About twenty minutes into Saturday’s “Kill the Moon,” I began to feel a sensation of creeping, speechless dread that deepened throughout the episode until it settled in my stomach like a pound of lead: am I seeing what I think I’m seeing? Is this an anti-choice ad on Doctor Who? As it turns out: yes, I was, and yes, it was.
If I interpret “Kill the Moon” completely literally with absolutely no subtext or eye to metaphor whatsoever, I can admit that I enjoyed it. There have been some criticisms of the quality of the science, but that is never my hill to die on with regards to Doctor Who or basically anything. I admit that the idea of a creature hatching out of an egg and then immediately laying its own egg of almost exactly equivalent size is … a stretch, but I can handle it. If the story is well-paced and the dialogue well-written, if it pushes the characters in interesting directions, then I am happy to indulge in a little science-related hand waving.
And the rest of the episode did indeed meet those qualifications. Most notably, we got more time with and development of Courtney (aka Disruptive Influence), and we finally – finally – got the satisfaction of seeing Clara give the Doctor the verbal smackdown he has so richly deserved since the series premiere. So I wanted to like this episode. It was one of the stronger episodes of the series and if I turn my analytical brain off and squint just so, I can almost, almost like it.
But I can’t. Because it is simply impossible for me to consider “Kill the Moon” on a purely literal level. The metaphor here is so obvious and so overwhelming that any attempt to elide it would be – well, like trying to turn back the tides or defy gravity.
The basic plotline of the episode is this: the Doctor, a female astronaut, Clara and Courtney discover that the moon is actually a giant egg about to hatch into an unknown creature, whose birth and existence could prove dangerous or even fatal to Earth. The female astronaut has the nuclear capacity to terminate – I’m sorry, kill – the creature and save the earth, but the question is, should they?
This is an abortion story, pure and simple. I can’t imagine I would have to illustrate the metaphor, but just in case: the Earth is the mother, and the creature in the egg that literally revolves around the Earth and whose birth and existence may significantly threaten the well-being of the Earth, is a fetus.
I have seen some people argue that the claims of an abortion subtext don’t hold water because the egg was about to hatch; the creature was almost ready to be born, they say, so the story is about birth not abortion.This is fundamentally false.The story is set prior to hatching (birth); hatching is imminent, but until it occurs, we are still talking about is an egg (fetus). If you want to be technical, this story is about is the oft-discussed but extremely rare late-term abortion.
Late-term abortions are the most popular rallying cries for the anti-choice brigade, hurled as ammunition and condemnation against all women who demand right over their own bodies. They incite easy outrage. Late-term abortions are statistically rare; typically they only occur as a result of an unforeseen but extremely dangerous condition that will almost certainly result in a very short and extremely painful life for the child, or – in this particular case – if the birth poses a lethal threat to the mother.
“Kill the Moon” is is an abortion parable, so what is the moral or lesson Peter Harness wants his viewers to glean? I have seen people praise this episode for its evenhandedness, for it’s willingness to present “both sides” of the story. It’s true that both sides of the conflict between Clara and the Doctor are presented, and it’s true that the arguments both for and against termination are stated. However, probing a little deeper reveals that this supposed evenhandedness is superficial at best, and cheap manipulation at worst.
At a quick glance, Harness appears to check a number of progressive, seemingly pro-choice, and dare I say feminist-friendly boxes. An involved male party respectfully allows himself to be absented? Check. Women are given the ultimate power to decide? Check. The populace is polled but ultimately it is the wom(e)n’s choice to terminate or not? Check. This progressiveness and balance, however, does not bear up under scrutiny.
If this episode was truly about respecting a woman’s choice, both decisions would be presented as equally valid. It would be a matter of “What is the best, wisest decision for me/us right now?” Not, “What is the morally right decision?” Morality and rightness would not figure into the discussion. And do not be fooled – there is very clearly a “right” decision in “Kill the Moon” and it was always going to be to “choose life.”
Harness is priming viewers for this conclusion from the very beginning of the episode. When alluding to their dilemma in the cold open, Harness is careful to have Clara frame the issue by calling the creature “an innocent life” [emphasis mine]. After the credits, Clara explains to the Doctor the disastrous effect he has had on Courtney by telling her she isn’t special, and a distressed Courtney is on hand to prove Clara’s point. Aw, of course she’s special, the viewers are invited to reply. Isn’t everyone – or, to rephrase, every life – special? These emotional appeals – to protect innocence, to validate the uniqueness of every life – are designed to subconsciously align the viewer with the decision to choose life before we even know what the question is.
This episode is also loaded linguistic choices straight out of the pro-life handbook: referring to the unborn creature as a baby, uses the loaded verb kill right in the episode’s title, and even combines them by having Clara refer to “killing a baby.”
But perhaps the most telling instance of this manipulation occurs after the decision has been made. At the end of the episode, the Doctor reassures Clara that she’s done “the right thing” and that he had faith she would always make “the right choice.” But part of the reason Clara is so angry at the Doctor, she explains, is because she “nearly got it wrong.” Clearly there are not two equally valid options here; there is a right choice and there is definitely a wrong one.
And look! Everything worked out just perfectly in the end, conveniently validating the “right” choice with not a single negative consequence.In fact, the results of the decision to choose life are overwhelmingly positive: it ushers in a glorious new age of space travel and discovery!
So what is my point? Should every question of whether or not to abort be answered in the affirmative? Of course not. If Clara had made the other choice, would that have made me happy? I would have been happier had Harness actually presented issue in good faith, but even then no, not really.
Frankly, despite all its surface-level merits, I do not believe this episode should have been made. Which is not to say I don’t think a story centered on abortion has a place in broad-appeal or even family-friendly television. I simply do not believe that a) this was a well-written, thoughtful or balanced iteration of such a story; and b) that an abortion story is appropriate for this show, with its focus on the wonders of the universe and the specialness and importance of every life. In such a show, termination can only ever be presented as a negative decision, the wrong choice.
I also think it is wildly, obviously, and (if it didn’t hurt so much) laughably inappropriate to stage a television morality play about abortion that is written, directed, and produced by men.
It seems, perhaps, that someone at the BBC shared some of my concerns, or at least feared others might: Harness has apparently deleted his Twitter account shortly before the episode aired. This easy duck-and-cover move only confirms my beliefs about his cheap tactics. Frankly, I am also disappointed in both Doctor Who and the BBC for all the decisions that went into making this episode.
I never thought I’d have to spell this out, but just for future reference, let me be very clear: I am fine with the Doctor using his TARDIS to travel throughout all of time and space, but keep Doctor Who the hell out of my uterus.