Doctor Who: Goddesses, Captains & Parables

In space no one hears the countdown

If Earth is Mostly Harmless, then Space is Mainly Lethal. Lack of air. Un-earth-like physics. People on the edge. In Doctor Who, space is dangerous because of ‘grey area’ moral dilemmas and countdowns. Seriously, they had an episode called 42 with a living Sun and 42 minutes until a ship crashes into to it. In Kill the Moon, the countdown is on for a birth/death.

Physics is the motivation to go to the Moon because its gravity is Earth-normal. This saves a bunch of money for special effects. That’s a couple of writer’s making the BBC very happy. I liked the conceit, it was clever on both levels. As this link explains, all the other science that was um, not.

The telescope

Kill the Moon is not my favourite episode.

I’m not a fan of telescoping. It kills tension even as it raises expectation. It does so in the book of The Hobbit, where the narrator intervenes to tell everyone everything will be ok even before they enter Mirkwood. In doing this, Tolkien very nearly breaks the spell. In Doctor Who, it’s more like talking loudly and slowly so people can understand. It’s patronising and unnecessary. Which is me being Clara yelling at The Doctor I guess.

So the other week set up Danny as the moral support for Clara for situations that would test her boundaries. Voila those boundaries are tested. And then we have Clara’s rants. The set up and how it played out was unsubtle, clunky and negative. Which is a bit like The Doctor himself  of late.

Telescoping: fun in science, boring in narrative.

Telescoping: fun in science, boring in narrative.

The positive upside is that Danny’s role is clearer. He is to Clara what The Doctor could have been. Not in terms of a romantic relationship (necessarily) but in terms of an understanding confidante that challenges and accepts others, and transforms them for the better.

Baby Moon

Kill the Moon sees Clara as Madge in The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe. This time Clara saves the Baby Moon, just as Madge saves the Light Trees. With the viewers being told both times: Women Strong Bring Life Save Babies.

Clara saved the Moon Squid like Amy saved the Star Whale. Or something.

Clara saves the Moon Squid like Amy saves the Star Whale. Or something.

This episode outlines how a childless (career) woman needs the input of a ‘mothering’ carer/teacher/future parent younger woman to stop her from killing a baby. This I have a lot problems with. I believe people without children can have empathy for, be attached to, and generally have regard for life, human and otherwise.  So I’m gonna say this: a woman who doesn’t have kids doesn’t equal BABY HATER.

So there’s that.

If the other episode saw The Doctor as a protective father, Kill the Moon see’s this father kick the daughter out or rather abandon her to her elder non-mother mother. And the daughter is promptly put in a position of deciding to save a baby or abort it. Conclusion: Women go off the rails fast without the super smart almost immortal menfolk right?


The Doctor’s role is the same as in the Narnia-lite episode. The Doctor disqualifies himself for action on similar grounds. Last time it was that males are weak, Lucy was strong and Madge strongest of all. With the Baby Moon – The Doctor denies paternity, in a very paternal and condescending manner. He leaves the women, which he is at pains to point out, to make the decision. Because baby.

Deadbeat Dad? Except he doesn’t really leave them. As soon as Clara makes a decision he’s there with his approval and comments about training wheels coming off. Yay! he says patting Clara on the head, you Chose Life in this abortion parable.

Thing is he would have been there had they detonated the bombs, to deliver a stern dad lecture.

I guess this episode was a recall to Amy saving the Star Whale. But Amy based her actions on her observations. Clara just went with her femme-gut. Or something. So at the end The Doctor gets a hug from Amy and a rant from Clara. Same but different.

So much no

Here’s the problem with making female centric story about babies. Or baby stories so very didactic and female centric. It says: only babies make women important. And Only wanting or having babies make women care. And babies are only women’s business. A better female centric story, if it needed to say anything, would send the message that women are important in a range of ways, some related to babies, and others not, and are no more important and no less important than men. Or aliens.

