Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Kill the Moon

We have a terrible decision to make: an innocent life vs. the future of all mankind. We have 45 minutes to decide.
Clara has a problem. The Doctor, presumably in one of his occasional Malcolm Tucker flashbacks, told Courtney she wasn’t special. In return, she stole the Doctor’s psychic paper and has been using it as a fake ID. (The Doctor, completely undisturbed by this, asks, “To get into museums?”) But she’s really upset by the Doctor’s words, and Clara convinces him he needs to do something, because this could affect her whole life. So when Courtney sneaks onto the TARDIS and asks to be travel with him, the Doctor transports them aboard a Space Shuttle rocketing toward the moon in 2049. After it smoothly crash-lands, the Doctor confronts the crew about why the moon’s gravity is suddenly the level of Earth’s, when there shouldn’t be any --

-- wait, wait, wait. Back up. Courtney’s upset because the Doctor told her she wasn’t special?
Do you really think I’m not special? You can’t just take me away like that! It’s like you kicked a big hole in the side of my life! You really think it? I’m nothing? I’m not special?

Ellis George is appealing at Courtney, but she can’t sell that guano.

Now, it’s been a while since I was a young disruptive influence myself, and I’ve never been a young black woman as far as I’m aware, but I don’t buy this. At all. You’re a kid, and some weirdo old guy tells you that you’re not special, and even if he has a cool spaceship, you’re pretty much like, “Suck it, geezer”. Maybe pout for a minute if he was particularly nasty (and if you’re, like 10, rather than Courtney’s 15), and then find someone more interesting to disruptively influence and forget the old guy ever existed. You don’t go into a deep funk over that. Especially in Courtney’s situation; she’s clearly loved by both her parents, and certainly has them and Clara (who she does appear to like and respect) to tell her she’s special. And she’s 15.

In fact, not to go all Calvin’s dad here, but being told you’re not special, quite frankly, builds a little character. I wish that had been banged into my head once or twice, so I would have actually put some effort in every now and again instead of trying to coast on my own specialness. In a season that otherwise excels at creating real, human conflict, this reeks of TV Kid conflict.

Oh, yeah, and the shuttle and gravity stuff is dumb too, I guess. But this Courtney subplot sucks.

Anyway, we have the Space Shuttle crashing on the moon, where… no, no, can’t skip that. It’s not Courtney needing to be told she’s a special little snowflake so she doesn’t grow up with all her dreams forever crushed, but that’s a little hard to take. The Space Shuttle was not capable of traveling to the Moon. That multi-billion-dollar failure couldn’t even make it to high Earth orbit. But even if you did put it on a launcher that could get it out there,* it wasn’t built to land on a surface without an atmosphere - it has no way of slowing down. And if the moon suddenly has the Earth’s full gravity, the chances of the craft not being completely disintegrated in an ultra-high-speed collision is about as likely as… no, actually, there is no comparison here. If you were coming up with the least likely thing to happen, that’s the one you would come up with.

* (Which, under the circumstances, fair enough. Notably, in an early design, its booster was supposed to be a Saturn V, and I suppose if you replaced the third stage with a NERVA engine or a modern equivalent, you might possibly have something approaching the power to make it, particularly if the moon’s gravity has increased.)

Honestly, it’s hard to make too serious a complaint about that as-is, since it’s just supposed to be a big, exciting opening. And it might have been, if it hadn’t gone from the Doctor noticing they were about to crash-land, followed by a three-second crash sequence, followed by no one being phased by the whole thing. Still, it’s just a bit of silliness.

Which leads us to the gravity thing. The Doctor is surprised at the moon’s Earth-like gravity because his yo-yo actually goes down, and they should be “bouncing around like fluffy clouds.”

Look, this seems pretty elementary, and by elementary, I think kids are taught this in school at about half Courtney’s age. But since it has to be pointed out, let’s be as clear as possible.


Hence, why astronauts were able to walk on it. And land on it in the first place.

