Doctor Who Kill the Moon

04/10/14: written by Peter Harness / directed by Paul Wilmshurst / starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Hermione Norris, Ellie George
The Moon retains a fascination that Peter Harness manages to evoke perfectly in an episode that manages to wrap a serious dilemma around a fanciful notion. The results are bold and more than most episodes of contemporary Doctor Who gives the viewer something more to chew on than just the usual threats or time tricks. It’s possibly Peter Capaldi’s first classic episode (you can never tell these things after one watch), certainly it’s up there with the weightier sci-fi heavy likes of `Waters of Mars` and `The Beast Below` which come to think of it also had orange spacesuits in them. Maybe they’re a good luck charm for the show?

Peter Harness certainly knows how to pack 45 minutes and take you on an ambitious journey of moods. From the initially playful idea of bolshy schoolgirl Courtney in space adrift from her comfort zone, through the Alien-esque exploration of the Moonbase. Then we get a section of sheer horror as director Paul Wilmshurst ensures the spider things are terrifying; no wonder this is on 8.30, it is definitely not for the Under 10s and not just because of the spiders. Just when we think this is going to be `only` a sort of base under siege story though of course it’s already been a really good one, out hatches what the episode is really about.
In another nod to `Waters of Mars`, the Doctor backs off from decision making. This time rather than citing a known future he realises cannot be altered, he suggests it’s not his decision to make and leaves it to the three other central characters in the story who happen to be female. And by the way the Moon is an egg that is hatching, so we’re talking birth issues. The dilemma itself is whether they explode the large collection of nuclear bombs which Hermione Norris’ Lundvik and her team have brought to the Moon to destroy whatever is causing it to break apart or do they let it hatch and see what happens.
It is a scenario rich with argument and for once it is played out rather treated with flippancy. The creature’s origins remain unknown, there is no overly complex back story to affect the decision and it does not have particular designs on eating the world or anything and even the spiders are just by products of its birth. It’s a dilemma that in the debate that follows touches upon the recent trend for proactive wars, the nurturing quality of motherhood, the nature of choice and also what on earth the Doctor is playing at.  You think it’s going to be one of those tricks but actually it is Clara who decides to abort the bombs at the last second.


You could argue that Harness makes things too pat. The timer that can’t be used again, the time frame, the fact that the trio are all female albeit with very different experiences. Any doubts though are soon brushed aside by the sheer quality of the exchanges. We also witness yet another standout performance from Jenna Coleman. With all the fuss about the new Doctor it feels like we’ve been watching a new companion this year and her dressing down of the Doctor at the end is well earned and brilliantly played by both. I love this Doctor’s complete confusion at her references, you can imagine if this were any of the last two Doctors they’d be apologetic and grovelling but he looks more like he thinks she’s gone a bit mad.
After being the mechanism through which the story happens, Courtney is underutilised in the episode which is really the only misstep. I’d have liked her to have ended up making the decision, prompting the others, as it is she oscillates between sulky teenager and scared child with little development. Hermione Norris is understated yet lends a gravitas that adds to the overall effect.
Harness’ dialogue is impeccable throughout, adding a more sombre meter to proceedings which in recent years can quickly veer towards cheap quips rather than conversation and argument. Has a moral issue in the series ever been discussed so well? Has a companion ever had such a truth about her behaviour as Clara has in this story? She knows, I think, deep down that the only reason she ends up making the decision she does is because of what she’s learned from the Doctor. This is why his attitude infuriates her.
A shout out to director Paul Wilmshurst too. While people will justifiably rave about the acting and writing, `Kill the Moon` looks amazing. The ingenious decision to film the moon scenes in Lanzarote allows for a near monochrome look that provides a chilling backdrop for the spiders. He is equally good at picking out the crucial moments with some different looking shots of characters in the Tardis and of course the nerve jangling spider scenes. They are the scariest moments the show has had since it came back in 2005.
Not every story can be like this; how exhausting would that be; but when one of these gems comes along it is a joy to watch and to look forward to re-watching. It’s proper mature, thinking Doctor Who and all the better for it.

1 comment:

  1. The best summary of the positives in this episode I've seen.