Doctor Who S8 Ep7: Kill the Moon

Humanity stands on the brink of environmental catastrophe as a result of strange happenings on the moon. Clara and Courtney face an impossible moral dilemma. And the Doctor pushes his relationship with his companion to breaking point.

The Doctor refuses to make a big decision (Image: BBC)


There are some moments in time that I simply can’t see … Little moments in which big things are decided.

Aside from an ending which resets the balance of nature a little too conveniently with the creation of a new egg moon, this is as close to the perfect Doctor Who episode as you’re ever likely to see.

In a single standard-length episode we are presented with a big sci-fi concept (the moon as an egg), a heavyweight moral dilemma (to nuke or not to nuke?) with high stakes (the future of mankind) and a shades-of-grey debate with space shuttle Captain Lundvik (Hermione Norris) on one side and Clara and troublesome Coal Hill student Courtney Woods (Ellis George) on the other. Better still, this is given space to play out fully after the Doctor abandons them to fend for themselves. There have been two-parters in the past containing far less plot.

First-time Who writer Peter Harness produces a cracking (pun intended) script which opens with a stressed Clara’s plea to the people of Earth before rewinding to the start and plunging us straight into the heart of the action. Where many episodes struggle to find the right balance within the confines of a 45-minute run-time – too much action at the expense of story, or too much exposition at the expense of pace – Harness gets it spot on.

There’s magic sprinkled throughout this episode, from the expansive premise to the simple threat of the giant spider-like bacteria, which serves to underline that a monster doesn’t need a pithy catchphrase – or indeed any dialogue whatsoever – to be thoroughly terrifying.

Courtney serves not only as a child viewer’s eyes and ears throughout, but as a reminder of the effect that even a brief adventure with the Doctor can have on people. The disruptive influence who can’t even remember Neil Armstrong’s iconic words is inspired by her experiences to become the special person Clara insists the Doctor tells her she isn’t at the outset – the future President of the United States. I don’t know if we’ll see the character again – if not, this was a wonderful pay-off of her journey.

The moral dilemma

Kill it or let it live – I can’t make this decision for you.

Could anyone reasonably expect to make the decision that faces Lundvik, Clara and Courtney? Both sides of the argument have their own merits. Lundvik feels that killing a new life-form is a price worth paying to give Earth a better chance of survival. Clara and Courtney are willing to take their chances to preserve an innocent life, even though it means going against the decision of the entire planet.

It’s this face-off and the sense of dread that accompanies the knowledge that there is no way for the characters to know what the right decision is that elevates this episode. So often it’s left to the Doctor to make things right and pluck a neat solution out of thin air with a couple of lines of technobabble and a wave of the sonic screwdriver. But on this occasion the Doctor has absconded and Clara is left with the weight of the moon on her shoulders, ultimately trusting her instinct with no good reason to back it up.

Indeed, as has been a recurring theme throughout this season, this is very much Jenna Coleman‘s episode as we get to see a grittier, angrier, less in control side of Clara in which Coleman acts her socks off. For a character who I found difficult to like during her ‘Impossible Girl’ phase, Clara’s development and multi-faceted relationship with both Eleven and Twelve has become, for me, the most satisfying since Ace and the Seventh Doctor. Coleman deserves to be recognised for her performances when awards season rolls around again.

What now for Clara and the Doctor?

It’s hard to see how the relationship between Doctor and companion can ever go back to what it was after this episode. This isn’t the first time Twelve (or indeed several of his previous incarnations) has been grumpy and gruff, cold and callous. But his comment to Clara about it being time to take the stabilisers off the bike is both patronising and disingenuous.

What he does – and the laws of time regarding fixed or pivotal events are vague enough that he might very well have had good reason for not intervening –  is not so much remove the stabilisers as push the bike out onto a tightrope suspended in mid-air with no safety net beneath.

Clara’s righteous fury is as justified as it is understandable. In her eyes, the Doctor has abandoned the duty of care he has not only to her and to humanity as a whole but also to Courtney, an innocent child caught up in a coin-toss decision which weighs infanticide against the possible eradication of all life on Earth. The fact the Doctor initiated this whole chain of events merely to correct his earlier assertion that Courtney isn’t special only makes matters worse.