It’s ⅙ Earth gravity, yes, but it’s stick frickin’ gravity. The yo-yo will still drop, just more slowly. Look, the space shuttle thing is me nitpicking because I’m a space nerd. I’m not actually docking the episode any points for that (though it doesn’t gain any points for the sloppy little action beat, either), and it does fit in thematically with the episode’s nostalgia for the dying space program. But why this? They just need to get across that the moon’s gravity has increased sixfold. (how about “bouncing around like we’re on a giant trampoline” instead of “like fluffy little couds”?) Did nobody in a read-through or on set notice this? And if someone did notice, did they then decide consciously to not change it? I mean, what’s the point, trolling science nerds? It’s just the sort of sloppy detail work that throws people who care out of the story without benefiting anyone who doesn’t care.

On the other hand, we’re watching a show where the greatest threat to the universe is a race of salt-shakers with a plunger for one arm and an egg whisk for the other, so maybe I should stop carping and just enjoy the ride.

The Doctor becomes extremely confrontational with the astronauts, which seems a tad unnecessary, but results in a magnificently Doctorish moment:

Doctor: Shoot the little girl first.
Courtney: What?
Doctor: She doesn’t want to stand there and watch us getting shot. She’ll be terrified. Girl first, then her teacher, and then me. You’ll have to spend a lot of time shooting me because I will keep on regenerating.

Unfortunately, once that’s resolved, Courtney goes off to pout, and I’m surprised to find myself wishing she hadn’t come along after really enjoying her in The Caretaker.

At any rate, the plot is explained now: apparently, the moon suddenly increased its mass and gravity to match that of Earth’s for some unknown reason. The resulting tides drowned entire cities. (It would also probably fling the Earth out of its orbit.) Humanity had long abandoned space travel to focus on survival, but the last message from a Lunar Mining Colony set up by Mexico (!) gave some suggestion that the reason might be buried on the moon. So a desperate suicide space mission was launched by recycling a museum-piece space shuttle; they were to try to figure out what happened, then blow up the moon with 100 nuclear bombs. And pray the resulting debris didn’t wipe out all remaining Earth life, I guess, but when you’re between a rock and a hard place…

(I think that’s the correct chronology, anyway. I’m not quite clear as to whether all of humanity except Mexico had abandoned space travel before the moon thing, or if they abandoned it post-disaster except for this one mission that took 10 years to plan, or if they abandoned it and then changed their minds this once. The world-building really isn’t very clear here.)

The astronauts and TARDIS crew journey to the apparently abandoned Mexican mining station. The moon effects are solid enough, if lacking in any particular sense of atmosphere or wonder. When they arrive, the captain (who the episode never gets around to actually naming, but who Wikipedia tells me is named Lundvik) sends back one of the other two astronauts in yet another piece of dialogue that makes me question whether the world has gone mad.
Lundvik: Henry, go back and prime the bombs.
Henry: Um… is there any instructions?
Lundvik: There’s a switch on each of them. The light goes red.

The Doctor asks if that’s the best they could get. Lundvik responds that they’re “third-hand astronauts.”

I get that humanity has basically abandoned spaceflight and had to stretch a bit to figure out the crew, but they honestly chose a senile old man instead of, I don’t know, an air force pilot? And they didn’t train all the astronauts on how to arm the nuclear bombs intended to save mankind? The early space program may have flirted with a variety of ideas for astronauts, but they settled on test pilots and other such men for a reason. And then they spent years training for the actual missions. Am I to assume the entire human race just lives on a diet of vodka and stupid pills in the future? Did the Internet really rot out our brains that much in two decades?

… okay, I just took a look at Tumblr, and that last explanation sounds entirely plausible. Carry on.

They find cobwebs, which lead, naturally, to giant space spiders, who aren’t particularly scary if you don’t have high arachnophobia, but at least their mouths look freaky the one time we see them. They soon consume the other red shirt astronaut (who I think has had two lines at this point) in one of the most incoherent action/horror scenes I’ve seen recently. I’ve seen the episode three times and I still don’t understand why Courtney starts hovering in the middle of the room. The Doctor mumbles something about the extra gravity being an “unstable mass”, but that actually makes less sense than anything else here.

