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Kill the Moon

Review by Paul Bowler

[Contains Spoilers]

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After Courtney Woods figured out the Doctor’s secret in The Caretaker, the Time Lord finally grants the Coal Hill School pupil another opportunity to travel in the TARDIS when he offers Courtney the chance to visit the Moon in the future – despite Clara’s reservations. When the TARDIS arrives in 2049 the Doctor, Clara, and Courtney find themselves on a recycled NASA space shuttle with a crew on a suicide mission to blow up the Moon. The shuttle crash lands on the lunar surface, where they discover a derelict mining base full of corpses smothered in webbing. With horrible spider-like creatures scurrying in the darkness, a frightening dilemma must be faced, but when Clara needs the Doctor’s help the most her faith in the Time Lord is severely tested, leaving her wondering if this man she’s trusted so implicitly is really the hero she believed him to be…

Kill the Moon continues the darker, more mysterious tone of series eight, in this exciting seventh episode, from Peter Harness the writer of BBC One’s Wallander and the channels forthcoming adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, this story transports us to a time where the Moon has become a deadly threat to the Earth. Our nearest neighbour has changed somehow, growing denser, the effect on Earth has been devastating, and giant tidal surges threaten to wash away all of civilisation on the planet. Directed by Paul Wilmhurst (Whose many credits include Silent Witness, Law and Order UK, Strike Back, and DaVinci’s Demons) Kill The Moon is an incredibly tense and darkly atmospheric episode where what began as a straightforward trip into the future to allow Courtney to visit Earth’s satellite suddenly becomes an all-out battle for the survival of the human race.

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From its adrenaline fuelled opening, as the space shuttle crash lands on the Moon, the Doctor, Clara, and Courtney are thrown into an uneasy alliance with the ships crew. The base, with its sinister webbed interior and gruesome dead bodies, heightens the tension even further as they explore and something ominous begins to stir in the shadows. Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman have built up a brilliant chemistry between the Doctor and Clara, the Time Lord’s friendship with his companion is brought into even sharper focus in Kill the Moon, especially when his actions during this episode give her real cause for concern about her future with the Doctor. Ellis George delivers another impressive performance as Courtney Woods, the Doctor’s newest travelling companion, and her first proper adventure in the TARDIS certainly opens Courtney’s eyes to the sights the universe has to offer – but she also discovers just how dangerous the Doctor’s and Clara’s adventures can become.

After learning the grisly fate of the Mexican crew of the mining base, the Doctor, Clara, Courtney and Lundvik become cornered by one of the creatures inside the base. When trying to evade the spider, Courtney is momentarily separated from the others and uses the antibacterial spray she had in the TARDIS to kill the vicious arachnid. Unnerved by her experience, Courtney wants to go home. The Doctor begrudgingly takes Courtney back to the TARDIS, where she passes the time by posting pictures of the Doctor on Tumblr. However, when Clara suggests to the Doctor they should leave as well because she’s been to the future and knows the Moon isn‘t destroyed, the Time Lord gravely reminds her there are some moments in time that even he cannot see – and this is one such grey area that whatever happens to the Moon hasn’t been decided yet.

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The human astronauts are led by Captain Lundvik, played by Hermione Norris (Spooks, Cold Feet, Wire in the Blood, and In the Club), who together with her team: Duke (Tony Osoba, who also appeared as Lan in the 1979 story Destiny of the Daleks, and Kracauer in 1987’s Dragonfire), Henry (Phill Nice), and McKean (Christopher Dane), are determined to complete their mission and destroy the moon using the shuttles payload of nuclear bombs. Even though the Moon is threatening all life on Earth, when the Doctor discovers the secret within the satellites interior it brings him into conflict with Lundvik and Clara. When Courtney decides she wants to help the Doctor instructs her to use a special DVD that will bring the TARDIS to the mining base. As the surface of the Moon starts to break up the horrifying spider creatures swarm to the surface. The Doctor knows the time has come for him to depart in the TARDIS, leaving Clara, Courtney and Lundvik to make this momentous decision alone, even though his actions place them all in terrible danger.

