Whatever future humanity might have depends upon the choice that is made right here and right now. Now, you’ve got the tools to kill it; you made them. Kill it or let it live, I can’t make this decision for you.
When I watched The Rings of Akhaten, I was quite… frustrated, I think, by the way it ended, and the way cultures were treated within it. I didn’t like how, at the end, the Grandfather was destroyed, taking with it the sun for an entire system of planets, and destabilising an entire religion. I know it wasn’t the main concern of the episode, but it made me uncomfortable nonetheless – the consequences of the Doctor and Clara’s actions were pretty damn clear, and the fact that they weren’t taking responsibility, nor the narrative presenting them as having a need to, irked me, to say the least.
So since that point, I’ve wanted a story where the Doctor takes responsibility for his actions, or, à la the Prime Directive, said he wasn’t going to interfere in something that resolutely wasn’t his business.
I thought I was going to get one, actually. I’ve lived for over 2000 years, and not all of them were good. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and it’s about time I did something to fix that. As a line, that sort of indicates the kind of thing I’m talking about, doesn’t it? A more reflective, responsibility and consequence driven approach.
And, hey, for a moment or two the story actually tries to be like that. The Doctor says it’s not his choice! Not his moon, not his choice.
Wonderful. The sort of theme I’ve been waiting for the past year, the brilliant team that is the Twelfth Doctor and Clara, and it has spiders on the Moon. How could I not love it?
Well, you want the full list of reasons, I suppose.
I mean… I’ll start at the beginning, because of course that’s what makes the most sense.
This episode felt very strangely paced. It’s most obvious at the start, where you go from Courtney in Coal Hill to a confrontation on the Moon. Very quick there, and yet everything is really drawn out after that. There’s little in the way of properly establishing things – the episode is far more concerned with getting to a certain point, and then just… staying there. It harmed the clarity of the scenes, I think, and the understanding you get of what’s actually going on.
The bit with Courtney at the start, for example. It’s never really followed through, the idea that put downs and insults can harm a child’s development – and, look, if you’re not going to follow through on it, why bring it up? It’s stranger still because it’s implied later on that Courtney and Clara were just joking and trying to convince the Doctor to give her a ride in the TARDIS. Except, the way that line is delivered means that it falls at a very strange point in the story and could easily be missed – which, like I’ve said, messes around with the clarity of the story.
It’s the same with Hermione Norris and her crew of Rubbish Spaceman and Teacher Spaceman. The point of them being there is brought up and dispensed with really quickly, when it should have been a much larger point of focus, especially given the eventual climax. Something has changed within the Moon, and it’s wreaking havoc all across the Earth, killing millions. These people are on a suicide mission to destroy the Moon, because even though that’s going to cause problems, it’s better than the alternative they already have.
What I just said there? That should have been a massive part of it. It’s practically crucial to the episode. But it’s two lines of dialogue at most, which is very easily missed. In fact, part of that I only knew because I’d read previews ahead of the episode, rather than it being anything established on screen. That’s a ridiculous error to make, because something like that is central to the episode. That’s the reason why they’re on the Moon with so many nuclear weapons (which are briefly established to have come from across the world – again, that’s a really important thing to note) and it adds a whole other dimension to the final conflict. And it’s a really, really important one; this isn’t just a case of what might happen if the Moon hatches, it’s also what is already happening.
The “time is in flux” thing is also starting to get a little tired. I know that’s a ridiculous criticism to make; whether or not time is in flux is something of an inherent problem to Doctor Who, because, of course, the future is no less mutable than the past, so why can they act one way in some places but not in others? It’s a difficult one to answer, obviously. But when it’s the focus of an episode, it needs to at least have something new or interesting to add to the idea, rather than just trying to suggest that “anything can happen”. The fact of the matter is that it’s obvious the Moon won’t be removed, because that’s just awkward. Bringing it up like this just draws attention to the fact that this episode isn’t actually going to have any sort of lasting impact at all.
I mean, credit where it’s due, of course. A lot of the speeches here about time were quite well written, and Peter Capaldi is absolutely fantastic at giving the sense that he’s staring at something not quite there, something nebulous that’s just beyond us. He really looked like he was seeing into the web of time. Or came quite close to it, at any rate.
But anyway. Onto the real problem, the thing that really bothered me.
The ultimate climax, the choice of whether or not to ‘kill the Moon’, seemed quite clearly to be an allegory about abortion. And it took a very specific, pro-life stance. Hermione Norris, who advocates the abortion equivalent, is shown to be in the wrong. She is criticised, implicitly by the narrative and explicitly by the other characters. They call her out on wanting to kill a “vulnerable baby”, tell her it’s not to blame, say that she shouldn’t take a life. And at the end, a very large show is made of her thanking Clara – specifically, thanking Clara for ignoring the decision made, and letting the Moon Dragon live. Letting it live is shown to be unequivocally right and good, and the alternative is a mistake. (Ignoring, incidentally, the set up given at the start, that the Moon as it is is killing the Earth. By not setting that up properly the dynamic of this metaphor is shifted away from “baby is killing the mother” to “baby is making the mother uncomfortable”.)
Now, I don’t really like getting deeply into politics on this blog. Largely, it’s not my place, and I’m not really qualified to comment. I’m not entirely sure I should be saying this now. But, equally, it’s a media review blog. Media connects with the real world, it has to. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum, after all; there are politics in media. There are allegories. I think it’s important that these allegories exist, and I think it’s important that fiction gives commentary on issues like abortion.
The thing is… within the context of Doctor Who, yes, saying that you should try your best to make sure the Moon Dragon can live makes sense. Of course it does. But within the context of an abortion parable, which is what this episode tried to be – Doctor Who should not be saying that abortion is wrong under any and every circumstance. That just isn’t right.
Frankly, it makes me uncomfortable. The general dreariness of the episode would be forgivable, but for this aspect. The way it ended up, the message of this episode is just unpalatable.
Listen, at least, wasn’t offensive. This is… this is not so great.
Note from Alex of 2018: I am, with this review, quite out of step with certain circles of Doctor Who fans, circles I now move in quite a bit. Much of the above is not exactly brilliantly written, and I’m not entirely sure how much of it I’d agree with were I to watch the episode again.
Equally, though, I’m not exactly in a hurry to do that, because that abortion analogy – denied though it may have been by many involved with the episode – really did bother me quite a lot on a personal level. So, you know.