The latest Twelfth Doctor story, Kill the Moon by Peter Harness is a bit of a crowd splitter. Some people have really raved over the great fantasy story and thoroughly enjoyed it; others have complained about the poor science or clunky plot. The nature of the new Doctor and his relationship with Clara has also been well received. For me I am in all these camps and can’t ignore what I perceive to be several deep flaws, many avoidable.
At the risk of attracting some vitriol, I explain why I think this episode is something of a curate’s egg. Apologies also for the length of this article.
One thing this episode did well was show us a Twelfth Doctor who is increasingly unable to connect to people and is both aloof and alien. This is a much older Doctor than we are used to in recent decades and I wonder what this tells us about how the centuries on Trenazlore changed him given how long he had to think about the universe and his role within it. During this time he had no expectation that he would be granted more time (ignoring the cameo in Day of the Doctor) and this rebirth is as much an afterlife as a regeneration.
His distance from people leads to his haphazard treatment of Courtney and the apology for his disregard comes in the form of a trip to the Moon. The Doctor might be making the point that you can be special by what you do not who you are; he might not.
This leads to a shuttle on its way to crash (none too convincingly – the only dud effect of the episode) on the lunar surface. Full of atomic bombs its small crew are there to detonate the Moon to save the Earth from the satellite’s suddenly increased gravity.
As the Doctor investigates people die and we meet the arachnid like bacterial parasites only the size of a large dog. Moving on we find that the Moon is really an egg and the Doctor waltzes off, leaving Clara, supported by Courtney and Lundvik to reach a decision on either killing a unique, about to born creature or letting it live with the side effect of very possibly destroying Earth or at least killing millions or billions of people. All ends with Clara ignoring the whole human race and doing the right thing and the Doctor re-appears, whisks the three women to Earth to watch the birth of a dragon creature that, for good measure, leaves behind a new egg the size of the old Moon.
I did like the way this story was prepared to tackle some of its own flaws head on. Apart from the shuttle landing the effects were superb and this is one of the best visuals for the Moon I have ever seen. Congratulations to whoever choose Lanzarote as the location.
In normal circumstances, the Moon’s gravity is one-sixth of Earth’s and leads to lots of bouncing around to get the appropriate effect. This story makes the Moon’s gravity a central part of the plot and cleverly gets round the problem. The story also passes the Bechdel Test without any effort at all (look it up – essentially a key element of the story was told with no male characters and wasn’t about a male character).
Clara is also different in this story, she looks a bit different (which may be a timing of the shooting artefact) and is also directed differently (by a, yes you guessed!) different director. How much time has passed for her since The Caretaker? How much is her relationship with the Doctor already changing due to her love for Danny?
The story also addresses time travel in a way that reminded me (if I recall correctly) Pyramids of Mars. Clara insists that the Moon must survive and that the Doctor must know what happens. I wonder to what extent it is this belief that lets her make the right decision rather than any pious faith?
The story has problems. The rest of the shuttle crew fail to even be one-dimensional and are entirely forgettable in the tradition of Star Trek redshirts. Courtney’s magic spray (and see dodgy science below) seems to come and go from inside the space suit as required. Why fly atomic bombs to the moon rather than launch them as missiles? Why not have a better way to arm them? Why is Lundvik so emotionally flat and unbothered about the mysterious TARDIS crew and its claims of time travel capability?
Where I really struggled, though, is with the dodgy science.
I’m the first to admit I have a bias (and a physics degree) so science matters to me. Yes, I know this is a fantasy TV programme but I’m from the school that says you only break the laws of physics a bit to make the story. What you don’t do is ignore them wholesale – it’s laziness and a tendency to trivialise science. I don’t accept the ‘it shouldn’t get in the way of good story telling’ argument – you wouldn’t ignore the geography of the world so blatantly (though see also Krakatoa, East of Java).
[pullquote]where does the mass come from?[/pullquote]
The largest problem is the gravity / mass problem. I accept that the baby space dragon grows and gets heavier but normally this is by consuming the egg. Where does the mass come from? Why not make the egg generate a hyperspace field as it grows and have that warp the energy and pull mass from another plane of existence? Any nonsense explanation, please. This could even explain why Courtney was able to float for a while.
As to the dragon – why does it have wings in space (where would something that big fly?); how does it then lay an egg the size of the moon again?
Another area of concern is Courtney’s spray – I am not sure how well a spray would work in the vacuum of space but I do know it would struggle to cope with the massive temperature variations and the direct sunlight – we assume the orange suits reflect sunlight as well as the white suits.
Even with all the above flaws there is the central point of Clara ignoring logic (maybe it’s just me) and trusting in a happy ending. After all, what’s billions of lives including those of her, Danny and their children (we reasonably assume)? Of course you’d take the chance. I’m not convinced.
Finally all is done and we switch to a gorgeous beach – hang on, haven’t there been months of giant tides due to the heavy moon? All looks pretty idyllic to me eyes. Then the moon explodes, dragons appear and a new moon is born. At no point does even a slight ripple affect the water – what happened to the massive tidal implications? Maybe there’s a delay before the tsunami comes along and wipes Lundvik out.
I’m sorry to be so negative but there it is. Thoughts?