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Monday, 6 October 2014

Doctor Who S34E7: Kill the Moon.

Doctor Who
Series 34, Episode 7
Kill the Moon.

This episode comes on the heels of Moffat being revealed to be writing Series 35 of Doctor Who as well, causing sinking hearts amongst most people who actually like Doctor Who. A colleague remarked recently that Moffat's large fanbase in the US (which is certainly a considerable part of why he's stayed on the series so long despite constantly making sexist comments in the media) are essentially people going through their weeaboo phase, only with Britain instead of Japan as their target, and I can't say she's wrong.

But let's move on. First thing's first, here's last week's bingo: 

This series is halfway through, and we're opening the second half with an episode about an impromptu trip to the Moon. In trouble after saying that Courtney wasn't special – whatever happened to the Doctor who remarked that he'd never met somebody who wasn't special, anyway? - the Doctor decides to get Clara and Courtney off his back by taking them to the Moon, and by the Moon we mean a studio in Cardiff. The episode spends about five minutes trying to soothe our fears about why they aren't floating, when a quick one-liner about it would have probably done the job just fine.

I'm struggling to think of things to say for this episode. Very little, to be honest, actually happens: About half the episode is Alien-oid horror as the characters flee through cramped hallways from giant spiders (which are purportedly actually just huge, bloated germs, which – okay, sure, fine, I'm not going to fuss over scientific accuracy in a show with a time travelling police box). Purportedly, this is the result of Moffat telling this week's writer, stage writer Peter Harness, to 'Hinchcliffe the penguin out of it for the first half' or words to that approximate effect – 'Hinchcliffe' referring to Philip Hinchcliffe, who produced Doctor Who from 1974 to 1977 and was well known for having a gothic, suspenseful feel influenced by hammer horror.

(He also didn't like to use or reference things other writers had come up with, but I'm sure that doesn't sound like anybody we know.)

No, it doesn't sound like Ros from Spooks. Think more Scottish.

The first half is actually pretty all right: It's not amazing, but if the episode had continued along the route set up in its first half, it might well have knocked Time Heist off its perch as the best episode this series. I liked the suspense, I liked Courtney, I liked Clara being teacher-y. It was all very overblown, lights-flickering, things-in-the-shadows horror, which is difficult to do, but which Harness did well. My only big problem with the first half – and it is a biggie – is that, as mentioned before, nothing happens, really. A few people die. There are giant evil germs. Very little is achieved or lost, though, and the characters feel like they're just running about aimlessly.

Most of my issues, however, come with the second half. In this, the horror elements are all abruptly dropped and instead we're given the ~choice~ narrative. You've seen it before in the Moffat era of Doctor Who, and god knows it's always the same. Somebody, usually Clara, has to choose between a single vast, majestic life form that is fundamentally innocent, and large numbers of humans. This time, things are ever so slightly spiced up by having the Doctor wander off somewhere, saying that it's not his problem, and that they have to make this decision themselves. I always hate when the Doctor does this, because it's always vastly inconsistent as to when and why he does so. Russell T. Davies had a tendency to throw out the explanation of 'fixed point in time', but that wasn't any better, because it was never really explained what those were and why they were always bad events that left to suffering. The Doctor never went 'My god, we have to stop aliens from shutting down this week's lottery draw.' 'Why?' 'Because Linda, a single mother from Dorset, is meant to win the lottery this week. It's a fixed point in time.' 

"Courtney getting straight As in her A-Levels is a fixed point, Clara.
It has to happen or we will all die. I'm going to prep the TARDIS
for some intensive history revision."

A bonus issue with this episode comes from the return of our friend from last week, Unfortunate Implications. It's not as pronounced as last week, but I squirmed in my seat when the Doctor remarked offhandedly that Courtney was thirty-five. Because pretending black children are actually adults is a thing that happens, and is used to justify violence against them, and it's something we've seen a lot of in the wake of Trayvon Martin's murder and Michael Brown's murder – one of which was a minor and consistently had people going 'Oh, but he was really an adult,' and the other one was barely an adult but seemed to have no shortage of people trying to make him out to be middle aged.

I'm going to harp on about this, because I'm sure Harness didn't mean to cause offence, and I'm sure when Moffat and the editors and the producers read the script and let it by, they didn't intend anything awry either: But if you are producing fiction, you are not producing it within a vacuum. There is a larger context that you need to be aware of. Think.

So, er. 

Oh, hey, Clara.

So the second half of the episode trots out in entirely predictable fashion: The giant space creature is saved, there are no consequences for it, everybody is happy. The episode wins back a few points by having Clara confront the Doctor and say, basically, what I think everyone watching was thinking. It then immediately loses them by having Danny show up and be intensely smug at her, literally telling her what to think and feel about an event that he wasn't present for. Acted differently, maybe that scene wouldn't have grated so much, but Samuel Anderson plays it in such a chiding, condescending fashion that I wanted to punch my computer screen.

Right, let's look at the bingo again:

Just three squares left, and I've only been doing this
since episode three. 

Only two squares crossed off, although if I hadn't already crossed a bunch off, it could have easily been five or six. I've crossed off 'a hot girl's life revolves entirely around the Doctor' because I do think several episodes have been pushing that angle with Clara: This episode and last episode both did, as did episodes one and four, and even a bit of two and five, to be honest. Frankly, I considered crossing it off last episode.

Next week, we apparently have a Clara-absent episode on the Space Orient Express. Rest assured, I will be displeased if it is not literally travelling through space to get to somewhere in Asia.  I'm not too excited either way, though, because this series is just being dragged down by this entirely artificial Doctor-Clara conflict, and it being put on hold for a week instead of being resolved doesn't please me.

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