own choices” or that BS line of rhetoric he feeds Clara in Kill the Moon, leading to her epic verbal beatdown at its conclusion, are all well and good, but Twelve is a few shades shy of a bright white hero. You might not like it, even he might not like it, but the end result goes a way towards justifying the means. The Doctor forced a choice on the moon, and it turned out ok. More directly, he removed emotion from the equation in Mummy and solved the shambling corpse’s mystery. In the end, the good guys win.
Well, ‘win’ being a relative concept. People still died in both episodes for their respective victories to happen, as they do in almost any episode where the phrase “Everybody lives!” remains un-uttered. So maybe this breaking of the pedestal is necessary, if only to provide some variety to the proceedings. As much as I’ve loved the dashing, heroic “boyfriend” Doctor of Ten and Eleven (and even the brooding veteran warrior of Nine), I’m kind of ok with Twelve taking a slightly more proactive role that doesn’t necessarily mesh with our previous Doctorly definitions of the word “hero”. Is it a bit of a shock to the system that Twelve is so unabashedly clinical, direct and, quite possibly, sociopathic? Unquestionably.
Does it lead to some more interesting storytelling? Well, I think the results so far speak for themselves, don’t they?
– It was interesting to have the schoolkid from The Caretaker show up again – I assumed that was merely a one-off joke with her puking her guts up in the console room – and it kinda harkened back a little to the old days of the First Doctor. Susan wasn’t just brought along as a grandchild, and bringing a kid along for what turned out to be a morality lesson is almost like a twisted, inverted version of the schoolkid teachings that history lessons like The Aztecs used to bring along.
– Yes, the monsters in this one take second place to the plot. That doesn’t make those spider-bacteria any less pants-crappingly terrifying.
– Really gotta give Jenna Coleman significant props for that episode-ending verbal barrier busting blow to the Doctor. I’d say he definitely had it coming.
– Look, I realise critical reaction to this one has been all over the place, but at the end of the day I enjoyed it as something different, something engaging and something that didn’t end with a nice neat bow. Yes, there are plot holes, yes, there were limited consequences to the Earth by having its moon momentarily hatch a space dragon with no ill effects, and yes, it’s a bit of a cheat to have the other side of an ethical debate on killing an unborn life be a stoic, cold, emotionless astronaut about whom all we know is that she wishes her friends hadn’t died. Actually, that probably makes the episode sound pretty terrible; good thing I’m not in retail anymore.
– On the subject of killing the unborn space dragon, am I an idiot for not clearly seeing the parallels between this episode and the ongoing abortion debate? Granted, I only saw it once and was so enamoured by the back-and-forth between Clara and her two respective forces of opposition and indifference, but it was only after I read this review’s fleeting mention of ‘pro-choice’ and followed it with some elements from this one that it became clear. I’ll keep my ironclad views to myself – ostensibly, if it ain’t your body then shut the hell up – but I’d be interested in hearing of any good discussions arising from this one.
EPISODE SCORE: 7.5/10
ON ITS OWN: Mummy on the Orient Express
– Clara with a bob. No. Just no.
– Despite the net effect being Clara’s continued sojourns with a man she’s clearly not 100% supporting anymore, I did like the Doctor’s attempt at rationalising his seemingly callous nature. Those flashes of…well, I guess you can’t call them humanity but you get what I mean. They’re necessary if we’re gonna keep liking him. Well, that and he needs to keep that awesome coat.
– Would you have so emotionlessly sacrificed passengers if you knew that A. they were dead anyway and B. that you needed to save everyone else?
– “Sometimes the only choices are bad ones. But you still have to make them.” Probably sums up Twelve in one neat little sentence.
– I’ll go on a limb right now and say Clara will reveal all to Danny right as he’s about to die at the end of the season, or he’ll die without knowing and it’ll be totally tragic. What’s that? Oh, come on, they are so setting him up to bite the dust by the end of all this. Or am I just too jaded from watching the vaguely happy bits in Game of Thrones?
EPISODE SCORE: 8/10
NEXT TIME ON TARDIS 8:
The walls have eyes – and ears, and mouths, apparently – in Flatline, and Greenpeace may either love or hate Doctor Who‘s views on tree felling after In the Forest of the Night.