“Respected is not how I feel” – “Kill the Moon” Review

Blogger’s Disclaimer: I will be the first to admit that I’m probably far from the first person to notice the subtext below. However, I haven’t actually read any other reviews, so maybe my particular take is unique.

I’m generally in the camp that finds authorial intent one of the less interesting, and often misleading, aspects of criticism. I’m also a vocal antagonist to what Corey Olsen has called “Crit Fic,” a term based on C.S. Lewis’ explanation of the critical fallacy wherein critics eschew close text-reading for speculative guesswork as to the author’s intentions or motivations. However, I can’t avoid talking about the signposts which announce in big, bold letters the subtext of the story. “Kill the Moon,” Peter Harness’ debut episode of Doctor Who, is about abortion.

kill_the_moon“The moon is an egg,” the Doctor tells us. The egg is hatching, with potentially life-threatening and/or catastrophic repercussions for planet Earth. It is up to humanity to make a choice: Kill the moon preemptively, or let it hatch and come what may. The trinity of human representatives are all women. They represent different walks of life: Lundvik is middle-aged, and a scientist. Clara, a young professional woman. Courtney, a teenaged schoolgirl. The Doctor stands for the other who steps back, taking himself out of the equation to let “womankind” (in his words) make their choice. He is alien. He is male. He is also quite patronizing. “It’s time to take the stabilizers off your bike.” He peaces out, leaving the fate of the egg, the planet, and the future of the human race in their hands. Yeah, no pressure. The question of detonating a bomb to destroy the moon is spelled out via two buttons, with the choice to “ABORT” the mission labeled in block letters for those not paying attention. Counter-intuitively, to abort the mission will save the life of the creature inside the egg, but the question still stands: What is the life of the unborn creature worth?

I have to admit to being a little shocked (and pleasantly surprised) by where the episode ends up. Two disclaimers. First, I admit that when taking on a hot-button, topical issue like this, if the writer steps back and allows for any ambiguity at all, then there is every chance that viewers will mostly likely read into the episode their own viewpoints and see what they want to see. But that’s OK, because crit fic is dumb. Just because Harness didn’t intend something doesn’t mean it’s not there. Second, let’s be upfront about my own biases in that case. I myself happen to be pro-life. For reasons for spirituality and upbringing, yes, but also from what I see as a rational and pragmatic standpoint: The question of a woman’s control over her body is crucial, but by the same token this argument is used take choices and life away from another person. I can’t help but see that as hypocritical. It basically all comes down to whether or not you see an unborn fetus as a person, and I do.

Now, I am more than aware that this is not the popular opinion in our culture at the moment, and especially in more liberal and secular communities such as the UK, for one, and the arts/entertainments, for two. I would find it very hard to believe (though not impossible) that Peter Harness and Steven Moffat hold the same opinions I do on this issue. I was prepared and expecting for the episode to conclude that killing the moon was the only sane thing to do. I think a lot of others felt the same way. I haven’t read any reviews of this episode yet, but one fan poll I did see showed that the majority of viewers agreed with the Doctor that stepping back and letting Clara and the others make the decision on their own was the right call, and I suspect that many would have chosen to kill the titular moon in the interest of saving planet Earth.

Strangely enough, that’s not what the episode itself seems to be saying. Maybe it’s my own wish-fulfillment, maybe it was Jenna Coleman’s devastating performance, but I think that the episode itself (if there is such an entity) firmly sided with Clara in their final confrontation. She is reluctant all the way through. She doesn’t want to, as she puts it, “kill a baby,” and her compassion is shown as more attractive and sympathetic than Lundvik’s pragmatism. It’s her last-minute reversal which saves the egg, which both events themselves and the Doctor confirm to be the right decision. In the end, she is righteously, and rightfully, furious at the Doctor for abandoning her to that impossible situation.

Clara: It was cheap, it was pathetic. No, no, no. It was patronizing. That was you patting us on the back, saying, “you’re big enough to go to the shops by yourself now. Go on, toddle along.”

Doctor: No, that was me allowing me to make a choice about your own future. That was me respecting you.

Clara: Oh my God, really? Was it? Yeah, well respected is not how I feel… I nearly didn’t press that button. I nearly got it wrong. That was you, my friend, making me scared. Making me feel like a bloody idiot.

Doctor: Language.

Clara: Oh, don’t you ever tell me to mind my language. Don’t you ever tell me to take the stabilizers off my bike. And don’t you dare lump me in the rest of all the little humans that you think are so tiny and silly and predictable. You walk our Earth, Doctor. You breathe our air. You make us your friend, and that is your moon, too. And you can damn well help us when we need it.

clara-the-doctor-fightDamn straight. How many times has the Doctor taken initiative and made decisions on the behalf of other peoples and planets? Deposing Harriet Jones in “The Christmas Invasion,” anyone? For better or worse, he is no stranger to making decisions on behalf of humanity. Whatever your opinions on the abortion debate, what this story calls out is the notion that we do not all have a duty to be a part of this discussion. Not that the decision should have been solely the Doctor’s, but that abandoning Clara and the others behind a thin smokescreen of “it’s not my decision, see you later” was a major cop-out, and I love that Clara called him out on it. More than anything, this episode is a call to serious discussion on the issue, and it does so without hiding behind the cliches and political correctness which characterize most such discussion in popular media.

