But Mike, what do you think of the new Doctor Who?

Briefly (because I do intend to go back and review all this series’ episodes in a few months, when everyone else isn’t already doing it) …

I love Peter Capaldi’s take on the Doctor, I think that Listen is one of the very best episodes ever, and I thought that Series 8 was shaping up to be the very best of the new series (which for me makes it the best ever).

Then this happened.

moon-turd

We watched Kill the Moon the day after broadcast, thanks to iPlayer. And as it unfolded, we watched the slow-motion car-crash with growing disbelief.

It made no sense at all. Here are just a few of the reasons:

  • Single cells do not grow to badger size and evolve legs and teeth.
  • Eggs don’t put on weight, they lose it.
  • And even if they did somehow put on weight they wouldn’t do it suddenly, all at once, causing a freak tide.
  • The moon’s mass apparently increased by 1.3 billion tons. Its mass is 7.34 × 1022 kg = 7.34 × 1019 tonnes, so an increase of 1.3 × 109 tonnes would be an increase of 0.00000000177%. That is like me putting on 0.000177 grammes.
  • The tidal range in the River Severn, near where we live, is about 15 m — the third highest in the world. If the moon gained 1.3 billion tonnes, the tide would increase by 0.000000266 mm.
  • The life of one being against those of seven billion humans? That’s not even a question. If you’re rational, you kill the one alien without a second thought. There is no other conclusion to reach. “It’s just a baby” is not an argument.
  • The Doctor thinks the annoying trouble-making kid from the school should have a say in this decision?
  • When an egg hatches, the shell fragments don’t just conveniently vanish.
  • A newly hatched animal cannot immediately lay an egg of the exact same size as the one it just hatched from. This doesn’t just violate biology, but basic physics.
  • And even if it did, it would hardly be so identical to the moon that the Doctor never noticed any difference in all the times he’s seen it in the future.
  • And you could hardly expect the newly-hatched dragon to launch its egg into perfect Earth orbit.
  • And and and, uh …

Seriously. Come on.

Perhaps the part that irritates me most is the 1.3 billion tonnes. Someone took the trouble to invent a specific number for this part of the script — the number is mentioned several times. Yet that person couldn’t take literally ten seconds to ask Google the mass of the moon? And no-one else on the production thought this was worth bothering with? How can they all be so shoddy?

There’s so much more I could complain about: the Doctor’s moronic sudden leap into a dark hole, his unexplained reappearance later, the inconsistency of the character of Courtney, the complete lack of curiosity with which the moon team accept the Doctor and his wholly unsuitable companions.

To be fair, I could also talk about how much I enjoyed the last few minutes — after the Idiot Plot was over with, when Clara quite rightly lost her rag with the Doctor. Right on target. I loved “Is there music playing in your head when you say things like that?”

But I felt cheated by the whole episode. Like I’d burned an hour of my life on nonsense. Like I’d tuned in to watch Doctor Who and got My Mother The Car.

What makes it much worse is the near-universal critical acclaim that Kill The Moon has somehow garnered. I just don’t get it. Who is it that likes this episode? Certainly no-one I know: no-one in my family, and none of the kids they go to school with. It feels like there’s a vast Like Kill The Moon conspiracy going on — an enormous joke that someone’s playing on us.

Ugh.

[I you want to read something more positive, you may enjoy my book The Eleventh Doctor: a critical ramble through Matt Smith’s tenure in Doctor Who.]

24 responses to “But Mike, what do you think of the new Doctor Who?

  1. I usually watch each Who episode at least twice – once alone, and once with my daughter. On this occasion, I think I’ll just give her a summary. I couldn’t knowingly inflict this on an innocent 10-year-old. It was almost physically painful to watch.

  2. I was disappointed that they didn’t put in at least a handwavy explanation of the extra mass (which they could have done: posit highly-effecient energy-to-mass conversion, and the sun). But as people have said in other places, you’re accepting a time-travelling, dimensionally-transcendental blue box, and a regenerating Time Lord, so…?

    As to the biology of the creature… well, it’s _alien_. Possibly one of a kind. Why _wouldn’t_ it lay an egg as soon as it hatched? Remembering that “egg” and “hatch” are only our Terracentrist words for something entirely other.

    Indeed, that could be exactly why the creature’s mass spikes in the last few years or months of its dormant cycle: it’s forming the new “egg” so it itself will be ready to “hatch”.

