Monday, October 6, 2014

Doctor Who Season 8, Episode 7: Kill The Moon

Well. That was certainly something, wasn't it?

We've had six good episodes so far this season, and I was hoping the creators would continue their winning streak, but sadly it looks like it's not to be.

This week's episode boasts preposterous "science" that makes The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy seem like a documentary. If I didn't already know that Douglas Adams was dead, I'd swear he wrote this episode. Seriously, this script features scientific concepts that would make even Ed Wood blush.

This is nothing new of course. Doctor Who has never concerned itself much with scientific accuracy. Just a few seasons ago in The Stolen Earth, Davros, the creator of the Daleks, actually abducted the entire Earth, along with several other planets, for use as cogs in some kind of universe-destroying weapon. After the Doctor defeated him, he actually towed the Earth back into orbit with the TARDIS (!).  

As silly as the science was in that episode, this one found a way to top it.

You may wonder why I'm being extra hard on this episode. The series has always leaned toward the fanciful side, so why squawk about this particular story?

It's because suspension of disbelief is a fragile thing. It can only be stretched so far before it snaps like a rubber band. The Doctor's an immortal who can regenerate his body? Fine. He's got two hearts? No problem. I can deal with that. He travels in a time machine that's bigger on the inside than the outside? Er, OK. I'll give you that one.

But to suggest that the moon is really an egg, with a gigantic creature gestating inside? Nope, now you've gone way too far. Maybe if the story had been set on the moon of a planet in a different solar system, or a large asteroid, or heck, even one of Jupiter's countless moons, I could have accepted it. But our moon? Sorry, but no.

We know quite a bit about our own moon by now. We've even explored it in person! We've probed and measured and weighed it to within an inch of its life and we know there ain't no giant space dragon hiding inside it.

When literally anything can happen in your story, then there are no stakes. There's no danger when you choose to ignore every fundamental law of the universe to get your characters out of a jam. You've got to ground your series in reality at least a little bit, or you'll lose the audience altogether.

All TV series have bad episodes from time to time; it's an inevitability. Especially in American TV, where seasons are 22 to 24 episodes long. When you have to churn out that many shows every season, you're bound to get a clinker or two.

Doctor Who shouldn't have that problem. Their seasons (or series, to the Brits) are generally only 13 episodes long (the current one's only 12!), so it irks me all the more when they give us a bad one. If the creative team can't come up with 12 good ideas a year, than maybe it's time to find someone who can.

Fortunately there were a couple of character moments that elevated this week's episode slightly and prevented it from being a complete and total wash.


The Plot:
This week Clara's pissed at the Doctor because he told young Courtney Woods she was nothing special, which gave her icky bad feelings. He then tries to make it up to Courtney by taking her to the moon. They arrive there in 2049, because the Doctor only has trouble controlling the TARDIS when it's convenient to the script. Once on the moon, they discover it's somehow become more massive, causing widespread destruction on Earth.

The cause of this extra mass? Apparently the moon is a giant space egg and there's a creature growing inside it that's somehow becoming bigger by the day. Clara, Courtney and a female astronaut then have to decide whether to destroy the moon and kill the creature, or let it live and possibly eat the planet after it hatches. It's a moral dilemma that absolutely isn't a thinly veiled abortion debate. The Doctor wisely stays out of it.

In the end Clara decides to ignore Earth's wishes and let the creature live. It hatches and destroys the moon, but before it flies off it lays a new moon egg, and everything's somehow OK again. Clara's pissed though because the Doctor refused to help and tells him to f*ck off.

• This week we get another Doctor Clara episode, in which she becomes the focal point and the Doctor takes a back seat in his own series.

It's an interesting take and a bold move, I'll give them that one. I'm not convinced it's a good one though. Rumor has it that Jenna Coleman is leaving the show at the end of the year, and if she does, I'm afraid we're going to be left with an underdeveloped Doctor.

• The Doctor wears another godawful looking shirt this week. At least it's a little better than that sequined top he's been sporting the past few episodes. I'm starting to think he needs to have Clara help pick out his clothing.

• Last week I wondered if they were prepping Courtney Woods to be a companion, and it looks like I was right. I'm hopeful they're just using her as a plot device for a couple of episodes and she doesn't become a permanent fixture. Teens in the TARDIS is an idea that never works. Didn't they learn their lesson with Adric?

• Speaking of Courtney, she freaks out because in the previous episode the Doctor took her for a spin in the TARDIS and later said she wasn't anything special. 

I'm going to have to side with the Doctor on this one. She isn't special. Few people are, that's kind of the definition of the word. If everyone's special, then no one is. I learned that from watching The Incredibles.

Parents telling their precious snowflakes they're special is how we've developed into a society of unbearable, entitled assholes who place their own wants and needs over everyone else's.

Besides that, if something that minor turned poor little Courtney's life upside down, what's going to happen to her now that she knows that 35 years in the future, when she'll most likely still be alive, millions of people are going to die from the effects of the misbehaving moon?

• The Doctor's apparently looked into Courtney's future, as he offhandedly comments that she ends up marrying a man named "Blinovitch." 

