Doctor Who - Series 8, Episode 7: Kill The Moon

Doctor Who

We look back at Series 8 ahead of series 9 premiere with our Who guru, Steve Hendry. Here is his review of Kill The Moon. Contains anger and David Moyes references...

How do you take some of the best plot elements of Genesis of the Daleks, The Beast Below, The Fires of Pompeii and The Waters of Mars, then re-hash them into a dreadful episode of Doctor Who? I honestly have no idea why anyone would, yet here we are with Kill the Moon.

Writer Peter Harness told Doctor Who Magazine last month he had no idea how the episode was going to be received, and I felt worried then. The worry was like the feeling I got when David Moyes said that United should “aspire to be like City” last year. The feeling was the sensation of a stone inside my stomach and awareness, one that I wanted so badly to go away, that events were going to turn very sour indeed. Then we had the trailer at the end of last week’s episode and it looked like my fears would be unfounded, just like when Juan Mata signed in January. It’s the hope that kills you in the end. After one of the strongest starts to a season I can remember, easily on par with season 32 for a recent example, season 34 looks like it’s having a mid-term dip in form that may be difficult to come back from. Seriously, following Listen and Time Heist with these last two episodes is bordering on unforgiveable.

Over the years we’ve had Adric, Angie, Artie and now Courtney aboard the TARDIS. They’re all kids, and they’re all horrendous characters, without exception. Not just weak, but utterly pointless and ineffective as well. Children as Doctor’s companions do not work at all, simple as that. They don’t generally appeal to the adult section of the audience and, as Russell T Davies once adroitly observed, children don’t like watching other children on television. I can attest to this, having loathed the likes of Bugsy Malone as a kid myself. Yet here we are with Kill the Moon, which would have benefitted from Courtney not being in it.

There was that terrific sequence in Deep Breath, where the audience weren’t sure if the newly -regenerated Doctor had abandoned Clara and left her at the mercy of the Clockwork Robots. He hadn’t, of course. It was all a clever, quickly thought out plan on his part. Yet here we are with Kill the Moon, in which The Doctor simply has it away on his toes when there’s a critical decision to be made. The entire sequence doesn’t come over very well at all. The Doctor is the hero of the show, and part of the beauty of this season’s early episodes was that he was, firmly, exactly that. The Doctor/companion roles were written immaculately by Phil Ford in Into the Dalek for example- a trusted voice giving The Doctor a different viewpoint at a crucial time, then going into battle with him. We’ve had the Bad Wolf arc, Martha walking the Earth, the Doctor-Donna and the Impossible Girl’s elaborate defeat of the Great Intelligence. All terrific storylines mind you, but The Doctor’s companion pretty much upstaged him at the end of the season each time. Now, this is all very well in the right measure, the idea that The Doctor can elicit extraordinary actions from ordinary folk who spend time with him is nothing new- Jamie McCrimmon, Jo Grant, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Ace to name but four displayed incredible bravery at times. But The Doctor should, far more often than not, be the main man; which makes the decision to write him so appallingly in this episode so baffling. That and the pre-season assurances that this year would see a return to 1970s style storytelling, without the hindrance of a peripheral season arc. Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman have, for the second consecutive week, propped up an absolute shocker with their bare hands. Like her co-star last week, Coleman’s technical skill is top quality here when playing a sequence, namely the broadcast to Earth, that wouldn’t be remotely believable in lesser hands. It almost goes without saying that Capaldi was magnificent yet again.

The Coal Hill School millstone is hanging heavily around season 34’s neck, with Danny Pink an utter washout of a character, no guest appearance from Ian Chesterton, Courtney an unwelcome irrelevance, and the unspoken truth that many Who fans dare not utter- most of us don’t care about Clara’s ‘regular’ life. This approach simply has to be wound up ahead of next year; the whole season is also taking on a flavour that tastes of the most convoluted writing-out of a companion ever. Worse than the overly-saccharine and indulgent Time of Angels, the closing scenes of which completely devalued Amy and Rory’s vastly superior and more effective exit in The God Complex. It is time for Doctor Who to let the story do the work again, and The Doctor must be the one pressing the Big Red Button, or not, at the end. That isn’t to say the occasional Revelation of the Daleks style story, where events unfold as they would have regardless of The Doctor’s presence, isn’t welcome, but the Waterloo Road subplots and companion-centric arcs have got to go, and quickly.

On a positive note, some of the visual effects in this story were absolutely stunning- the arachno-bacteria, the surface of the moon and its break-up were jaw-droppingly impressive. Michael Pickwoad continues to cement his position as the most outstanding designer Doctor Who has ever had. The compact cast lists that have been a noticeably fresh feature of this season, and have allowed the dialogue to breathe, continue here. Yet the sweeping reforms we were promised pre-season haven’t been fully, consistently delivered on. The supremely talented duo of Capaldi and Coleman are being played out of position and the Moffat era has started to cannibalise its own stories. I have been one of Steve Moffat’s more vocal defenders over the years, but his insistence on a revolving-door TARDIS crew and refusal to deviate from interpersonal romances as part of the show’s ongoing storylines are starting to weaken my resolve. Of course, he will surely deliver a glorious two-part finale at the end of the season, and this mid-run slump can sit, untouched and conveniently forgotten on the middle disc of the DVD boxset. I just hope Max Capricorn isn’t aboard the Orient Express in space next week.

Image - BBC.