The ending itself, with Clara and the Doctor’s painful confrontation, is quite unlike anything we’ve seen from a companion in Doctor Who, and I’m sure Peter Capaldi was referring to this scene primarily when he talked of Jenna Coleman being asked to chart new territory in the history of the show. We’ve seen angry, tearful fights with the Doctor before. Donna demanding he go back for survivors in “The Fires of Pompeii” and Amy and Rory’s scathing criticisms in “The Girl Who Waited” spring to mind. But always, at the end, there is the reconciliation. The reset to zero. Or at least, a kind of resigned acceptance that this is who the Doctor is, and if they want to maintain this lifestyle and relationship they can’t expect him to change. It is both shocking and thrilling when Clara takes a different route, ordering him out of her life. “This is new for me,” she tells Danny, and it’s new for us, too. It’s a great move to have this inflexible Twelfth Doctor met with a newly uncompromising companion, and opens up lots of new avenues for what the relationship between the Doctor and his companions could and should mean. Bringing the discussion back to the episode’s subtext, it feels right that this episode should be the one to cross that line. In a story with lesser weight, Clara’s reaction would be overwrought and melodramatic. The powerful emotions give her ample motivation, and it works flawlessly. I am sure that Harness’ first Doctor Who story is and will continue to be controversial, but I for one would love to see more from him in the future (and can’t wait for his BBC adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell).

 

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About Katherine Sas

I graduated from Messiah College in 2009 with a B.A. in English Literature. I'm a student of all things arts and humanities, in particular Tolkien, the Inklings, and the fantastic and imaginative tradition in storytelling.
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6 Responses to “Respected is not how I feel” – “Kill the Moon” Review

  1. habibilamour says:

    That may fuel the “Is Clara Pregnant?” theory…..if abortion is the subtext then I’d want to make the decision all on my own 🙂 I cannot stand dominating men (or women), in fact I left my last relationship after the twit began to tell me what to think about stuff while refusing to be questioned himself

    • The question of Clara’s pregnancy and Orson Pink is an interesting one. I’m a little surprised if we never find out for sure, because I think Moffat has been a bit cavalier about allowing paradoxes into his stories and I’d hoped he was starting to remedy that. Clara being pregnant is about the only way to make sense of “Listen.” But, who can say – there is the chance that Moffat will leave that question unanswered.

  2. muklowd says:

    Hi Kat – thanks for another interesting review. Great stuff as always 🙂

    I’ve got to say that Kill the Moon isn’t one of my favourite episodes though. It’s not the very wonky science. The show has a long history of ignoring science in favour of story when it needs to, although in fairness I must say this episode is wonkier than most and often feels like laziness rather than actual plot serving.

    The bit that really highlights it for me is the argument at the end and what brought it on. The Doctor’s abandonment of the women on the moon seems so dramatically out of character (stepping in and saving the day basically being his entire raison d’etre) that Clara’s rant felt to me rather like she was just shouting at some random stranger on the street. Not that Jenna Coleman didn’t do a fabulous job of it, but it was rendered rather meaningless by its weird lack of connection to the characters. Also I can never quite get my head around how we are supposed to deal with Clara’s very shaky moral ground here. Are we supposed to see it as ironic oversight or willful blindness on her part that she is lecturing him on his behavior when she has just finished doing something an order of magnitude worse to the entire population of the planet? She calls them up, explains the situation and asks for a planet wide vote and then vetoes that decision, basically telling the whole human race “actually, what you want doesn’t matter, I know what’s best”. Personally, I’d take a little bit of “you’re big enough to go to the shops” over that any day.

    • Hi there! Thanks for the thoughtful comment – I know I’m behind on these posts, so it’s good to know that people are reading and enjoying. I must admit that the wonky science is usually least on my personal list of things I look for in a DW episode, but that’s more a personal bias than anything – mostly because I usually can’t tell the difference! Occasionally it does bother me, but mostly it goes right over my head. I can totally see the laziness. I’m usually quite forgiving about illogical science and even plot holes if there are good narrative reasons for it, but when it does smack of laziness then of course it can rankle.

      I also don’t disagree with you about the questionable morals of the final argument, but to me that actually only increases the tension of the final scene – this is quite a sticky ethical dilemma and there are no easy answers. That’s actually why I buy them getting to such a drastic endpoint – it would take something this murky to push them there. While I broadly side with Clara, I certainly concede that she has her own blind-spots. I’m not sure that she is being hypocritical, though – she is looking for him to step up and take responsibility (like he usually does, as you point out). As for whether the Doctor’s decision is out of character… I’d have to think about that some more. It didn’t feel that way to me at the time, but I can definitely see what you mean.

      • muklowd says:

        Thanks for the reply Kat
        I usually put the science stuff under Arthur C Clarke’s umbrella of “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” and just assume that Time Lord technology is “sufficiently advanced”. He even delivers quite a bit of his science with his Magic Screwdriver (or should that be Sonic Wand?)

        The out of character thing might not be there for everyone. I really only felt it on my second watching of the episode, so it is possible I am overthinking it. It might also be my 40-mumble years of watching that colors my view of who the Doctor is that makes this seem out of character to me. Having said that I sort of don’t like it, I did like the ending. The producers have played around with many ways of getting a departing companion out the door but they’ve never really had one who just said “sod off” to the Doctor. I like the idea that he might lose a companion through a personal falling out rather than some more dramatic thing – sucked into a parallel universe, sucked into the past, killed, brain wiped etc etc. I must admit I was almost faintly disappointed when they brought her back in the very next episode. 🙂

    • Re: Arthur Clarke – I’m totally with you on that one.

      Totally agreed about the ending – that is largely why I like it, that it comes down to a nasty argument. It does feel like a new direction (and they continued that with Clara in the rest of the season, I think, especially the two-part finale). As for bringing her back straight away, stay tuned! (You may have read my mind…)

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