Doctor Who: ‘Kill the Moon’ is Worth Reconsidering

The Doctor assesses the situation in ‘Kill the Moon.’ Photo Credit: BBC America

Series 8 episode ‘Kill the Moon‘ is one episode that you either love or hate. Here on Doctor Who Watch it was judged to be the second-worst episode of the season, ahead only of ‘In the Forest of the Night.’ The episode also featured temporary child companion Courtney Woods, another mark against it in the mind of some fans. Likewise, Elizabeth Harper over at The Escapist “can’t recommend watching anything more than the last 5 minutes.” Doctor Who TV suggests that ‘Kill the Moon’ is “almost ruined by the science behind its fundamentally flawed premise” — science so bad it could almost be a new genre: “not-so-science fiction,” though the review goes on to praise other elements of the episode. At the same time, Blogtor Who, AV Club, Den of Geek, and Nerdist all sing its praises, suggesting that ‘Kill the Moon’ may be one of the best episodes of Series 8, if not all of Doctor Who.

The Doctor in “Kill the Moon.” Photo Credit: BBC America

While I would not necessarily have considered ‘Kill the Moon’ the worst episode of the season, in my initial live viewing I remember not being very impressed. Yet as I binge-watched all of Series 8 on Netflix, I couldn’t help but find a new appreciation for this controversial episode. Perhaps we here at Doctor Who Watch were a little too hard on ‘Kill the Moon.’ Not only would I dare say that ‘Kill the Moon’ is worth watching as part of Series 8, I would even suggest it is a worthwhile episode on its own, separated from the rest of the series.

Here’s why.

1. Tremendous Character Development

For all the complaints that Clara is one-dimensional, boring, or not well-written enough, ‘Kill the Moon’ blasts them out of the water.

Not only does Clara stand up to the Doctor, she stands up to the entirety of the human race. At the moment of decision, Clara finds her voice in a way that left me speechless.

This is not the “Impossible Girl.” There is no mystery to this Clara, there is only Clara, the Doctor’s companion who has learned to trust herself. In Series 8 we saw Clara develop — from the woman struggling to find her identity alongside a new partner to a strong independent woman. It is the Clara of ‘Kill the Moon’ that I look forward to seeing in Series 9, the one who is finally strong enough to demand better even out of the Doctor.

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The mysterious alien creature is birthed in ‘Kill the Moon.’ (Credit: BBC)

2. Brilliant Ties to the Metanarrative

One of the broad stories of Doctor Who has long been the story of humanity’s trajectory into the stars. Episodes like ‘The Water of Mars’ come into contact with key moments in the history of the human race leaving behind the planet earth for far-away worlds.

Perhaps it was the excitement of the New Horizons Pluto fly-by that connected so meaningfully to this episode for me, but I couldn’t help but get excited when the metanarrative of humanity’s journey into space was the unexpected payoff of the conclusion of ‘Kill the Moon.’ After the success of the Pluto fly-by, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said, “I know today we’ve inspired a whole new generation of explorers with this great success, and we look forward to the discoveries yet to come.” In this way, ‘Kill the Moon’ did more than tell a story, it painted a picture of what the joy of discovery and wonder can do for the human race.

‘Kill the Moon’ did more than tell a story, it painted a picture of what the joy of discovery and wonder can do for the human race.

But most importantly…

3. ‘Kill the Moon’ made me think.

To me, the most powerful episodes of Doctor Who are those that use the setting of space and time to wrestle with timeless questions. Ultimately, those are the kinds of questions ‘Kill the Moon’ set before us. Left with the choice, would humanity trust what we do not know or would we blow it up? Are we inclined to see the unknown as beautiful?

This is why it’s so important that the Doctor leaves the decision up to a schoolgirl, her teacher, and an astronaut. Ultimately it is not the scientist, the rationally-minded one who can make this decision the right way. It is up to the teacher to find her sense of wonder, mystery, and delight. This is a decision the Doctor cannot make for Clara. The Doctor can save the day. The Doctor can fight the monsters. But the Doctor can not make a person choose wonder.

Courtney Wood in “Kill the Moon.” Photo Credit: BBC America

Truthfully, I’m usually not a fan of episodes with children. ‘Nightmare in Silver’ is one of my least favorite episodes of recent seasons. Yet this is why Courtney needs to be on the moon with Clara: children have the ability to find joy and delight when adults simply cannot.

These are the sort of episodes I love. Episodes like ‘Kill the Moon’ invite me not only to join the Doctor for an adventure, but to ponder how I would respond if I were asked to turn my lights off or leave them on to decide the fate of an unknown creature. Would I choose fear or would I choose wonder?

The other positive reviews say plenty more about the sets, the writing, the surprise twists of the episode, and the excellent use of horror. Those all say plenty of why ‘Kill the Moon’ is a great episode. To me, the reasons above – especially 2 and 3 – make it one worth watching on its own, even if its the only one you re-watch from Series 8. If you didn’t like it the first time around, trust me – it’s worth another look.