I'm assuming this is a nod to the "Blinovitch Limitation Effect," which was first mentioned way back in 1972's Day Of The Daleks. Supposedly it's a fundamental law of the universe that says crossing your own time stream will have catastrophic results. Something the series has ignored on numerous occasions.

Whether the Blinovitch that Courtney marries is the same one who discovered the effect is left to our imaginations.

• Funny how the Doctor just happened to have spacesuits in Clara and Courtney's sizes. Eh, why not? The TARDIS is infinitely large on the inside, so it would figure his walk-in closets are similarly extensive.

• One of the most outlandish ideas in an episode that's brimming with them: After landing on the moon, Astronaut Lundvik leads the group to a Mexican moon base that was abandoned ten years ealier. Yep. A Mexican base. On the moon.

Apparently in 2039, just 25 short years from now, Mexico will have a space program sophisticated enough to not only land a crew on the moon, but to set up a permanent base there. Are you flippin' kidding me? 

• The Doctor notes that something's wrong with the moon's gravity; it's close to Earth normal. He demonstrates this by whipping out a yo-yo and bobbing it up and down. So he had a yo-yo in the pocket of his space suit? He is eccentric!

By the way, this isn't the first time the Doctor's used a yo-yo to test gravity. The Fourth Doctor did the very same thing in The Ark In Space.

I have to wonder if all this increased mass stuff was written into the episode to cover for the fact that the BBC couldn't afford to simulate the moon's lighter gravity.

• Naturally this increased lunar gravity (mass, actually) is wreaking havoc on the Earth, causing tidal waves that are erasing entire coastal cities. Lundvik and her team are Earth's last hope-- they've been sent to the moon in order to destroy it and keep it from tearing the planet apart. To that end, their shuttle is loaded with one hundred nuclear bombs.

The idea that one hundred bombs of any type could destroy the moon is beyond ridiculous. Their explosion would barely register as a blip on a body that size. Even if the bombs of 2049 are exponentially more powerful, you'd still need millions of them, if not more.

• Lundvik sends a redshirt astronaut back to the shuttle by himself. As he trudges across the lunar surface, he hears something coming from a small cave and stupidly creeps toward it to investigate (only to be killed, of course). Let me repeat that: he HEARS something in the cave. On the moon. The airless moon. While his ears are sealed up inside his space helmet, yet.

• The moon exterior sequences looked good, I'll give them that. Even though they were filmed in a quarry in traditional Doctor Who fashion, the bleached out effect they used made everything look appropriately lunar-ish.

• Inside the Mexican base, the group is menaced by a large moon spider. Again, credit where credit's due, the spiders looked really good and were quite terrifying.

That said, the Doctor explains that they're not really spiders, but enormous single-celled bacteria. Single-celled bacteria with eight legs and a mouth full of sharp teeth. I'm not even sure where to begin there.

How does a single celled creature manage to have sharp teeth, muscles and sensory organs? Aren't all those types of tissues generally made of different kinds of... cells?

Star Trek: Voyager did the whole "giant bacteria menacing a Doctor" thing back in 1996, and it didn't make any more sense back then.

• The interior of the Mexican base and the dead astronauts they find within are covered with what look like spider webs. Do bacteria spin webs? Even giant, spider-shaped bacteria? I'm guessing not.

One last thing about the moon spiders, er, germs. The Doctor somehow knows they can't see very well and their vision is based on movement. He cautions everyone to stand perfectly still. 
Of course the entire group immediately starts waving their flashlights around frantically, creating all sorts of rapidly moving beams of light that attract the spiders, er, germs.

• One of the spiders, er, germs is about to attack Courtney when suddenly the Moon's gravity shifts (?) and she floats up into the air as if weightless. A few seconds later the gravity returns to its previous level.

Huh? So the lunar gravity went from Earth-like to zero in a second? How the hell did it do that? How could the mass of the Moon ever become zero? Jesus Christ, this episode is making my head hurt.

• Did the Doctor experience some sort of oxygen deprivation during his recent regeneration? He says he's not concerned about Courtney's safety because he thinks she's 35 years old instead of 15. He's been interacting with humans for over a thousand years, and he still can't tell how old someone is just by looking at them? Did he really think Courtney was 35 and still in goddamned high school?

I'm assuming they're trying to show that this Doctor is more alien than previous versions, but all this scene did is make him look like a blithering idiot.

• Courtney proves to one and all that she really isn't anything special by sitting in the TARDIS and posting photos of her moon visit to Tumblr. 

Did the Doctor modify Courtney's cell phone to give it "galactic roaming," the way he did for Rose and Martha? Because if he didn't, how in the name of Tom Baker's Overlarge Incisors was she posting pictures to Tumblr in 2014 when she's sitting in 2049? And how the hell is she getting cell phone reception on the flipping Moon to begin with? And even if the moon did have wifi, didn't they say something about all the satellites being down?

• The Doctor dives headfirst into a moon chasm to find out what's causing the increased mass. He returns with a whopper of a tale to tell.