After the ruckus dies down, Lundvik gives a sudden emotional eulogy about how he was the guy who trained her, and apparently his name was Duke, and she’s really upset about all this, and I’m just mildly surprised the astronauts actually knew each others’ names for all they’ve actually acknowledged each other at this point. Maybe if the script had cared to develop any of the astronauts at all, this might have some impact, but it doesn’t even get around to telling us Lundvik’s name, let alone give her any sort of apparent personality. Of course it doesn’t bother with the red shirts.

The sloppiness doesn’t let up. Later, Courtney gets bored and posts pics on Tumblr. Lundvik laughs, “My granny used to put things on Tumblr”. This is set in 2049. Based on the evidence in the episode and the age of actress Hermione Norris, Lundvik has to be mid to late 40s, meaning Lundvik was born in the early Aughts at the latest. Even in the unlikely event that Tumblr dies in 2015, she was old enough to have used it herself, and a lot more likely to have used it than her grandmother. So either the joke is that her grandmother was so on top of technology that she used tumblr, which is kind of a non-sequitur in context, or writer Peter Harness decided it wasn’t worth the ten seconds it would take to add up the years. All this may sound like nitpicking, and it probably is, but I couldn’t laugh at the joke because my brain told me the numbers didn’t add it. It’s like the joke about the astronaut being so senile he doesn’t know how to set off the incredibly simple nuke. Some people probably find it funny, but the joke doesn’t make any sense, and makes the characters dumber for having made them.

That probably tells you more about me than the episode, but it’s still yet another example of Harness just slapping stuff together. It wouldn’t be a problem if the same sloppiness didn’t extend to the characters, action, and dialogue in general.

To backtrack a bit, Courtney brought cleaning supplies with her on board the TARDIS to help convince the Doctor to bring her along. But why does she take them with her in her spacesuit? Even the Doctor’s advanced spacesuits look large and cumbersome, and seem unlikely to have pockets large enough for that. But even if they do, does Ms Disruptive Influence really seem like the kind of girl to go through the hassle of carrying around a full-size bottle of Windex in her spacesuit? On the moon?

Finally, the Doctor figures out what’s been going on: 
Doctor: The moon isn’t breaking apart - the moon is hatching.
Clara: Huh?
Doctor: The moon’s an egg.
That’s… beautiful.

Seriously, that’s absolutely brilliant. In a show highlighted by the sheer madness of its ideas, that’s one of the most magnificently mad ideas ever, and the only thing that makes it better is the indescribable way Capaldi delivers that line. I also love how quickly Clara accepts, and then moves on --

Clara: Has it always been an egg?
Doctor: Yes. For 100 million years or so. Just growing, getting ready to be born.
Clara: Okay, so the moon has never been the moon.
Doctor: No, no, no, it’s never been dead, it’s just taken a long time to come alive.

-- and then it all falls apart again. The current scientific consensus on the age of the moon is about 4.5 billion years, give or take 100 million years. The problem here isn’t that the Doctor claims it happened 100 million years ago; I assume he knows a lot more about what’s happening than he lets on. But if Courtney has paid any attention at all in school, she’d know that sounded wrong; Clara would probably know that was the wrong number; and Lundvik, The Last Astronaut, would definitely know that sounded wrong, and could probably recite the age of 4.527 ± 0.010 billion years off the top of her head. And all three of them would call the Doctor on it.

That’s the thing - my problem isn’t the science itself; it’s that the sloppiness makes the characters fall flat. It’s not like the Doctor couldn’t have talked his way out of it once they called him on it. He’d just brush it off, Clara and Courtney would dismiss him as being his usual weird self, and Lundvik would continue to think he was a lunatic.

Anyway, the Doctor looks at the image of the giant creature and says it’s utterly beautiful. Lundvik asks how they kill it. Clara and Courtney both object, as does the Doctor: “You’d have an enormous corpse floating through the sky. Have some very difficult conversations to have with your kids.” I suppose the bright side is that with the moon destroyed, the giant corpse would have the gravity to resume the tides. We’ll have to assume that for the crux of the story to work. The final act is the debate on whether to kill the space dragonfly before it hatches to protect the Earth, or take the chance that everything will turn out okay.

