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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

DOCTOR WHO Hits It to the "Moon"

Article first published as TV Review: 'Doctor Who' - 'Kill the Moon' on Blogcritics.

I mentioned in last week’s Doctor Who review  that I hoped The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) would wipe Courtney Woods’ (Ellis George) memory, rather than let her come on future TARDIS adventures. This definitely did not happen. I’ve also complained a lot recently about shows starting at the climax, then backing up and telling the story from an earlier period, working their way up to the opening. The latest episode of Doctor Who does exactly that. And yet, I can’t help but feel that this week’s installment, “Kill the Moon,” is an excellent hour of smart science fiction television.

The episode begins with Courtney upset when The Doctor tells her she isn’t special. Clara (Jenna Coleman) confronts The Doctor about this, and rather than give into Clara’s prompting that he say something he doesn’t believe, The Doctor whisks all three of them to the moon, circa 2049. There, Courtney becomes the first girl to set foot on the satellite, but this is quickly overshadowed by the fact that the moon is broken. A team of astronauts led by Captain Lundvik (MI-5‘s Hermione Norris) have arrived to blow up the thing before it wrecks more havoc on Earth. The decision to do this becomes complicated, though, when The Doctor reveals the moon is an egg about to hatch, then abandons the humans to figure out how to handle it themselves.

On its face, “Kill the Moon” is a grand adventure. Courtney is having a rollicking good time, no longer worried about being special, and indeed becomes very special. The writers take something everybody takes for granted, the moon, and makes us look at it in a new way. There are scary monsters that can be defeated and serious stakes and logical progressions. We get a little more info about The Doctor and what he can or can’t see of time. It’s a tightly crafted story that most viewers will surely appreciate.

The people of Earth voting to kill the innocent fetus is a powerful message. One can understand why the population feels this way, afraid for their own safety, for which they have cause. Yet, Clara and Courtney’s refusal to sacrifice an innocent for the good of the many, misguided though it may be, is wonderfully optimistic. Doctor Who shows us what people are like, but has hope for what they can be. Heart always beats brains, which certainly makes for feel-good television.

But there is readily apparent a deeper thread in “Kill the Moon.” Clara and The Doctor haven’t been all that chummy since his regeneration, she finding his new, more callous demeanor not to her liking, and he oblivious as to how to fix their relationship. The moment The Doctor leaves Clara, Courtney, and Lundvik to fend for themselves, the bond between the Time Lord and his Companion is broken, most likely permanently.

The Doctor makes a strong case, logistically speaking, as to why he leaves. This is a turning point for all of mankind, and it should be mankind that makes it. They have matured as a species enough to face such a test, and how they deal with it will chart their course forward. They can do this without him, and he trusts Clara to make the right decision. He isn’t necessary and he steps back, exercising his version of the Prime Directive, or a parent sending their child off to face the world alone, having given them the tools to do so.

But Clara’s position, while much more emotional, is equally valid. The Doctor she knew (Matt Smith) didn’t abandon people. After all, he went to Christmas and stayed for centuries. He acts in the name of protecting Clara and her species, and this Doctor doesn’t. Her Doctor had compassion, this one lacks such. Her Doctor understood her, this one cannot. She has lost her Doctor, and she’s been in denial about it, and can’t be any longer.

Which leads to an extremely tense breakup scene in which Clara basically tells The Doctor to leave and never come back. In the moment, she means it, and it’s impossible not to be moved by the tears streaming down her face, which, I’m not ashamed to say, were reflected on my own cheeks. This is beautifully telegraphed in the previous scene, in which The Doctor, Courtney, and Lundvik celebrate their triumph while Clara stands apart, barely keeping herself together. Then it is executed perfectly, a tour de force for Coleman, echoed by the clueless manner Capaldi uses for The Doctor here. It’s no one’s fault, really, but their union is dissolving before our eyes.

I do not think this is the last we’ll see of Clara, though a slightly different ending to the episode could have made it a really good departure. Instead, after she relays the story to Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), he tells her to see how she feels when she calms down, then talk to The Doctor. While Clara does not appear in next week’s trailer, and is likely to sit out at least one episode, she’ll probably be back for the big finale of the season, if not before. But this does feel like the beginning of the end for her, choosing to discontinue being a Companion because it no longer feels right for her to serve in that capacity.

As much as I’ve been slow to warm to Clara, “Kill the Moon” is a stellar showcase for the character, and highlights Coleman’s considerable talent. I won’t exactly miss her, but she’ll definitely be well-remembered, justifiably, for her contribution to the series, especially if her departure is going to be this well done and so compelling! I don’t mean this to sound like an eulogy yet, but it sure seems like her end is coming, and fans should steel themselves for it to happen sometime in this season’s five remaining episodes.

Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.

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