He claims that the moon is not a rocky planetoid, it's actually an enormous egg. And inside this egg is a gigantic creature that's been slowly gestating for millions of years, and it's now grown so big that its mass is threatening the Earth.

The creature must have had one hell of a growth spurt sometime in the last 35 years. In 2014 there's no problem with the moon's mass. But suddenly in 2049, big problem.

The main trouble here is conservation of mass. Somehow the creature inside the Moon is becoming more massive, which rightly so would wreak havoc with the Earth. But where's this extra mass coming from? 

The episode hints that the creature is absorbing the inside of the Moon itself. Nope. That won't work. For the sake of simplicity, let's say the mass of the moon is 100 tons and the creature weighs another 100, for a total of 200. Even if it eats the moon, there's still going to be 200 tons up there. Whether the moon's substance is inside or outside the creature, it's still the same amount in orbit. So again I ask, where's all the extra mass coming from?

• When Lundvik hears that there's a creature inside the moon, she immediately says, "Right. How do we kill it?" This then sets off an argument between her and Clara over the creature's right to live, versus the lives of everyone on Earth.

If you've ever watched Doctor Who and thought, "Say, I wonder where this series stands on the abortion issue," then this is the episode for you.

• Humanity then has a big decision to make: kill the creature and save the Earth, or let it live and potentially eat the planet. Clara pleads with the Doctor, who as a Time Lord has seen the future, to tell her what to do. He flat out refuses, saying this time humanity has to decide its own fate. He then gets in the TARDIS and leaves, forcing them to make up their own minds.

What. The. Bloody. Hell.

This flies directly in the face of numerous episodes... hell, in the face of the entire goddamned series! The Doctor ALWAYS interferes! That's what he does! That's the reason he stole the TARDIS in the first place, because the Time Lords were nothing more than cosmic observers and he felt they owed it to the universe to interfere.

Supposedly this is writer Peter Harness' first Doctor Who script. Perhaps he should have watched a couple of episodes before he tried writing one.

• To justify not interfering in humanity's decision, the Doctor says something to the effect that he could go back in time and kill Hitler any time he wanted, but he's never done so.

Um... maybe not, but apparently he forgot that just a couple of seasons ago he had to stop River Song from doing just that, in Let's Kill Hitler, an episode with an even worse title than this one.

• Time travel stories are complicated. The Second Doctor visited the moon in the year 2070, in the episode The Moonbase. So he ought to know that whatever's going on here in 2049, the moon has to survive in order for him to visit it in the future. Or does it? Wibbly wobbly, timey whimey.

• Clara sends out a distress signal to what's left of humanity, asking them to vote on whether to kill the creature or let it live. If they want to destroy the creature (and the moon), they should turn off their lights. If they want to let it live, they should leave their lights on.

We see a lovely shot of the night side of Earth, as the lights all slowly go out.

A few things here: Even though the moon's increased mass has devastated Earth, apparently the power's still on in most places. Convenient!

And even though the Earth is being ravaged by enormous tidal waves and earthquakes, people are still huddled around their TVs and radios in order to receive Clara's message.

Naturally since this is a British series, we see England and most of Europe in the shot. I guess the people on the day side of the Earth didn't get a vote.

• Earth votes to destroy the creature, but Clara takes it upon herself to ignore their wishes and let it live. 
The Doctor returns and takes everyone down to Earth in the TARDIS. They all stand on an unnamed seashore (weren't there supposed to be horrendous tides?) and watch as the creature hatches, flies around a bit (in space) and lets loose with a mighty scream that can somehow be heard on Earth. The "eggshell" of the moon then dissipates into space dust. Well that was certainly convenient! It neatly avoids the "hundreds of chunks of Moon rocks raining down on the already ravaged Earth" scenario. 

• Even though I thought virtually everything about this episode was beyond ridiculous, I was impressed that they'd apparently destroyed the moon for keeps. A bold move.

Ah, but naturally they couldn't leave well enough alone. Before the creature flies off, it lays another egg (even though it's all of thirty seconds old) that's somehow bigger than itself. Ouch. That had to hurt.

This new egg is also the exact same size as the moon, looks exactly like it, and is in the exact same orbit. Naturally the Earth gives off nary the slightest tremor while any of this is happening. At this point my eyes were too worn out to roll them anymore.

• Once the crisis is over, the Doctor tells the other three that this was the moment when humanity decided to start looking up and explore the universe, which lead to space travel and colonization until the end of time.

I will admit that this was a very nice moment in an otherwise awful episode.

• The other high point was at the very end, when Clara tore the Doctor a new one for leaving her on her own to decide the fate of humanity. This scene was also very well done, and the only thing that saved the episode from being a total wash. Jenna Coleman was excellent in this entire sequence, as she basically tells the Doctor to shove off and leave her, and humanity, alone.

• Favorite lines:
Lundvik (in a bemused tone): My gran used to post things to Tumblr!

Clara (to the Doctor): Tell me what you know, Doctor, or I'll smack you so hard you'll regenerate!

So is Clara really gone for good? Doubtful, but based on the trailer for next week it doesn't look like she'll appear in the episode. Either she's really absent or whoever edited the trailer is really smart and purposely didn't include her.

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