This review contains spoilers.
I was so excited to watch Doctor Who on the Saturday night when we arrived in Chicago. Unfortunately, our flight from Key West got cancelled and we were bundled into a shuttle for a four-hour journey to a deserted Miami International Airport, where the promised food and hotel vouchers were nowhere to be found. That was a special, special night. So here’s the review now that I finally have access to the episodes.
The Doctor, Clara, and Courtney Woods go on an impromptu excursion to the moon and end up with the fate of the human race in their hands.
This is it. The one we’ve been waiting for ever since we started wondering why Clara was getting weirdly specific character development instead of being allowed to act like a normal human being. Or was I the only one wondering that? Meh.
Apparently at some point during Courtney’s brief trip to space last episode, the Doctor told her she wasn’t special. Probably while he was busy cleaning up her vomit. Look, I’ve worked in retail and I’ve said some pretty harsh things while cleaning up bodily fluids. It’s not a happy time. But I’m not the Doctor and he, on numerous occasions, has said that basically every living being in existence is special and wonderful.
Since the Doctor is apparently still acting as caretaker at Coal Hill, Courtney—armed with cleaning and travel sickness products—can walk back into the TARDIS whenever she likes. In an effort to make up for his idiocy and out of character behaviour, the Doctor decides that Courtney can be the first woman on the moon.
Almost as soon as they land on a 2049 moon-bound space shuttle, the Doctor realises that there’s something wrong. Well, two things. First, there’s too much gravity and they can walk around as normal. Second, the space shuttle is filled with nuclear weaponry.
The shuttle crashes but, thankfully, no bombs go off. Three astronauts find the Doctor, Clara, and Courtney. They seem mildly annoyed but relatively unsurprised about their time-travelling stowaways. Captain Lundvik, who was supposed to be the first woman on the moon, is weirdly fine with a random schoolgirl stealing her thunder.
Once upon a time, some unknown thing happened to some Mexicans doing a mining survey on the moon. Then, Earth had its greatest natural disaster in history—high tides everywhere at once. Earth’s head honchos decided the problem was probably alien so they sent Lundvik and her astronauts to the moon to blow it up.
Captain Lundvik is travelling with a ‘second-hand space shuttle, third-hand astronauts’. That implies that these guys have been out in space before and are thus fairly experienced so I don’t understand why they’re being depicted as idiots. Personally, I think it would have been better to brief them instead of assuming they have ESP but Captain Lundvik can go on being an absolute fucking walnut if she wants. She sends one astronaut off to arm the bombs and he dies pretty quickly. RIP, mate.
The Mexicans haven’t been heard from in 10 years and now they’re just skeletons hanging out in cobwebs. But they did find out that the moon is falling apart so good on them.
Then the motherfucking Nazgûl-shrieking spider attacks. So we’ve now had two sets of stranded robots trying to get to the Promised Land, and two episodes with spidery-ish things (I’m counting last week because that Skovox Blitzer definitely had spider aspects about it). If this pattern continues and we get two episodes for each type of villain, then I guess what the rest of the season has in store. I hope I’m joking. That would be stupid.
The slightly less moronic astronaut is killed. Captain Lundvik briefly grieves the loss of the slightly less moronic astronaut and reveals that he taught her how to fly. Do you or do you not think that your astronauts are morons? Get your story straight, woman.
Courtney kills the Nazgûl spider with some of her disinfectant spray, proving that it is, in fact, a germ. Now properly scared, Courtney asks to go home. The Doctor reluctantly sets her up in the TARDIS but refuses to leave. This is not a fixed point in time and their actions now could change the course of history.
The Doctor, Clara, and Lundvik find a whole nest of Nazgûl spiders and some amniotic fluid. The space shuttle (with the TARDIS inside) falls into a giant hole but, once again, the bombs don’t go off. In the TARDIS, Courtney is uploading pictures of her space adventure to Tumblr and she hasn’t even noticed that the space shuttle just nose-dived off a cliff.
With the space shuttle now chilling in a hole, the Doctor, Clara, and Lundvik head back to the Mexican colony. Investigation of the amniotic fluid reveals that the moon is an egg for what looks like a giant space dragon—the only one of its kind in the universe. Somewhere, Doreah from Game of Thrones is cheering because her theory was right.
Lundvik wants to kill the space dragon. We come very close to an abortion argument and I’m not sure if this is an actual debate or if Moffatt is trying to press his own opinions here. Courtney wants to sub back in so the Doctor instructs her on how to bring the TARDIS to him.
