Reviewing Doctor Who: Series 8, Episodes 7-10

Episode 7: Kill the Moon

Clara’ student, Courtney Woods, is trying to clean her vomit from the inside of the TARDIS. But the Doctor stops her and offers to take Courtney and Clara on a trip to the Moon.

They arrive in 2049 on a Space Shuttle filled with nuclear devices on crash course with Earth’s satellite. Surviving the crash, the Doctor wonders at the higher-than-expected gravity they are experiencing. The three are met by Captain Lundvik and two other astronauts who explain that they are on a suicide mission to blow up the Moon: years prior, there was a sudden mass high tide, wiping out a significant fraction of humanity and taking out many of Earth’s artificial satellites. Mankind abandoned scientific advancement for sake of survival of the species. A Mexican lunar colony had reported changes in the Moon before Earth lost contact with them, leading scientists to believe the problem existed there and that by destroying the Moon, they will be able to save humanity from further harm.

Clara tries to ask the Doctor about this point in time, knowing that in future events she has witnessed the Moon is still there; the Doctor reveals this is a “grey area” in time, the outcome of events is mutable, and he is unable to become involved in those choices. Indeed he makes good on this declaration, for as the Moon begins to destabilise and its incredible secret is revealed, the Doctor harshly reminds them he cannot be involved and promptly leaves in the TARDIS, abandoning Clara and Courtney on the Moon and forcing them to take responsibility for a terrible choice.

This season of Doctor Who is proving to be exceptional, and this episode is a corker. A phenomenally bizarre concept is executed with consummate skill by all involved. Genuinely tense and chilling at times, we also see how truly alien and detached this new Doctor can be. Indeed, as the episode ends, Clara (who, by the way, is at the top of her game in this story) gives the Time Lord the tongue lashing of his life, expressing her rage at the position the Doctor had put her in, at his arrogance and patronising attitude. She declares that she hates him – and flees the TARDIS to seek consolation in Danny’s arms, leaving the Doctor stunned and bereft.

If I have a minor quibble, it is with continuity. In The Waters of Mars we learned that it was those events (the groundwork for which had been laid by the Dalek Invasion in the climax of Series 4) that had rekindled Mankind’s yearning for the stars. Yet it was implied in Series 5 that the cracks in time had wiped those events from history, a conceit I was never happy with. In this episode the Doctor claims it is these events that are pivotal in humanity’s expansion across the stars. I guess they aren’t necessarily inconsistent, but it is irritating none the less.

Episode 8: Mummy on the Orient Express

“Robot of Sherwood”? “Mummy on the Orient Express”? Is this series puntastic or what?

Clara’s fury has calmed to a resigned sadness; not wanting to part with the Doctor on such bad terms, she grudgingly accepts his invitation to accompany him on a last hurrah – to a far future recreation of the Orient Express (in space, naturally). But there are murders occurring as one by one the passengers are falling victim to the Foretold, a supernatural entity out of legend which appears as a desiccated, bandage-wrapped mummy visible only to its intended victims.

I’m afraid I’m running out of superlatives. The mummy – and its mode of attack – are really scary and are engineered to generate maximum tension (the Lad was enrapt). There’s another set of stirling performances from an ensemble cast including comedian Frank Skinner as the mechanic Perkins (Skinner’s pleasure, as a real-life fan of the show, infuses his performance – oh what a companion he would make!). The hidden logic behind the mummy’s choice of victims introduces a moment of touching pathos to the character of each victim as well. There is a bit of unanswered mystery: who is “Gus”, the unseen puppet-master who set these events in motion and who even has the means to telephone the TARDIS?

Despite learning that she has even more reason to walk away from the Doctor, Clara decides at the end to stay with him, an abrupt change of heart that seems to come from nowhere but which leads her to mislead Danny.

Episode 9: Flatline

Something is draining energy from the TARDIS, causing it to materialise in Bristol instead of in London. The Doctor and Clara find the TARDIS’ exterior has shrunk as a result of the energy drain, and the Doctor sends Clara out to learn more while he tries to stop the drainage. Clara befriends Rigsy, a graffiti artist now performing community service with a small crew, who explains that several people have gone missing recently. The missing have been memorialised by a mural in a pedestrian tunnel painted by an unknown artist, a mural which harbours a sinister secret.

Gosh, another superb episode. Is this series the best ever? The central concept is a venerable sci-fi trope executed with great skill by writer, director and cast, supported by some chillingly effective and artistically original special effects. The plot device which traps the Doctor inside the TARDIS gives Clara an opportunity to shine – an opportunity she makes the absolute most of – and also provides some superb chuckles. “The Boneless” are wonderfully menacing, a superb new alien villain with the potential to be the new “Weeping Angels”. I loved it, the Lad loved it.

The episode concludes with Missy, seated in a darkened room, watching Clara’s adventure on a tablet computer. Missy says, with regard to Clara, that she has “chosen well”.

Episode 10: In the Forest of the Night

Clara and Danny, having taken a number of Coal Hill students on an overnight stay at the London Natural History Museum, wake up to find that the whole world has been covered by forests overnight. Clara and Danny lead the group to a heavily-wooded Trafalgar Square to reunite with the Doctor.

Over the course of the episode we discover that the trees – under the influence of mysterious aliens that look like a swarm of fireflies – have actually saved the Earth on previous occasions (referring to the Tunguska Event and the Curuçá impact) by buffering the impacts. The sudden appearance of the forest now is to prevent damage to the planet from a colossal solar flare.

This episode is an intriguing idea penned by celebrated children’s author and screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce. But it isn’t a brilliant episode by any stretch. The central premise is just plain wonky. These sparkly aliens are unnamed, are new to the Doctor and seem to have been absent on numerous other occasions the Earth has been threatened by natural disasters. I’m not saying the Doctor knows every species in the universe, but I’d have expected him to have at least heard rumour of beings like these, and certainly to have been previously aware of their interventions in Earth’s history. Oh, and they communicated using a little girl as a medium, but I honestly could not make out a single thing they said – really bad sound design.

Later, in Clara’s flat, the Doctor and Clara watch as the new trees disperse, and the Doctor explains that humanity will forget about this, just as they did after the previous events, but their lingering memory would become part of mankind’s fairy tales. Such flim-flam has been used before to explain why the human race keeps forgetting about all manner of bizarre events in the Whoniverse (that and those damned event-erasing cracks in time) and also why they often can’t see weird things right in front of them (like dematerialising TARDISes). But I think that is a lazy device that reinforces this Doctor’s opinion of us as pudding-brains while removing any obligation on the part of the show runner to uphold some overarching consistency. I am by no means a Moffat-hater but I do despair over his reluctance to acknowledge that anything in Series 1-4 actually happened.

Sorry, going off track. In summary, this episode was a bit meh. Its partial redemption comes when the Doctor acknowledges the mistake he made in Kill The Moon, as he responds to Clara’s suggestion that he save himself and abandon the Earth using her own words to him: “This is my world, too. I walk your Earth. I breathe your air”. Reconciliation between the Doctor and Clara is seemingly complete.

However the two-part finale comes next…

About Mark Winter

Dark Fantasy novelist (INFERNAL PREY). Blogging on politics and current affairs (GibberLog), science and history (BlatherLog), sci-fi, fantasy & horror (WittlerLog), business, product development & start-ups (MutterLog). View all posts by Mark Winter

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