    And by default it would be in the same orbit, unless something displaced it.

    But yes, while you can argue all that, the story would have been improved if it had included at least a nod to those points. And they should have got their sums right.

    But I think there’s something bigger going on across this whole series. It’s the development of Clara’s character, and Danny’s secret, and everything. But I just have a feeling that there’s _something else_ behind it all. Maybe I’ve just been trained to expect a season arc since the Bad Wolf, but… there’s definitely something going on.

    And Missy and paradise, of course.

    Someone somewhere suggested that maybe the whole series is taking place in a miniscope, since the Doc mentioned them in episode 1. I hope it’s more than that.

  3. But as people have said in other places, you’re accepting a time-travelling, dimensionally-transcendental blue box, and a regenerating Time Lord, so…?

    No, sorry, won’t do at all. Those are the series axioms — just as (say) FTL travel and world-scale engineering are the axioms of Ringworld. That doesn’t mean Larry Niven could suddenly introduce a creature that, on hatching from its egg, instantly lays another egg the size of the one it hatched out of. Neither does time-travel give Moffatt licence to do that. (And yes, I know he didn’t write this episode, but it’s his series — he carries the can.)

  4. Notably, we’re all talking about what was particularly bad about this episode. I kind of incline more to Martin’s side, however absurd the psuedo-science there’s at least some precedent for that in ‘Who’.

    To me the most egreious thing was the central position they gave the debate compared to the absurd way they rigged it. Would anyone watching it not have guessed not only which way it was going to turn out but that the Doctor knew that all along? Never mind ten year olds, across the land there were home furnishings which were guessing that.

    Perhaps the best thing was the way the woman astronaut was given some credibility. (Can’t remember her name and it’s not an episode which inclines me to go and look it up.) If she had a harsh worldview, with her spacesuit like body armour in contrast to the Tardis crews’, she had reasons on her side – she wasn’t another military blow-’em-up type.

    But then of course all her sensible arguments weren’t overcome so much as made never-was by… wait for it… the simple wisdom of a child.

    “What would we do if we came across Hitler as a baby? Should we kill him?”

    “Well that’s a bit of a poser.”

    “Yeah but on the other hand don’t worry. We haven’t come across Hitler as a baby, and when you think about it we’re not very likely to.”

    “By gosh, you’re right! That was a close one, eh?”

    Seriously, I don’t think I can take much more of this…

  5. Nope, sorry.

    Yeah, logically it doesn’t make sense. Like, scientific-logic-wise.

    However, since when do any of us ever watch Doctor Who for it’s science?
    And by that I don’t mean “Myeh well if you can accept police box time travel then why can’t you accept dalek plunger wibbly wobbly etc”

    Quite honestly, for a piece of fantasy, Kill the Moon has a lot going for it. There was a scene in Game of Thrones where a character suggested that the moon was a dragon egg. (paraphrasing, obviously)
    And this is quite the fascinating idea for a fantasy world, wouldn’t you agree?
    Yes we could argue that Sci-Fi and Sci-Fantasy are ultimately null terms and we should just enjoy a show for what it is, but seeing as you mentioned “Moffat carries the [proverbial] can”, I need to mention Series 5. That was complete, and utter fantasy in the best kind. Comparing it to a more science-based show like Star Trek would be an exercise in futility. Doctor Who is a show that can be anything BECAUSE of people like Moffat who take the show to new extremes.

    HOWEVER, that’s our take on the main moon-egg-spider plot aside. We can agree to disagree on that and that’s fine. And I’m glad you’re passionate enough about it to post your own blog thoughts (I’ve missed these, by the way!)

    But I still loved this episode. The last 5-minutes may have been rather separate from the main plot, but it still contained everything that I’ve wanted to see from this show for a long time. Mainly, Clara calling the Doctor out on his bullshit.

    Kill the Moon works in the same way that a film like Looper* does.
    [*Just realised you may not have seen Looper yet. In which case I suggest you watch that before reading any further]

    And critics may love it for the same reason they loved Looper as well.
    If someone were to ask you what “Looper” was ultimately about, how would you respond?
    A very obvious (and wrong) answer would be “it’s about an organisation that uses flawed time travel logic to handle Mafia business and one of their employers goes and tries to kill his future self”. That’s a very bad answer.
    A more correct answer would be “It’s about a man who sees his future and has to grow up.”

