Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"Kill the Moon"

What my reaction will inevitably be when the Missy arc is resolved.
Halfway through Series 8 is when the new writers start being trotted out, and our contributor for 'Kill the Moon' is Peter Harness. We begin with something of which I'm not especially fond, a flashforward to the climax where Clara reveals there's a big decision to make and that the Doctor isn't there. They have forty-five minutes to make a decision: the length of an episode, then? It's this kind of post-modern self-referentiality which I find very difficult to take seriously. One of the paradoxes I just realised at the heart of New Who is that the supposedly deeper or more realistic (ie more melodramatic) characterisation is meant to make it more believable, and yet the show's obsession with breaking the fourth wall and drawing attention to itself completely undermines that idea. Anyway, returning to the beginning of the tale, we find the Doctor, having presumably abandoned his bogus Caretaker position, openly walking the corridors of the school. So much for secrecy. Clara's reprimanding him for telling Courtney she wasn't special. Our fitting response from the Doctor is a simple "pfft," which would possibly be my attitude too. That being said, it's a very contrived situation, with the implication not being that the Doctor said she wasn't special because he's thoughtless but because he was just being unpleasant. In the TARDIS, the aforementioned Courtney is spraying cleaning fluid everywhere for some reason. She's supposedly been on a bender with the psychic paper since last episode so surely she isn't just now cleaning up the sick she produced in 'The Caretaker'? The Doctor enforces JNT's code: "no being sick and no hanky-panky... sorry, that's the rules!" This is the kind of stuff Capaldi sells well, and is nice establishing dialogue for his Doctor as a bit of an irritable fellow just trying to keep things reasonably sensible in certain respects. It's more effective than some story about him telling a kid she wasn't special. When Clara insists that he tell Courtney otherwise, he gets another good line: "Have you gone bananas?" It's not exactly spiffing dialogue but Capaldi handles it with great competence. There is a crap line of him mistaking travel sickness bands for Vortex Manipulators, though, which is again New Who throwing in a reference to itself for absolutely no discernible reason and playing up this less interesting 'The Twelfth Doctor's a bit clueless' comedy routine. By contrast to the decent lines, we get some ridiculously melodramatic lamentation from Courtney: "It's like you kicked a big hole in the side of my life." I guess she's meant to be a teenager, but I feel like a lot of adults in New Who talk like this as well. There ought to be some character arc about people not growing up.
"This is what we call running acting."
The Doctor offers Courtney something special indeed: being the first woman on the moon. Not the first human being somewhere: the first woman on the moon. Hmm. Maybe he could have asked her if she wanted to be the first woman paid on average the same salary as a man or something. Anyway, the TARDIS arrives in a huge room somewhere full of nuclear weapons, Capaldi busting out what is now seemingly a complete wardrobe of those red Tennant-era space suits in male, female and child sizes. Wherever they are has gravity and air, and soon enough the Doctor susses out that it's 2049 and they're descending to the Moon in a space shuttle. A space shuttle? But they're for Earth-to-orbit flights, not interplanetary travel. Never mind, as we shall discover this is not the episode to go to for an in any way realistic presentation of anything space-related, of which the niceties of space travel are only one of many components brushed aside. Over-the-top Murray Gold 'danger' music kicks into gear, the Doctor insisting that everyone hold on, but apparently when a space shuttle which isn't designed for it makes a crash landing on the moon which, as we will discover has achieved Earth-like gravity in this episode, it's enough to cling onto some netting and you'll be fine. Incidentally as they seem to almost be in free-fall there shouldn't really be gravity allowing them to walk around the shuttle but never mind. Three astronauts come in. This doesn't get mentioned for ages but the main one is named Lundvik. This must be a pretty huge shuttle if they can wander around like this and there's room for so many bombs. So where did they store the fuel for the massive journey from Earth to the Moon? Anyway, the Doctor responds to Lundvik's threats by recommending they kill Courtney first, and I wonder if we were meant to guiltily agree with him. He starts stomping around in a rather embarrassing fashion notionally to check why the gravity on the surface is so Earth-like. He also has to deliver another appalling line when he peremptorily describes himself as a "super intelligent alien being that flies in time and space" who can help them, a claim which Lundvik and her crew have no narrative choice but to immediately swallow with the time limits of a New Who episode pressing down.