And the Doctor stays out of it. He says that this is a moment in history where time is in flux; the decision made here will determine the future course of human history, and he refuses to interfere. He leaves it to Clara, Courtney, and Lundvik, flying away to let them decide alone. The Doctor leaving them is a brilliant touch, superbly highlighting how the Doctor’s morality seems askew to ours, and I especially love that it’s three women who are left to decide. And not just any three women: a trouble-making teenager, a late-20s schoolteacher, and a middle-aged astronaut. Three generations with three different outlooks and personalities. (At least, I assume the latter in Lundvik’s case, since I’m pretty much just extrapolating her character from the intensity Hermione Norris gives her.) As the Doctor says, “Womankind, it’s your choice.”

The debate has flaws of its own. When Lundvik proclaims, “It is killing people. It is destroying the Earth,” Clara responds with “You cannot blame a baby for kicking.” All the coastal cities were flooded. I’ll get back to this a little later, but when you take everything into account, there were probably 100 million deaths from this whole thing. Lundvik rightly calls it “the greatest natural disaster in history.” The baby kicking metaphor kinda breaks down once you’ve broken the 100 million mark on your death slate.

Or there’s Lundvik pointing out that the debris would wipe out all life on Earth, which begs the question of what she thought blowing up the moon was going to do. Clara’s counter-argument that it’s an eggshell similarly has her extending the metaphor past the breaking point.

It doesn't help that writing rebellious 15-year-old Courtney as an endlessly obnoxious TV 10-year-old has reduced her in a single episode from a promising young possible companion to Adric reborn. Ellis George is completely defeated by the awful material she's given, and we come to dread her every appearance.

And in the midst of all this, there are also a couple more lazily set-up and directed action scenes -- a breech in the hull that resolves itself by pure luck moments later, a quick shot of the spiders advancing, a scene where the women suddenly have to run down an exploding hall for… some reason. The level of danger here is never clearly established. How far away are the advancing spiders? Why are the hallways suddenly deciding to explode? Honestly, it’s not even necessary: we have a doubly ticking clock with both the moon about to hatch and the nuke going off

But honestly, for all its problems, this is actually, almost, kind of a compelling sequence. The strength of the concept and performances finally overcome the flaws of the writing and directing, and deliver some decent sci-fi drama. And the script even gives them a couple good lines in there. Lundvik points out that Clara probably has children and grandchildren below on Earth. “You want today to be the day life stopped on Earth because you couldn’t make an unfair decision? Listen, I don’t want to do this. All my life, I’ve dreamed about coming here. But this is how it has to end.”

Finally, Lundvik sets the timer for an hour and shows them the abort button.

In desperation, Clara calls Mission Control (which appears to be one guy in a garage) and tells him to broadcast her message to all of Earth. Everyone who wants to save the creature, turn on their lights; everyone who votes to kill it, turn them off. This way, the entire Earth can make the decision.

… Well, half of Earth. Well, Europe and the bits of Africa who have electric lighting. And whatever’s left of the US East coast. Because clearly Asia, Australia, Western America, and anyone who doesn’t have electricity shouldn’t get to count their vote. Forget those guys.

Again, what’s really galling here is how easily fixable this is. The time limit here is entirely arbitrary; the only reason to make it 45 minutes is so the cold open can pretend it’s being clever. Making the time limit 24 hours wouldn’t affect the story negatively in any way.

Still, if you can roll with this (and if you rolled with anything in the first twenty-five minutes, you can probably take it), there’s a real poetry in the scene. The people of the world, given the choice between guaranteeing their own survival and killing an innocent(ish) life, choose to kill the unborn. I don’t entirely buy this, but I figure the governments would shut everything down themselves, just to be safe.

Lundvik, who had long ago resigned herself to this whole mess, abides by it. But Clara and Courtney both ignore logic and the votes of the entire world and turn off the nuke anyway. The Doctor re-appears, and brings them back to Earth to witness the hatching. The space dragon hatches, and flies off, leaving a whole new moon behind. For all its flaws, this is certainly a unique climax, science fiction in its most imaginative sense that only Doctor Who can provide, with the personal theatrical touch only Doctor Who delivers that imagination with. I mean, it's a pretty lame version of that, but it's reaching.

