Kill the Moon
|248 – "Kill the Moon"|
|Doctor Who episode|
|Directed by||Paul Wilmshurst|
|Written by||Peter Harness|
|Script editor||David P Davis|
|Produced by||Peter Bennett|
|Incidental music composer||Murray Gold|
|Originally broadcast||4 October 2014|
"Kill the Moon" is the seventh episode of the eighth series of the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who, written by Peter Harness and directed by Paul Wilmshurst. The episode stars Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, with Hermione Norris guest starring, and was first broadcast on BBC One on 4 October 2014. The episode is particularly notable for receiving wildly polarizing reviews from television critics. Whilst some critics acclaimed the episode and labelled it the best of the season, others criticised its scientific inaccuracy and thematic content.
After the events of "The Caretaker", Clara Oswald warns the Doctor that her student, Courtney Woods, is still interested in his TARDIS and is trying to clean up the mess inside it she made previously. As they enter the TARDIS, the Doctor stops Courtney from cleaning and offers to take her and Clara on a trip in the time machine.
They arrive in 2049 aboard a space shuttle filled with nuclear devices on a crash course for Earth's moon. They survive and meet the shuttle's crew, led by Captain Lundvik. Lundvik explains they are on a suicide mission to destroy the moon; some years past, the moon's gravitation influence suddenly changed, causing massive high tides on Earth wiping out much of humanity, and destabilising the orbit of many of mankind's artificial satellites. Lundvik, who had wanted to become one of Earth's space-faring astronauts, offered to go on this mission to save humanity. Privately, Clara asks the Doctor about this point in time, knowing the moon exists in Earth's future, but the Doctor himself is not clear, as this is a point of time in flux.
They travel to a nearby Mexican lunar colony, finding it covered in cobwebs and the colonists dead, entombed in similar webbing. The Doctor confirms the colony's readings that the moon has gained over one billion tons of additional mass. They are attacked by a spider-like creature that kills Lundvik's crew, but the disinfecting spray Courtney brought kills the creature; the Doctor compares it to germs, and wants to study it further. After seeing Courtney safe to the TARDIS, they investigate a crevasse where thousands of the spider-like creature wait, and the presence of amniotic fluid nearby. The Doctor surprises Clara and Lundvik by diving into the crevasse, promising to meet them later.
The shuttle, with the TARDIS inside, fall into a crack. The Doctor returns and the three take shelter at the colony. The Doctor asserts that the moon is really a giant, 100-million-year-old egg, ready to hatch, the spiders being the equivalent of sterilising microbes on its surface. The Doctor gets Courtney to join them in the TARDIS. Lundvik becomes even more insistent to blow up the moon, unsure of the nature of the creature that might hatch, which angers the Doctor. The Doctor takes the TARDIS and abandons the three of them, but assures he will be back once they have made a decision. Lundvik prime a remote trigger for the nuclear bombs set on a timer, intent on finishing her mission. Lundvik, Clara, and Courtney argue what to do, and come to a conclusion to let the population of Earth decide. As shown in medias res at the start of the episode, Clara makes a plea over broadcast channels for Earth to decide the fate of the creature by leaving their lights on to allow the creature to live, or turning off their lights if they should destroy it. Over the next hour, they witness the lights on Earth turn off. Clara changes her mind at the last second and manages to stop the countdown on the remote detonator. Shortly thereafter the Doctor arrives, assured that they have made the right choice, and evacuates them from the moon as it starts to crumble.
Safely on Earth, they watch as the winged creature inside the moon breaks free of the shell and flies off, but not before laying another egg that becomes a replacement moon for Earth. The Doctor reveals that the sudden interest in the moon will reinvigorate Earth's space program, and Lundvik will get the opportunity to realise her dream. The Doctor returns Courtney and Clara to their rightful time; Clara angrily accosts the Doctor for forcing her to make the decision on the fate of humanity, while the Doctor asserts he cannot be allowed to make those choices himself. Clara tells the Doctor she does not want to see him again, and takes comfort with Danny Pink, though Danny sees she is still not ready to forget the Doctor. Clara returns to her flat that evening and looks reflectively at the moon.
The Doctor uses a yo-yo to test the moon's gravity inside the shuttle. The Fourth Doctor used the same method to test gravity in the Nerva space station in The Ark in Space (1975). According to executive producer Brian Minchin, Capaldi had requested the yo-yo to be similar to the one that Tom Baker had used before.
In "The Fires of Pompeii" (2008), the Tenth Doctor says that as a Time Lord, he can see both fixed and mutable points in time. The Twelfth Doctor says the same thing here, but that there are "grey areas", points in time for which he cannot see the outcome.
The episode was originally written for Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor. An early working title for the episode was "Return to Sarn", however, this was intended to be misleading. While briefing Harness on how to write the script, executive producer Steven Moffat told him to "Hinchcliffe the shit out of it for the first half", meaning, essentially, to make it frightening. This was in reference to Philip Hinchcliffe, who produced Doctor Who from 1974–77, a period known as especially frightening during the classic series. Moffat called the script "intense and emotional". Harness has said that the episode will see a large change for the show. "I still don’t know how people will take it. I’m in this kind of limbo now waiting for people to see it, and I’ve no idea, really I do not know how it is going to go down."
Filming for the episode took place in Lanzarote, near the Volcán del Cuervo (Raven's Volcano) in Timanfaya National Park. The last episode to be filmed there was 1984's Fifth Doctor serial Planet of Fire. Filming took place on 12–13 May, while the park was closed to visitors, with locals reporting that “they’ve erected a huge marquee, have trailers, toilets and a van.” Filming also took place at Aberavon Beach in Port Talbot on 21 May.
