Tonight’s “Kill The Moon” is reminiscent of the gothic pastiches Phillip Hinchcliffe used to pen for the show in the 70s and 80s. This isn’t just good “Doctor Who.” This is classic “Doctor Who.”
And thank god for that — after a series of episodes where the main plot was sidelined in favor of the Doctor grandstanding, here he takes a step back and lets Clara take charge. She’s joined by Courtney Woods, the incorrigable brat from last week’s episode who once told Clara her face was too wide and has since been to space and threw up in the TARDIS. Butting heads with the duo is “Atlantis” and “MI-5” star Hermione Norris, in fine form here reminding us that it’s been far too long since she’s had a primetime role worthy of her talents.
It’s a relief to have an episode that’s female-dominated for once — although I can’t decide whether having it be an episode that’s all about lunar cycles and the miracle of birth is a step backwards — and all three were so good you didn’t even miss the Doctor. I’m not sure if “Kill the Moon” passes the much-vaunted Bechdel Test (where two or more female characters have a conversation about something other than a man) but it comes closer than any other recent episode I can recall.
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It’s the middle of the episode that runs into problems, when they realize that the moon is an egg that’s about to hatch. It quickly dissolves into a right-to-life argument: Humanity on one side, a possibly deadly alien on the other and Clara’s broodiness throwing a wrench in the works. It’s clear what side the viewer is meant to take, which robs the episode of any real complexity. It’s a shame, because the beginning and end are this show at its finest — there’s pro-life propaganda sandwich filling between two slices of delicious plot.
The Doctor and Courtney’s interactions are priceless and I hope we get more of them — especially if, as he suggests at the end, she is on track to become President of the USA, which opens up a whole other slew of possibilities for the character’s future appearances. But Clara is ready to move on, and Danny Pink is on hand to remind her that there’s a life beyond following orders, even if that order is simply “Run!”
Which begs the question — if the companion, usually viewed as the audience insert figure, is getting fed up of the Doctor, how is the audience supposed to feel?
Capaldi is an excellent actor — his portrayal of the Doctor brings to mind Hartnell at his finest and Baker at his grumpiest. But it’s increasingly hard to ignore the political context behind having an old white man waltz in and give orders to everyone. He gives them the agency to make their own decision about the fate of Earth, and that’s the problem — he assumes it’s his to give. Clara is right to call him patronizing; at this point, for any of his actions this season to make sense, he needs to have some form of comeuppance.
Even Ten, at his most egomaniacal, would be brought back to reality for a moment. Here, there’s none of the doubt, none of the moral dilemmas that made previous Doctors so compelling — from Tom Baker’s “Do I have the right?” speech on Skaro to Christopher Eccleston proclaiming himself to be a “coward, any day.” In any other narrative, the Doctor would be headed straight for a fall, but this isn’t the first time this Icarus has flown too close to the sun. Viewers can handle an unlikeable Doctor, but if all he does is rant and rave, he’s in danger of becoming something worse – boring.