The next place to search for missing 60s serials.
The Doctor busts out his yoyo 'Ark in Space'-style to assess the gravity, declaring that the Moon has "put on weight" which must be causing trouble on Earth. Lundvik reveals that they've come with the bombs to... do something. It's never actually clear what they originally intended to do with them. Blow up whatever was affecting the Moon's gravity, or try to blow up a bit of the Moon itself? 'Cause one hundred nukes is a lot, sure, you wouldn't want them dropped on your house, but I'm not sure how useful they would be in simply altering the mass of a planetary body. As they head out onto the lunar surface Courtney makes a stupid joke line parodying Neil Armstrong and we discover the ruins of a Mexican mining survey on the Moon, with which Earth lost contact when the Moon's mass started increasing. Mexican? "Mexico's a really implausible country to go to the Moon, so we'll make the dead surveyors Mexican for a laugh." Was that the thinking here? I kind of feel like a stereotype is being peddled here. We get some typical hyperbole about how the rising tide on Earth was the "greatest natural disaster in history." The abandoned base is covered in cobwebs, and we discover that Lundvik's two buddies are "third hand astronauts" because no one knows about space anymore, even though we've seen plenty of New Who around this time where characters who would have been adults in 2049 seem to be perfectly interested in space. There's also a line about satellites being "whacked out of orbit," possibly due to the Moon. Lundvik remarks that the Mexican base has been left without being investigated for ten years because there was "no shuttle," the one they brought having been recovered from a museum. But shuttles aren't used for interplanetary travel!
"Are you Weird or Gilly? Oh, sorry, wrong planet."
There's a dead astronaut strung up in cobwebs on the wall implying something is actively killing people, but the astronauts didn't bring weapons. Didn't they already say that they had considered the possibility of an alien intelligence interfering with the Moon? One of the blokes gets the power on, which somehow instantly causes the oxygen supply to seemingly flood the room as well as they all take their helmets off straight away. There's a remark which doesn't make a great deal of sense, even in light of later plot revelations, about how the Mexicans didn't find any minerals on the Moon, and Capaldi, after giving a long-winded and twee description of said celestial body, declares that it's "falling to bits." The lights start flickering: it's spooky time. Outside one of our astronauts gets attacked by some big creepy crawly emerging from a cave. He was sent to deal with the bombs, why is he going poking and prying when they know something's wrong? Back in the base a bestial screech is heard. Is it meant to be the thing that just killed that guy? 'Cause there's no air outside, so how would they hear the screech in the base? Said creatures turn out to be giant black and red spiders, and our protagonists' escape is frustrated by an inconvenient locked door. The Doctor somehow figures that the spider must detect movement, busting out this series' Troughton reference: "When I say run, run." Our other non-Lundvik astronaut gets fatally molested by a big spider as our heroes dash through the door, but Courtney gets left behind and starts floating up in the air for some reason. Grabbing the Doctor's extended yo-yo somehow brings her back down, and she kills the spider with the detergent spray she was using to clean the TARDIS at the beginning of the episode. Did she stash that in her spacesuit? Because otherwise it would have exploded in the vacuum of the Moon's surface when they were changing locations. "This is nuts," she declares without much conviction, a remark that perhaps would have been more appropriate in the writer's room in Cardiff.
"Anyone else care for a placenta macaroon?"
The Doctor deduces that the spider is in fact a single-celled organism. It's an awfully complex one if that's the case. He tells Courtney "You flew because that 1.2 billion tonnes shifted... it's an unstable mass." I've no idea what that's meant to mean. Lundvik laments the dead bloke and Courtney gets the understated willies, asking Clara "please can I go home now," with all the inflection of someone recording Yellow Pages: The Audiobook. On the way back to the shuttle the Doctor reminds Clara that everything is dangerous: "Crossing the road, it's no way to live your life." It's another decent line for Capaldi there. He tells her "Of course I know what a duty of care is," to foreshadow later events, before sticking Courtney in the TARDIS to sit things out. Clara goes into full-determinism mode despite all the totally paradoxical stuff she's seen and been involved in in the past, arguing that the Moon can't die because it's still there in the future, but Capaldi responds that it could have been a trick or that things might change. The phrase 'fixed point in time' nearly rears its ugly head but fortunately we're spared that. Lundvik needs Clara and the Doctor's help given that she has the "last nuclear bombs" available to do anything about the moon. That's a lot of disarmament. They go back outside again for some reason (I'm unsure why) and find the remaining dead Mexican astronauts also webbed up. So these monsters are giant single-celled organisms that just happen to look like Earth spiders, right? So why do they spin webs? I don't think this was terribly well thought through. Another one accosts the Doctor, the disinfectant spray no longer working for some reason, perhaps because they're in a vacuum. It turns out there are loads of the creatures.