Make no mistake – as if we didn’t already know, this Doctor is no one’s boyfriend or even best friend. He is much more like his earlier incarnations – in particular, the First, Fourth and Seventh Doctors – than his two most recent ones. And in Twelve’s occasional cold-blooded ruthlessness we perhaps see a reflection of how the War Doctor came to be.

At the end of The Caretaker, Danny presciently made Clara promise to tell him if the Doctor ever pushed her too far. And in the ending here he’s wise enough to recognise that this isn’t the end of Clara’s time in the TARDIS – yet. But it will be soon. For the first time, Clara questions whether she should continue travelling with the Doctor. Kill the Moon marks the beginning of the end.

Fun stuff, references & quotables

  • This is far from the first time the Doctor has visited the moon. Among others, there are the Second Doctor adventures The Moonbase (1967) and The Seeds of Death (1969). More recently, we were introduced to Martha Jones in Smith and Jones, while the real world first moon landing was integral to humanity collectively overcoming the Silence in Day of the Moon.
  • It’s those orange space-suits again – acquired by the Tenth Doctor in The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit and subsequently used in both The Waters of Mars and Hide.
  • After landing in the space shuttle’s cargo bay, the Doctor notes the presence of a prototype Bennett oscillator. This is a reference to a device mentioned in the Fourth Doctor story The Ark in Space, which in itself was an in-joke name-checking former Who director Rodney Bennett.
  • “One small thing for a thing. One enormous thing for a thingy thing.” Courtney obviously wasn’t paying full attention in history class when learning about Neil Armstrong.
  • “Last time you said that, she [the TARDIS] ended up on the wrong side of the planet.” Clara recalls the events of Cold War.
  • The 1.3 billion tons by which the moon’s mass has increased sounds like a lot but its mass is actually 70 billion billion tons. That would only have an infinitesimal increase on the moon’s gravitational pull – not enough to make the difference we see in the episode.
  • The Doctor says Courtney becomes President of the United States after meeting a man named Blinovitch. The Blinovitch Limitation Effect has long been referred to in the series as describing what would happen if a person encountered a future or past version of themselves.
  • For Courtney to become the future President, the eligibility rules would have to change (or at least be reinterpreted). Currently only natural-born citizens of the US are eligible to become president – marrying an American citizen, as the Doctor begins to tell Clara, is insufficient.
  • “It’s not a chicken.”
  • “Tell me what you know, Doctor, or else I’ll smack you so hard you’ll regenerate.”

Rating: 9/10

Doctor Who season 8 reviews

8.1 Deep Breath

8.2 Into the Dalek

8.3 Robot of Sherwood

8.4 Listen

8.5 Time Heist

8.6 The Caretaker

10 Comments on Doctor Who S8 Ep7: Kill the Moon

  1. I can’t believe this episode happened. Since when did Doctor Who become a platform for discussing abortion?

    • I didn’t get that at all!

      EDIT: Okay, maybe a bit.

    • Small thing compared to the anti-abortion themed metaphor, but I did think it was a bit shallow and simple minded to make it that what would make a person special is being a part of a historical event, rather than what is inside the person to begin with, the stuff that makes them an individual regardless of whether or not they are a part of anything history making. That she can’t be special to him, is a separate issue. I’m sure she’s special to other people, for instance. That kind of is a bad message to send. It’s the sort that’s the sort of mindset that some real crazy types have when they out and do bad things to get ‘recognized’.

      • I agree with what you’re saying, but I took a slightly different message out of Courtney’s journey here, namely that sometimes all that is required is to open a child’s eyes and provide a little inspiration to set them on the path to greatness, and this capacity exists in even the most apparently disruptive and ‘un-special’ of children. It’s a motto for both teachers and parents to live by, that education produces good people but inspiration produces great ones. Although perhaps there are slightly less extreme ways to inspire a child than this …

  2. I think the comparison of 12 to 4 and 7 is a bit unfair. The Fourth Doctor’s relationship with Sarah Jane, Leela, and Romana were unquestionably warm. He was never overtly rude or cruel to them. He referred to Sarah Jane as his “best friend,” and Leela came to greatly respect him, calling him a man of great “wisdom and gentleness.” Romana arguably fell in love with him, and it was quite possibly reciprocated.

