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Kill the Moon

Story synopsis

Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) and Courtney Woods (Ellis George) are faced with a terrible dilemma in Kill the Moon (2014).

”AN INNOCENT LIFE VS THE FUTURE OF ALL MANKIND. WE HAVE 45 MINUTES TO DECIDE.” Clara Oswald

Lundvik (Hermione Norris).

The year is 2049, and Clara calls the Earth from the Moon. They have a terrible decision to make…

About three-and-a-half decades earlier, Clara tells the Doctor that her pupil, Courtney, says that he told her she wasn’t special – so he offers Courtney the chance to be the first woman on the Moon.

The TARDIS lands inside a recycled space shuttle containing about a hundred nuclear bombs. After it makes a bumpy landing, the Doctor, Clara and Courtney are confronted by the shuttle’s crew: Lundvik, Duke and Henry. There is something wrong with the Moon’s gravity; it has increased, causing catastrophically high tides on Earth.

The six of them emerge onto the Moon’s surface and approach a survey base. They find it full of cobwebs. Lundvik sends Henry back to prime the bombs, then Courtney discovers a spacesuit cocooned in cobwebs.

The Doctor discovers that the survey team found lines of tectonic stress. The Moon is falling to bits.

There’s a moonquake. Outside, Henry is attacked by a scuttling creature.

In the base, a giant spider leaps on Duke and the others retreat – leaving Courtney behind. She floats up to the ceiling. The Doctor throws her his yo-yo and as she grabs it, she falls to the floor. She kills the spider with a disinfectant spray from her bag – it’s not a spider, it’s bacteria.

They head back to the shuttle. Once Courtney is safe inside the TARDIS, Clara tells the Doctor that she knows the Moon doesn’t break up because she’s been to the future and it was still there. The Doctor explains that whatever happens to the Moon hasn’t been decided yet.

The Doctor takes a sample from a fissure using his yo-yo while Clara and Lundvik find Henry’s remains. Then there is another moonquake and the shuttle slides into a ravine.

The Doctor catches up with them and they return to the base. The Doctor calls Courtney and tells her to stop posting pictures of him online. Then he tells everyone what he found in the fissure. The spiders are bacteria living on a creature growing inside the Moon. The Moon is an egg!

The Doctor tells Courtney how to bring the TARDIS to him. Then he tells Clara that it is not up to him to decide what they do next. The TARDIS lands nearby and Courtney steps out.

The Doctor goes inside and takes off.

There’s another moonquake and hundreds of spiders stream across the collapsing lunar surface.

Clara wonders what would happen if they let the creature live. Lundvik thinks that chunks of the Moon will fall to Earth and wipe out humanity. She sets the bombs to explode in one hour.

They are contacted from ground control via a TV satellite. Clara uses the satellite to broadcast to the whole Earth, asking them to turn off their lights if they think they should kill the creature. Then Clara looks at the Earth through some binoculars. The lights are going out across the planet.

But, with only one second to go, Clara aborts the countdown. The Doctor returns in the TARDIS and orders them inside. They land on Earth and watch the Moon break apart, revealing a dragon-like creature. The ‘eggshell’ disintegrates harmlessly and the creature lays a new Moon-egg.

The Doctor returns Clara and Courtney to Earth. After Courtney goes off to her lesson, the Doctor tells Clara that he had faith that she would make the right choice. Clara is furious with him for leaving her and tells him to clear off.

Later, she tells Danny that she’s finished with the Doctor.

Planet Earth, as seen from the Moon.

Pre-production

Clara in her space suit.
Peter Harness, the writer of Kill the Moon.

“A proper dilemma for the Doctor to face and more importantly for Clara to face”, was how executive producer Steven Moffat described Kill the Moon to BBC Interactive as he considered the midpoint of the 2014 series of Doctor Who and a turning point in the relationship between Time Lord and teacher.

Kill the Moon was the first Doctor Who script for a new writer to the series, Peter Harness. Born in 1976, Harness grew up in East Yorkshire and studied English at Oxford where he was president of the Oxford Revue. As an actor-writer, his first play Mongoose was staged at the Southwark Playhouse.

