After last week’s disappointingly bland debacle, Kill The Moon kicks off the second half of series eight with a welcome return to form in a dark and challenging exploration of morality and tough choices that proves to be emotionally devastating.
This week, The Doctor, Clara and persistent new recruit Courtney Woods find themselves on a rickety space shuttle that has crash landed on the moon in the 2049. There they meet a small crew of astronauts, led by Hermione Norris’s Captain Lundvik, who are preparing to nuke the satellite in the hope that will reverse its inexplicably high gravitational pull, which has been causing tidal-based chaos back on Earth.
From the outset it is clear that newbie Who-writer Peter Harness has taken Steven Moffat’s advice to “Hinchcliffe the shit” out of this episode, taking us to an icily dark space station where the occupants have been entombed in spooky cobwebs in a classic monster-in-the-dark story that only gets darker from there.
Whilst Listen was more about psychological fear, hear the monster is very real – an infestation of spider-like creatures that attack when they sense movement (Incidentally, that’s the third time this plot device has been used this series. Coincidence?) and mask an even bigger threat.
Actually, this base-under-siege narrative is just an entertaining preamble to what is really a return to the character-driven stories of earlier episodes as The Doctor and Clara stumble upon a massive dilemma.
The discovery that the moon is in fact on egg preparing to hatch shifts the episode into a challenging story about the right to life of unborn alien creature versus the continued future of all humanity. It’s a torturous situation that has no easy answers, and it’s made all the tougher by The Doctor’s abrupt departure, which leaves Clara, Lundvik and Courtney to decide everyone’s fate.
This moment feels like a defining point in Clara’s story and it has deeper ramifications for her relationship with The Doctor. In a wrenching final scene Coleman gives her best performance yet, finally unleashing the anger, frustration and uncertainty she has bottled up all series as Capaldi’s Doctor looks on, crestfallen, as he realises his intended compliment has inadvertently alienated his only friend in the universe. It’s an emotionally devastating scene played superbly by both actors, and while the full implications may not be clear, it seems more certain than ever that Clara won’t make it to the next series.
As you might expect, an episode posing meaty moral quandaries draws an excellent performance from Capaldi. The scot has always seemed more comfortable when plumbing the murkier depths of the Doctor’s character and he is superb here as he nonchalantly washes his hands of the Earth’s problems in his very own ‘Time Lord victorious’ moment. It’s a powerful performance that keeps the audience on its toes, but Capaldi also shows just enough of the Doctor’s human side to keep the viewers on side.
Ellis George also impressed, proving herself to be more than a stereotypical ‘disruptive influence’ by showing her vulnerable side as she reacts to the Doctor’s rejection and also demonstrating a brave determination to do right at all costs.
If this really is to be Coleman’s last series, Moffat could do worse than to promote the whip-smart and charming Courtney to companion status – it would certainly make a refreshing change from the ‘quirky young love interest’ type that has been overused in the modern series.
Kill The Moon was a much needed rejuvenating episode that brought back some of the fear, tension and deeper meaning that has been missing in recent weeks, and also provided an emotional kicker of an ending. It’s not quite a perfect episode, the pace is far too unhurried for a story that should feed off the literal ticking clock of a nuclear bomb, but it is certainly one of the best of series eight so far.
Next time on Doctor Who… The Doctor is joined by guest stars Foxes and Frank Skinner as he takes an exciting trip on the interstellar Orient Express where a rampaging ancient mummy is creating havoc by causing passengers to die 66 seconds after they’ve seen it.
Click here to watch Doctor Who: Kill The Moon on BBC iPlayer