Remember Armin Tamzarian? To many Simpsons fans, the name represents the horrible moment that a series defied its own (admittedly elastic) continuity and declared that Principal Seymour Skinner, a major character since the start of the show, was an imposter, namely one Armin Tamzarian. By the end of the episode in question, The Principal And The Pauper, the people of Springfield kicked the real Skinner out of town and welcomed ‘their’ Skinner back, declaring: “Let’s never speak of this again.”
In Kill The Moon, Doctor Who finally had its Armin Tamzarian moment – but Doctor Who being Doctor Who, it was awesome. Silly, illogical and bound to give continuity-obsessed fans stomach ache; yet also a radical plot device for fuelling one of the most potent, emotional scenes the show has ever had.
Face it, it’s not like Doctor Who doesn’t have a history of mucking about with its own history. Indeed, it’s pretty much part of the job description. Fan favourites Genesis Of The Daleks and The Deadly Assassin saw radical rewrites of established lore, while last year’s 50th anniversary special, The Day Of The Doctor, pressed the reset button on the entire new series. But Kill The Moon was startling for the cavalier way in which it rewrote not only Doctor Who, but all of science. The big revelation about what was happening to the moon was loopy, child-like stuff; an 11th hour attempt to restore balance – essentially, to kick the real Skinner out of town – is little more than a band-aid on a great big gaping wound in the sky. (Even now, there will be fans feverishly re-watching previous Moon-based stories to reconcile the events of this episode.)
Frankly, it doesn’t matter. This isn’t sci-fi, despite the (mis)direction of the story’s Aliens-inspired action-horror. This was a fable, pure and simple: a morality lesson dressed in a spacesuit. Doctor Who has been here many times, especially since its 21st Century rebirth; think of The Fires Of Pompeii, or, more pertinently, The Waters Of Mars, from which this stole quite shamelessly. Yet the biggest influence is show-runner Steven Moffat’s own The Beast Below, which revolved around the decision to kill a space whale upon which the future of humanity’s survival depended. Again, it was bad science, as long as you thought you were watching sci-fi. But you weren’t, so it wasn’t.
Writer Peter Harness takes the promising ideas at the heart of The Beast Below and reworks them in a vastly different context: a Doctor without any bedside manner, and a companion who isn’t besotted with her time-travelling pal. Everything here conspired to break open the central duo like an egg, from the sheer irresponsibility of taking schoolgirl Courtney Woods (a narrative gamble that really paid off in terms of raising both the danger level and the innocence required to pull off the big reveal) to the Doctor doing a U-turn on his predecessor’s stance in The Beast Below and leaving poor Clara to sort out the mess.
Rarely has he been quite so calculating and detached in his treatment of his supposed friend; but rarely in the show’s history has a companion undergone a more pronounced regeneration. Clara Oswald has been a revelation this season, and Jenna Coleman has risen to every challenge. The substantial difference between Kill The Moon and The Simpsons’ The Principal And The Pauper is Clara’s refusal to “never speak of this again”. Clara has plenty to say, to the point where she more or less becomes the first character in Doctor Who to tell the title character to eff off. Her outburst is set to be a signature moment in the show’s history, and certainly one of the best acted.
If last week’s The Caretaker suffered from its awkward blend of whimsy and realism, this episode is so daring in its tonal shifts, so sure of its destination, that the same ambition becomes exhilarating. From nail-biting tension to bonkers space-fantasy to that startlingly well-played, properly character-changing coda, this was another great episode in a season where greatness is becoming an expectation. Let’s never stop speaking about it.
Doctor Who Season 8 is available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription. Want to keep Capaldi’s Doctor for longer? You can download Doctor Who on blinkbox and Amazon Instant Video, or on iTunes – where buying a season pass will also give you all of Doctor Who Extra.
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Photo: BBC/Adrian Rogers