Monday, 27 October 2014

The 90s Doctors

In 1989 Doctor Who was cancelled by the BBC. Despite the improvements made to the show after the axing of previous lead actor Colin Baker in 1986 the team of Andrew Cartmel, Sophie Aldred and Sylvester McCoy had been unable to attract an audience large enough to please BBC executives. The show went off the air with Survival part three on December 6 and wouldn’t return for a full series until 2005.

This needn’t have been the case1. In Doctor Who the BBC had a programme that had various uses. It could be made, as had been proven during the late 80s (and earlier), on a meagre budget and to a reasonably high quality. It was a cheap show that could be sold abroad, giving the BBC a source of income to invest into other projects that were considered more important and worthwhile. The show’s nature (one standing set for fourteen episodes and four stories per year, at the time of cancellation) was also a good setup for fledging writers, directors and producers and everyone else involved with making a TV show to hone their respective crafts. There are plenty of examples from any era of the “classic” show you care to choose of people working on the show having to figure out how to actually make it within their allocated resources. They didn’t always succeed but it provided them with experience that they could use on future jobs.

All of this made me think about what direction the show would have taken had it continued into the 90s. The 1990 series probably wouldn’t have looked that different from season 26 the year before. In reality Andrew Cartmel moved on to script edit Casualty. The timing of his appointment there would have made his involvement in another series of Doctor Who unlikely. Ben Aaronovitch, as one of the McCoy era’s more celebrated writers and a man on good terms with both Cartmel and producer John Nathan-Turner would likely have replaced him.

The basic shape of the four stories proposed for a 1990 season are well documented at this point. One would have seen the return of the Ice Warriors. One would have introduced the new companion and her crime boss father. One would have tackled global warming or deforestation or whaling or something, being written by Cartmel himself (presumably edited by Aaronovitch). The fourth and final story would have seen Ace leave the Doctor to study on Gallifrey, the implication being that she would go on to become a Time Lady. It’s not an awe-inspiring line-up but it likely would have been decent enough.

McCoy has said he’d have done one final series and then left. That would have given the production team a year to cast a new Doctor for a brief appearance in an end of series regeneration story, setting up a 1991 series. Meanwhile Sophie Aldred, companion since 1987’s Dragonfire, has said her contract only required her to do two more stories. It’s possible she’d have agreed to extend her contract in order to leave alongside McCoy or contribute a story or two the 1991 season but it’s unlikely. Every interview in which she’s discussed the subject has made it seem pretty clear she was ready to move on from the show by the time it was cancelled.

The big question is whether JNT would have stuck around. In all likelihood he probably would have. The guy had nowhere else to go at the BBC and didn’t have any significant contacts at ITV. If he had he’d have left Doctor Who years earlier. I think he’d have ended up overseeing a 1990 season and possibly a further few as well. But sooner or later he’d have taken another opportunity within the TV industry or become fed up with his lack of opportunities and moved into a different business altogether. Whenever he left I expect he’d have been replaced by the sort of first-time producer mentioned above.

Assuming things would have been done right I think the show’s standing could have gradually improved throughout the 90s. Its format may have morphed into something more akin to the 2005 relaunch, perhaps shifting away from three and four parters to two parters or solo episodes. As American shows like The X Files, Buffy and Star Trek: The Next Generation became more prominent they almost certainly would have had an influence on the way Doctor Who was made. It’s also pretty safe to assume that some of the names who have worked on the show since 2005 would have been involved much earlier. And we may even have had TV contributions from some of the Virgin New Adventures authors who haven’t ever directly contributed to the TV show2.

Beyond this I think the only thing that can be looked at realistically is the casting of future Doctors. Which is what the rest of this article is dedicated to predicting, in list form (for ease and simplicity). I’ve restricted myself to British and Irish actors as I thought that seemed more authentic, and I’ve assumed in most cases that an actor would take the role for three years and then move on (The Troughton Rule). Each proposed Doctor era features a name I think would have been the most likely casting choice followed by some other suggestions. For realism I’ve stuck to availability (referencing those oracles of the internet IMdB and Wikipedia) for all of these names.

Many thanks to Jim Hall for suggesting several names.

1991 to 1993

Eric Idle
When casting for a 1991 series would have taken place he would have been a well-known name desperate enough to take the role and the show would have been poisonous enough in TV circles for those making it to have to resort to considering him. I think he’d have won out over others due to his name value and availability: he’d done very little besides live off his Python work and was years away from Spamalot becoming a musical sensation.

Also considered...
Dermot Crowley
He’s the first of several names on this list that could be slotted in anywhere but here felt most natural because he auditioned for the role of the Seventh Doctor. Very badly.

