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Reviewed by Martin Ruddock

Kill The Moon
Written by Peter Harness
Directed by Paul Wilmshurst
Starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Ellis George, Samuel Anderson, Hermione Norris, Tony Osoba
Premiere 4 October, BBC One
This review contains plot spoilers.

Every now and again, an episode of Doctor Who comes along that divides and conquers at the same time. Kill the Moon could be that episode. It subverts expectations, and not just those of the viewer - nobody in this story gets what they expected either.

The episode begins with a quick scene-setting moment of Clara and 'disruptive influence' Courtney Woods on the Moon in the year 2049, broadcasting a message - they have a terrible decision to make. We then flash back to the present day at Coal Hill School, where Clara is giving the Doctor a piece of her mind for taking Courtney for a spin in the TARDIS at the end of The Caretaker, then telling her (off-screen) that she's "nothing special". Suddenly faced with an unhappy companion and a clearly distressed teenager, the Doctor makes the snap decision to take Courtney to the moon to try and make up for it, with Clara still on board. They arrive, not on the Moon, but on a dilapidated space shuttle heading very rapidly for it. A space shuttle full of nuclear bombs.

They are confronted by Captain Lundvik (Hermione Norris), and her two crewmates Duke (Tony Osoba) and Henry (Phil Nice). Lundvik's crew are on a desperate mission. The Moon has put on weight, and the Earth is being crushed under the pressure. Humanity is at the brink of extinction. Space travel at this point is in the doldrums, the last mission to investigate was ten years previously, and the Mexican crew disappeared without trace. Lundvik's crew have liberated a shuttle from a museum and are there to destroy the Moon. Norris is good as Lundvik, who comes across as cold and calculating, but in reality is a desperate, numbed woman on a suicide mission. Her cohorts, sadly don't get much to say or do. If this was Star Trek, they'd be wearing red shirts.

The Doctor is instantly on the case, noting that there is gravity where there should be none, and that the Moon is breaking up already. They investigate the base set up by the Mexicans, only to find it deserted except for cobwebbed and space-suited corpses. New Director Paul Wilmshurst wastes no time with the scares - there's something hiding in the shadows of the moodily-lit base, and in craters, some rather nasty spider-like creatures that make short work of Lundvik's crewmates. There's a brilliantly tense scene where the Doctor and co. attempt to escape a 'spider', and Courtney is trapped on the ceiling of a room with one when the gravity fails. The Doctor of course gets her back on the ground, and Courtney herself deals with the creature, but this is when the story starts to change from a straight scare-fest into a very different beast, from Philip Hinchcliffe scares to Malcolm Hulke moral grey areas.

It's all getting a little too real for the clearly scared Courtney, who asks to go home. The Doctor doesn't put up much of a fight, but locks her in the safety of the TARDIS while he continues his investigation. Ellis George is very good as Courtney. A whole episode of a teenager snarking in this scenario would be annoying and unrealistic - she shows that she's scared and cares enough about the situation to want to help, but even in the face of armageddon the shields are up, and she prefers to call Clara 'Miss'.

Paul Wilmshurst's direction is exemplary. He makes stunning use of the Lanzarote location as the lunar surface, and will doubtless traumatise a fair few youngsters with those vicious, screaming spiders. More from him please. New writer Peter Harness is also a real find, deftly handling scary and weighty with enough room for a joke about tumblr which other writers may have made into purest driven cheese.

The spiders are actually a form of bacteria, and the Doctor soon realises that the Moon isn't just a pile of rock orbiting the Earth. It's an egg, an egg with a very long gestation period - and it's hatching. A unique baby is about to be born.

Lundvik still wants to know how to kill it. Humanity is still at risk. Clara and Courtney insist that it's wrong to kill a baby. Clara turns to the Doctor to make a decision. And he walks away, disgusted with Lundvik who has primed the bombs, but adamant that this isn't his decision to make, snapping that it's time to take the stabilisers off the bike, and leaving the three women forty-five minutes to make a decision. Doctor Who is tackling abortion, and the Doctor has abdicated his responsibilities.

Clara puts it to the public vote. Humanity predictably chooses itself, but at the last moment she hits the abort button, and the Doctor reappears and whisks them back to Earth, where they witness the creature's birth from afar. You don't quite get a good look at it, which leaves something to the imagination. It lays a new egg to replace the old one before it flies away in peace.

Wrap up time.The Doctor makes a stirring speech about today being a turning point for humanity. Lundvik thanks Clara for stopping her from destroying an innocent life. Courtney heads for double Geography in the knowledge that she was the first woman on the Moon. All's well that ends well. Except when it doesn't.

Clara has been fairly subdued throughout, but is furious with the Doctor for leaving her with such a huge decision that she could so easily have got wrong. He gently tries to convince her that he knew she would always make the right decision, but it doesn't wash with her. He's patronised her and scared her out of her wits, and she makes a good point - he walks our world and breathes our air, so when we need him he bloody well needs to be there for us. The exchange ends with Clara telling the Doctor to go away and stay away.

Capaldi and Coleman are both excellent. The Doctor is still blunt, rude, and difficult, but he shows a slightly softer side towards Courtney and shows no hesitation in rescuing her, and a certain manic glee as he rushes around investigating. Likewise, he's warmer than usual towards Clara and clearly trusts her to make the right choice based on her character and his bluffing about history, despite how it backfires for him. The fangs are out however, when he makes his comment about the bike stabilisers. This Doctor feels he was in the right to step back and let history decide itself, and feels vindicated when the creature swoops off and the crisis is over. It's a bold choice to let the Doctor do this, clearly the 'Am I a good man?' arc is heading somewhere. How much of this he'll take on board is anyone's guess, but I'd imagine his mind will be well and truly made up by episode twelve.

Coleman, meanwhile, is notably less bubbly than usual for the bulk of the story, but is startling at the end. We've seen a tearful Tegan Jovanka say that it's not fun anymore, and a brave-but-upset Martha Jones leave the TARDIS to be there for her traumatised family - but Clara's scathing fury at the Doctor is something new. Leaving was never like this before. And it really feels like goodbye.

A brief coda follows, with Clara pouring her heart out to Danny, who tells her that if she was really done with the Doctor, she wouldn't be so angry. This feels tacked-on, doubtless to give a note of hope that Clara will reconcile with the Doctor, (of course she will) and to give a little hint to the continuing mystery of Mr Pink's army days - but personally I feel this takes away from the brilliant scene that precedes it.

Anyway, this quibble aside, this is an excellent, thought-provoking, and very grown-up piece of Doctor Who. It's not a comfy ride - and it's sure to prove divisive from its themes and the Doctor's vanishing act, but it's fair to say the stabilisers are off for this one.
LinkCredit: Series 8/34 
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