    So, what is KTM about? It’s about Clara realising how horrible the Doctor can actually be and calls him out on it. It is very much NOT about the scientific basis of how an alien creature can use the moon like an egg.
    And this is handled EXTREMELY well. And even if the moon-spider-idea doesn’t make a lick of scientific sense, why would you really care? It was just a way to bring home the final few minutes.

    ANYWAY, in case I came off as angry, then apologies! I do very much love this episode for my own reasons and it’s cool if you don’t agree with me, but I hope this gives you a bit of understanding as to where I’m coming from!

  6. Right, Gavin. Even people who are somehow unoffended by the appalling sloppiness of the “science” can hardly buy into the moral calculus that thinks one life of a creature we know nothing about might be worth more than seven billion human lives.

  7. This is nice! Just like the old days! The science was dull and dodgy and frankly secondary to the visuals: giant spiders, space dragons. A pity really. I mean the spiders were great and seriously deserved better than they got in story terms. The key point was the Doctor’s decision to walk away and let the humans decide how to deal with a problem which affected only them and so should arguably be their choice. This has precedent. The Eleventh Doctor did exactly the same thing with the Silurians in his first season. Only everyone involved back then was slightly more mature and just did their best to get on with it. Clara got upset and complained that the Doctor hadn’t done her thinking for her. Like Danny, I think we’ve seen that face before… Clara, more than any of the Doctor’s previous companions, should know just how much he has done over the years, so her outburst – and threats of violence – was really just histrionic petulence masquerading as high drama. And reaching for the bottle before she’s even taken her coat off? All this is good? Cue the Eastenders drums…

  8. This lack of logic is, unfortunately, what I have come to expect from Doctor Who. It’s even how I introduce the show to my friends: I tell them it’s quite lovely, what they do with the plot, but that you have to check your brain at the door and ride the emotional rollercoaster, otherwise you won’t have a good time.

    A good example of that is the handling of time travel, which seems to gain and lose rules as required to make the plot interesting. Not to mention that the Doctor rarely uses it to solve problems. The Tardis is more of a gateway to interesting adventures. Unless, of course, it serves the plot.

    The episode is a bit annoying, mostly for the total lack of logic in the argument — which should have been a non-argument really: everyone would have nuked the thing. Everyone on earth wants to in fact, excepted Clara and its pupil.

    Maybe the problem should have been stated more clearly: let the thing live, with potentially catastrophic consequence for the earth (but this is not *sure*), or nuke it and be almost certain the earth will be fine.

    While the episode is annoying, I’m not certain it is the worse of the season. In particular, I’m not sure it was worst than the first (promised land cyborgs), which seemed quite boring to me and than the third (with its childishly stupid competition between Robin Hood and the doctor — the setup was cool though). My top would be episode 4 (time travel in Danny’s past) and 5 (the bank heist). 6 (at the school) was good and 2 (inside the dalek) were nice. I particularly liked the quote “don’t be lasagna” and the shock of discovering that the new Doctor did not seem to be giving a rat’s ass if his temporary companion died.

  9. This lack of logic is, unfortunately, what I have come to expect from Doctor Who. It’s even how I introduce the show to my friends: I tell them it’s quite lovely, what they do with the plot, but that you have to check your brain at the door and ride the emotional rollercoaster, otherwise you won’t have a good time.

    What an indictment of the show. When even people who love it enough to introduce friends to it feel they have to start out by making excuses for its senselessness, then we have a problem.

  10. The only problem with the series in general is that which applies to sci-fi or sci-fantasy as a whole: which is simply that the need to suspend or check your disbelief at the door is a little more blatant or obvious. Compare Doctor Who to, say, Downton Abbey, or Peaky Blinders, or Boardwalk Empire. Can it really be said that any of the latter are genuine examples of what life was really like in that particular time or place, or are they fantasy constructs too? Does the fact that someone uses a gun or wears a particular item of clothing known to be in fashion at the time mean that the entire story is somehow dripping with factual truth? Try something like Homeland or Broadchurch for more “up-to-date” examples, and again, just because we might recognise the scenarios or the fashions, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be suspending our disbelief here just as much as with Doctor Who. It just isn’t that obvious.

  11. Well, davecw, I can’t make the comparison that you do because I don’t watch Downton Abbey, Peaky Blinders or Boardwalk Empire. But I can tell you the kind of unrealism that bothers me is when a sci-fi series doesn’t play by its own rules. If a sci-fi series axiomatically has FTL travel, that’s fine. But a series that only has relativistic travel can’t then have its characters travel from Earth to Proxima Centauri in a week.