Brian Glover
Fans more diehard than me will immediately know he played Griffiths in 1985 continuity-extravaganza Attack of the Cybermen. He was usually cast as a henchman (see his work as Castle Henchman in 1991’s Kafka for a perfect example) because of his northern origins and air of intimidation but he had a pretty good range as actors go. Also worth noting is that the casting of a northerner worked out pretty well for the show in 2005.

Graeme Garden
Not exactly a thespian but a man known to the British public, with the requisite kookiness required to play the Doctor at the start of the 90s. You could probably consider Tim Brooke-Taylor and even Bill Oddie for the same reasons. But let’s not go that far.

Windsor Davies
During the years I’m looking at there are only three jobs listed on his IMdB page (and one of those was just voice work). By 1997 he was playing Windsor Davies Badger on the massively enjoyable but not exactly high profile Harry Hill Show on Channel 4. What this tells us is that the former It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum star was not exactly in demand. He was a known quantity with nothing to do in 1991, which would probably have got him an audition by an outgoing JNT.

Richard Griffiths
During the 90s John Nathan-Turner stated in interviews that he would have cast Griffiths as McCoy’s replacement. I think that’s wishful thinking on JNT’s part. In ’91 Griffiths was getting steady work and likely wouldn’t have wanted to be tarred with the Doctor Who brush. By the end of the 90s, when I’m assuming the programme’s credibility would have been restored, he’d have been unavailable. And even if he was available he was not a man built for long shooting schedules involving rigorous movement.

Jon Pertwee
Yeah, really. Pertwee. He’d expressed an interest in returning to the show and would do so, on radio, a few years after it became clear it wasn’t returning to television. It’s not inconceivable the BBC would have brought him back in an attempt to restore the programme to its former glory. It’s a move that would have failed. The show’s budget had decreased, Pertwee had aged considerably, and the British public’s tastes had changed. There would probably have been nostalgia-spurred interest in the stunt but I can’t imagine a Pertwee return would have done much good in the long run.

1994 to 1995

Ian McShane
Yeah he may have a cushy number in life now, providing voiceover work and half-heartedly slouching about as the token Englishman in big budget Hollywood films (and, inexplicably, his own HBO series) but it was a different story in 1994. Back then he’d just left Lovejoy and was typecast in the lovable rogue role. Probably wouldn’t have done more than two series here for fear of being typecast again but the role would have been suitably different to Lovejoy to make it appealing. For the production team’s part McShane was a well-known actor coming off an inexplicably popular TV show and would have generated interest in DoctorWho.

Also considered...
Richard O’Brien
He finished filming the Crystal Maze in 1993, the year he would have agreed to become the hypothetical Ninth Doctor. No, he’s not much of an actor. But he’s eccentric. A glance at any of his Crystal Maze episodes demonstrates he was more than naturally strange enough to make an interesting Doctor, just not necessarily a well-acted one.

Gorden Kaye
He did no TV or film work between ‘Allo, Allo’s end in 1992 and Revolver in 2001. He was known to the BBC and is niche and undesirable enough to be a consideration at this point in the show’s history.

Ralph Brown
Really, he’s another guy who could be put in any of the also considered entries. He’s worked solidly in film and TV since the eighties, appearing in everything from Jonathan Creek to Star Wars. He’s a good enough actor who would presumably have been well connected enough to get an audition. But it’s hard to imagine him getting further than that.

Nicholas Lyndhurst
1993 was the year he took on Goodnight Sweetheart in addition to his Only Fools work. That would have also been the year the Doctor Who production team would have been looking for their new boy. If Lyndhurst was getting offers from ITV to play a time-travelling electrician it’s easy enough to assume the BBC would have offered him their own similar part.

1996 to 1998

Rik Mayall  
Fresh off of Bottom, with The New Statesman, Drop Dead Fred, Jackanory, and The Young Ones, as well as less celebrated items like Carry On Columbus, on his CV, Mayall would have been the ideal man to cast as the Doctor in the mid-90s. Assuming the show would have regained some small level of credibility thanks to Ian McShane it’s feasible Mayall could have been persuaded to take the role. I’m sure he’d have been popular. People weren’t desperate to see him cast as the Celestial Toymaker for nothing.

Hey, they could have cast Ade Edmonson as the Master too. That would’ve been a laugh. Possibly.

Also considered...
Roger Daltrey
An obvious tabloid headline and a keenness on the part of Daltrey to get into acting in a significant capacity would have been enough to secure him an audition.

David Collings  
He was getting very steady work until 1995 and then there was an abrupt nine year gap. It’s the kind of thing that invites him being added to this sort of list, as does his previous involvement in the show, being bothered by droids in Robots of Death and playing at being a Time Lord in Mawdryn Undead. On the recommendation of Jim I watched him in a couple of episodes of Sapphire & Steel (there are compilation runs on YouTube, for the record) and his performance there demonstrates that he’d have made a very watchable Doctor.

