Well, we had a good run. From Listen to School space robot nonsense, we got three episodes that were, at worst, pretty good, and at best magnificent. And I must admit I was sceptical of Kill the Moon all week-it looked far too much like a cut-and-paste version of handfuls of previous episodes. Doctor and company arrive on a spaceship where they soon realise events are not going as historically planned; against-the-clock shenanigans ensue; everyone goes home. And, to be fair, that’s what I got.
But this episode bored the crap out of me. I’m almost glad I didn’t hold off on watching it till I was with my regular viewing party, as I had a lot more fun pausing the episode to play with my cat for brief periods and sighing loudly than I did actually watching those forty-seven minutes. I’m going to start from the top with a run-down of everything I think was wrong with this episode, because, aside from a vaguely cool design on the moon, I couldn’t find much to enjoy.
It’s a shame for Jenna Coleman, as she really has proved herself an entirely competent actress a number of times over the series. Here, however, the script threw raging inconsistencies her way that put everything off kilter. For example, it’s revealed that Courtney- the fifteen-year-old schoolgirl the Doctor whisked off into space at the close of last week’s episode- has been acting out because the Doctor says she wasn’t “special”. Courtney breaks into the Tardis, demands he take it back, and the Doctor instead offers to make her the first woman on the moon (?). Now, let’s consider that Clara and the Doctor’s adventures are, at least, quite often life-threateningly dangerous, and the last time Clara took kids in her care anywhere, they wound up with cyberman brain slugs attached to their minds. And they just went to a theme park. Why in the name of fucking hell would Clara decide it was alright to bring Courtney along on their adventure? Courtney winds up in mortal danger during her trip and Clara snaps “I HAVE A DUTY OF CARE” to the Doctor when he refuses to remove her from trouble. Not bringing your students to space with a time-travelling alien might be a plan next time, pal. It might seem like nitpicking here, but it’s these kinds of inconsistencies-purely there to drive the plot forward- that undermine the validity of her character. Why would she do that? She wouldn’t. But they needed her to so there could be a story. And that’s cheating.
I must say that the wee lassie playing Courtney actually did a reasonable job, by which I mean she was a child actor who I didn’t want to cheerily throw to a pack of lions. But the script for her was jaw-droppingly bad- at once she was cowering from the evil spider monsters (who were crap and not scary at all), the next she was uploading pictures of her and the Doctor on the moon to tumblr because YOOF. She was clearly aware of and actively participated in the situation when she was in the room, but when she was placed back on the Tardis she simply whined about being bored, despite having been fully cognizant of the seriousness of the situation only minutes before. I’d also like to point out that Clara has tried for a long time to keep her life as the Doctor’s companion quiet- why would she invite ONE OF HER STUDENTS, established at the start of the episode to be feeling somewhat neglected and unimportant and with evidence of alien tech (she had the Doctor’s psychic paper), into space where she then took pictures? It won’t be fucking secret for very long if you go about like that. There was an implication, too, that Courtney just carries about a bottle of disinfectant with her at all times, which I know to be a lie. I was young once too, you know.
3. Sundry Characters
I’m not going to waste my precious time looking up their names, but the episode also featured three other characters who were sent to the moon to try and destroy it. Aside from showing no visible surprise when the Tardis and it’s occupants appeared on their spaceship (nor any explanation as to why it was crashing, either), two of them bought in via spider bacteria death, and the remaining one was barely sketched in. Usually, as in the Into the Dalek episode, we get a decent idea of the character’s backstory and motivations, but here I came away with the image of a shop window dummy in a spacesuit. She was a complete nothing. And speaking of complete nothings, the spider creatures that inhabited the moon were never properly explained and bore no relevance to the plot. And were also a bit rubbish.
4. The Story
I’ve spoken before about how interesting I find the idea of a fallible Doctor, maybe even a “bad” Doctor. This episode tried to advance this theme somewhat, with the Doctor leaving Clara with her two pals to make a vital decision- did they destroy the huge hatchling living inside the moon, or allow in to survive and possibly endanger the whole of humanity? (The correct answer here, by the way, is to destroy it- an answer so blindingly clear that it removed any of the moral gravitas the situation wanted to demand. The life of one creature versus the life of six billion people). It turned out all along that he’d known they were going to save the creature, and was basically letting Clara ride without stabilisers for the first time. When Clara confronted the Doctor about this, it was a potentially powerful moment that simply came across as pouty and stroppy on Clara’s part because of the hellish writing and the obvious lack of conflict in the big choice (I cannot stress enough how none of this is down to Coleman’s performance- even as she basically telling the Doctor to fuck off forever, Coleman kept it just about grounded). And just while we’re on the plot, too- did anyone else pick up on the weird pro-choice overtones in this episode’s central conflict? I’m on side with them, but there’s a time and a place and this was not it. The pacing was pretty dire, too- the first act was waaaay too short, with a saggy middle and an end so silly Capaldi looked embarrassed reading it.
Overall, then, I really couldn’t recommend this episode on any level. This series has had some bad episodes, sure, but they were a different kind of bad. Deep Breath had some fun introductory moments for Capaldi, while Into the Dalek had a vaguely interesting basic premise that just wasn’t that well executed (for me, at least). This was actually boring. I could have run you through almost all the basic plot after the first five minutes, because I’ve seen this before. It’s easy to fall into traps of similair plotting when your series has been running as long as it has, but, when that happens, you’ve got to distract us with something- a cool villain, interesting side characters, a sense of fun. I’m throwing it out there now by saying that Kill the Moon was one of the worst Doctor Who episodes I’ve ever seen-a flabby, scrappy, predictable story, inhabited by actors who were trying to make the best of characters who were for the time being at least, going nowhere.
And as for next week’s promo, can someone sit all the Doctor Who writers down and explain that putting a historical vehicle in space does not equal brilliant science-fiction? I’ll have you yet, Moffat.