For some time now, I’ve struggled to reconcile two identities which are both close to my heart. I am an ardent, passionate feminist and almost as passionate a Doctor Who fan. Under the tenure of show-runner Stephen Moffat, it’s been tricky to be both – Moffat’s female characters are few and far between; often ill-written and surprisingly frequently reduced to their reproductive capacities for the sake of a plot-device. I was therefore pleased to note that this Saturday’s episode, ‘Kill the Moon’ was to be dominated by female characters, guest staring the ever-awesome Hermione Norris. This, combined with the promise of an interesting ethical dilemma, served to pique my interest and I sat down to watch with relatively high hopes. Imagine my disappointment when I found myself watching an episode which might have been commissioned by the pro-life alliance, in which the ability of female characters to make ethical decisions is fundamentally questioned.
For those who missed it, a quick summary may be in order. It’s 2049, tides are rising and life on Earth is threatened, all because the moon has mysteriously become heavier. A solution is hit upon: nuke a chunk of the moon off to restore it to a safer mass. It soon transpires, however, that the moon is the egg of some mysterious space-being which, having lain dormant for the last few billion years, is now about to hatch. Humanity is faced with a choice, to continue with the original plan, thereby ending the potential life of the moon-foetus; or to allow it to hatch, risking uncertain consequences. In case there was any room for doubt about what the issue is, the stakes are made very clear. “It’s a baby!” they cry, repeatedly. “It’ll never feel the sun on its back.”. We’re talking about abortion, ladies and gentlemen. If the analogy was not intentional, the writers must have been impressively unobservant: as if the details of the dilemma don’t make the comparison obvious enough the language used might have been pulled straight from a pro-life leafleting campaign – the phrase “an innocent life” comes up over and over.
At first, one cannot help but respect the Doctor’s stance. “It’s not my moon” he insists, “it’s up to you, womankind”. (Subtle, this is not.) The people of Earth – those of them with access to electricity at least – vote on the fate of the creature, a vote which is almost unanimous: surprisingly, humanity doesn’t fancy risking its future existence for the sake of an unborn moon-being. The analogy is clear: the species (person) whose moon (body) it is have spoken and the foetus is to be terminated. At the last moment, however, Clara steps in and disarms the bombs. The Doctor whisks them all home in time for tea, where it transpires that the moon has hatched into a lovely, harmless space dragon who immediately lays us a new moon.
These happy consequences make it painfully clear that to have killed the moon would have been wrong, as does the fact that it is Clara – who has been placed throughout this series in the position of moral arbiter – who makes the ultimate decision. There is no suggestion that humanity’s actual choice was defensible, nor any real acknowledgment of the fact that their decision has been ignored.
While in the episode it was humans of all genders whose lives were at risk, it was impossible not to notice that the Doctor (a man) was being berated for leaving a reproductive decision in the hands of the three human characters, all of whom were female. Clara – our moral compass – makes it clear that the male character was wrong to stand aside. He had not only a right but a duty to stop the women from choosing wrong. At this point, it’s worth noting that the episode was written, produced and directed entirely by men.
I cannot be alone in having found this episode deeply offensive. Humanity’s choice is ignored, and we are supposed to celebrate. Women are left in control of the decision, and we are supposed to be outraged. Even if you are pro-life, surely the thought that the female characters should not have been allowed to come to that conclusion by themselves must rankle.
‘Kill the Moon’ has only made it harder to continue to be both a Doctor Who fan and a feminist. If I am forced to choose, the decision will be sad, but it will not be difficult.