Doctor: You made your decision? Humanity made its choice?
Lundvik: No, we ignored humanity.
Doctor: Well, there you go.
Lundvik: So, what happens now?
Doctor: In the mid-21st century, humankind starts creeping off into the stars. Spreads its way through the galaxy, to the very edges of the universe. And it endures till the end of time.And it does all that because one day in the year 2049 when it’d stopped thinking about going to the stars, something occurred that made it looked up, not down. It looked out there, into the blackness, and it saw something beautiful, something wonderful, that for once it didn’t want to destroy. And in that one moment, the whole course of history was changed.

Wow. Removed from context, the world seeing the beauty of the universe sending humanity into a new golden age of space exploration is a tremendously powerful epic tale. In the context of this story, that’s about as compelling as Courtney needing to be sugar-fed that she’s a special little snowflake. (And 12’s action theme on the soundtrack is overdoing it, and frankly, starting to get old; it’s kind of a cool theme, but a lot less interesting than Gold’s past Doctor themes.)

As Lundvik pointed out, this would be the greatest natural disaster in history. The morality of the Doctor and Clara would not fly in the face of the entire world. The coastal cities of the world were leveled, untold millions were displaced from their homes, and the world probably faced a massive resulting food and medicinal crisis; that sort of disaster is a gold mine for diseases. As I guessed above, minimally, this would probably add up to 100 million deaths. (For comparison, the worst natural disaster in history numerically is the flu epidemic of 1918, which killed 75 million), and the resulting economic damage would plunge much of the world into a new level of poverty. The entire human race would suffer a collective trauma that would take generations to fully overcome.

There’s a reason the world voted to kill. Those are not birthing pains. Oh, poor space dragonfly, it only killed a hundred million people and devastated the entire planet. It was an accident, right?

Yeah, no. Have you ever met humans? Space Dragonfly can suck it. Earth is entering a golden age of space exploration so that Captain Ahab can hunt that damn space dragonfly with our whole species backing him. I’m betting the Space Ahab will be a Texan, since they’d be positively miffed at not getting to vote.

But, as I said, this is going for poetry. Just because it’s a clumsy poem and the director didn’t seem to get the memo doesn’t mean it can’t sort of work on its own terms.

We’re wrapping up, anyway. Courtney feels special now (blech) and everybody’s going home happy. But it’s not over, because Clara decides throws a tantrum. Apparently, she’s mad that the Doctor gave her (the control freak) a difficult choice. The Doctor says he had faith that she would make the best and right choice, but she doesn’t feel respected. Even though the Doctor paid her, her sex, and her entire species an extraordinary respect.

I mean, I get what this is going for: the Doctor’s callousness enraged her, and she felt abandoned when she needed him most. But, for me at least, it rings false. Like Courtney’s subplot, it feels like fakey Hollywood drama, and this isn’t a season that can get away with that. Clara being upset is perfectly fair, and Jenna Coleman plays it beautifully, but I don’t believe for a second that this is what would send Clara off the edge deciding she didn’t want to travel with the Doctor anymore.

Frustratingly, the closing moments, first between Clara and Danny, and then with Clara alone in her apartment, are superbly written. In a context that makes a hint of sense, these scenes would be incredible. (Clara drinking a glass of wine to think about things is a particularly nice character touch.) It’s reminiscent of the whiplash between the sickening over-sentimentality of the majority of The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe and the sudden punch of honest emotion in the epilogue.

So what am I supposed to make of this mess? I genuinely love the concept. The Moon hatching into a space dragon, and the moral choice left up to three women, is pure genius. It’s one of the best ideas the series has ever come up with, and that’s a high bar to cross. Sheer poetry. And the Twelfth Doctor is rarely more Doctorish; both the script and Capaldi are spot-on throughout. (He even gets through an entire episode without saying “Sorry!” What was the last time that happened, Survival?)

