Doctor Who 'Kill The Moon' Review: The Small Moments Echo Wide For Both Humanity And The Doctor; The Truth Is A Harsh Mistress

By Steve Buja , Updated Oct 06, 2014 11:29 AM EDT
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There comes a time when you must ask if the world needs Doctor Who. How much pain and suffering have his actions inadvertently caused over the years? The question has been asked of the Doctor during his previous incarnations, but the latest episode of the Capaldi-era, 'Kill The Moon' may be the first one in which the Doctor himself asks it.

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He does not outwardly ask 'hey, you guys don't need me, right?'. That sort of passive-agressiveness is unbecoming of the stellar work Capaldi has put in dragging the cutesy-Who into something a little more adult, a little...sadder. The Doctor has been saving our asses since time immemorial, a grand patriarch who knows best, but if there's one thing dad wants its for us to have some initiative of our own. At some point, the training wheels have to come off and we have to put it all on the table; the very future of humankind is at stake.

The climax of Kill The Moon is a Doctor-less argument between three women: an astronaut, a teacher, a student, on the surface of the moon. They're debating whether to destroy the gestating creature that has been living inside of our nearest neighbor for the last hundred million years, or to let it live and in doing so, risk all life on Earth below. We never see the Doctor, he's popped off somewhere (possibly with Danny), content to let the little people sort it out.

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The lack of Doctor is more telling than all the speeches he could give backing one horse or the other, and there are speeches. But they are more than just words this time; Tennant or Smith would have come in at the last minute with some fantastical plan that just shows how smart he is. Instead he leaves the fate of the future in the hands, not necessarily of the people (whom Clara calls for assistance in making the choice) but in Clara herself. He knows that whatever decision she will make, will be the right one because she alone made it.

I never quite took to Clara. Her origins are still hazy to me, something about an Impossible Girl who...should not exist but did, then didn't? Something or other? And through the many adventures with the Doctor, she always struck me more as window dressing. The Doctor needs a companion, so therefore, he has a companion. Kill The Moon is the first time I can see the purpose for Clara. Previous Doctors have been challenged by their companions; Rose, Amy, etc, but even then, it has never been an equal power relationship. The Doctor is the Doctor, and then there's the girl. Clara isn't just there to tag-along, or develop a crush, she is perhaps the only real human connection Capaldi will ever have. He's not showing her the wonders of the universe; she's showing him the wonders of living, and the awful, messy busy that usually entails.

And she lets him know precisely how messy it can be. The Doctor left her on the surface of the moon. Her freakout at the end could be construed as a childish tantrum, but what she says is not untrue. The Doctor is patronizing. He's the most patronizing sonofabitch in the world, and it's patronizing to say you left because you respect someone. More and more this season, we are seeing the Doctor for who he truly is: a manipulator, he knows Clara will make this particular decision because he was the one who trained her and this, like those poor kids in The Maze Runner, is just another test. Only this time the teacher is right outside the door, just not in the room.

When a companion leaves, we know the Doctor will grumble for a few days and be sad but ultimately be fine in the long run. I am not so sure with Capaldi's Who. Clara anchored him to us tiny, little humans, she kept the darkness within him at bay. What happens when that anchor is no longer there?

The most ironic part is that by "allowing" Clara to choose, the Doctor inadvertently let her choose to leave. For all his future sight, it was the one thing he never saw.

Kill The Moon may not be the best episode of Capaldi's run (Listen, is after all, one of the best episodes of the entire series), the framing story is a bit vague and our supporting cast members are poorly realized; merely shuffled into place so the required plot points can be made. Doctor Who has been great about creating likeable characters to run around with the Doctor and Clara, here not so much. Though Courtney Woods is a great little source of renewed energy from the tired sniping between Time Lord and Companion.

Ultimately, the framing device of Kill The Moon is irrelevant to the character beats and the growing discontent in the life of the Doctor. The dilemma presented is a nasty one of terrible choices, but also of utterly stunning revelations. The Doctor's "glimpse" into the future on the beach had me nearly in tears; Capaldi is known for his abrasion, but that sharpness makes his soft moments that much stronger. Kill The Moon will be wrestled with by fans for years to come, many will dislike the fissure it has caused in the series; others will praise it for the very same reason.

The eighth season is the best season of Who thus far. We've had adventures aplenty with him, but this may be the first time we get a sense of the menace and darkness lurking underneath the jovial time traveler. The fallout from Kill The Moon will be long reaching, and while Clara will be back later, things have changed irrevocably. It is the not moon, but the truth, that is the harshest mistress.

Background Noise is GameNGuide's television column.

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