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How the Grinch stole 'Doctor Who' in one of the worst episodes this season

How the Grinch stole 'Doctor Who' in one of the worst episodes this season

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"You walk our Earth, Doctor. You breathe our air. You make us your friend, and that is your moon, too. And you can damn well help us when we need it!"

For this season of Doctor Who, Ross Miller and Kwame Opam will be sounding off on each episode in a series of emails we'll be publishing on the site. This week it's "Kill the Moon" (warning: spoilers ahead). Check out our previous recaps: "Deep Breath," "Into the Dalek," "Robots of Sherwood," "Listen," "Time Heist," and "The Caretaker."

Ross: "One small thing for a thing. One enormous thing for a thingy-thing."

Remember how we said last week's episode was really about character development with a throwaway plot? This week, the story feels rather absurd, but the emotional payoff in the end was great. Only thing is, that emotional payoff is only a fraction of the whole piece.

We say spoiler warning every time, so let's just cut to the chase: the moon is an egg for a giant creature who can fly in the dead of space and immediately lay an egg that's roughly the same size. (Where's it flying? I'm gonna guess the Promised Land because why not.)

I've got three things I want to really talk about. The big one is false drama. "I really don't think [The Doctor] is coming back." It makes sense for Clara to think that, but it's presented to an audience who knows better. What viewer at home is thinking, "well, maybe The Doctor will leave Clara to die on the moon! And maybe all of human civilization will die depending on the choice they make here, unthinkably altering the future and negating at least half of all episodes ever." The episode drags until about the 20 minute mark where we finally are told what's really going on (the egg). What was nice about "Listen" was that it respected the audience; the stakes were imaginable and the outcome not certain. Here? It was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

And that is, somewhat, the point, and it leads us to the two scenes that really matter: Clara's pseudo-breakup with The Doctor and Danny comforting her. The Doctor specifically put a lot of pressure on Clara — so much that she tried to have the world choose by vote, kind of like The Voice (never mind that one whole hemisphere didn't get a vote based on wherever rotation was at the time). And man, NASA has some power if it can get everyone to watch TV for the exact same 5 minutes.

Sorry... breathe... okay, back to the good parts. "You're never finished with anyone while they can still make you angry." I loved this line from Danny. It's very real. That said, I think he's cheating a bit... my guess? His "bad day" was a trip with The Doctor (and maybe a future, since-reconciled Clara).

Okay, the third thing. You've really liked Courtney Woods so far. This must have hurt so much to watch. She goes from sad to obnoxious to scared to petulant — basically, whatever #teen emotion was necessary to create drama, Courtney had. She was six #teen plot devices in one. One that apparently likes to keep cleaning solutions on hand? Did I miss that part?

I hated it and then I kind of liked it and then I hated it again, and then there was two great emotional moments but overall I feel pretty "eh" about it.

Kwame: Oh do I have some thoughts.

I have to say I really rather hated this episode. Partially because it feels a little bit like a retread of older Who stories, but also because it really paints the Twelfth Doctor as a manipulative asshole. What's worse, the emotional payoff that you mention is completely undermined by the end.

But before I get into all of that, yeah I am disappointed in Courtney's characterization. I wanted so much more for her! Don't get me wrong, she's funny and clever, but only in a "my young sidekick says the darndest things" kind of way. A chicken, Courtney? Really?


Anyway. First things first, I nearly nodded off in the episode's first half. The moon is expanding and people are dying. Astronauts have been sent to the moon to solve the crisis, but were killed off by spider-bacteria. (I laughed when the Doctor said they were prokaryotic organisms because it just seemed so silly). The moon's actually an egg. Go figure! Throws previous moon adventures in a pretty amusing light, all things considered. The point is, the entire episode feels like a monster-of-the-week episode, so I was bored right from the jump.

When we find out the thing is ready to hatch, we dive right back into character study territory, with our dark Doctor and the boundlessly hopeful Clara. Which... is getting a little boring at this point in the game, to be completely honest. But when our motley crew is suddenly forced to decide whether or not to let the moon creature live or die, the Doctor clears off. After all, he doesn't ever kill Hitler. Why would he intervene in such an important event in human history now? This makes no sense. The Doctor intervenes in human events and history all the time. He exists to do just that. And if we're really meant to believe for a second that he'll passively stand by when things are going wrong, he's not much of a superhero. That's precisely what he's meant to be, and it's yet another thing we've been exploring all season. That the story takes us right to the edge of the problem of a time traveling hero righting sci-fi wrongs in history is great, but don't make him refuse to act on some moral pretense.

That moral pretense is made all the more insulting when it turns out he always knew what was going to happen. Like, what the hell dude? In her final speech to the Doctor, Clara tells him he can't play the part of humanity's judge, and I completely agreed with her. Once again, we're thrown back to Danny's assessment of Twelve as a lordly figure judging his serfs. And if that's the real Doctor, why would you follow a man like that into the breach?

I found Danny's speech to her at the end a little pat, even if it was sweet and well delivered. That she's just not done with the Doctor yet, which is accentuated in her longing look at the moon. Let her be mad! Let her be done! This is not a healthy relationship, Danny!

Now to get a little meta on you: maybe this episode was meant to be infuriating. I mean, it's pretty astonishing that the show is investing so much into making the new Doctor unlikeable. Maybe we need to hate him for his metamorphosis to be complete. Maybe that fight will change the dynamic he shares with Clara, and by extension humanity. Maybe we can finally stop this deconstruction schtick and reach the Promised Land. I hope so. Carrying on like this if frankly exhausting.

Ross: Did he always know, though? He's risking the life of a huge space beast on a last-second change of heart. Even more than judge, it feels like The Doctor is intentionally playing the role of flippant deity testing his subjects for worthiness. I'm happy to hate The Doctor, if he wants to be an antihero. But he wasn't even a hero here; just the anti. Inaction doesn't suit him.

I'm curious to see how The Doctor reacts after Clara leaves. I'm guessing that'll be the first scene next week; I'm guessing further that he immediately kidnaps Danny, probably from earlier that day. After all, Danny is the only other person in Clara's life that knows the whole story. Who better to talk to?

If we're supposed to hate The Doctor, what's the endgame? His two hearts grow two sizes bigger when humanity sings Christmas hymns? Are we establishing a backstory to How the Grinch Stole Christmas?

Actually, I'd watch that.

Kwame: He knew that the moon creature hatching out of its egg wouldn't put the Earth in danger. But he led the humans with their fingers on the button on, leading them to believe that they held the fate of the human race in their hands. Had he simply said, "Oh it's a cosmic egg, is it? Well, eggs don't ever really cause harm. No worries, mates!" we'd have a much shorter episode. But by stepping back, he steps out of the character we know and love. And the worst thing is humanity as a whole got it wrong. He effectively manipulated a species into thinking it was doomed, and we voted the Moon out of existence. And we already know blowing up the moon would be calamitous in its own right.

So what do we learn? That Courtney and Clara are special? In the Doctor's eyes? The episode's shining moment is seeing the Doctor shaken by Clara's words, but she got it exactly right. He walks our Earth just as we do, Time Lord or no. He's not God. So, yes, I am curious what the fallout will be from here, even if I, like Clara, feel pretty worked over.

Oh, and I'd totally watch Peter Capaldi in a Grinch outfit. Just saying.