    The 7th Doctor kept things close to his vest, but he was a strong father figure to Ace.

    And, of course, the 1st Doctor was never intended to be the series protagonist (arguably Barbara and Ian were), but he quickly grew to be a wise grandfather figure. And even from the first episode, his affection for Susan was without question.

    No, the closest the 12th Doctor comes in personality and treatment of his companions is the 6th Doctor, who repeatedly referred to Peri as a “stupid girl.”

    • I hear what you’re saying and your comments are valid, but what I was driving at is that there’s a certain brusqueness and a sense of the ends justifying the means that brought to my mind certain traits of those other Doctors. There is definitely a similarity to Six too, and I’m sure we could draw comparisons with elements of many of his other incarnations too. But Twelve is a long way from either Ten or Eleven (and, for that matter, Five and Two as well) in terms of his dominant personality traits.

  3. The entirety of the Doctor’s decision to actively leave felt out of character, even for the dark Doctor (which is what I call 12 in my head). Even this Doctor would’ve stuck around to keep his companions–temporary and regular–free from actual harm. A lot can happen in the 45 minutes it takes for a timer to drop to zero, especially when you’re on a planetoid-eggshell that’s crawling with lifeforms that can clearly consume humans (as we’re shown). His arrival, after the timer goes off? Come now, if a different decision had been made, Clara would’ve been a corpse.

    Unless that entire subplot was built around a conceit to create an understandably angry altercation between Clara and the Doctor. This doesn’t feel earned, like it does in Waters of Mars, with the Time Lord Victorious revelation – it feels put together, over-extending the dark Doctor’s cynicism and bitterness to the point of psychopathy. This is his Impossible Girl, the woman who saved his life hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of times, and he’s really going to rely on her personal self-preservation / celestial empathy determine her fate?

    It feels like lazy writing.

    • Interesting. For me, it was entirely earned. We’ve been building to this moment throughout the previous six episodes, where the Doctor has been at times callous, cruel, ruthless and lacking in empathy. In his mind, the Doctor clearly feels this is a decision that humanity must make for itself – it’s touched on in the ending where it is this event which inspires mankind back out into the stars by an entirely human decision. Would it have been the same if the decision had been forced upon humanity by an alien? Probably not.

      I also think we need to separate ‘writing’ from ‘plotting’. As the episode writer, Peter Harness isn’t responsible for the steps that brought us to this episode, meely for delivering the emotional beat required of him by Steven Moffat as part of his overall plan for the season. Is this lazy plotting? Again, not for me. In fact, although the execution has been questionable at times, I can see the trail of breadcrumbs Moffat and co have carefully spread across all the episodes so far. Everything hangs together for me, and although some of the speed of change is a little forced, that’s as much a function of only having 12 episodes to tell the story.

  4. I think you liked this more than me but it was a handsomely made episode and the Clara Doctor row was brilliantly written. I see a lot of Doctor 4 in Capaldi but I agree with a previous commenter that Capaldi’s treatment of Clara here was very cruel, akin to Doctor Six. I do also agree with yet another commenter that the Doctor’s actions felt designed because there needed to be a crisis in their relationship than an organic extension of Harness’s plot. Still, that’s always been the case in Who. The real joy of this series isn’t even Capaldi (who is ace) but Coleman, showing that, when not a mysterious lust object for Matt Smith is the best actress in New Who. As usual, my review is in the usual place!

    • It’s interesting that the critics almost universally loved this episode, whereas the fan reaction has been less enthusiastic. No question the Doctor was incredibly cruel here – never mind what he does to Clara, he’s so capricious in whisking Courtney off on this adventure and then to abandon her without a thought was horrible.

      Completely agree that Jenna Coleman is proving to be the star of this season. Given how unliked Clara was last season, her character has been on quite a journey this season and Coleman has carried the extra burden beautifully.

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