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Recap / Doctor Who S34 E7 "Kill the Moon"

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"There are some moments in time I simply can't see. Little eye blinks. They don't look the same as other things. They're not clear, they're fuzzy, they're grey. Little moments in which big things are decided, and this is one of them."
The Doctor

The one where the Doctor almost gets five across the face, and a Tagalong Kid tosses her cookies.

Hungry yet? Don't be, 'cause this story's also got Big Creepy-Crawlies up the wazoo. Not the time to be chomping down popcorn... that is, unless you're into that sorta thing.

Written by Peter Harness.

What time is it? Adventure time! With Clara, the Doctor... and Courtney! See, as it turns out, after the Doctor showed Clara's wayward pupil the stars in the last episode, he informed her that she wasn't special, before unceremoniously booting her out. Courtney handled that as well as you could expect, and now she's off sulking and buying booze with the Doctor's psychic paper. Clara's none too pleased about that, and promptly brings Courtney back to the TARDIS so the Doctor can fix his mistake, and admit she's special after all.

The Doctor doesn't do that, because that's the boring way, but one of the perks of being a space-and-time-traveller is that if somebody needs to be special, he can make them special. "Courtney the First Woman on the Moon" has a really nice ring to it.

So the TARDIS zips off to the Moon, landing neatly in 2049 on a shuttle that appears to be heading there itself...with 100 nuclear missiles inside it. The shuttle's staffed by the remnants of Earth's space programmes. Earth collectively shrugged its shoulders when it came to space exploration some years back, and there haven't been many missions up there in quite some time. So what is up there? Mysterious fissures, getting wider and wider; decrepit moonbases filled with desiccated corpses; an excess of gravity causing a great many problems on Earth (hence the shuttle, to rid the moon of excess mass and restore the seas to mostly normal) and spider-like aliens with sharp teeth, who want to find out how you taste.

For humanity, the astronauts, Clara and even Courtney, an impossible choice: Kill an innocent, or doom the entire Earth...


  • Actor Allusion: The Doctor repeatedly chiding his companions for (rather mild) bad language might be a reference to another role of Capaldi's in which he cursed a lot.
  • Admiring the Abomination: The Doctor finds the giant microbes fascinating.
  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: Played with; the Doctor is generally none too shy about interfering, but it seems that meddling with an event that will influence with all of humanity's spacefaring future is where he draws the line. He has no qualms about letting a human from another time and culture make the decision for them, though.
  • All Webbed Up: The corpses of the Mexicans are wrapped in spider-germ webbing.
  • Arc Words: Series 9's arc phrase "duty of care" makes an early bird appearance, however in this episode it's Clara who utters it with regards to taking care of her student, Courtney.
  • Artistic Licence Biology:
    • The assumption that a lifeform on the scale of the Moon would have proportionately-sized microbes that look like spiders, down to the habit of making webs, but are killed by disinfectant (despite that not being how disinfectant works), can be chalked up to Rule of Cool or some "it's alien life" handwave.
    • The issues of the life cycle of the Moon-creature are many: where it gets its mass from, why it laid dormant for 100 million years to then quadruple or more in mass within a very short timespan, or why a spaceborne creature would need wings.
    • Eggs don't grow in weight; after a while they often weigh less than in the beginning. As the egg is closed off from the outside world, the only way it could gain mass was if it just magically increased from nowhere.
    • It's impossible for a creature that just hatched to lay an egg the same size as the one it was in before. Even if the egg were smaller, the whole idea of a creature that hatches from an egg with a smaller egg already existing inside it is pretty bizarre to begin with.
  • Artistic Licence - Geography: They specifically said coastal cities were being destroyed by super-high tides, yet the outlines of places like Florida are still exactly the same as we see the lights from space.
  • Artistic Licence Physics:
    • Some of the problems caused by the Moon being too massive or being blown to bits are discussed, but are basically downplayed. The Moon hatching, flying away and leaving a moderately smaller replica is also treated as a harmless event.