The Moon has been a popular setting for many of the Doctor’s adventures, the second Doctor battled the Cybermen in The Moonbase (1967) and the Ice Warriors in The Seeds of Death (1969), the 3rd Doctor was sent to a penal colony on the Moon in Frontier in Space (1973), and in Smith and Jones (2007) the 10th Doctor and Martha Jones were transported (along with the Royal Hope Hospital) to the lunar surface where they faced the Judoon and a hungry Plasmavore. The production team returned to the scene of an old adventure to film Kill the Moon, travelling to Lanzarote, where the 5th Doctor story Planet of Fire was filmed in 1983, where the island featured as itself and also doubled for the volcanic plant of Sarn. Kill the Moon makes good used of this location, the stark volcanic landscape provides a really effective double for the lunar surface, and the finished result is seamlessly blended with visual effects to create some amazing scenery for the story.

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The Doctor also uses a yo-yo to test the local gravity during this story, something the 4th Doctor did on the Nerva space station in The Ark in Space (1975), and he also practiced tricks with one in The Brain of Morbius (1976). Clara’s instance that she knows the Moon isn’t destroyed in the future mirrors a similar quandary raised by Sarah Jane Smith in The Pyramids of Mars (1975), where the journalist is certain Sutekh didn’t destroy the world in 1911 because she’s from 1980, and the 4th Doctor shows her an alternative time where Sutekh has in fact destroyed the world to illustrate why they can’t just leave in the TARDIS.

The spiders in Kill the Moon are a really creepy and menacing. For the most part they actually keep to the shadows, emanating an unsettling clicking sound as they stalk their prey, before suddenly leaping out to attack. After Courtney manages to kill one the Doctor examines the Prokaryotic Unicellular Life form, and when the Time Lord discovers traces of amniotic fluid on the lunar surface, his suspicions are later verified by a scan of the Moon’s interior. The spiders are like a kind of bacteria, and they’ve been living on a much the larger creature that’s been growing and evolving inside the Moon itself. The Moon isn‘t just breaking up, it’s actually hatching, the Moon is a gigantic egg and a new life form is about to be born into the universe.

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Clara faces a life-changing situation to make for all humanity when it seems like the Doctor has abandoned them. With Lundvik’s help, Clara manages to send a message to Earth, one that is broadcast worldwide, where she asks everyone on the planet to help them decide – by either turning their lights to off destroy the Moon with the nuclear bombs or keep them on to allow the creature to hatch and survive. When they see the lights go out around the world, Lundvik arms the bombs, but Clara stops the countdown at the last moment. The Doctor returns and takes them back to Earth in the TARDIS, where they witness the Moon break up as the beautiful winged creature emerges – leaving something very special behind for the Earth as it flies off into the depths of space.

The Doctor knew this was a decision that only humanity could make, he couldn’t do it for them, and he was sure Clara would make the right choice in the end. From this point onwards, during the mid 21st century, the events of this day would inspire humanity to reach out to the stars, and they would ultimately set out to explore the universe. After returning Courtney to school, the Doctor is ready to set of on another adventure, but Clara brings the TARDIS to a halt and angrily confronts the Time Lord about what happened. Jenna Coleman is absolutely terrific in this scene, Clara’s furious diatribe even catches the Doctor off guard, and after she’s stormed out of the TARDIS it doesn’t take Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) long to figure out what’s happened and offer his advise as he knows all too well what she’s going through because of his experiences in the army.

The Doctor’s reasoning for leaving Clara, Courtney and Lundvik on the Moon, telling them it’s their choice, is quite unlike anything we’ve seen the Time Lord do before in this kind of situation. Kill the Moon highlights just how alien and detached this 12th incarnation can be. Peter Capaldi is magnificent in this episode and the Time Lord’s actions here are sure to have long lasting repercussions for the rest of series eight.

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Kill the Moon is a dark, thrilling, and emotional roller coaster ride of an episode from Peter Harness. Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, and Ellis George all deliver brilliant performances in this episode, they make a great team, which makes the resolution of the crisis at the heart of this adventure seem all the more bitter sweet as a result. Paul Wilmhurst’s excellent direction masterfully builds the tension and suspense during the first half of the episode. The dark and sinister atmosphere is heightened even further when the spiders emerge, the Doctor’s and Clara’s friendship is tested to breaking point, and Wilmhurst keeps piling on the shocks and scares right up until the climatic final scenes that will leave you wondering where the Doctor and Clara can go from here.

Images Belong BBC