The Moon is an egg. Let it sink in. Swallow it. Swill it around your mouth, gargle it, spit it back out and look at the flakes of half-digested spinach swimming in it. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Even in a science-fiction series like Doctor Who, the notion that Earth’s satellite is, infact, the unhatched offspring of a gigantic space dragon seems a bridge too far. When “Kill the Moon” came out, the main complaint leveled against it (you know, apart from the Doctor working really hard to be unlikeable) is that it made this flight of fancy a permanent part of Doctor Who lore. The main inspiration for humanity beginning it’s exploration and conquest of the universe is that it saw the Moon hatch into a cosmic tadpole about forty years from now. In the Doctor Who canon, the Moon being an egg is an incontrovertible fact.
However, it’s also a fact that Earth used to be inhabited by intelligent dinosaur people, had a twin planet that was knocked out of orbit and became home to an army of cyborgs, and at some point in the future is going to be dragged across the galaxy by the Time Lords. Why does one strange addition to the series’ continuity seem so egregious, especially compared to all the other wacky nonsense that’s been pilled on over the decades? The answer, possibly, has nothing to do with the idea itself, but in execution.
“Kill the Moon” begins with Clara berating the Doctor (dressed in a rather fetching spotty shirt that outrageously never turned up again) for telling school pupil Courtney that she’s not special, a statement that the Doctor refuses to apologise for despite it having a negative effect on her school and home life. Instead, he decides to ‘make’ her special by making her the first woman on the Moon, and promptly takes her and Clara to an old space shuttle packed with nuclear warheads bound for Earth’s satellite. Confronted in the hold by Hermione Norris’ Captain Lundvik and two redshirts, the Doctor uses his YoYo to point out that something is very wrong with the Moon; it’s gained weight, and they can walk around on the surface unimpeded by the previously weak gravity, which must have made the production team breath a sigh of relief when reading the script and realising they didn’t have to make the actors walk slowly across a beach in Lanzarote for a week.
Ten years ago, contact was lost with a privately financed Mexican mining base, and since then the Earth’s been devastated by devastating tidal shifts. Lundvik and her crew, including her old mentor, are the last astronauts in the last spaceship armed with the last nukes, the final relics of a species disinterested with space travel. In the base, they uncover the desiccated remains of the crew buried in webs, as scuttling fills the corridor. So far, so Philip Hinchcliffe.
Penned by series newcomer Peter Harness, the first twenty minutes of the episode are filled with some claustrophobic and genuinely tense moments that gets under the skin. Though some of the early scenes are fairly economic in their introductions of the Doctor and company to the astronauts, once we shift to the base under siege section the tension really begins to mount. When Lundvik’s mentor is killed by one of the Gieger-esque spider parasites, she mourns him in stunned silence before being dragged off to the next corridor. Cut from the same cloth as Adelaide Brooke, Lundvik is an even grimmer commander, with no hope of rescue or escape, someone who once dreamed of going to the Moon before the space programme was shut down. Lanzarote, previously the planet Sarn in 1984’s “Planet of Fire”, makes for a coldly alien Moon, and it puts the usual Welsh quarries to shame. Courtney Woods puts in a rare turn as a tolerable child companion of Doctor Who, giving Courtney moments of terror and fun, although she does lean dangerously close into being a ‘token millenial’ with #opinions.
What “Kill the Moon” is remembered for, though, is the Doctor’s actions in the episode. After diving into a fissure of amniotic fluid, the Doctor discovers that the Moon is infact the egg of an incredibly large and unidentified life form that’s beginning to hatch (this fits in with the in-universe explanation that the Moon was captured by the Earth’s gravity, rather than forming from an impact as was later discovered). They all face a terrible decision- detonate the nukes, leaving a corpse floating in Earth’s atmosphere, or let the baby hatch, and leave the possibility it will attack the Earth, or that shards of rock will rain down on the planet.
It’s a momentous decision, and it’s one the Doctor decided to sit out on. The Doctor makes it clear that as a Time Lord he has no right to make this decision on behalf of humanity, and thus leaves it to an schoolteacher, a student and an astronaut whether to blow themselves up or not, before leaving in the TARDIS. Rarely is the Doctor seen to be this callous or cruel, referring to his actions as ‘taking the training wheels’ of humanity. When you get down to it, “Kill the Moon” is the opposite of “The Waters of Mars”. In the latter, the Doctor took it upon himself to attempt to alter a fixed point in history, a moment that couldn’t by it’s nature be changed. In “Kill the Moon”, the Doctor abdicates his authority to Clara, so that she can make a decision on behalf of humanity to decide the course of history.
By the use of switching off the Earth’s city lights, humanity indicates that it wants them to kill the creature, and Lundvik is ready to do so before Clara stops her. The Doctor returns and rescues them, letting them witness the creature hatch and fly away, but not before laying another Moon-sized egg. The Doctor tells them that the sight of the creature re-invigorated humanity’s sense of wonder, and motivated them to go back to space.
If “Kill the Moon” had ended here, it’d be similar to “Time Heist” in being a perfectly serviceable middle-of-the-series filler episode. However, it’s the final five minutes that push the episode over the line into something a bit special. Back in the TARDIS, Clara has finally had enough of the Doctor’s patronising attitude towards her and humans in general. One one hand, the Doctor showed his implicit trust in Clara by letting her push the button, so you can see his confused disappointment when she cries and rages at him for leaving her all alone. Because for Clara, what the Doctor did was abandon her when she needed him most. In “The Day of the Doctor”, it was Clara who stayed by his side and helped him decide whether to use the moment, but here he just assumed she could do it herself. But Clara isn’t the Doctor, and the stress of the decisions he makes every day are crushing to her. It’s a fine moment that allows Jenna Coleman to flex her acting muscles, and here she’s more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the unapologetic Peter Capaldi, storming out of the TARDIS, leaving the Doctor alone and wondering what he did wrong. After talking to Danny, Clara goes back to her flat, pours herself a glass of wine, and looks out at the Moon, thinking…
After it aired, “Kill the Moon” became the center of that most pleasant of modern phenomena, a big internet fight. The social media apps raged back and forth about whether or not the Doctor was in the right or acting purposefully out of character in order to ram home the Twelfth Doctor’s ‘darker, edgier’ personality, or else that the episode was a metaphor for the abortion debate. The main legacy of the story, however, seems to be the infamous ‘the Moon is an egg’ twist, which some have argued amounts to a damaging ‘shark-jumping’ moment that pushed viewers credulity too far.
There’s a reason nobody ever remembers alien invasions in Doctor Who-land; if they did, mankind would have had half a century by now to come to terms with the fact that periodically robot Yeti might fill the London Underground with toxic cobwebs, or else another as-yet-undiscovered Dalek army will finagle the Earth to the other side of the galaxy in order to power a multiverse-destroying death ray. Setting a concrete date in the near future means that, eventually, Doctor Who will catch up and then surpass that date, and then have to explain why Earth wasn’t invaded by cloth-faced robot men in 1986.
Perhaps that’s why the Space Egg proved a more controversial addition to Doctor Who canon than, say, the lost city of Atlantis both existing and being destroyed on three separate occasions, or the universe being created by a back-firing spaceship engine. We can’t say for certain that Atlantis didn’t exist and sank to the bottom of the sea an embarrassing number of times, or that life on Earth wasn’t seeded by a green spaghetti-faced cyclops blowing up his floating robot spider. But we can be pretty certain that in a couple of years mankind probably won’t be left with egg on their face because it saw the Moon crack open and a big space-bat fly out.