Thursday, October 01, 2015

8.7 Kill the Moon

This being the state of human affairs, what is Eliza fairly sure to do when she is placed between Freddy and Higgins? Will she look forward to a lifetime of fetching Higgins's slippers or to a lifetime of Freddy fetching hers? There can be no doubt about the answer. Unless Freddy is biologically repulsive to her, and Higgins biologically attractive to a degree that overwhelms all her other instincts, she will, if she marries either of them, marry Freddy.
                                George Bernard Shaw.

Kill the Moon is not merely a bad episode of Doctor Who. It is the final and clinching proof that Doctor Who is broken beyond repair.

This is my second attempt to write a review of this story.

You can imagine how the first one panned out: ludicrous Giant Space Chicken; ludicrous physics; manipulative pro-life sub text; sympathetic magic; unconvincing school girl; did I mention the Giant Space Chicken? You have probably read several similar ones. You have very possibly written one.

But after giving the episode some more thought – more thought than it probably deserved – I realized that the problem lay somewhere else entirely.

The idea that the Moon is a gigantic egg is rather a good one. The idea that the egg is going to hatch and destroy all life on earth is no sillier than many that have cropped up on Doctor Who over the years. If it had been approached in a spirit of half-logical surrealism it could have been a great deal of silly fun. It would have all depended on how cool and ludicrous and scary and wise and funny the Giant Space Chicken managed to be.

But the story was not about the Giant Space Chicken. We see it for a only a few seconds, from a distance, at the very end of the story. It is a perfunctory Giant Space Chicken. A plot, that is to say, device.

Kill the Moon is an arc story -- a continuation of the soap opera about Clara, Danny and the Doctor. This week, we have the One Where Clara Leaves the Doctor. Last week, we had the One Where the Doctor Finds Out About Danny. Next week we will have the One Where Clara and the Doctor Get Back Together. But this week, this week is the One Where Clara Leaves the Doctor.

The Doctor has been patronizing, insulting, manipulating, and shouting at Clara for the last five weeks. We have spent the last five weeks wishing that she would stand up to him. This week she does stand up to him, and the standing up to him bit is done very well indeed.

“Do you know what?” says Clara “It was cheap, it was pathetic. It was patronising. 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….Oh, don't you ever tell me to mind my language. Don't you ever tell me to take the stabilisers off my bike.”

Bravo, Clara. The last companion who spoke to the Doctor like that was…er…also a teacher at Coal Hill School, come to think of it.

Given that Clara has put up with so much from the Doctor; given that Doctor Matt was “her Doctor” and Doctor Matt has specifically told her to be nice to Doctor Peter, we need some really compelling reason for her to turn on him right now. It isn’t enough that Jenna Coleman can act. She certainly can; but it’s the kind of acting that makes me wonder whether she’s the kind of actress who thinks about her puppy dying when she was six or the kind of actress who sniffs an onion before doing the scene. Or maybe the BBC can do CGI tears nowadays? Tears aren't enough, is my point. There has to be a reason reason for them. 

What reason do you think Moffat comes up with? Is it

A: An organic development in the Doctor and Clara’s relationship of which a break-up is the natural consequence?

B: An far-fetched plot device which has been contrived purely in order to precipitate the break-up and for not other reason?

Before the break-up, our heroes are faced with a Massive Moral Dilemma. The Doctor reaction to the Massive Moral Dilemma is to, er, bugger off and let Clara solve it by herself. This is why she is so cross with him.

So, why did the Doctor bugger off? Was there something about this particular Dilemma which means that, in this particular case, the Doctor being the Doctor, “buggering off” was the only thing he could possibly do?

Er…no. This is the sort of Moral Dilemma he’s been solving on a weekly basis since 1963. But he gives several Special Reasons for buggering off during this one in particular. He says that he respects Clara and trusts her to make the right decision by herself. He says that the decision is so important for the future of the human race that a human, not a Time Lord, has to make it. And he says that this particular dilemma is a Special Case because it’s one of a number of special little moments in time that he doesn’t know anything about. (“They’re not clear. They’re fuzzy. They’re grey”).

Capaldi acts terribly hard through all three explanations. If he had been David Tennant, he would have put on his Serious face and talked very quickly. We all know what this means. It means that he knows that the words he’s being asked to read out make no possible sense. Fuzzy grey moments in time have never been mentioned before and will never be mentioned again. They’ve been invented as a one off plot excuse. You might as well have a giant cartoon hand pointing to a sign saying “Clara must solve this moral dilemma by herself, signed God”. That would have fitted in quite well with the story of the Perfunctory Egg.

So, what is the huge moral dilemma that the Doctor leaves Clara to solve? Again, it seems to change each time it is articulated. At first, the issue is simply that if the Giant Space Chicken hatches and flies away, there would be tsunamis and earthquakes and bad stuff would happen to the climate and everyone on Earth would be wiped out. It’s like one of those philosophy exercises where a train full of old ladies is about to career of a cliff, but the signalman has the option to divert it onto a different stretch of track which an innocent child has wandered onto. Do you squash the kid to save the old ladies? Do you destroy one Giant Space Chicken in order to save the lives of every man, woman and child on earth?

