by Paul Kelly
The early buzz seemed to suggest we were in for a treat this week. Reviewers were praising tonight's episode as better than 'Listen', others were saying it was terrifying, and some were touting it as one of the best episodes of all time. I don't think it was any of those things, but it had much to recommend it. The story was good, it had a decent moral conundrum at its centre, and the acting was terrific. So why am I being such a Davros Downer?
Slotted into season seven, this would have been a sterling episode. Nestled amongst this season's offerings, it felt slightly above average. Which is testament to this season's quality. I'd easily rate it above 'Robot of Sherwood' and 'Time Heist', but there were a few too many missteps to elevate it above 'Listen'. Like most episodes of Doctor Who, if the main story's compelling, I tend to overlook its minor failings. I remind myself that this isn't hard science fiction, it's fantasy, and if I get my knickers in a twist every time something implausible happens, then I'll be singing soprano for the rest of my life.
Yet the blips seemed a little too numerous tonight. They were just enough to take me out of the story, which is a shame, because the story offered the perfect framework over which to drape Clara and the Doctor's crumbling relationship. The idea of the moon being an egg, for example. Not a great idea, but not terrible. But having an alien entity hatch out of it, and within two minutes of being born, crap out another egg roughly the same size as the one it just crawled out of, really did stretch credulity. (Not to mention the poor alien's arse.) Yet seeing the entity being born and fly away free, finally able to feel the sun on its back after a hundred million years, kind of made me forget the ridiculousness of it all. It was genuinely moving. Even the slightly sub-par CGI couldn't ruin the moment for me.
Thankfully, the CGI elsewhere was more impressive. The germ spiders looked superb, and apart from the occasional unrealistic shot of the ship's exterior, I thought a computer altered Lanzarote doubled well as the moon. The atmosphere was perfect, the planet exteriors were beautifully rendered, and I even liked the shuttle crew. Hermione Norris played a serviceable, if one dimensional, disillusioned astronaut, and it's always a pleasure to see returning Classic Who actor Tony Osoba on the show ('Destiny of the Daleks', 'Dragonfire'.) Shame he got bumped off almost immediately.
I was a little puzzled by the idea of humanity having to choose its own path. Since when has the Doctor shied away from getting involved in earthly affairs, especially when it involves the protection of a unique species threatened by extinction? Isn't this precisely what he's been doing for the past 34 seasons? Even if he couldn't have made the decision himself, he could surely have stayed around in an advisory capacity? His input would have been invaluable.
Luckily, the threat turned out to be benign. Clara was right at the start: they could have walked away without repercussions. The situation was always going to resolve itself, because the future still had a moon in its sky. Add the fact that Clara ended up ignoring humanity completely and went with her gut, and you have to wonder what the function of this episode actually was. Was it simply to drive a wedge between the Doctor and Clara, and give Courtney back her self-confidence? Or was there a bigger set-up nestled somewhere inside the seemingly straightforward narrative?
The Courtney side-story I found a little tiresome, but kids in Doctor Who are more often than not annoying. Hardly anyone seems able to write them well. Courtney went from irritating adolescent to sulky teen to saviour of the world, all in the space of 45 minutes. That's impressive going, even by a future president's standards. Why did the Doctor even take her? Because Clara asked him to? Because she made an impression when she vomited all over his ship last week? He just seemed to tire of her so quickly. The Doctor's usually so animated around children. What is going on with him these days?
Early on, we brushed aside the Doctor's weirdness as post-regeneration madness, but now I'm starting to wonder. All season he's done nothing but make insensitive comments about Clara's looks, last week he couldn't seem to understand that Pink wasn't a PE teacher, tonight he couldn't judge Courtney's age, and his decision to abandon them on the moon absolutely beggared belief. Are these errors simply a product of the show's darker humour? Is this how the Doctor is now? Or is there something going on with the Doctor that we're not yet privy to?
The last five minutes were mesmerizing. Clara's rage at the Doctor's callousness absolutely stole the show. Jenna was brilliant in that scene, as was Capaldi. The Doctor looked totally baffled by Clara's fury. Tonight they could have all died. Clara asked for help, and all the Doctor could do was leave. That the Doctor saw his abandonment as a manifestation of his trust in Clara, really emphasises how disconnected he is at the moment. If he can't understand the function of makeup, how can he be expected to understand the complexities of the human mind? Did he even understand why Clara told him to go? More importantly, how long before he admits to being an arse and apologises?
Bits and Pieces:
-- Surely the whole world couldn't have voted to kill the creature? Not one light stayed on. Not one!
-- Clara and the Doctor are quickly becoming my favourite new-era pairing.
-- Just last week Danny warned Clara that the Doctor would end up pushing her too far. Was tonight the straw which broke the camel's back?
-- What did Courtney touch in the TARDIS? I would no more leave her alone in my lovely TARDIS than I'd leave a kitten alone with new curtains.
-- This was an episode originally written for Matt Smith. It was called 'Return to Sarn', I'm guessing because they also filmed 'Planet of Fire' in Lanzarote.
-- Well done Courtney for randomly spraying the germ spiders with household cleaner and thus solving the whole puzzle. What a stroke of luck.
Doctor: "The moon's an egg."
Doctor: "When I say run, run!"
Lundvik: "Who made you the boss?"
Doctor: "Well you say run then."
Clara: "I can't, the secretary hates me. She thinks I gave her a packet of TENA Lady for secret Santa."
Clara : "How can the moon die though?"
Doctor: "Everything does, sooner or later."
Clara: "Tell me what you knew, Doctor, else I'll hit you so hard you'll regenerate."