Then he butts right out of the decision-making process, saying that it’s time to ‘take the stabilisers off’ Clara’s bike. He disappears in the TARDIS and leaves it to a teenager, an astronaut, and a schoolteacher to decide whether or not to kill the space dragon.
Mostly, everyone’s concerned that if the moon/egg hatches, it could send bits of moon/eggshell hurtling towards the Earth. I’m not totally up to speed with how the bombs are going to work but I feel like maybe that could also send bits of moon/eggshell hurtling towards the Earth so I don’t think that comes down firmly on either side of the argument. I also don’t know how they’re going to blow up the moon since the slightly more moronic astronaut died before arming the bombs.
COINCIDENTALLY, Ground Control chooses this precise moment to check in. They broadcast Clara’s message asking the Earth to make the decision: the life of one potentially deadly baby space dragon, or everyone else. If they think the creature should die, they should turn their lights off. If they want it to live, they need to leave their lights on.
Lights start going off around the world as the timer ticks down, until the whole world is left in darkness. Or whichever hemisphere was awake in time to see the message/whichever side they can actually see from the moon right now, at least. The other half of the world may be all for letting the space dragon live and this method is flawed but there’s no time for a better poll of opinion.
At the last second, Clara pulls the plug on the bomb and leaves the moon intact. The Doctor instantaneously returns and transports everyone back to Earth, where they watch the giant space dragon hatch and fly away without sending eggshell bombs towards Earth.
The Doctor says this is when the human race decided to explore the stars because, for once, it saw something out there that it didn’t want to destroy. The space dragon lays another egg/moon before anything can go seriously wrong and Courtney generously tells Captain Lundvik that she can be the first woman on this new moon.
Captain Lundvik is given vague directions back to civilisation. Maybe she can use her alone time to think about her superiority complex. Courtney is dropped back at school and Clara stays in the TARDIS to tear the Doctor a new one.
The Doctor thinks he was respecting Clara’s right to make that huge decision. Clara, in tears, tells him she’s sick of his condescension and experiments to see how she can handle pressure. If she hadn’t stopped Lundvik—and she very nearly didn’t—she might have changed human history and been killed in the process. If the Doctor is truly a friend of the Earth, then he should have helped make the decision. Clara tells him to clear off and not come back.
Clara returns to Coal Hill and Danny immediately recognises that this is the moment when the Doctor has pushed Clara too far. She tells Danny everything, but he reminds her that she’s still angry and not ready to move on. This is exactly how he felt about the army after a ‘really bad day’. She’ll be able to make a proper decision once she’s calm.
When Clara decided to travel with the Doctor, she knew full well the kind of danger it could entail. But she also began travelling with a much gentler Doctor; Eleven would never have knowingly put children in danger, as he showed in season 7’s Nightmare in Silver. In this episode, Twelve leaves them all behind. With the Doctor gone and the bomb about to go off, Clara not only has to come to terms with losing her own life, but with knowing that she’s failed in her duty of care to her student, Courtney.
Each companion’s safety is paramount, and the Doctor frequently risks his own life to save his friends. Even in Deep Breath, when this Doctor was still new and unpredictable, Clara reached for his hand with the expectation that he would come back for her. This time, his extended absence at such a critical time caused all of Clara’s doubt about this new Doctor to come creeping back in. Once again, she has to wonder if she really knows this man, and if she can trust him. She isn’t just angry because she had to make a tough decision. It’s because her friend has betrayed her.
All of her weirdly specific character building has been leading up to this moment and it was spot on. I don’t for a second believe that this is the end of Clara’s time with the Doctor but I almost wish it were. I can’t speak for Classic Who because I haven’t watched enough of it but in most of New Who, the Doctor’s splits with his companions have been either amicable or for the best. I’m not saying I was happy about all of them (Donna’s story is still a gaping wound for me) but they did come to a natural conclusion.
Purely from a writer’s perspective, how fascinating would it be to have a character walk away because the Doctor made a mistake too big to fix? Sometimes people just push you too far and you can forgive them but you’ll never trust them in that same way.
I love that idea. But, even if she starts taking more time between trips, I am almost certain that Clara’s going to be travelling with the Doctor at least until the end of this season. So I’ll just let my ‘Clara walked out of the TARDIS forever’ tangent live on in my imagination as an alternate universe.
There’s a mummy on the Orient Express … in space. And Clara is nowhere in this promo so WHAT DOES IT MEAN? IS SHE REALLY GONE? Probably not.