My Captain, My Captain

This is a Woman in Space episode. Instead of Adelaide Brooke in Water of Mars, it is Captain Lundvik, who also reminds me too of the Captain at the Hedgewick’s World of Wonders in Nightmare in Silver. Adelaide, the unnamed Captain at Hedgewick’s and Lundvik, have a strong streak of duty and self-sacrifice. They are leaders looking for solutions to big problems. And fair enough too. However their solutions do involve death. Brooke kills herself to restore her descendent’s timeline. Captain at Hedgewick is killed attempting to explode a planet in an act of personal redemption, while Lundvik is leading a suicide mission to explode the Moon to save the Earth.

Is Doctor Who saying all female leaders are on a death wish kick? Or that women as leaders must (almost) always die? I hope not. Yet there is merit in presenting women capable of such decisions. Especially when each character has strengths and frailties and motivations. Adelaide Brooke was particularly convincing and complex.

And I’m forgetting the captain of the freighter in 42, too. Another woman sacrificing herself to save others. Admittedly from a problem she caused in the first place. But still.

New Moon Goddesses

This episode of Doctor Who is the myth of Demeter and Persephone. Courtney is Persephone, Clara is Demeter and Captain Lundvik is Hecate. The myth describes how Persephone is kidnapped by the Lord of the Underworld and is where she doesn’t want to be. Demeter goes looking for her daughter, is generally upset, and the world is ruined by it. Hecate, the old crone, is the only one to even bother to help her. Demeter finds Persephone, but the Lord of the Underworld has tricked her into eating a pomegranate seed so she can’t leave. Zeus arbitrates and Demeter wins back Persephone back for part of the year, and the Underworld gets her for the other part. As a myth it explains seasons, the stages of the moon and ritualises the fructification of the earth and the stages of a woman’s life – maiden, wife, crone.

It is important that Hecate is Goddess of the moon, of crossroads, an old woman, who is both scary but helpful. Demeter is the mother, more specifically, she is a mourning mother searching for her daughter. While she is mourning the world goes barren. Persephone meanwhile enters the realm of Death. If you like, The Doctor is this god. Lonely, powerful, exiled from the other gods and prone to ‘picking up strays’ and often the bringer of bad news.

Since The Doctor is both light and dark, he is also, in his paternal role, Zeus. Just as in the myth Zeus buggers off, as Zeus is wont to do so The Doctor leaves it up to the The Three Ages of Women to either kill the baby or bring it to a proper birth. However, as in the myth Zeus returns to arbitrate or bestow his blessing on the final decision, which means it all works out, sort of. The Baby Moon is saved. Persephone is restored, sort of – Courtney returns to school. Demeter returns to Danny and Hecate is appeased.

In both stories the earth is damaged and people look to the Moon to help. In both stories fixing the problem revivifies the world while recognising that life is circular. There are seasons, life and birth and death. While both stories affirm the importance of women, the cause of the quest and its resolution are down to important men. Some say this indicates changes in ancient Greek society to a patriarchal society or the relegation of one order of gods to another. Or both.  It does mean here The Doctor has oversight. He (and the TARDIS) decide the arena, even if he doesn’t fight. In the end he still stands in judgement.

This is all very well and good, if you want to read Goddess symbolism into this. But it doesn’t mitigate the other points I’ve made.

Courtney, Clara and Captain Ludvink downloading some rad music.

Courtney, Clara and Captain Lundvik downloading some rad tunes.

Life on Mars (and Pompeii)

The Doctor’s speeches about ‘grey areas’ in time were interesting. And his riff on why he doesn’t go kill Hitler was important. He addresses directly why events unfold as they do. His argument is that they must. They are inflection points. They are events in time that change the shape of what comes after. Just as in calculus they are the points which convex becomes concave.

However, when you put another person in a place to make a decision, the very least they should have is all the information they need to make an informed one. The Doctor had most of the information. He failed not only to intervene, but to give Clara the information she needed. He demanded she take responsibility, with Lundvik and Courtney, but didn’t give them the tools they needed. Clara, in offshoring her decision to the world was clever, even if it didn’t absolve her of responsibility. And she can’t imagine individuals decided with their lights, rather than governments turning off grids?

