This is more like it.
In spite of all the good things we’ve seen since Peter Capaldi took control of the TARDIS, we’ve been waiting for something that is unmistakeably Doctor Who, something as comfortable as a sparkly black sweater and as inventive as exterminating a giant alien spider with disinfectant spray, as familiar as the past and as prickly as the future. ‘Kill the Moon’ isn’t perfect, but it’s by some distance the best thing we’ve seen in Season 8 so far.
After spewing all over the TARDIS in last week’s ‘The Caretaker’, 15-year-old Coal Hill school pupil Courtney Woods (Ellis George) takes offence at the Doctor saying she isn’t special and pinches his psychic paper to use as ID for buying booze. When Clara insists the Doctor make it up to her, he grudgingly offers Courtney the chance of becoming first girl on the moon. The only condition is that she refrains from puking (‘No being sick and no hanky-panky – that’s the rules,’ the Doctor explains).
The time-travellers arrive in the year 2049 on a museum-piece space shuttle that crashes on the moon’s surface shortly afterwards. The crew, led by Lundvik (Hermione Norris), are on a mission to resolve problems on Earth being caused by its satellite – or blow it up if they can’t.
‘One small thing for a thing, one enormous thing for a thingy thing,’ says Courtney as they step out onto Lanzarote a lunar landscape. When she and her companions reach a deserted base with webs dangling ominously from the ceiling, like a mixture of Aliens and Arachnophobia, it’s nail-bitingly tense.
When the inevitable spiders actually appear, they’re suitably creepy – but not as much as they could be. Rather like the spooky parts of ‘Listen’, the fear factor seems to have been deliberately reduced out of deference to the youngest members of the audience. Nothing wrong with that, but the sanitising of the scariness extends to the way Lundvik’s entire team is killed off. Their deaths are the horrific part, not the manner of their demise, yet they’re dismissed and forgotten. It feels wrong that they are treated so casually.
The spiders turn out to be parasites living on a colossal monster about to hatch from inside the moon. Lundvik wants to destroy it, leaving Clara and Courtney appalled: ‘You can’t blame a baby for kicking.’ They all look to the Doctor for advice, but he refuses to get involved, leaving it instead to the humans to take responsibility for the creature’s fate – and the subsequent ramifications for Planet Earth.
Unable to make such a huge decision, Clara asks the people on the planet below to vote in a spontaneous referendum. Humanity plumps for KILL THE BASTARD but Courtney deactivates the bomb before Lundvik can set it off. Alex Salmond must wish it was that easy.
The Doctor returns to see the creature hatch harmlessly and lay another ‘egg’ in the sky. ‘That’s what we call a new moon,’ the Time Lord quips, but his good humour is short-lived. Clara, incensed by having been put in such an invidious position, lays into her cohort with vehemence as shocking as it is potent.
‘Clear off!’ she rages, hurt and patronised and tearful and steaming. ‘Get back in your lonely bloody TARDIS and don’t come back!’ It’s a stunning performance by Jenna Coleman, who lives every second of it, and Capaldi almost matches it when the Doctor’s previously impregnable wall of sarcastic superiority starts to crumble.
The scene is devastating, full of poignancy and power; it makes the lightweight fodder of ‘Time Heist’ seem like a different show entirely.
This is Doctor Who. This is more like it.
Aired at 8.30pm on Saturday 4 October 2014 on BBC One.
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