Kill one thing in order to save billions of things doesn’t seem like a very difficult dilemma to me. I have a sense that Moffat think that it is significant that we are being asked to kill one really big thing in order to save millions of small things, but that ought not to make a difference.

At one point, Courtney (the annoying school girl who asked the Doctor to take her to the moon) says “It’s a little baby…it’s not even been born”, as if this makes the question harder. That is why some people think that the story has an anti-abortion sub-text. But if it does, it’s not really a very interesting one. There is a legitimate argument to be had between people who think that an un-born Giant Space Chicken is not yet a Chicken, but only a potential Chicken – so killing it is either a neutral act, or not so wicked an act as killing an actual Chicken would be; and people who think that an un-born Giant Chicken is still a Chicken and killing it is still pullucide. But no-one argues that killing an unhatched Chicken is worse than killing a hatched one. Some people say that because an un-hatched Chicken looks very much like a hatched one; and because all our biological and social programming tells us to protect small things, the act of killing an unhatched Chicken violates all our feelings of empathy and, in the long run, makes us into bad people. That was the question that the Doctor asked on Skaro, all those years ago. Not “if someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to become a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives could you then kill that child.” Not “would it be morally right to kill that child” or “would killing that child arguably secure the greatest good to the greatest number, but “could you, yourself, if the child were there in front of you, physically bring yourself to do it.” And if you say “yes” would you make a good Dalek? 

We digress.

The dilemma is also framed in a third way. The moon exploding, and a Giant Chicken emerging from the rubble and flying away would probably destroy all life on earth; but we can't say it definitely will. so the choice is really between the certainty of one creature dying and the possibility (or even probability) of millions of creatures dying.

The Astronaut says that when a gigantic creature forces it’s way out of the moon “there are going to be huge chunks of the moon heading right for us, like whatever killed the dinosaurs, only ten thousand times bigger.”

“But the moon isn't make of rock and stone, is it? It's made of eggshell” says Clara. This is possibly the least helpful remark anyone has ever made about anything.

The best one can say here is that we are talking about faith position. The choice is actually between killing the Giant Space Chicken and saving the world; and not killing the Giant Space Chicken had hoping that the world will be saved by a miracle of some kind. If the Doctor had said “Please don’t kill the Chicken. It’s a Magic Space Chicken. When the Moon explodes, the Chicken will magic all the debris away before it can hurt the earth; and then magic a new moon so hardly anyone will notice the difference” that would have set up quite an interesting dilemma: common sense vs blind faith in the Doctor. But he didn’t.

This is Doctor Who. Characters sacrifice themselves and are sacrificed every week. No-one would regard killing the Giant Space Chicken as a difficult moral dilemma if there wasn’t a big Monty Python hand of God saying “This is a difficult moral dilemma.”

There are a couple of wrinkles, but they only make matters worse. Clara asks the population of the Earth whether they’d be prepared to sacrifice themselves in order to save the Giant Space Chicken; the population of the Earth say “no thank you”; but Clara decides to sacrifice them anyway. Then it turns out that no-one was ever in any danger — the human race would have survived whether Clara killed the Chicken or not, because we were, after all, talking about a Chicken which could Magic away the moon rubble and then Magic a new moon into existence. The important thing was that everyone on Earth said “Oh look! A Giant Chicken. We’d better restart the space program colonize the universe”. So because Clara made the correct (anti-utilitarian) decision the human race will survive until the end of time. If she had killed the Chicken, that would never have happened. 

Everyone takes it for granted that space colonialism is an unqualified good.

But this takes us straight back to the original point. Either the Doctor knew that the Chicken wasn’t going to destroy the world; or he didn’t. Either he knew that “saving the Chicken” would prove that the human race was worthy to colonize the universe, or he didn’t. Either way, he didn’t tell Clara what he knew, and that pisses her off (”language!”) and makes her leave him. But there is no coherent reason for him not to have told her what he knew. The story is a machine for making Clara cross with the Doctor. But the story is ultimately pointless, so Clara’s anger is ultimately pointless. She’s not cross about anything: merely an action figure striking an “angry” pose which doubtless she will have got over in a three weeks time.

Doctor Who is broken. Not because it is written by people who think that eggs get heavier before they hatch; or because they believe that adding a billion tonnes to the weight of the Moon would seriously effect the tides on earth. That stuff doesn’t, in the end, matter. What matters is that Doctor Who wants to be a show about characters, a show in which Clara and Danny have real emotions. But at the same time, it wants to be a show about monsters and aliens and giant space chickens. And the writers believe that the only purpose of giant space chickens is to force Clara and the Doctor’s relationship into to place which it has no reason to go. It’s not so much that the slushy stuff is a distraction from the monsters. The existence of the monsters is spoiling the slushy stuff.