Sunday, 5 October 2014
Doctor Who: Kill The Moon (Episode Review)
When writer Peter Harness started work on this particular story, Steven Moffat explicitly told him to "Hinchcliffe the shit out of it for the first half". It's probably the best order he could have given as the beginning plays out like an excellently well crafted classic Doctor Who tale, building up to something extremely creepy and with a few good ideas. It's dark, well paced and hits all the right notes, but it's a damn shame he didn't ask him to give the second half the same treatment. It's really there that the story goes completely off the rails.
Serving as something of a sequel to the events of last week's episode, Kill The Moon sees the Doctor trying to make reparations to Courtney at Clara's behest. Having told her that she was "not special" the Doctor refuses to take back his words, instead opting to trying to make her special by being the first woman on the moon. Unfortunately, they arrive at a time when humanity is on the brink of destruction. Something has gone horribly wrong on Luna and the last remaining astronauts on Earth have been sent on a do or die mission to ensure humanity's survival. Caught up in events, things prove to be more complicated than anyone realises.
Now, let's get one thing cleared up first - Yes, this is far better than last week's The Caretaker. Whatever else it might be, it's clearly making the effort to be science fiction and sticking to that genre. Atop of this, many scenes do work both in terms of drama and excellent acting. For the first half an hour or so, it's a very well done episode and it really works wonders with what's on offer.
The design of the spacesuits, the shuttle, the eerily silent surface of the moon and the creepy simplicity of the spider-like villains all came together perfectly in this one. While you might raise the odd eyebrow at a few background spacesuits being aged Cold War era pilot equipment, there's very little here to seriously criticise.
A big part in this is thanks to the writing covering a few potential errors early on and using them to build a bigger world. Why is Earth using a woefully out of date space shuttle decades into the future? Because it is all they had left, having focused inwards and so much having been destroyed thanks to an impending disaster. Why does the moon have Earth-like gravity? No one knows, and that is what's causing so many disasters down there. It's that right mix of special effects and the unknown which can really hook in an audience.
Things only improve with the pacing and information balancing out here. The script still carries the breakneck speed Matt Smith era stories often went with. Yet rather than rushing through things without any info, there's enough here to really build and image of the world we never truly see. Combined with the sudden and very threatening introduction of the aliens, and it's the kind of rapid start that truly works, keeping up that momentum until the end.
Better yet the presence of Courtney, one predicted failing, was not nearly as bad as was expected. While largely unnecessary to the tale, her irritating behaviour and attitude was at least tolerable thanks to the characters treating her as such. It's a vast improvement over certain similar characters from past seasons, and is further proof that, whatever else people might say, the creative forces behind the programme do listen to feedback at least a little bit.
Sticking to the side characters, the choice of Hermione Norris to play the more cynical face of humanity in this era was clearly the right one from the start. While her character, Captain Lundvik, has few real lines to make her stand out, Norris adds enough of a human face to the figure to make her memorable. Of the lines and moments she is given, there's enough in her delivery and small inflections to give the impression of a person who has lived out their life in a very different time. Compare this to the wooden performances which helped torpedo Into The Dalek, and there's a truly staggering difference in the overall quality. It's almost enough to save the story when things start to go wrong.
The problem is that the narrative very quickly fails once the moral issue is thrown into the mix. How so? Because of one very basic problem: Half the episode's content is written to encourage the audience to think and consider about morality. The other half only works if the viewer has their brain switched off.
It's next to impossible to really go into why without delving into spoilers but, by the time the scene on the beach is done, you'll likely be banging your head against the nearest hard surface. The show is Doctor Who, leaps in logic and the abandonment of scientific fact is expected in almost every area. That said, it only works to a certain point and Kill The Moon crosses that line which shatters that suspension of disbelief. If you have any understanding of gravity, any understanding of biology, any understanding that space does not contain air, this story will hurt you for it, and hurt you hard. A fact only made worse thanks to the script reminding audiences of certain scientific facts early on, only to completely abandon them by the end.
Spoiler - The conclusion features a creature flapping its wings through the vacuum of space, then proceeding to lay an egg larger than itself within moments of its birth.
Still, the bloody abuse of the laws of science even to such a degree is not uncommon in Who. Even when it starts mimicking Star Trek Voyager's most infamous errors, you might be able to sit through it for the dilemma itself. The chief failing is that said dilemma is not nearly as deftly handled as it could have been and simply tries to tackle far too many themes at once. Any one of these could have worked, the final one it settles on especially if it had given it real focus or properly set up the Doctor as a true chess-master, but it's instead weighed down by other problems. The hard decision supposedly made doesn't work because from the start it seems to be no decision at all, and then by the end the negative consequences of their actions are magically removed in an instant.
Things are not made much better thanks to it being Clara and two people the audience have barely seen sitting and focusing upon this, with the Doctor standing back for apparently no reason. While half of a reason is given, stop for a moment and consider his words, and the justification fails to truly hit home. It's more of an excuse to shift the show's focus towards the companions once more, and the whole discussion in question seems oddly half baked. It lacks the conciseness of the "Do I have the right?" speech so famous within the franchise, nor even the build we saw in stories such as Cold Blood. The sad thing is that, despite taking up the final act, the actual discussion over their choice is woefully underdeveloped.
Like so many stories from past eras, the true tragedy is that up to a certain point it was doing oh so well and it's hard not to appreciate the episode this could have been. With a clearer focus or perhaps even a few better re-writes this might have stood out as a fantastic outing, but it falls below the mark. Opinions of this episode have been extremely polarising across the internet, so there is a chance you might enjoy this one. Just be warned of the issues above and go into this one with some caution should you wish to watch it.
Plus, at the very least, no matter the problems in the script department, Capaldi remains as outstanding as ever as the Doctor.