Clara’s situation is contrasted with that of Donna in Pompeii. Donna and The Doctor work together and understand what their decision means, for themselves and for the city. The Doctor attempts to not make a decision, while Donna tempers The Doctor’s understanding with her demand for him to consider both saving someone and alternate futures.  Their mutual actions and their shared suffering and responsibility reflects their mature friendship. Their hurt was made meaningful and it worked. On Mars, without Donna, The Doctor is pushed into attempting something he shouldn’t and it drives him mad. The decisions he makes and their results also drive him away from confronting his own possible death.

Volcano Day: Clara Explodes

Volcano Day: Clara Explodes

The Moon and You

On the moon, The Doctor is not mad and Clara isn’t Donna.

Despite everything she experienced and sacrificed The Doctor still pushes Clara away. She is no longer ‘his Clara’ of Matt Smith’s iteration, but more like a subordinate, a caring acolyte who goes along and manages to do things by knowing the words. They can’t read each other, and when they try they are so bad at it they mutually hurt each other with the revelations of their secrets and ill-timed anger.

While The Doctor softens Donna’s abrasiveness, she uses it to good effect to berate his tendency towards supercilious judgement. Donna speaks truth to power, loudly and often. Clara hasn’t got that. The Doctor and Clara are not buddies. The Doctor now comes off as grumpy and condescending grandparent who is hurt too easily by Clara. On the other hand Clara is more complicated than Donna and is establishing herself as a peer, an adult, with duties and expectations and The Doctor lets some of these down, mostly with his attitude.

While The Doctor for all his shouty grumpiness, still cares, his EQ has either dropped by several standard deviations or something else is going on.

Basically it was a bum note to end on, after their triumph and survival.

Regeneration Inflection Points

I think regeneration is a similar kind of inflection point. The line (person) is still the person, The Doctor is the Doctor, but this is the point along his axis that his shape, physically and metaphorically, changes. Regeneration could go either way, falling or rising. In Kill the Moon, it is clearer that The Doctor’s trajectory is different to Clara’s, even though they both existed before and after the inflection.

The writers demonstrate this change through references to his appearance and in his behaviour. Formerly he was youthful, and hugged and pretended to be a boyfriend, now he is older, actively resists hugs and acts like a parent or grandparent. They are, if you like, moving in different directions. Clara’s trajectory is about using her voice, her role, and realising her limits and defining herself. The Doctor is expanding, aging (well yes) and, in his own awkward way, demanding Clara go beyond her limits.

Sometimes it works. In Kill the Moon it didn’t. The Doctor doesn’t deserve not to get Clara and Clara doesn’t deserve to be treated like that. She has known too many of his selves and shaped his identity for it to end badly.

Timey Whimey Inflection Points

Timey Whimey Inflection Points

Knowing the Other

This Doctor is too ham-fisted, his ability to both detect and communicate nuance regarding motives portrays him as either clumsily naive or knowingly and condescending selfish. It’s alright to play up The Doctor’s ‘otherness’. He really is meant to be an alien. But it is not always ok for him to not understand or refuse to respect (even a little) how humans work. It’s been 50 years. Surely even he could’ve have retained something? It’s alright knowing that humans only have one heart and die after only a few years, however, it is even better to attempt to express (more often than recently) a lil empathy with the beings you choose to hang out with. He could read Amy and Rory, he cried about Rose, he tried and often failed to ‘get’ River. What has happened to his EQ?

Courtney-ing disaster

The Doctor can be rude and demanding but he’s rarely told anyone they’re unimportant. This is a complete turn around from everything else that indicated that he’d never encountered anyone who didn’t matter. I was under the impression that his opinions about humans were a bit exploded when his companion-less mission to Mars went pear-shaped up in his face. Not even his off-hand comment about Courtney becoming President citing the Blinovitch Limitation Effect undoes his earlier treatment of her.

Clara, in using Adelaide Brooke’s term ‘little people’ should ring some alarm bells. The Doctor is heading for a fall. If he doesn’t improve his EQ, badness will probably ensue.


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