Broadcast and reception
Kill the Moon received widely differing reviews from critics and audiences alike. Whilst some labelled the episode an instant classic, and one of the show's very best, others found it poorly written with weak characters and themes. However, despite the polarizing reviews, critics were unanimous in their acclaim for Jenna Coleman's performance and the final sequence in the TARDIS.
Writing for The Daily Telegraph, Ben Lawrence noted that "'Kill the Moon' was an excellent example of Doctor Who reaching out to different generations, something it hasn't always done in recent weeks." He felt Coleman was "terrific" and that Capaldi added further layers of complexity to his character. Lawrence stated that the guests were underdeveloped, but concluded that, "it lacked the clever-cleverness that has marred recent episodes and proved how good Doctor Who can be when it simply tells a story." Dan Martin, writing for The Guardian, stated that "Clara's outburst was the next stage in what I have loved about this series most of all. More than ever before, they're playing out the reality of running off to fight aliens with a time-travelling space detective. And, guess what, this life is not all wine and roses." Martin noted that Coleman has been terrific all series stating that "We no longer need to make note of just how good Jenna is this year; she’s already established herself in pantheon of all-time great companions."
Writing in The Independent, Neela Debnath praised Coleman's performance, articulating that she "impressed again with her fury as she held the Doctor to account. This is the grown up assistant the Time Lord needs to keep him in check" and ultimately closed her review by saying "'Kill the Moon' was an enclosed space adventure with all the claustrophobia that an episode like this demands [...] It was hardly the strongest episode of the series but it was no car crash either.". Radio Times heavily praised the episode, awarding it a perfect 5/5. They also praised Coleman's performance, stating that "Coleman expertly conveys Clara’s terrible dilemma – and later her tearful fury at the Doctor’s behaviour". They described the episode's writing as "audacious, highly imaginative, and is well matched by Paul Wilmshurst’s supremely eerie, cinematic direction", and closed their review by noting "Portentous dialogue, sharp direction, urgent music and a powerhouse performance from Peter Capaldi make this one of the defining moments of the season".
Den of Geek affirmed that "Doctor Who hits top form with 'Kill the Moon'. And Jenna Coleman has never been better". They also praised Harness' script as "impressive" and said that Wilmshurst "fully understands that slowing things down and making little moments count is the key to crawling under people's skins". They closed their review by saying "The best Doctor Who episodes have something to say, get under your skin, and keep you pretty much gripped until the end credits roll. 'Kill the Moon' certainly did that, with us heading for a rewatch as soon as it was done. It has a good science fiction story underneath it, a strong dilemma, and real consequences". The A.V. Club also reacted very positively to the episode, awarding it an A score praising almost every aspect of the episode, but particularly the focus on character development. They said "'Kill the Moon' is the second time this season that Doctor Who has genuinely surprised me. That fact, above all else, is why tonight’s episode rates as an instant classic" and went on to praise the episode's final scene, saying that "Maybe the whole Moffat era is going to be defined by that final scene in the TARDIS, in which Clara delivers the most blistering rebuke we have ever seen any companion give the Doctor". They ended their review by claiming that "This season is already a return to form, but 'Kill the Moon' could help turn it into something truly special".
IGN labeled the episode as "The best Capaldi Who yet" and awarded it a score of 9.3/10, deemed "Excellent", They praised almost every aspect of the episode, saying "Dramatic, thought-provoking, gorgeously shot, dryly hilarious and consistently compelling, 'Kill the Moon' was easily the best episode of the season so far, and we'd even put good money on it staying that way come the end of November". They also praised Coleman's performance as "explosive and mouth-gapingly compelling" and summarised the episode as "grown-up sci-fi at its best".
In contrast, some reviewers criticised what they perceived to be plot elements alluding to the abortion debate and, moreover, how the issue was dealt with in the script. In a separate review for The Independent, Ellen E. Jones described the episode as "perhaps the weakest so far... The grey moon surface provided an uninspiring backdrop for what amounted to a galactic metaphor for the pro-choice debate". Writing for Forbes, Ewan Spence described the script as "leaden and heavy... the lack of consequences to [Clara's] decision left the episode with a hollow ring." The review praised Capaldi's and Coleman's performances, but concluded that "'Kill the Moon' wasn't good drama, it delivered false controversy, and it did not respect the debate it was trying to start in the viewers at home."
For The Escapist, Elizabeth Harper gave the episode one and a half stars and felt it was "a mess of pseudoscience". She summarised that "This episode is a string of scenes that don't make a lot of sense, but are vaguely held together by virtue of the fact that they all happen on the same channel in the same one-hour period." She added finally that "The last scene, however, is genuinely good." 
Other reviews were also critical of the episode's lack of scientific accuracy, mainly around Earth's moon. Writing for Slate, Phil Plait remarked, "The science mistakes were so egregious and so obvious that they kept pulling me right out of the story. A lot of the mistakes were fixable with a simple Google search." In his review for Doctor Who TV, Clint Hassell had a similar objection. While he praised both the actors' performances and the story's ability to "examine aspects of the human condition", he said the episode was "also terrible, presenting a version of science so incorrect that it almost creates a new genre – 'not-so-science fiction'". Though part of the fun of the show is "obviously make-believe, sciencey-wiencey facts and jargon", he believed that, "When [The Doctor] states blatantly wrong science 'facts' because the writer couldn’t be bothered to think rationally, or consult a scientist, that makes the Doctor look like an idiot, and...ruins part of the believability of the show."
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