Sunday, 5 October 2014

DOCTOR WHO: KILL THE MOON review, 4 October 2014



The web of fear? (Image: Radio Times)

The Earth in danger, the Doctor absent, Clara forced to make a decision that will have appalling consequences whatever she decides to do... 'Kill the Moon' has all the ingredients of a classic. So why wasn't it completely convincing?

The production is up to the usual impeccable standard we've come to expect from 21st century Doctor Who. The location filming in Lanzarote yielded an authentic lunar landscape - and boy, must the actors have suffered for their art in those space suits and that heat - the FX spiders are suitably nasty, as well as a great kiddie frightener, and Hermione Norris gives her always watchable cynic-who-really-cares performance.

Forget all the surface gloss. Back in the 20th century, what Doctor Who always had that set it apart from its better funded and better technically resourced contemporaries was the writing. If its reach exceeded its grasp on the production front – as it often did, and hurrah for that – on a good day it was the scripts which fired the audience's imagination as the actors entertained with the smart, witty and literate words they were given to say.

Perhaps that's the problem with 'Kill the Moon'. There is an awful lot of exposition dialogue which doesn't function as anything more than that - there's no sparkle or subtext to it. For such a small guest cast, the only one of the astronauts who has any character is Norris's Lundvik; if I was Tony Osoba (Duke) or Phil Nice (Henry), I'd have felt rather disappointed when the script arrived from my agent. Because they were so underwritten, you got the feeling the only reason Duke and Henry were there was to be cannon fodder for the spiders. Beyond the well-directed shock value of their deaths, you just didn't care what happened to them. The incidental music score is also much more 'Hollywood epic' than has been the case elsewhere this year, a clear sign that it was compensating for something that wasn't quite working.

The big picture was indeed big: a huge creature being born inside the moon, which is really a gigantic egg (laid by one of the inhabitants of Chloris, perhaps?) That's either a fantastic science fiction concept or a bad comic strip - hard to say. Either way, I don't buy the way the Doctor behaved here. I can see what new writer Peter Harness was trying to do, going for the alien detachment to human history the time traveller's shown in the past in 'The Massacre' (1966), 'Pyramids of Mars' (1975) and 'The Fires of Pompeii' (2008), among others. But would the Doctor - even this Doctor - clear off and leave the Earth to face possible extinction when the moon breaks up, after everything he's been through with humanity? No. His comment that the Earth isn't his home so, effectively, he isn't bothered about helping just doesn't ring true. We're a long way from 'Humans are quite my favourite species' ('The Ark in Space', 1975).

In fact, you got the feeling that the whole story was a set up for the final scene between between the Doctor and Clara. There's another echo of William Hartnell's 'The Massacre' here, as a companion harangues the Time Lord for his apparent callousness and tells him they're done travelling with him. It's so good, and Capaldi and Coleman are so good, that it's almost worth having sat through the previous forty-odd minutes to get here. That's the other thing about Doctor Who, or any good drama or comedy series: if there's a week where the story doesn't quite deliver, the great characters and brilliant performers will keep you watching.

Overall, 'Kill the Moon' is inconsequential when it should have been apocalyptic, but, having said that, it's only a slight dip in the much higher standard of script writing we've had this year. In 2013, Clara took children into space for a storybook romp through 'Nightmare in Silver'; in 2014, her pupil Courtney Woods (Ellis George) is scared half to death by the way adults behave. Adventure last year, grown up drama this year.

Next week, we're off to the interstellar Orient Express to fight a mummy (which sounds a lot like the 1972 film Horror Express.)

I wonder if Clara will be on board?

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