    • The extra mass the Moon has gained is said to have caused "high tides everywhere at once." In reality, if the Moon were to suddenly become far more massive, tides would still follow largely the same cycles as always, they would just be more extreme — high tides would become higher, and low tides would become lower.
    • While it is possible that the creature could have shifted its weight in such a way as to make Courtney "float up" (it would actually accomplish this by continually shifting the Moon's surface away from her, leaving her to trail behind), there's no way it could have caused Courtney to float and not anybody or anything else.
  • Artistic Licence - Space:
    • The stars are visible from the Moon's surface. In reality, they would be too dim to see with the naked eye while the Moon was facing the Sun. Also, the Earth is rotating much too fast when the three ladies view the populace's decision.
    • Clara and Courtney somehow see the entirety of Earth from the Moon in less than an hour with future-binoculars. Earth takes just under 24 hours to rotate, and the Moon takes about 28 days to circle the Earth.
    • The Moon seen from Clara's flat is far, far too big.
    • The Doctor refers to the Moon's age as 100 million years, implicating the theory that the moon was a stellar object that was snagged by the Earth's gravity. Though this is not the first Doctor Who story to make a plot point of the "captured stellar object" theory (see also "The Silurians", back in the 1970s), in reality the leading theory at present for the origin of Earth's Moon is that it formed from the debris of a collision between the Earth and a Mars-sized object about 4 billion years ago.
    • Sound doesn't travel in space, so in the end, the Doctor shouldn't be able to hear the roar of the creature. If sound did travel, it should take the Doctor about 13 days to hear it because of the speed of sound and the distance of the Moon.
      • This part, at least, can be handwaved, by saying that the "roar" was telepathy rather than an actual sound. It stands to reason that a spaceborne entity would have to have some method of communication other than sound. There are *plenty* of telepathic lifeforms in the Who universe already so this wouldn't be out of the ordinary.
    • The Doctor says that for the Moon to have gravity on a level with Earth's, it would need to have gained 1.3 billion tons of mass, but this is not even close. The actual mass of the Moon is 7.3x10^19 tons, which is to say, 73 billion billion tons. Adding another billion tons would be utterly inconsequential. If you take it as a long (European) billion, then 10^12 would be a little better.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Clara gives an inspired and heartfelt speech to humanity (the ones who are awake and watching TV at least), challenging them to turn their lights on in order to give the creature a chance. Every light on Earth goes off. The fact that literally everyone but her and Courtney think they're all going to die if it hatches has something to do with it.
  • BBC Quarry: Deliberately averted when the idea of filming the Moon's surface in Lanzarote came up, but a Welsh quarry shoot wasn't ruled out beforehand. A studio Moon shoot was also in the cards as an alternative.
  • Big Bad: The Moon-creature turns out to be a Non-Malicious Monster who never directly harms anyone, making the spider-germs the biggest threat to the characters.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The spider-germs are the size of dogs.
  • Bitch Slap: Clara demands the Doctor tell her how much he knew in advance about the situation or she'll smack him so hard, he'll regenerate. We know she's quite capable of hauling off on him, too.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The newly born giant creature leaves Earth alone and even lays an egg to be Earth's new Moon, and Courtney feels special. However, Clara is furious with the Doctor for the way he handled the situation and never wants to see him again. Danny, however, feels she's not truly over him.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Even before abandoning Clara and the others to make their own choice, there's a scene where the Doctor is Admiring the Abomination while ignoring Duke's dead body nearby, which Lundvik is grieving over.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: The Doctor employs the Second Doctor's: "When I say run, run."
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: The shuttle is a reconditioned museum piece staffed by former astronauts who got their training in space programmes that were discontinued years ago. They're also using the last nuclear weapons on Earth.
  • Brick Joke: Clara suggests leaving the decision to someone like the President of the United States, which the Doctor derides as the POTUS has never even been into space. Turns out Courtney will be President, maybe even the same President.
  • Buffy Speak:
    • Courtney. "One small thing for a thing, one enormous thing for a thingy-thing."
    • Lundvik to Henry, after he asks whether the bombs will go off when he switches them on: "No, not until I've fiddled with this thing."