"You've got five seconds to look at it
before the effects budget runs out."
Considering that the Moon may be teeming with life the Doctor plops his yo-yo down a crack into some goo, which he claims is "amniotic fluid, the stuff that life comes from." This makes me think that perhaps the plot could have been about life (somehow) evolving on the surface of the moon or something rather than what we actually are told, but I won't get ahead of myself. The Doctor jumps in while Courtney contacts Clara to complain that she's bored. Shut up, Courtney. There's no need for this annoying character to be here. Somehow she's also putting photos on tumblr. How? Did the Doctor do the time-calling thing on her phone? Is the TARDIS causing it? I have no idea. Of course if she was actually a tumblr user she'd be busy uploading gifs with twee quotes attached to them of Benedict Cumberbatch and arguing venomously with people who had different 'shipping' views to her as if it was a matter of life and death. For whatever reason we have them finding the first dead astronaut who's been reduced to a Moffat skeleton-in-a-spacesuit, they see the shuttle fall into a big chasm which has appeared on the surface and then the Doctor spontaneously jumps out of a nearby crack in the surface. How did he know where they were if he was underground swimming in embryo juice? Back in the Mexican base I guess he mentions that Clara has "never gotten on" with the TARDIS. Are we going to see that plot thread again at some point? I thought it was concluded last year, but honestly who knows when an arc is over or isn't in Moffat-Who. Then the Doctor reveals the explanation for all these goings-on, discerned beneath the surface: something's growing inside the moon, this huge grotesque-looking space dragon thing. "The Moon's an egg."
"Think I'll nip forward to the next showrunner."
Right. I'd kind of predicted it by this point but it's still a pretty damn off-the-wall plot idea even by New Who's standards. I mean, it's the stuff of pure fantasy, or like something from a crazy pulp magazine. It's not really a big deal, but I can't help but think that making something this close to home so bizarre is a little ineffective because we know the Moon, Earth's Moon, is a big rock in the sky. It also seems very repetitious of RTD's plot point about Earth forming around the Racnoss eggs or whatever in 'The Runaway Bride.' That also featured giant spiders and something growing at the heart of a planetary body. It's hard to say, really, that there isn't an episode this series that doesn't replicate something New Who's already done. The Doctor says it's a unique creature, in his opinion, which has been growing for one hundred million years. Why has the mass changed so drastically in the space of thirty-five years, then? Also, how has the mass changed? Mass doesn't just increase ex nihilo. In fact, according to what I've read, eggs actually tend to lose mass because of the chemical reactions taking place in them - some mass is lost to energy. The thing is, having the Moon as a giant egg is one thing, but the story element which is presented as having a genuine scientific rationale is still wrong. Anyway, Lundvik busts out our 'oh shit' moment: "How do we kill it?" The Doctor claims that the one hundred nukes that have fallen into the egg on the shuttle will do the trick but that it'd leave an "enormous corpse floating in the sky" that would be difficult to explain to one's kids. "I don't have any kids," Lundvik retorts, the space dragon creature having been described, if they blow it up, as a "little dead baby." There's a weird pro-life/anti-abortion sentiment emerging here but you'll be able to find better informed discussion of that elsewhere. Needless to say it's questionable.
"I can't do your running acting for you."
