SPOILER WARNING: If have haven’t seen the latest Doctor Who episode and don’t want to be spoiled, you may want to hold off reading this entry until you have seen it. Indeed, you might find this post confusing until you have seen it.
There has been some reactions to the episode, from Charlie Ann Andors at IO9, who seemed taken aback but is willing to see where things are going, to fellow blogger, Steve Morris, who is mostly upset about the appalling scientific inaccuracies.
I’ve grown used to Doctor Who being scientifically inaccurate. I view it as an unfortunate reality of TV sci-fi that most of it is more fantasy than actual scientific fiction, but last night’s episode seemed to go out of it’s way to be garbage scientifically, not just making compromises that most TV shows must make to tell a story quickly and within budget, but violating common sense understandings of things. Steve does a good job of listing many of the problems. Of course, it’s possible to engage in Whovian apologetics and explain away many of Steve’s objections, although many seem pretty unsalvageable.
But the thing that drove me nuts last night, the violation of science I found pointless and unnecessary, was all the sound we heard while the characters were moving around in spacesuits in the airless environment of the moon. Really producers? It was beyond your ability to just turn off the stage microphones during those scenes? (The dialog was happening over the helmet radios anyway.) You can’t even excuse this with the idea that most of the audience would expect to hear sounds since we’ve all seen videos of the Apollo landings.
But the scientific ineptitude of the episode isn’t the main reason I hated it. As I said above, I’ve grown used to TV sci-fi being a scientific lost cause. My biggest issues with the episode stems from two things. The fact that the Doctor was more than just grumpy in this episode, he was a flaming asshole, and the implied morality of how a species should act when its survival is threatened.
First the Doctor being a jerk. He leaves Clara hanging in a high pressure situation, supposedly with humanity’s future hanging in the balance, because he “was confident she would make the right decision”.
The reason the Doctor supposedly does this is that he feels humanity must make its own decision here. The problem is that when Clara asks humanity for its decision, they decide to kill the creature. She ignores humanity’s decision and overrides it. So, humanity didn’t make the decision not to kill the creature, Clara did. Clara who was undoubtedly influenced in her decision from her time with the Doctor. So, the idea that the Doctor really left the decision to humanity is baloney.
As Clara states in the episode, she almost got it wrong. She was left to make a mind bogglingly consequential decision with incomplete information. Information that the Doctor had. She’s totally right to feel tested and judged, and the Doctor’s actions here are simply reprehensible. It’s a modification to the basic character of the Doctor, who has historically always been eccentric, but basically good and competent on big decisions.
And then there’s the implied message from the episode that humanity would have been wrong to kill the creature. If humanity had killed the creature, the message seems to be, they would not have explored the universe. Killing the creature, in addition to being a morally cruel act, would have been shortsighted. In other words, humanity should have known better.
The fact is that humanity had precious little information with which to make that decision. Again, it was information that the Doctor had but withheld, that the creature hatching would not endanger Earth. Withholding that information and then asking them to make a morally pivotal decision in ignorance, should he be surprised that humanity would make the decision that maximized its chances of survival?
The one thing the episode gets right is Clara’s reaction to the Doctor’s actions, which is to be enraged and tell him to get lost. Maybe this episode was some crucial piece of a character arc that the producers are bringing us through. I don’t know. I do know that I didn’t like the Doctor at the end of this episode, and that it’s not going to take many episodes like this to make me lose interest. In some ways, I’m reminded of Torchwood, a Doctor Who spinoff show I struggled to stay interested in, mainly because I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likeable.
I don’t mean this to be a criticism of Peter Capaldi’s take on the Doctor, which I generally like. I see this much more as a problem with the writers and producers. The writing for this episode sacrificed even common sense scientific plausibility for cheap wonder, and coherence for poorly conceived moral preachiness and character conflict.