  • Ceiling Cling: The spider is able to skitter across the ceiling while Courtney floats helplessly in zero-G.
  • Character Development: The last time humans were asked to choose between themselves and an innocent alien life, the Doctor was quite ready to jump in and try to fix the problem. This time, he's stepping back and letting humans make their own decisions. Harriet Jones's attempt at self-defence is also relevant, as he's letting humanity make their own choice with their own means instead of deciding that he knows best.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The bottle of disinfectant that Courtney has with her in the opening TARDIS scene is used to kill two spider-germs later on.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Continuous Decompression: A self-sealing version! A window breaks in a moonquake, sending all the air rushing out of the moonbase. However, a steel plate is picked up in the rush of air and seals the window perfectly.
  • Crapsaccharine World: The last 100 nuclear weapons have been sent on the mission, implying that Earth is a lot safer (unless more effective ways of killing have replaced them) but has given up its dream of exploring the stars.
  • Creator Provincialism: Apparently Europe and North America are the only places whose votes count. In fairness, it's not like they have time to wait for the other side of the planet to come into view. The characters disregard the results in any case.
  • Deconstruction: Of the Doctor's roguish personality, and his tendency to patronise the human race and treat them like they're too stupid to know their arse from their elbow, something normally Played for Laughs. The episode ends with Clara delivering the biggest companion-Doctor "Reason You Suck" Speech in the show's entire history and storming out of the TARDIS.
  • Darker and Edgier:
    • Harness was allegedly told to "Hinchcliffe the shit out of the first half of the episode".
    • Clara going ballistic on the Doctor at the end has no precedent in the series (not even when compared to Steven Taylor telling the First Doctor to go to hell way back in 1965, or Tegan telling the Doctor she doesn't want to travel with him anymore in 1984, or when Rory tells the Doctor that he makes people a danger to themselves in Series 5).
  • Darkness Equals Death: When the lights go out, the Doctor demands someone hand him a torch.
  • The Day the Music Lied: Clara asks the Doctor what clever trick he's going to do to get them out of their latest crisis. A grand orchestral swell builds, then stops as the Doctor tells his companion he's not going to get involved.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The notion of a moral decision to kill an unborn creature draws pretty clear parallels with the abortion debate. Most notably when the (male) Doctor tells (female) Clara, "Kill it, or don't kill it. I can't possibly make this decision for you. It's your choice."
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Courtney has gotten rid of her disruptive influence afro from the previous episode, after the Doctor said she was nothing special.
  • Figure It Out Yourself: The Doctor refuses to provide a solution for the Moon dilemma, leaving the fate of the hatchling in the hands of three representatives of humanity. He might well be justified, but Clara still lets him have it.
  • First-Name Basis: Defied; when Courtney is asked to call her teacher Clara, she demurs and says she prefers "miss".
  • Foregone Conclusion: Clara tries to argue this with the Doctor. She's been to the future and the Moon's still there, so everything should be fine if they just leave. The Doctor explains that there could be a number of reasons the Moon still exists, none of which necessarily require it to be the original Moon. Moreover, the Moon may only exist in the future because they were the ones to make sure it would be.
  • Get Out!: Clara does a Tear Jerker version during her What the Hell, Hero? rant.
    The Doctor: I was helping.
    Clara: What, by clearing off?
    The Doctor: Yes.
    Clara: Well clear off! Go on! You can clear off, get back in your lonely...your lonely bloody TARDIS and you don't come back! [storms toward door]
    The Doctor: Clara... Clara!
    Clara: You go away. OK? You go a long way away.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The Doctor was right in leaving Clara and Courtney to decide the fate of humanity... but he didn't foresee the consequences.
  • Guns Are Useless: The human expedition doesn't have guns despite bringing nukes with the expectation that hostile aliens might be involved. None of them are soldiers, though, just over-the-hill astronauts from a defunct space program.
  • Hair Flip: There's a Slow Motion power shot of Clara and the others running down a corridor, with Clara's hair flying dramatically.
