Kill The Moon
Review by Eddie McGuigan
There is a train of thought, it has to be said, that Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner, compared with any others, particularly Russell T Davies, doesn’t have the same uniformity. It can be argued that Moffat allows his writers a much more loose creative atmosphere in which to work, and, as a result, there’s not the same absolute feel to the stories than there has been in the past.
It’s true that, by its very nature, Doctor Who is a programme that thrives on change and differences, that relies on each week or so being different from the one before, and that the only constants are, for a time, the Doctor and that old blue box.
A criticism of Moffat’s would be that, because he allows, at least on the outside, his writers to have more of a say in the feel of their episodes, we get a staggered, jagged, sporadic sense to a season, that it’s less joined. Whilst RTD could say that Dalek had the same mood as The Doctor Dances, one cannot say the same about The Curse of the Black Spot and, say Let’s Kill Hitler. The only exception to this, which really does prove the rule, is Part One of Series 7 where Steven went out his way to create uniformity for the last days of the Ponds.
So when the production promises us “a new feel” and a “new direction”, especially in a Moffat series, we usually don’t get the game changer that we are promised. I submit for your attention, m’lud, exhibit A) The Bells of St John.
Series 8 has been promising a change in tone for a while now. Slower paced, longer scenes, more layered drama but, with the exception of Deep Breath and Listen it’s pretty much been business as usual with a couple of the episodes, particularly Robots of Sherwood and The Caretaker being so generic that the main character could have been played by Matt Smith, David Tennant or Sylvester McCoy just as well, if differently, from Peter Capaldi.
That’s not to say Capaldi isn’t brilliant as the Doctor. He is, of course. This was never in question. He’s actually probably paired it back a bit too far, if anything, and, in subsequent seasons I’d wager we’ll see his Doctoriness being ramped up, in costume as well as deed. The Doctor is the Doctor after all, and whilst Capaldi channels much more traditional Doctors in Hartnell, Pertwee and the two Bakers, it’s not an uncommon trait, as Tennant channelled Davison and Smith channelled Troughton.
Here, in Kill The Moon, we get a creepy lunar ghost story, which, like every story so far this series, channels and echoes the past. This time, prepare for shadows of Waters of Mars both is style, setting and indeed moral argument. But also look out for bits of Hide. This episode isn’t for the faint hearted, despite its The Doctor Dances dénouement. That is, of course, up until the epilogue.
The warmth between Clara and the Doctor is missing from this episode, and Clara seems immediately and continually grumpy all the way through, which jars a bit with the growing affection between the two leads we’ve been watching evolve since their dodgy start. The Doctor again, though, shows an aloof childlike ignorance to the ways of humanity, particularly his companion, and despite his trying to do the right thing, gets it wrong. So like a man. The final act, an exchange between the Doctor and Clara isn’t new for Doctor Who, isn’t the first time a companion has challenged him or that the Doctor has got his readings of humans wrong, but it is wonderfully acted by the two leads.
Wallander writer Peter Harness manages to juggle ghost story, monster story, base under siege story and moral dilemma in a 42 minute piece of Whovian gold which allows Da Vinci’s Demons director Paul Wilmshurst to play with perceptions, light and noise in clever ways and guest star Hermione Norris is as intense, formidable and believable as you’d expect. So many times big named stars are wasted in the blink and you’ll miss it one episode style, but Norris has the chops and the time to pull this off.
There’s the potential of a fundamental shift between Doctor and Companion this week, which in many ways I’m dreading. With Clara not actually travelling with the Doctor, ie stuck, there’s no reason for them to travel together voluntarily if she has reached a Tegan moment, and, perhaps this isn’t the only time Clara will emulate Tegan this year.
I’m not a fan of children in Who, although I acknowledge the need for them given the target audience, and here Ellis George’s “disruptive element” Courtney is given a real and clever arc, as the Doctor seems to have taken a bit of shine to her, despite, again, his original hamfisted mistake.
The series has to be careful with this “Clara is right the Doctor is wrong” scenario though, as it could eventually undermine the heroic nature of the main character, but, in this microcosm, it works to a point. Perhaps the Doctor needs to look to himself, as others have, to find a better “medium”.
Next weeks trailer for the Orient Express seems a lot lighter in mood, again, but is noticeable for its absence of Clara.
Back to Kill The Moon, and we have a stern, thoughtful, earnest piece which will whet the whistle of the fans who enjoy the more serious side of the series, but perhaps, at the forfeit of the Doctor/Companion dynamic.
An interesting one.