So we get our attempted moral discourse in the episode. Lundvik argues that it's been killing people, Clara responding that "you cannot blame a baby for kicking." But that doesn't change the fact that it is causing deaths on Earth, does it? The problem is that the dilemma is so contrived discussing it in these kinds of terms isn't very meaningful. If kicking babies caused thousands of deaths I imagine people would take a dim view of them in some quarters. Lundvik reminds them that "everything doesn't have to be nice; some things are just bad." The Doctor tells Courtney to stick a DVD in the TARDIS to bring it back, because apparently that's how it works, and then we get our big character drama for the episode when Clara asks the Doctor what they do and he responds "I can't help you," telling her that he can't make the decision on behalf of the human race. Clara remarks that she can't either, but he responds "Who's better qualified?" Then we get a really odd response from Clara "I don't know, the President of America!" Sounds like something a child would say. Besides, Clara's British. She could at least have said the UN or something. The Doctor compares this to the fact that when the two of them had dinner in Berlin in 1937 "we didn't nip out after pudding and kill Hitler." If that's the case, isn't he basically admitting that as time travellers neither of them are responsible for what happens in any given period outside their own, so Clara is in the same position as him? She could have offered this point, or countered by saying that their respective species or planet of origin didn't matter, but that both being time travellers they were both having an impact on history whether they wanted to or not - without them, Lundvik would probably have never discovered that the Moon was an egg, for example. She kind of approaches this idea at the end of the show, but in far more parochial terms and very tangentially. But what might have been an opportunity for Clara to turn the tables on the Doctor in a more overtly intellectual sense is passed over for the sake of our old 'melodramatic character drama' chestnut. It's also a weirdly pointless Series 6 reference, but if they poke and prod this idea too much the entire premise of the show is going to unravel. The Doctor's interfered in events all over the place, and he doesn't always know what will happen in the future. Does knowing the future somehow make it different? 'Cause in every Earth historical story he generally does. Nothing's actually different here, which again makes the scenario come across as incredibly contrived and arbitrary mostly because the Doctor doesn't really offer a genuine explanation for this situation being in any way different to others he's come across, even in this very incarnation, so it can't all be down to a change of character. Clearly knowing the future really changes nothing, 'fixed point in time' or no. Clara already argued that the Moon was still there in the future, for instance. Besides, the wise among us know it has to be there so that Patrick Troughton can fight the Cybermen on it in 2070. Oh, and one more thing - sure, they never killed Hitler, but the Doctor and Clara were perfectly okay with hanging out in Nazi Germany in 1937?
Good thing those high tides are out.
In any event the giant spiders are coming and the Doctor informs Clara that it's time to let humanity make its own decisions. It's kind of the reverse of 'The Waters of Mars' (in more ways than one what with the horror hijinks on a near-future planetary base with astronauts element) with the Doctor here not being involved at all. The TARDIS returns and the Doctor pisses off. The door breaks for some reason but in the ensuing vacuum a convenient metal plate flies up and plugs the hole. I don't know what the point of that was. Clara figures that humanity can survive without the moon even if it disrupts the tides and communications, arguing that the huge moon chunks are just "egg shell" and will probably break up (but then wouldn't Earth be surrounded by a massive dust cloud?) while Lundvik contends that the thing inside might well emerged and kill everyone. Clara needs more to go on "if I'm gonna kill a baby." Lundvik says she shouldn't be the person responsible if "life on Earth stopped because you couldn't make an unfair decision." Yeah, and a pretty contrived one. They set a one hour timer and get a transmission from ground control where things are ambiguously "pretty bad." Clara transmits a message to Earth telling them to turn the lights off if they're happy to nuke the thing under the Moon. Somehow she can see Earth's lights in sufficient detail all the way from the Moon without special instruments, as if the Moon's in low orbit and there are no clouds at all down below. Also, we have to consider the fact that Clara's basically saying that only places with mass lighting get a vote. Appropriately enough it turns out the Moon is facing Europe and North America. They'd have been buggered if they could only see the Pacific or something. Then for some reason there's a melodramatic slow motion run down a corridor - I have no idea why - where everything is blowing up, and all the Westerners decide it's time to kill, kill, kill and switch their lights off.
"Maybe they'll mix it up now and cast a
young woman as the next companion."