However, some of Peter Harness’ earliest memories included watching Doctor Who. The 1979 serial Destiny of the Daleks (1979) made a great impression on him and he continued watching the series through the Peter Davison era, retaining a love of the show. When the return of Doctor Who to BBC television had been announced in 2003, he had made an approach to BBC Cymru… to be told to join the queue of hopeful scripters. Meanwhile, his writing career was to flourish in other areas. His adaptation of MR James’ A View from a Hill appeared on BBC Four in 2005. Relocating to Malmö in Sweden – the home of his wife – Harness wrote for Channel 4’s historical crime procedural City of Vice, and contributed to BBC One’s Case Histories. He then became a writer – and later producer – on the BBC version of the Swedish-based detective thriller series Wallander.

In 2011, Peter Harness was contacted by the Doctor Who production team regarding a possible story to be made for the 2012/13 series. He off ered an initial idea called ‘When We Weren’t There’ – which was rejected – but the night before his meeting with the BBC had another idea. Harness suggested the alternative concept of the Moon being a vast alien egg which was about to hatch. Harness put this new idea to the team and found them receptive. “As far as the science goes, that’s not something that I worry about”, Harness later told Doctor Who Magazine of this key fantasy concept. The writer had never felt that the science presented in Doctor Who stood up to close scrutiny, and to explain it with excessive technobabble would diminish the dramatic crux of the story. Following transmission, the debate about killing the gestating alien as it hatched was later seen by some as a comment on abortion.

Director Paul Wilmshurst (in the hat) on location in Lanzarote for Kill the Moon.
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) decides to take a trip to the Moon.
Courtney and Clara explore the moonbase.

Peter Harness aimed to recapture the elements of Doctor Who which captivated him in 1979, but was concerned about making it too dark and scary.

“I was surprised that so many people latched onto it as an abortion metaphor […] but if I wanted to write a story about abortion, I would have done it a lot more subtly than that!” explained the author.

Harness planned that the Doctor would be accompanied on this lunar adventure by his new companion; this was originally a Victorian governess called Beryl who would have with her one of her young charges; in time this evolved into the contemporary nanny of Clara Oswald. The writer was developing the Moon storyline for Matt Smith’s Doctor when he was approached regarding adapting Susanna Clark’s acclaimed fantasy/historical novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell as a major BBC One serial. As such, this other venture took priority for the next two years. As he was completing initial work on his scripts in late summer 2013, Harness was contacted again by the Doctor Who team and asked if he would like to resurrect his Moon concept for the 2014 series to feature the new Doctor, in the form of the recently announced Peter Capaldi.

“It starts out as a horror story, a base under siege with a lot of hard sci-fitrappings. Then it takes a pretty dramatic left turn halfway through”, recalled Harness in Doctor Who Magazine. The writer aimed to recapture the elements of Doctor Who which had captivated him in 1979, but was concerned about making it too dark and scary for the family audience. However, Steven Moffat’s advice to the writer was to “Hinchcliff e the sh*t out of it”; this was a reference to Philip Hinchcliff e who had produced Doctor Who from 1974 to 1977 and had been responsible for some of the show’s most scary and mysterious serials. Harness aimed to tell the story in a manner that was suitable for a family audience without resorting to conveying the issues in a childish way. One concession for the younger viewers was to add a scary monster to keep the children entertained as the highly emotive story unfolded. For this element, Harness settled on giant spiders, knowing that many people were afraid of them.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Doctor Who Magazine continues its exhaustive chronicle of the show’s production with a volume dedicated to four memorable episodes of Series 8: Time Heist, The Caretaker, Kill the Moon and Mummy on the Orient Express. Andrew Pixley’s meticulous behind-the-scenes coverage – reproduced in magazine format for the first time – examines every aspect of the stories’ development, from scripting through to transmission and beyond. Richly illustrated with rare and previously unseen images, this collectors’ edition is the essential guide to the series that charted a new course for the adventure in space and time…