  • The Hecate Sisters: The three women in whose hands the fate of the Moon rests: Courtney (maiden) is the youngest who came along on the trip looking for adventure, Clara (mother) feels a duty of care towards both Courtney and the moon-creature and is determined not to kill anyone, and Lundvik (crone) is the most pragmatic and the one most determined to kill the creature to preserve Earth but also has a jaded sense of wonder about space travel.
  • Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act: The Doctor took Clara to a dinner in Berlin in 1937, and made a point of not killing Hitler while they were there. He discusses this to prove a point that some events in history are so monumental that he wouldn't dare interfere in them. Of course, he did have the opportunity once.
  • Hollywood Density: Clara protests that if the Moon were to shatter the fragments wouldn't do any harm because it's made of eggshell, not rock. The density of eggshell isn't that different from limestone, so a sufficiently big chunk of it would be just as devastating. Lundvik points this out.
  • How We Got Here: The episode opens with Clara and Courtney trapped on the Moon, making their message to Earth. After the titles we go back to earlier that day.
  • Improvised Weapon: Courtney's spray-bottle of disinfectant is used to kill the spider-germs.
  • Immortality: The Doctor says Why Don't You Just Shoot Him? is a waste of time because he'll just regenerate, in fact he's not sure he won't regenerate for ever.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: After a very stressful day that was capped with telling her best friend to go to hell, when Clara returns home at night, alone, she cracks open a bottle of wine.
  • "Jaws" First-Person Perspective: The first death is shot this way. Henry looks down into a crevice and we then see the point of view of something attacking him.
  • Jerkass: The Doctor is summed up the moment he leaves with a curt, "Prat."
  • Lampshade Hanging: When the Doctor starts waxing poetic about how humanity made their choice, Lundvik points out that they had ignored humanity's choice.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • The episode begins with Clara announcing that they have a problem and 45 minutes in which to find a solution.
    • Clara protests that the Moon can't break up, because she's seen it in the future. The Doctor replies that she can't be sure it was the Moon; it might just have been a painting, or a special effect.
  • Mega-Microbes: The Doctor claims the spiders are "bacteria" from the enormous Moon creature.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: The two male shuttle crewmembers are killed by the spider germs, leaving three women to decide Earth's future.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: The fact that what's happening on the Moon is killing people by the millions is considered completely irrelevant by the present-day characters, but the life of the non-sentient creature causing those deaths is given massive moral weight.
  • Mythology Gag: In this episode, the Doctor, who currently looks older than his previous incarnations, travels with a Coal Hill School student and her teacher... the exact same set-up as the original Hartnell years (minus one schoolteacher, although Danny Pink fills that function).
  • The Needs of the Many: If they don't kill the creature hatching from the Moon, Earth will die. As Lundvik points out, they can kill one infant in order to save countless more on Earth.
  • No Conservation of Mass: They explicitly point out that the Moon's increased gravity is due to its mass increasing, and then attribute that to the creature inside growing without. Then the creature somehow lays an egg (the act itself not that unusual; even chickens can lay eggs without males) that is bigger than itself, and apparently equal in mass to the Moon originally, seconds after it hatches. The explanation for this is complicated. The spider microbes and, by extension, the Moon creature itself, has something called "unstable mass". The huge increase is something the creature needed for the next step of its reproduction cycle, exactly to pop out a very massive egg — there's weirder things in this particular 'verse.
  • No Endor Holocaust: While it's averted in that the Moon's mass increase has catastrophic effects on the tides, the impact of two Moon-sized masses in orbit would not be pleasant for the Earth to say the least.
    • A moon-sized satellite falling apart over an inhabited planet likewise does not cause any problems.
  • Nothing Is the Same Anymore: This episode marks a turning point in the relationship between the Doctor and Clara, although this is not made explicit until later episodes. His attitude towards her changes, she actually becomes more understanding of his methods as the movement of Clara towards becoming his Distaff Counterpart accelerates, and if anything the two grow closer to the detriment of her relationship with Danny.
  • Oh, Crap!: The Doctor gets one when he realises that his attempt to show his respect for Clara by letting her make her own decision (and trusting her to make the right one) has left her feeling patronised, betrayed, and so angry she storms out of the TARDIS.
