The Doctor takes Clara and her pupil Courtney to the moon. There they meet three astronauts on a mission to blow it up.
This is an exciting, scary story with an idea at its centre so big, bold and crazy that it just reinforces the endless possibilities of [Doctor Who](series:200668). The show has speculated science-fiction explanations for stuff before – the Loch Ness Monster (couple of times), Stone Henge (twice), Atlantis (also twice) etc. But the moon being the egg of a giant space creature? It’s up there with the Earth really being a computer to find out the answer to the great question of life, the universe and everything in fantastic scale.
This episode is also deliciously scary. The huge spiders are beautifully directed, the technology finally there to properly realise terrifying arachnids that actually move like the real thing.
The real weight behind the episode is the dilemma that the Doctor leaves Clara, Courtney and Lundvik to face. To destroy the hatchling before it emerges from the moon, or let it be born and risk destruction on Earth?
The Doctor is a mystery here. His motivation for abdicating responsibility for the decision is never made truly clear. Is it, as he says, to give humanity a chance to make forge their own destiny by making the choice? or as he later says because he knew Clara would do the right thing? It could be a lack of confidence in his ability to make the choice. The Doctor has been wrong in this series. He was adamant that Robin Hood could not exist, in Listen, he was completely wrong. Perhaps he simply does not trust himself. He’s evasive about how much he really knows, especially when he gives Clara a different answer to the same question she asked in Cold War about their knowledge of the future allowing them not to have to get involved. The last time he was in a similar situation, without Amy’s intervention, he would made the ‘wrong’ decision and killed the Space Whale in The Beast Below.
How much does the Doctor know? He has never encountered one of these creatures before and speculates that it could be unique. He says that eggs don’t normally destroy the nest, but when crab spiders are born they do slowly eat their own mother. It’s pretty reasonable to assume that it would need food, and the only (traditional) source for light years around is the flora and fauna of Earth. In the end, the overwhelming will of the people is ignored, like when Blue Peter went with a different name for the kitten to the one public voted for.
The Doctor has two great moments when he makes the speech about the ‘grey areas’ of history that he cannot see, and then when he stands on the beach and talks about humanity’s re-awakened interest in space travel. He talks about being able to ‘see’ potential futures in The Fires of Pompeii, but the way Peter Capaldi acts it here, you can really believe it. Clara then undercuts these moments by asking a little later, “Honestly, do you have music playing in your head when you say rubbish like that?”
As in The Caretaker last week, the National Curriculum is relevant to the events of Clara’s life. On the whiteboard in her classroom there is a quote from Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield:
“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”
The word ‘hero’ has its origins in the Greek word heros, meaning guardian/defender. Is Clara the hero of this story? She has to be this time, because she’s been pushed, as Danny predicted, well outside of her comfort zone and admits she very nearly didn’t push the button. Is she the hero of her own life? In Robots of Sherwood we learn that of her love for ‘impossible heroes'; and she clearly wants the Doctor to be the hero of her life. Hence the faith she puts in him: when she correctly predicts that he has her back in Deep Breath, excuses his rudeness to Psi in Time Heist and last week reassures Danny that the Doctor has never let her down. That the series is exploring the notions of what a hero is, and whether the Doctor can live up to it, is just one fascinating element running through this year.
Originally published on my Doctor Who blog: Trap One