Kill the Moon

One of the few things I’m certain about regarding “Kill the Moon” is that it makes my science objections to “Listen” seem petty by comparison. Doctor Who has never been anything like a hard science fiction show, and a casual sampling of classic series episodes would no doubt turn up myriad crimes against scientific plausibility. But the degree to which this matters has always depended more on where and when the Doctor lands, since those particulars are what determine the genre of each episode.

If the episode were set on the moon of some exotic alien planet, we’d read it as a different flavor of science fiction. It wouldn’t seem quite as strange that an organism as big as a badger with teeth and glowing segmented legs and silk spinnerets could somehow be unicellular and prokaryotic. We wouldn’t wonder as quickly how an egg large enough to have its own gravitational field could increase in mass without at least being porous enough to draw in food from outside, or what kind of food it could be and where in the solar system it could come from. We might be willing to wave off the idea of a creature that can lay an egg immediately after being born with a considerably greater mass than the creature itself, even though that’s perhaps the most astonishing feat in the story. But because it’s our moon, we have to wonder why the moon rocks we have appear to be composed of fairly ordinary minerals, rather than some sort of alien eggshell that can turn to powder instantaneously.

It has to be our moon, though, for the story to work. Not just because it’s a story about the Great and Bountiful Human Empires, and what happened to inspire us to create them. Not just because it has to be an Earth that belongs to Clara and Courtney as well as the astronauts with the nukes, so that everyone present except the Doctor has an equal right to decide the moon’s fate. But also because our moon is the only one that traditionally symbolizes femininity, and this is a story about female choice.

Is it a good one? I honestly can’t decide. On the one hand, the Doctor gives everyone the facts he knows and steps out of the picture, textually because he’s an alien, but subtextually because he’s a man. This seems like a laudable thing to do, though he’s later savagely berated for it. On the other hand, Clara asks the entire Earth to choose whether or not to abort the alien baby (I’m fuzzy on how she could have counted the votes in the case of a split decision, or how she could have counted them at all on the side of the planet receiving sunlight or indeed the side of the planet facing away from the moon), and for all she knows, everyone has chosen to abort except for Courtney, and at the last moment Clara decides to choose life.

Choosing life is fine. That’s the point of choice: if only one choice were “correct,” either for fictional characters or real-life women, it wouldn’t be a choice. And Clara is a woman who pretty much always chooses life, the most dramatic example being “Day of the Doctor,” so this is perfectly consistent with her character even without bringing in the similarly uncontroversial admission that she wants to have children someday. You might, however, read this as Clara denying the choice not only of the astronaut in the room with her but also the people all over Earth, many presumably also women, who chose to abort the alien baby. Physics, both the kind we know in real life and the kind presented in the story, strongly suggests that the baby is a clear and present danger to the health of Mother Earth and quite probably could destroy the planet on hatching. There’s good reason to have suspected that by stopping the nukes, Clara could have allowed an alien baby to live but killed every man, woman, and child on Earth with a choice she makes on no more than faith. Somewhere in an alternate reality in the Doctor Who multiverse there’s a scene where the Doctor and Clara are staring at the TARDIS monitor on which 21st century Earth is a smoking, ruined cinder, occasionally blasted by the fires of the space dragon flying circles around it. Eat your heart out, Sutekh: here’s Clara the Destroyer.

I don’t find myself persuaded by Clara’s arguments at the end of the episode. The Doctor takes the high ground and doesn’t fight hard back, but the simplest counter to her accusations would be that even if the Doctor had known exactly what the creature was and what would happen, his choice to step back and let the Earth women decide was no more patronizing and hurtful than a teacher — Miss Oswald, say — refusing to do a student’s homework for them. If a lesson needs to be learned, peeking at the answers is not the best way to learn it. But Clara is allowed to be upset; whether she later calms down and forgives the Doctor, whether she comes to believe he’s right in what he did, her fear in the moment, her anger after the fact, both are understandable and human. Clara doesn’t have to be perfect. But though Jenna Coleman acts her heart out, absolutely nailing the performance, I’m just as allowed to be upset with Clara, and — in the moment — not sorry at all at the prospect that she’ll be leaving at the end of the season.