  12. Sorry, Mike, I intended to reply to you sooner but to side-tracked. The point I was trying to make was in response to Nicolas Laurent’s disparaging comments regarding DW. That point being that the vast majority of dramas are not accurate portrayals of real life and that its probably a good idea to check your brain at the door with the opening credits of most of them. KTM was basically a silly and especially lazy story. Given that this sort of stuff actually costs real, proper money that has to be budgeted and freted over, then you’d think someone would do just the minimal amount of research, just to make sure the numbers add up. That’s truly unforgiveable. I guess the question you need to ask yourself is this: In “The End of the World” Chris’s Doctor took Rose to the far distant future to witness… the end of Earth. Has every episode involving Earth since then been an anticlimax for you? (Obviously we always know the Doctor’s going to fix things, but does it detract from the drama for you?)

  13. @gavinburrows: “however absurd the psuedo-science there’s at least some precedent for that in ‘Who’”

    Sorrry, I can’t agree with this. Sure, the show isn’t exactly renowned for its hard science, but at least things normally make some kind of sense. Over the last year-and-a-bit I’ve watched every episode since Tom Baker took over and about half of the ones that were before that. And in all of those episodes, there was only *one* that made me disbelieve the scientific basis of the story anywhere near as much as Kill the Moon did: The Twin Dilemma, almost universally regarded as the worst Who episode ever. And I don’t think even that was actually *as bad*, as it only failed to be believable in a handful of points, not a long list of them like Mike posted at the start of this review.

  14. I suppose what’s so offensive about Kill the Moon is the combination of utter scientific illiteracy and clearly not giving a badger about it.

    We all understand that the programme is made by luvvies rather than scientists. But if the luvvies watched a programme made by scientists in which (say) one character mispronounced a word, and another responded by never talking again, they would say, “Wait a minute, that’s not how relationships work.” While accepting that the scientists are not experts on relationships, they might reasonably ask “Why didn’t those silly scientists take five minutes to look this up on Google, or ask someone who actually has a relationship about it?” In this scenario, the Luvvies might legitimately feel that scientists had simply not done their job. Because they couldn’t be bothered to. Because they didn’t think it mattered.

  15. ”Sorrry, I can’t agree with this.”

    I’m not sure we’re on the same page here. I think there’s frequent ‘Who’ stories which essentially say “don’t worry about the science here, it’s not that sort of thing”. You could for example watch ‘Web Planet’ trying to work out exactly what kind of atmosphere or gravity Vortis has, but you wouldn’t get very far because you’re clearly not supposed to. You’re supposed to think “they’ve gone through a magic door and now everything is strange”. Anything else would be like wondering about how it can always be Christmas in Narnia.

    Or, if you want a more recent example, how about last week’s? I didn’t worry so much about the scientific lapses in ‘Forest of the Night’ (which were pretty much wall-to-wall) as we’re told from the beginning “treat this one as a fairy story”. Whereas ‘Kill the Moon’ had rockets and scientists and numbers and info about how the tides work. Until they had to get rid of all the science for a daft feelgood ending.

  16. (It was never Christmas in Narnia. Always winter but never Christmas — surely one of the most evocative phrases in literature.)

  17. Meanwhile, Gavin’s put his finger on why, while I found the dumb science in this week’s forest episode exasperating, it didn’t spoil it for me. The episode is clearly coded as the kind of thing where the logic is of the fairy-tale variety. Whereas Kill the Moon comes with all the trappings of hard SF. It’s dressed as Ringworld, but delivers Hitch-Hiker (only without the jokes).

  18. “It was never Christmas in Narnia. Always winter but never Christmas”

    Pedant!

  19. “Doctor Who has never pretended to be hard science fiction … At best Doctor Who is a fairytale, with fairytale logic about this wonderful man in this big blue box who at the beginning of every story lands somewhere where there is a problem.’

    Neil Gaiman

  20. The Gaiman quote is interesting, but flatly wrong. In fact, by the point, fifty years in, any quote that begins “Doctor who has never …” is wrong.

    I assume that what he meant was “Doctor Who has always had episodes that are not hard science fiction”, which is true; but it’s also true that it’s always had episodes that are hard(ish) science fiction. And of course that wild variety is a big part of why so many of us love it.