There’s more to it than simply a cool idea for the Doctor to run around in. As I alluded to earlier, scenes like the entire world turning out its lights in a vote show this is a poem, an ode to space exploration that truly longs for the glories of a golden age beyond the cradle of Earth. And I can’t think of another TV show that would do that as a one-off between a romantic farce and a horror yarn. This is reaching for the stars the way 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Right Stuff, and Interstellar reach in their own unique ways. (Armageddon as well, actually) This aims to be a grand epic of science fiction and fantasy.

And it’s a stunningly feminist one, too. Compared to those above, for instance, 2001 barely acknowledges that women exist. Liv Tyler is only in Armageddon so Ben Affleck has someone to kiss and Bruce Willis has someone to cry manly, manly tears over leaving behind. The Right Stuff does develop its women and give them stories, but they’re firmly “the wives” while the men do their stuff.

Interstellar has a more complex view, and ultimately valorizes women and the more traditionally feminine virtues of love and emotion over logic and power, but its focus is on both a celebration and deconstruction of masculinity. The world is saved by two women and one man (and an awesome robot), but the protagonist is still the manliest manly man ever to save the earth by gently yet firmly thrusting his spaceship in and out of docking procedures with his joystick. Yes, the other guy, named “Dr. Mann” with all the subtlety of a Dalek invasion, represents unchecked masculinity and ruins everything, and McConaughey doesn’t succeed until he stops driving forward by logic and starts working through love and emotion. Interstellar is feminist in its own ultra-masculine way, but it’s no comparison with Kill The Moon, which puts the decision of humanity’s future in the hands of three women, while the one non-red shirt male leaves because he can’t imagine anyone better to leave it to. It’s a magnificent climax to a magnificent tale.

But actually watching it, the execution is nails on a chalkboard all the way across. Nearly every scene, in its concept, is a perfect Who scene, but the direction is bland, the dialogue mildly cringe-worthy, the character drama unconvincing, and the detail work incredibly sloppy. The direction is particularly a problem. Even if the script had been dead on, this badly needed the fantastic approach Sheree Folkson brings to In the Forest of the Night, (which has the extra advantage of smoothing over any rough spots in this sort of story) rather than Paul Wilmshurst’s flat, uninspired approach here.

I was surprised to discover how many people outright loved it. I mean, there’s often differences of opinion, but the consensus seemed to be that this is an instant classic, and that didn’t add up at all. Oddly, though, right after watching it, my first reaction was all the science criticism (plus a lot more). And I found that the vast majority of the criticism seemed to attack that angle. It’s remarkable how often the biggest complaint was that the Space Dragonfly dropping off a new moon violated the law of the conversation of mass.

But so what?

Honestly, I don’t object to Space Dragonfly dropping off a new moon of the correct mass. That goes with “The Moon is an egg.” And if you don’t like the moon hatching into a dragonfly, you’re probably watching the wrong show. This is the show where the ambassador from Alpha Centauri is a giant green penis with a high-pitched woman’s voice. Where the vampires have to be stabbed in the heart with an entire spaceship. Where clocks and shadows are terrifying monsters.

So why did I find the science so off-putting? I mean, yes, when you can say with a straight face that Michael Bay’s Armageddon had a superior grasp on astronomy, physics, and how the space program actually works, you could probably at least check the first paragraph of the corresponding Wikipedia pages before filming. But Moffat’s fairy tale approach hasn’t really bothered me before.

Maybe there is a legitimate complaint for this one, then. I mean, the sheer quantity of terrible science is not only overwhelming, but, for the most part, completely gratuitous. The episode practically delights in kicking science nerds in the brain, which is strange for a show that has so many amongst its fans. There’s no reason for the Doctor to act like the moon should have no gravity instead of ⅙ Earth gravity, for instance. But that’s still a pretty insubstantial criticism. Not quite invalid, but not a reason to write off the entire thing.

Maybe, then, it goes to the basic problem with criticism, which is that most people know whether or not they liked a movie or TV show, but aren’t very good at figuring out why. It takes a lot of study and a lot of practice to get beneath the surface emotion and figure out what did or didn’t work. Our natural tendency is to take something obvious on the surface and assume that was the problem. And even with a lot of practice, it’s still an easy trap to fall into. So maybe it’s just that since the characterization, action, and atmosphere didn’t work for me, snarking about the science was all I had.

