October 7, 2014

Not Your Father's Moonbase: A Review of KILL THE MOON

Warning: spoilers and heavy philosophizing are present in this post.

To be honest, I'm not quite sure about how I feel about Kill the Moon. This is one of the more divisive episodes....and I'm having a problem taking a definite stand on whether I like it or not.

On the one hand, the first twenty minutes are nice and creepy (Haining - a first time Who writer - was encouraged to "Hinchcliffe the [bleep] out of it"). There's a nice mix of Alien-style atmospherics with the kind of tropes present in the Hinchcliffe era - the Doctor discussing how the earth isn't his home - or even that the future isn't set in stone - are both ideas from the series. Even the notion that the moon is about to fall apart and is having an effect on the earth seems like the kind of premise that would fall under Phillip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes' production style. It leads to an inevitable moral crisis....

....and here's where I'm conflicted. I share the same concerns about the wonky science - I don't expect a series about a man in a magic box to necessarily reflect contemporary scientific thought. But with what we know of the moon - it's more like 4.5 billion years old, not "100 million" (as continually referenced in the series). If the moon disintegrated - and were somehow replaced - there would be devastating effects on the planet. (And to put this into context - my childhood occurred during the latter years of the Apollo program. As a six year old, I wanted to be an astronaut, and had a model Saturn V rocket. So when it comes to lunar knowledge....well, I have a definite bias).

But it's the Doctor's reaction to the central conflict that has me really concerned. In short (again, spoilers!) , the moon turns out to be a giant egg....which is hatching. The conflict is whether to destroy the egg before it hatches, killing an innocent life form, or allow it to hatch and risk that life form destroying earth. (Yes, there's an obvious subtext - I'll let Kyle Anderson's post for Radio Free Skaro explain it better than I could). When the time comes to make a decision, the Doctor decides that.....well, he's not really required, and that it's really humanity's choice, so he clears off....

....and that's where my problem with the episode lies.

Throughout the entirety of Doctor Who, the Doctor has always been a kind of moral agent - a man who might not necessarily make easy moral choices, but who realizes that a moral choice has to be made. It's one of the few characteristics that's been present throughout the show's history - from the First Doctor's classic "You can't change history - not one line!" of The Aztecs to the Tenth's "Time Lord Victorious!" declaration because he did change history in The Waters of Mars. This throughline allows the same character to make different choices based on circumstances - the Fourth Doctor's questioning his right to prevent the Genesis of the Daleks can sit comfortably with the Seventh's later decision to destroy their home planet in Remembrance of the Daleks. Even if the choice is uncomfortable or possibly repellant, the Doctor has either advocated or supported some kind of positive moral choice.

Perhaps it might be the fact that this is the writer's first Who script (or more accurately, it may be the production team's preferred emphasis), but this Doctor comes off as a character who is grumpy and nasty simply because he can - if the BBC were a comics company, this would be the "New 52" Doctor. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt - if this season's theme asks whether this Doctor is "a good man", they may be showing this Doctor at his worst before showing him at his best....but there's a kind of cowardice in having the Doctor act so totally apathetic towards this issue. The Doctor doesn't always have to reflect my morality...but when he does allow others to make a choice, it's out of a sense of empowerment, not because he "can't see the bigger picture" (as this episode suggests) or that he is facing a much larger, more complicated choice that are not the burden of other characters.(Or even, in a Spearhead From Space/Castrovalva-style trope, he's somehow incapacitated and can't act).

Even Clara's rebuke at the end of the episode - where she essentially tells the Doctor who go away - feels somewhat false and more out of convenience than of consequence. She has every right to be angry - after all, not only was she left with a difficult decision, but she nearly "got it wrong". It's only the ending scenes at Coal Hill School - with Danny providing not just a revelation of his own background, but with the idea that some choices should never be made in the heat of powerful emotions - that redeems the episode somewhat.

Ironically, the very notions that Danny Pink puts forth at the end of the episode....are similar to what the Doctor might have suggested in the show's past.
The production team has suggested that "Kill the Moon" is a "game-changer", and it does.....it makes me wonder whether the production crew is focused on making a solid show, or writing high-end fan fiction.

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