  21. ”The Gaiman quote is interesting, but flatly wrong.”

    It may make for a better description of New Who, which never had much of an adherence to science, and the early Moffat era in particular. (The appeal of ’Forest of the Night’ was at the same time its drawback, in that in reprising that era it simply rehashed its imagery. The girl lost in the unexpected forest and so on. It just had the Vashta Nerada as good guys.)

    ”it’s also true that it’s always had episodes that are hard(ish) science fiction.”

    Were you thinking of any episodes in particular? Given that they also had to contain historicals, the Hartnell era tended to be more human scale and real world. (A cliffhanger would be people being thirsty, the solution would be condensation and so on. (I expect some will think I’m kidding there!)) But I can’t think of any that you could call ‘hard SF’. Similarly, something from the Troughton era like ’The Moonbase’ may be more ‘real science’, but I don’t think it’s hard SF in that the science is part of the setting rather than the point of the thing.

    (Disclaimer: I’m not a hard SF fan, so I may well do what I do over jazz. If I like anything I can tend to say “but of course that’s not really jazz.”)

  22. Did I have particular episodes in mind? No. Obviously actual hard SF (where, as you say, the science is the point rather than the setting) has always been in short supply. What I had in mind when I referred to “hard(ish) science fiction” was more episodes that, having established a counterfactual premise, then go on to explore what follows from it using proper deduction.

    So for example, while Curse of the Black Spot is very much not an SF setting, the way the Doctor tries to solve the problem is very scientific (not least in how quick he is to abandon his early hypotheses when they’re falsified). Other episodes that I would classify as “hard(ish)” in this sense would include Dalek, The Empty Child (which may actually be the best New-Who example), The Impossible Planet, 42, Human Nature, Blink, Turn Left, The Waters of Mars (very much so), The Hungry Earth, Vincent and the Doctor (despite the historical setting), The Rebel Flesh, The Girl Who Waited, Asylum of the Daleks, Cold War and Flatline.

    (Note that I don’t think these are all good episodes, just that they have a certain logical integrity to them that I like and respect. And actually, I do think most of them are very good.)

  23. ”What I had in mind when I referred to “hard(ish) science fiction” was more episodes that, having established a counterfactual premise, then go on to explore what follows from it using proper deduction.”
     
    Okay, got you now. I think you mean the story follows logical premises. To go back to the example of ’The Moonbase’ the Doctor discovers what is poisoning the crew by deductive research. ‘Sort of resembles a detective story’ may be a better definition. Some of the original historicals would fit, after all.

    And yes, the two things can seem to vie. In a detective story, the murderer is found to have mud on their shoes from the rose bushes where they fired their fatal shot. In a fairy story, problems are caused by not following the path and are cured by believing in fairies. Its not logic which is the fabric of things but custom and ritual.
     
    It’s perhaps notable that, while your examples range across New Who, how few Davies examples there are. And certainly when Moffat took over he made a big show of the Doctor using deduction. (He had a phase of employing the same ‘clue sight’ motif as in ’Sherlock’, like bullet time for people with O-levels.) Davies was often accused of assuming anything goes in SF because it’s all make-believe anyway, so “we are all trapped in the doctrihebilator, but luckily I have made a frazziwhussup” was a valid plotline. But, perhaps counter-intuitively, while Davies was more interested in symbolic logic than logic-logic, ultimately it was Moffat who went for the fairy story thing in a big way.
     
    I’m going to suggest that while the show can be a detective story it doesn’t have to be, whereas it has to be some kind of fairy story or else it’s not really ‘Doctor Who’ any more. There’s a reason the Doctor’s called the Doctor, rather than the Detective after all. There’s a way in which he doesn’t overcome evil so much as heal the sick. I know I’m always saying this, but he should really be called the Shaman.
     
    But then of course, as the ’Moonbase’ example shows, Doctors do use logic. You don’t isolate and neutralise the Ebola virus by a bedside manner. And I think I like things best of all when the friction between the two things, rather than played down, is played up and used creatively. For example, I love those old film noirs. The Detective’s sense of values and insistence on deduction and solving mysteries collides with a nonsensical, nightmarish world. While Neil Gaiman’s “at best” may be when the needle flickers furthest over to the fairy story side of the spectrum, mine is when this collision happens. And it happened quite a lot in classic-era Moffat.
     
    Seriously, you didn’t like ’Flatline’, did you?

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