  • Omniscient Morality Licence: Clara angrily calls out the Doctor for this at the end of the episode before leaving him. All of his talk about how he trusted her to make the right decision and respected her to make her own choices fall on deaf ears.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: Mentioned in passing, the President of the United States in 2049 is a woman. She's apparently a grown up Courtney. They must have changed the "born in the U.S. only" rule, unless she was born in the U.S. and moved to Britain as a child. (In real life there has been talk of changing this rule given the rise of potential presidential candidates over the years who are American but not born on US soil, so maybe it's been done by 2049.)
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: The Doctor gives one from the Earth after the Moon hatches about how humanity will expand and thrive in the stars.
  • Planetary Parasite:
    • The spider-germs are living off the creature in the Moon.
    • Lundvik calls the Moon-creature an "exoparasite" and assumes that if allowed to hatch, it will attack or infest the Earth.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The Doctor doesn't tell anyone that sparing the creature hatching inside the Moon will not have the disastrous consequences everyone else is fearing until after Clara makes her decision to spare it. It doesn't go well for him.
  • Protectorate: When the Doctor can't see why Courtney has to be taken to safety, Clara points out her Duty of Care as a teacher. When she asks if the Doctor knows what that means, he angrily replies that he does. During her What the Hell, Hero? speech, Clara points out that the Doctor has been all too willing to see himself as connected to humanity when it suits him, so he has a duty to help out.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Clara gives a tearful one to the Doctor for his arrogance and playing mind games with her.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The spider-germs' red eyes are the last thing you see before they attack.
  • Sadistic Choice: Kill an innocent creature, that may be the only one of its kind, while it's still an egg, or let it hatch and risk chaos on Earth and mankind's extinction. It turns out that letting the creature hatch doesn't have the destructive consequences everyone is expecting. On another level, the Doctor forces this choice on Clara specifically, refusing to give her the benefit of his help on the logic that it's too important a choice to leave to a stranger such as himself. She doesn't buy it at all.
  • Send in the Search Team: The Distress Call from the Mexican mining expedition was ten years ago, as it's taken that long to Break Out the Museum Piece. No-one expects to find survivors.
  • Series Continuity Error: Courtney is definitely not the first woman on the Moon, given that an entire London hospital, with plenty of women in it, was once very publicly transported there. The Doctor was there when it happened, so you'd think he would remember. However, none of the people involved in that incident ever left the hospital, and Courtney seems to claim the title in the same way Neil Armstrong did, by being the first of the three women in the shuttle to step out onto the surface.
  • Scifi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale: 100 nuclear weapons are orders of magnitude too ineffective to cause significant damage to a Moon-sized creature, let alone kill it. This gets a handwave — the Doctor refers to the weapons as the best that humanity could build in 2049, and the creature is vulnerable as it hasn't hatched.
  • Schmuck Bait: Two characters (one of them the Doctor, who should know better but never does) peer into a dark crack and get a giant spider in the face.
  • Screaming Woman: Courtney gives a traditional companion scream the first time she sees a dead body.
  • Secret Test of Character: Clara interprets being left alone with the Moon fiasco as such, and finds it unforgivably patronizing.
  • Shipper on Deck: Zigzagged in a platonic fashion with Danny. Danny is well aware that the Doctor is more than simply a friend to Clara. Even knowing this, he encourages her not to abandon the Doctor.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The spider-germs' vision is based on movement. Bonus points for having the characters wave torches around while this is being said.
      "Turn the light off!"
    • The spider germs like a spot of face hugging.
    • Taking a vote by counting how many lights on Earth have been turned on may be a reference to Earth II.
    • Revelation of an orbital body to be a giant egg recalls World-Eater.
  • Signature Line: Lundvik is not impressed by Courtney's take on the "One small step" speech. "So much for history..."
  • Single Specimen Species: The Moon-creature is implied to be this, presumably because the Doctor would've heard of something so spectacular before if they were numerous.
  • Single Tear: Clara is distressed when the Doctor abandons them, thus the tear.