At the last second, of course, Clara nonetheless aborts the timer and the Doctor returns to take them back to a beach on Earth, which I thought would have been swallowed by those high tides, where they see the Moon crack up and the thing inside escape, although it cuts away so that they don't have to animate too much of it. Also, somehow the noise of the Moon breaking is audible across the vacuum of space. The Moon, according to the Doctor, will harmlessly disintegrate. Lundvik remarks that they ignored humanity's choice, which I guess suggests that Clara may have only attempted to ask Westerners what to do, but at least they made the wrong choice, which somehow makes everything okay. For some reason really dramatic music starts playing that sounds like it should accompany footage of Batman swinging around Gotham as Capaldi starts giving a big speech about how this moment inspires humanity to venture out into space, and the giant alien leaves a new egg as big as itself behind as a replacement Moon. That's convenient. Lundvik thanks Clara for making the right choice, and the Doctor tells her to leg it rather than bothering to give her a lift anywhere. Back at school Courtney gets her marching orders and then Clara starts getting angry at the Doctor for putting her in such a difficult position: "I'll smack you so hard you regenerate," is a particularly dreadful line. The Doctor offers that he knew that hatchlings "don't usually destroy their nests" although how one could assume it would consider Earth to be its nest is a pretty serious assumption, and that he "had faith you would always make the right choice." I guess this is meant to play up to our 'good man' thing where the Doctor is more or less doing what he thinks looks like putting faith in his companion when it was more like leaving her in the lurch. Clara asks him "do you have music playing in your head when you say rubbish like that?" Amusingly, it comes across as a reference to how laboriously New Who's soundtrack tends to accentuate its drama. The Doctor makes a naff gag about Courtney becoming President and then Clara starts having a massive strop, telling the Doctor that what he did was cheap and patronising. He argues that he was trying to respect them by letting them make a choice about their own future, but Clara argues it was just her friend leaving her feeling abandoned and scared, insisting that he can't lump her in with the rest of humanity and that he spends so much time on Earth it's his responsibility too, which is probably the most reasonable point in the whole thing. She tells the Doctor to piss off and leaves, proceeding to explain to Danny what happened who compares it to when he quit the army life, foreshadowing that he once "had a really bad day." Clara goes home and does what we all do in private, starts drinking on her own, and the episode ends with a curious shot of a ginormous moon floating over London.
"Quick Clara, hand me the giant toastie soldiers!"
'Kill the Moon,' then. It's a decent episode, really, although it's completely riddled with plot holes and the drama does seem a touch overplayed, like the Doctor leaves not so much because he wants to leave it up to Clara's good judgement but more because his character is that he's a bit of a dick. What I mean is that it feels like a fairly clumsy attempt in some respects to play up this idea of the Twelfth Doctor as a difficult individual because I feel like even by the character's own standards his reasoning here for his actions is limited and unsound. That being said, I'm not terribly fond of Clara's big attack on the Doctor at the end either, although Jenna Coleman does the anger rather well, because didn't we already see in 'Deep Breath' that Clara and the Doctor were separated under similar circumstances and her trust that he would come back was ultimately justified? There's also the whole 'the Moon is an egg' aspect. I read the suggestion online that probably a more elegant concept would have been if some kind of rogue planetoid had drifted into Earth's orbit and that was an egg, because it would better explain issues like the tides and what not and also doesn't rely on us believing the premise that Earth's actual Moon is an egg. They could easily have still been trying to go to the Moon and accidentally gone there in the future by accident. As it stands it feels like it's relying a little too heavily on the shock value of something with which the average viewer would be accustomed being transformed into something strange just for the sake of it. It could also easily have been a planet-moon system which was not Earth's. Courtney's presence in this is fairly unnecessary, but Hermione Norris' Lundvik is a well-rounded character performed solidly even if she is a bit of a straw cynic at times. I think it's a shame that they decided to make one of the most serious episodes this series also the one with one of the most ludicrous premises because it feels like as usual there's a bit of a missed opportunity here, but that being said Peter Capaldi's performance as the Doctor, and his delivery of some pretty inconsistent dialogue, redeems it a great deal. I don't give Moffat and his team credit for much these days, but casting Capaldi was a gutsy decision which I think is paying off. That being said, is this one interesting enough to earn repeat viewing? Not in my opinion. I think this is neither the triumph nor the disaster that a lot of commentators online are saying about it, which is about all we can ask for these days. After all, it seems like worthwhile episodes only come along once in an unkilled Moon.

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