There was a lot wrong with last week’s episode of Doctor Who, from its title (Kill the Moon) to its science to its plot to its moral dilemma. The Doctor takes Clara and a school girl we met the episode before named Courtney to the moon, where they hook up with a trio of (“third-hand”) astronauts in a (“second-hand”) shuttle investigating why the moon has suddenly put on enough mass to give it the same gravitational pull as earth. Spoiler alert! The moon is a giant bloody egg that’s about to hatch and they want to blow it up before that happens. Sort of. One of them wants to. Because tides and stuff. Oh and there’s space spiders that are apparently just giant bacteria but still have mouths, fangs and spin webs.
Alright, proper explanation. The Doctor, Clara and Courtney land the TARDIS on a space shuttle loaded with nuclear bombs and three astronauts (one of whom is played by the actress that was Ros on Spooks. Loved that show) crash-landing on the moon, which has gained 1.3 billion odd tonnes and has messed with Earth’s tides so bad that they “drown whole cities.” The astronauts are there to find out what’s wrong and… blow a chunk off it I guess? That’s never entirely explained. They visit a Mexican (really? Mexican? not, say, Chinese?) mineral survey station covered in cobwebs with a dead crew, fight a couple of spiders (that are just bacteria with very spider-like qualities), kill two out of three astronauts (thankfully not Space-Ros) and briefly let us believe this might be a horror episode. After another space walk the Doctor figures out that the moon is an egg containing a giant life-form, the source of the extra mass and gravity, which is about to hatch breaking the moon in the process. Space-Ros asks how to kill it. The Doctor says with all those nuclear bombs they brought along. Clara and Courtney aren’t keen on “blaming a baby for kicking.” The Doctor says it’s your moon you decide and disappears with his TARDIS, leaving the other three to argue it out. And there’s this week’s moral dilemma. Clara calls it an impossible choice between an innocent life and the future of all of humanity. I’d call it bullshit.
As stupid as the plot, premise and pseudo-science were (really, really fucking stupid) it was the pseudo-philosophical drama that left a bad taste in my mouth. It was a play on the pretty standard “would you take a life to save a life/lives?” trope that pops up in any literature where the protagonist/s have an issue with killing, used to build artificial tension and establish the protagonists’ moral superiority over everyone who’d answer with a “yep.” Then again there wasn’t any reason given as to why the answer should have been “nope” beyond “it’s wrong to nuke a giant baby squid/insect/thing” and quite frankly I just didn’t find that particularly convincing. They should have blown up the moon. They don’t and everything works out fine, but they should have.
Philosophically I understand the argument against killing the creature, even if my utilitarian sensibilities disagrees. It’s a question (to butcher and simplify some pretty complex ideas) of whether or not you’re responsible for the consequences of your inactions as well as your actions. If it’s just the latter than ending a life is morally wrong regardless of how many other lives it might save (in my experience Immanuel Kant is the bloke most cited when making this argument). As a trope in fiction I don’t have a particular problem with it being used and I’ve seen it used in other mediums, stories and contexts pretty effectively. We see it all the time in superhero stories, where a Thou shall not kill clause keeps the all-powerful beings on the right side of the moral line. More than a few good stories examine how easy it is to stay on the other side of that line once it’s crossed (like the ‘A Better World‘ episodes in the Justice League animated series or a few key arcs in the police procedural comic series Powers). Funny thing about a lot of those superheroes though is they don’t have much of an issue with regular law enforcement officers using lethal force, since regular police aren’t bullet-proof, super strong or the goddamn Batman but still have a right to defend themselves. Following that, Batman (depending on the writer) uses his unwillingness to kill to place himself morally above the rogues of his gallery, assassins with ‘codes of honour,’ and lethal vigilantes, but not morally above the cops of Gotham. He then has to deal with the consequences of his non-lethal actions. And there lies my biggest issue with Kill the Moon.
You see, the Doctor doesn’t provide any information to Clara, Courtney and Space-Ros with any information beyond “it’s an egg and it’s hatching in an hour and a half” before he buggers off in the TARDIS. It’s not surprising that Space-Ros is worried about pieces of egg shell the size of small countries raining down upon earth (though detonating a bunch of nuclear bombs inside the moon’s crust might have similar results, I’m no scientist) and is concerned that a space creature that ways at least 1.3 billion tonnes might be a dangerous thing to have waking up next door to the planet we all live on. The people of Earth, who have so far spent the past ten years dealing with the cataclysmic results of this creature’s growth spurt, agree that a preventative strike might be a good idea and indicate this by switching off their lights. Despite some brief second thoughts, Clara ignores the majority opinion and aborts the detonation. Because this is Doctor Who. This turns out to be the right move because at that moment the Doctor picks up and takes them to a beach to watch the hatching. The ‘shell’ disintegrates (I don’t think that’s how billions of tonnes of rock would work), the creature flies away after laying a fresh moon and even Space-Ros is grateful. Everything works out. Because this is Doctor Who.
They should have blown up the moon.
Standing on the beach watching the creature fly away the Doctor announces that it marks a turning point towards a new age of human space exploration because for once the humans turned towards the sky, saw something scary and didn’t blow it up. Which is patronising as balls. Humanity had good reason to want to blow it up given the information available and would have merely been exorcising their right to self-defence against an extraterrestrial threat. By ignoring the decision of the people of Earth, who were just thinking of the children (won’t someone please think of the children?), the show places Clara and (by proxy) the Doctor on some sort of higher moral plane since they would never cross that line (unless they’re Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen or plenty of other villains) unlike the rest of us short-sighted, selfish bastards. Worse than that though is that the problem solves itself. The old moon dissolves, a new moon is laid and the giant space thing flies away. There is no negative consequence for inaction, no negative consequence for not blowing up the moon. Without negative consequence for both the yes or no camps it ceases to be a moral dilemma and merely becomes artificial tension based on misinformation. With the information they had, they should have blown up the fucking moon. For the children.
I know I’m sounding like a broken record at this point, and you may not be totally convinced that blowing up the moon would be the right thing to do, but without knowing the ending or without being genre savvy enough to know that everything works out alright in Doctor Who what would you have done?
The one good thing about this episode comes at the end when the Doctor drops Clara and Courtney back at their school and Clara emotionally calls him in his shit and announces that she’s “done.” I’m not sure if this is the writers being self-aware enough to recognise when they stick a middle finger up at their audiences and characters, but I really hope so. Otherwise we might be seeing more crappy episodes like this.