‘Doctor Who’ Gives Women the Right to Choose in “Kill the Moon”

By  · Published on October 5th, 2014


If you’ve ever wondered why the Doctor doesn’t ever just nip out and kill Hitler, maybe after some pudding, now you do thanks to “Kill the Moon,” this week’s likely-to-be controversial episode of Doctor Who. It’s not going to be at issue for its defense for letting alone one of the worst figures in history, though, partly because fans of time travel stories have always had to accept such excuse (here it’s that not all of the past, nor future, is that malleable). Far heavier is the notion that the show allegorically tackles the abortion debate in its 45-minute running time and comes to the conclusion that it’s womankind’s right to choose, but the correct choice is still in favor of life. That the plot of the episode entails the fate of the Moon – an entity given a feminine representation in various mythologies and one that’s been believed associated with menstruation – is so ridiculously perfect, but also for some people probably too silly to be used for such a touchy subject.

But this is a ridiculous show and a particularly ridiculous episode altogether, one in which Earth’s single natural satellite is revealed to be not an orbiting mass of rock but an egg for some sort of enormous cosmic dragon. And that alien dragon lays another egg of the very same size immediately after it’s born – quick enough that there’s no effect on the nearby planet at all, not even on its tides. It’s an episode where an astronaut born in the early 2000s (Hermione Norris) makes a comment about her “gran” using Tumblr, which isn’t necessarily a goof but seems more generationally off than if she’d said her mother used the site. It’s also an episode that comes off rather confusingly about where the world’s space programs are at in 35 years that Mexico has established a mining facility on the lunar surface by the 2030s, but the only craft available to fly to the Moon in 2049 is an old NASA Space Shuttle from a museum.

“Kill the Moon” has a seriousness to it, too, however. Not just regarding the abortion stuff, but for the more literal aspects of the show and its characters. The argument between Clara (Jenna Coleman) and the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) at the end is the latest and greatest bit of strife between these leads in Series 8, and the Doctor deserves everything his companion dishes at him, even if the root of this fight is in some complex matters pertaining to the Doctor’s actions and attitudes and his treatment of Clara lately – as well as his treatment of new additional companion Courtney (Ellis George) and the astronaut with the hip grandma and just about anyone else he’s been in contact with. It’s terrific that Clara is mad at the Doctor for being so “patronizing” in the way he makes three women choose what happens to an unborn alien, as well as the Earth. As in its his choice to let them choose, as in it’s something men have to “allow” out of their “respect” for women. Yeah, there’s more of that abortion issue allegory, and it’s going deeper than just seeming to be simply pro-life.

It’s a shame that after that argument, where Clara berates the Doctor for condescendingly telling her it’s time to take off her training wheels and says she’s going to slap him so hard he’ll have to regenerate and finally telling him to go away and never come back, that the episode concludes with another man telling her what to do. The now ever-so-wise Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) is probably right to say that big decisions shouldn’t be made when angry, that breaking off with someone or quitting something (like the army) should be done only after you calm down. But why does he have to be the person to level her out in this scene? Aside from the fact that the soldier/officer parallel is brought back in the speech, why couldn’t this have been a scene between Clara and, say, Courtney – hardly a young woman of clarity so far, but hey, apparently she somehow becomes President of the United States (despite not being American), so she must have greatness in her.

It’ll be curious to see if Doctor Who takes on more serious subject matter again, especially when mixed in with the usual goofiness of the show – “Kill the Moon” features giant CGI spider-like bacteria creatures in the background as the characters figuratively debate abortion and literally argue about a single “last of its kind” life (the Doctor’s favorite to choose life for) against billions of humans, plus it teeters on addressing the show’s always difficult angle on destiny and free-will in time travel. A lot of its audience consider Doctor Who to be a children’s program, and while there have been past episodes dealing sincerely with depression and of course genocide, the subtext this week will definitely be seen as one of its heaviest. I couldn’t help but notice that “Kill the Moon” is only credited to screenwriter Peter Harness (Is Anybody There?) without the collaboration of showrunner Steven Moffat, but that probably isn’t because of the subject matter since the rest of Series 8’s episodes look to be similarly credited to single authors (and another already has been).

I’m on the side of the show not being too heavy in its text or subtext outside of some basic philosophical issues – in a way, abortion is one of the most complicated philosophical issues of all time, on multiple levels – only because an episode like “Kill the Moon” winds up being looked at more for what it might be trying to say there than what it’s doing as an installment of an ongoing fictional narrative. The stuff between the characters in this episode and so far this series should be thought of as much more significant as well as more interesting. And I say this as someone who has always admitted a preference for one-off Doctor Who stories over the serial plotlines – but on its own and on the surface alone, “Kill the Moon” is a pretty dumb one-off adventure.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.