Or maybe I should just avoid Doctor Who episodes about gravity on the moon.


* * ½


  • With all I had to say (I think this is my longest review ever even before getting to these), I didn’t even address the ways the climax works as a metaphor for abortion. This is an immensely complicated topic, and I could easily spend another 5000 words on it. A lot of people on both sides of the debate have felt either vindicated or attacked by the episode, but I like how it turns out in that sense. As a metaphor, it’s never going to line up perfectly, it has a remarkably nuanced, complex approach to a problem that, frankly, needs a more complicated approach than the simplistic dichotomy it’s reduced to.

    Kill the Moon actually ends up being simultaneously pro-choice and pro-life; the Doctor gives the fate of the world over to women, and not even as a group, but as individuals. On the other hand, the episode clearly cheers them for choosing life. This conclusion - that a woman’s freedom of choice and ownership of her body must be respected, yet life is still the right choice (Let it feel the sun on its back) understands not only how both arguments work, but how they could work together.
  • Since I mentioned it above, I loved Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, which shares most of the same themes and ideas as this. Admittedly, Interstellar showcases amazing special effects (especially in 70mm) and heart-pounding set-pieces courtesy a $165 million budget. On the other hand, Kill the Moon has the Doctor, so advantage Who.

    But where Kill the Moon tries to build a dying world that has abandoned space travel (and, with it, the future) in favor of survival on Earth with a couple of lines of dialogue, Interstellar puts us there. The dust storms, McConaughey’s conversation with his daughter’s teachers, and Hans Zimmer’s expressionistic music get across vividly how far the world has fallen; and we see NASA reduced to a single bunker, financed off the books. We feel the apocalyptic world and the death of space travel. In Kill the Moon, we get a couple of lines, and not particularly dramatic ones. Interstellar develops its themes similarly throughout, so that the final triumph of mankind reaching toward the stars feels earned and meaningful, rather than a speech tacked on to try to screw some unearned weight onto the climax.

    The sense of awe and wonder in Interstellar don’t just take place in its wilder regions, though; even the washed-out iceworld has a sense of a wondrous, terrifying frontier. That sort of atmosphere is badly missing from Kill the Moon. It’s not a lack of technical ability; Kill the Moon’s effects get across the setting effectively enough. There’s just no mood or emotion to it.

    Interstellar also takes great care to get as much of the science right as possible, with the exceptions being either complex enough not to be noticed by anyone who doesn’t know this stuff like the back of their hand (the time dilation on a planet in a stable orbit around the black hole would be nowhere near as severe as we see on the waterworld) or fundamental to the premise and explained. (both the wormhole and the black hole are artificially created, so they don’t have to follow the rules perfectly) The result feels scientifically authentic, even as it goes in some wild directions during the climax.

    That same care for detail extends to its take on the space program itself, lending real weight to its nostalgia.

    I think Interstellar understands the complex and frustrating nature of why the space program has been so badly hobbled for the last forty-five years, while Kill the Moon seems to think that the cancellation of the Space Shuttle was where it all went wrong.

    This makes me wonder if Kill the Moon would be better off at twice the length, or at least at 75 minutes. I said before that, with one exception, this season knew how to fit its ideas into 45 minutes. This is the exception. I think Kill the Moon, expanded correctly, would have excelled as a two-parter. We could spend some time on Earth, getting a sense for not only how the moon’s gravity has wrecked the earth. More than that, though, we could see what dire straights the space program is in, desperately trying to put together even a single mission. The astronauts could get actual character development. Even the crash landing, ridiculous as it is, could at least work on a suspense and action level with several minutes of build-up instead of two seconds.
    • In retrospect, why space spiders? Since they’re actually giant space bacteria, they could look like all kinds of uniquely freaky creatures.

    1 comment:

    1. I like how the sidenotes are about as long as most actual reviews are.

      And the "lights on/off" voting thing was almost cool but ended up being dumb like you said. How do you tell the difference between a country turning its lights off deliberately or just not having any electricity or radio and then getting splatted at random by a piece of exploding space dragonfly or something?