Those of you who were keeping an eye on the publicity fluff surrounding this series of Doctor Who would have noticed the theme for the season is, allegedly, “consequences”. Zipping around time and space and fiddling with history is a dangerous life, after all, and since Series 8 was intended to be a “darker” season it was promised we’d be exploring the ramifications in full. Thus far, the theme’s been mostly ignored, bar a few flickers in ‘The Caretaker’ last week – but this time, it’s brought to the forefront, and hard.
This week, the Doctor and Clara find themselves on a space shuttle in 2049, filled with a hundred nuclear missiles and headed to the Moon. Most of Earth’s space programmes have long been shut down by then, but there’s a few things showing up on our friendly neighbourhood moon that’ve managed to grab our attention. Like the giant fissures, getting wider and wider and threatening to split the Moon apart. The broadcasts of human screaming. And the giant spider aliens, that want to find out how you taste…
Also along for the ride is Courtney, Clara’s wayward pupil from the previous episode. Doctor Who’s child actors have always been a mixed bag, running the gamut from OK to awful: for the worst, see ‘Nightmare in Silver’, ‘The Next Doctor’ and ‘Fear Her’. Ellis George actually manages to play her pretty well, which is a minor miracle in its own right.
The aforementioned spiders are suitably creepy, skittering in the dark and lunging at throats. They’re almost as creepy as Peter Capaldi himself, ominously intoning about the certain doom of “this little planetoid, which gives you light at night and seas to sail on”. As for Capaldi’s Doctor, he’s drifting further and further away from the previous incarnations of Tennant and Smith: compare Eleven claiming he’d “never met anyone who wasn’t important” to Twelve telling a young girl she’s not particularly special.
This is also, interestingly, perhaps the first episode where the Doctor decides not to interfere and actually sticks to that. In the end, a decision needs to be made – kill an innocent baby, or allow the Moon and Earth to be destroyed – and the Doctor leaves so the humans can make it themselves (after all, it’s not his Moon). It’s certainly a step out of character for him, and adds fuel to the complaints that the Doctor’s becoming less and less relevant in his own show, but it leads to the best and tensest scenes of the episode.
Clara, Courtney, Hermione Norris’ Captain Lundvik and eventually the entire human race, forced to make that terrible decision. Kill the baby for the greater good or spare it and doom the Earth – notably, there’s some troubling anti-abortion rhetoric buried in there, since our sympathetic companion heroes immediately vote to spare it. Still, without the safety net of the Doctor, it’s an excellent exploration of human morality. What would you have done?
Mind you, the episode could have been darker, for this “darkest series yet”, and hit harder. In the end, they spare the baby, but everybody lives, and both humanity and the baby have a bright future ahead of them. But there’s still a big consequence – Clara’s understandably furious, having almost killed a creature the Doctor knew’d be harmless, and tells the Time Lord to leave Earth alone as she storms off the TARDIS, seemingly for good.
Overall, the episode’s up there with ‘Deep Breath’ and ‘Into The Dalek’ as one of the best this season. And there’s still half a season to go, since we’re getting all the episodes at once this year – a wise decision from the BBC. Next week, mummies on a train and cheerful steampunk-ish AIs. IN SPACE!