Saturday, October 04, 2014

Lunar Sea

At some point before the current season of Doctor Who, I imagine thousands of hopeful plots queued up to audition at some BBC Cardiff office and they were eventually narrowed down to thirteen. And I guess what we're seeing are the ones that didn't make it as far as judges' houses. Or boot camp. Or possibly even to the audition registration desk.

Sheesh. Some episodes have had their redeeming qualities and Kill The Moon had its share. It lost my interest early on by following the now standard pattern of starting with a) a pre-credits scene explaining the basic setup and b) a post-credits opening scene in Grange, sorry Coal, Hill soap land. It's gotten to the stage where part of my brain disengages as soon as I see those school corridors, Danny Pink, Clara's kitchen or any of the usual domestic earthbound elements or sets. They just don't interest me.

Good job then that by seven minutes in we're on the Moon, searching around a shadowy lunar base infested with spiders. Well, a spider. But hey, the Moon is breaking apart and it's absolutely crawling with eight-legged freaks. Unfortunately, the Doctor and Clara are joined on this Moon landing by a fairly dull collection of Two-Legs.

Yes, folks, the Earth is facing disaster and they can only scrape up a second-rate shuttle to investigate the source of the disaster. Fair enough. But I'm not entirely clear on why they could only find third-rate personnel, since you'd expect them to send the best. In Armageddon they found Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck at relatively short notice. All the world can manage in 2049 is the cast of a BBC re-imagining of Dad's Army and Three's Company hybrid. In a nod to Nightmare In Silver, we also have Courtney, a kid who manages to get *bored* on her first trip in the TARDIS. When you add her to a Clara who just can't seem to commit to more than one TARDIS trip a week, well, it's kind of understandable if I'm not really feeling the spirit of adventure here.

Where this episode succeeds over others this season is in effect. By which I don't mean FX, although those are at times stunning. Mostly the lunar landscape shots. The spiders themselves are pretty well realised and the director does build an effective atmosphere of suspense with the shadowy interiors and the scuttlesome beasts. In these sequences, it doesn't feel like the story is straining for scares, the way other episodes have come across this series. Alas, these moments are seasoned with rather dragging sequences devoid of tension and featuring more boring than any drilling operations attempted by the Mexicans.

Where it does strain - and suffers a nasty rupture - is in striving to throw in a huge, mind-blowing original twist. Obviously, the Moon can't really be made of cheese, so here the writer opts for an alternative (non-dairy) product - eggs. The Moon is an egg. It's the kind of central conceit that would have been perfectly at home in Red Dwarf, but it's really hard to take the oh-so-serious-and-weighty moral dilemma at the heart of this tale seriously when we're presented with the notion of another giant space chicken.

This one isn't invisible like the one in the Van Gogh episode either. We get to see it, flapping away in the sky after the Moon breaks up. Of course, because Doctor Who is brought to you by Everything-Has-To-Work-Out-In-The-End-O-Vision, it lays a brand new egg before it flies off into space. And it's here where I feel the deepest sympathy for the creature because the poor bugger has had to lay an egg more than twice the size of its newly hatched body. Cripes, that must have hurt.

Capaldi and Coleman act their socks off and there are some great scenes between them. But it's a case, once again, of the actors making the best of their material, because the situation seems highly engineered and contrived. At one point the Doctor is telling us quite emphatically that there are points in space and time that he can't simply walk away from and then declaring just as emphatically that this is in fact one situation where he has to walk away and let humanity - and Clara - make the decision. What's more, Clara puts the whole question - kill the chicken? don't kill the chicken? - to a global referendum. Well, I say global, one assumes it was only about half the world that got to vote - so a fairly middling turnout. But what's worse is that they're expected to vote based on very sketchy information. Nobody on Earth at this point has the faintest idea  that that there is a creature at the heart of the Moon but she addresses them as though they have been watching the episode this whole time.

Giant spiders on the Moon might have been more than enough to promote this episode well above the preceding entrants in this year's show. As it is, I'm left with an overall impression of a poorly engineered morality tale purpose-built to deliver Clara's (well-acted) strop at the end and her falling out with the Doctor. Almost as though the Doctor is now driven by an urge to create drama.

Wholly unconvincing and I wish they had discovered the Moon was made of cheese (even the kind that's full of holes), served on something slightly less crackers.

SAF 2014

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