  • Somebody Else's Problem: For once, it's the Doctor who invokes this and sticks to it: it's not his Moon, not his Earth, and not his problem. The humans need to figure out the sort of species they are and decide what to do for themselves, either killing the baby or sparing it. Clara calls him out on this back in the TARDIS, and even leaves over it.
  • Sound-Only Death:
    The Doctor: Messages? Mayday? SOS?
    Duke: Pretty much all the satellites had been whacked out of orbit. They managed to send back some... screams.
  • Space Whale: On a lunar scale, but this creature looks more like a pteranodon.
  • Spiders Are Scary: The spider germs, with their red eyes and large size are very scary.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: Way back in "The Waters of Mars", the Doctor stumbled onto an early space exploration program, where he found himself involved with a critical point in human history; he decides to interfere, with tragic results. In this episode, the exact opposite happens. Plus, in that episode humans were ready to reach out to the stars, but found themselves in a Cosmic Horror Story, while here they're terrified about space travel but eventually their adventurous side is roused.
  • Spoiler Title: Makes it a lot easier for the audience to figure out what's going on than it is for the characters.
  • Suicide Mission: The shuttle crashes on the Moon with no way of taking off again, and Lundvik lampshades the fact that she never expected to come back.
  • Super-Senses: The Doctor discusses how he perceives times in which the future is in flux as fuzzy areas. At the end of the episode, we see him "feeling" the future of humanity that results from the decision that's just been made. This interestingly includes the specific future of Courtney, whereas he doesn't usually prognosticate on individuals, especially companions.
  • That's No Moon: Referring to our Moon — it's actually an egg, and it's hatching.
  • This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself: This choice will have tremendous impact on the future of the human race, and so the Doctor insists that they do it without Time Lord intervention. This earns him a scathing What the Hell, Hero? from Clara, who points out that after all the centuries he's spent walking their planet, he owes it to them to do everything in his power to help.
  • Title Drop:
    Lundvik: How do we kill it?
    The Doctor: ... Kill the Moon?
  • Trailers Always Lie: The episode's trailer made it appear like the germs were a major threat (they barely appear after the twenty-minute mark), and in general made the episode appear more like an Alien-esque thriller rather than the moral dilemma drama it really is.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The germs can be killed by household disinfectant.
  • Wham Episode: Clara walks out of the TARDIS and angrily tells the Doctor to go off without her. She doesn't appear in the preview or any promotions for the next episode. As it turns out, however, she's shown to be back travelling with the Doctor in the first five minutes (albeit supposedly for one last time) and by the end of it they've resolved their differences.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Clara tries to get the Doctor to apologize for messing with Courtney's feelings by saying she's not special. The Doctor decides to make her special by making her the first woman on the Moon.
    • Clara gets supremely pissed at the Doctor for making her choose between the creature in the Moon or all life on Earth.
    • After Clara and Courtney start arguing that it's immoral to kill a possibly unique creature, Lundvik points out that it's killing thousands of people per day. They don't care.
  • Women Are Wiser: The three humans the Doctor leaves to make the crucial decision are all female. Clara suggests calling the President of the United States, and it turns out the President is female too. It's gender-flipped at the end of the episode when Danny Pink provides the traditional female comforting role, and Clara asks him how he became so wise.
  • Would Not Hurt A Child:
    • Invoked when the Doctor shoves Courtney in front and challenges Lundvik & Co. to shoot her. Turns out they've got nothing to shoot her with anyway.
    • Also invoked as the creature is just a baby. When Lundvik points out the people on Earth who've already been killed, Clara replies that you wouldn't punish a baby for kicking.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: After Courtney mentions Tumblr, an amused Lundvik notes her "Gran" used to put things on Tumblr, implying it is some extremely quaint relic from the distant past, already old hat by the time Lundvik was born. The episode is only set thirty-five years in the future, and Lundvik is played by the 47-year-old Hermione Norris — if Lundvik is as old as she looks, she would probably have been using Tumblr herself, and even if she wasn't, it was definitely closer to her generation than that of her "Gran".