Robbie Coltrane
Well, y’know… Cracker. That was a big hit that had ended the year before. He’s the sort of name they’d have reached out to because his casting would have created interest. IMdB reveals he wasn’t exactly swamped with starring roles in the years following Cracker finishing so it’s possible he’d have accepted.

Tim McInnery  
Seven years after Black Adder (and Doctor Who, in real life) had ended McInnery hadn’t actually done much of significance. He’s another man who could be slotted into any of the also considered entries but this one feels best as he actually did audition for the role of the Eighth Doctor opposite Paul ‘Get Out! Get Out!’ McGann.

1999 onwards

Paterson Joseph
He’d left Casualty the previous year and had been around long enough to be known to The Right People. The only thing that he was missing in 1999 was a breakthrough role (that would come later in Peep Show). He was a good, safe actor that’s been keen to play the lead role since the show was brought back in 2005. Everything about him indicates he’s a fan and would like to play the Doctor whether the show’s a massive hit or not. He’d have been an ideal casting choice, and still would be.

Also considered...
Brian ‘Foggy’ Wilde
Left Last of the Summer Wine in 1997. As he only did one TV gig after that (a narrating role on kids show Microscopic Milton, completed in ’97) it’s safe to assume his intention was to retire. But he was an available, established character actor, the sort of person we’ve been assuming throughout this article would’ve been near misses for the Doctor Who lead role. I can imagine he’s the sort of man who’d have received a call to make up the numbers in an audition and could have ended up a surprise casting.

David Jason
IMdB reveals that this period was surprisingly slow for one of the most prolific actors in British television. I don’t think he would necessarily make the best Doctor ever but it’s hard to deny his emotional depth and comic timing. Casting him could have been used as a relaunch technique for the show after a decade rebuilding itself into something reliable and watchable.

Marc Warren
Yeah, Elton Pope from Love & Monsters. Like Paterson Joseph he was years away from anything approaching a breakthrough role but he’d been around long enough and would probably be the sort of name that could sneak through to the final two or three in a casting process. Maybe a bit too similar in appearance to (proposed) outgoing star Rik Mayall though.

Alan Davies
They’d have wanted him because of Jonathan Creek, but they wouldn’t have got him because it was too important to the BBC. He wouldn’t have wanted to do it anyay, because he’s still happy to churn out subpar Creek sixteen years after the show’s prime.

Caroline Quentin
She may have had a call for her work on the same show. The difference is that she was more likely to accept. She’s a great actress who anchored Jonathan Creek dramatically and made Alan Davies’s performance there work. If a female Doctor was going to be cast during the 90s it absolutely would have been Caroline Quentin.


1 An important disclaimer here: I think it was the right decision to take the show off the air at the end of the 80s. Although I enjoy the McCoy era it seems pretty clear that any success that’s to be found there is attributable in large part to McCoy, Aldred and Cartmel. They all would have left the show before or by the end of a 1990 series and it’s unlikely a new team would have had even their limited success. The show, its fans, and the BBC benefited from its sixteen year rest.

2 Like Lawrence Miles. Y’know, just as an example.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

In the Forest of the Night

I was looking forward to In the Forest of the Night. The general premise as announced before the episode sounded pretty good. A forest springing up in a single night to cover an entire planet seemed a suitably intriguing idea for the show, and one that would provide an opportunity to give us lots of impressive visuals. We got the visuals and they were as impressive as you could have reasonably asked for. But unfortunately that’s about all that can be said in favour of this episode. Even Capaldi didn’t seem especially great here.

The plot which writer Frank Cottrell Boyce went with was both flawed and uninspiring. It revealed trees to be sentient creatures that live on the planet, at least in part, to protect humanity from solar flares and other potential disasters. Not only that but trees can make themselves inflammable whenever they like and can even, somehow, possess humans. As long as said humans are taking the right combination of medications and suffering from some form of grief or mental impairment, natch.

I understand that watching Doctor Who requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but that can only take you so far. When the writing team offer up things as patently stupid as this it becomes impossible to look passed them and a waste of time trying to rationalise them within the programme’s increasingly loopy internal logic. It’s the same problem that harmed Kill the Moon: not enough attention was paid to how things worked within the episode and so it crumbled into a stream of stuff that just happened.

This would have been a good episode to highlight the problem deforestation presents to humanity. The eight year olds watching are part of a generation that’s going to be really messed up by it if changes aren’t made. An episode of a programme as popular as Doctor Who that made it clear deforestation is something that needs attention could have affected one or two kids enough to spur them into wanting to pursue a career in the field. X Factor makes some kids want to grow up to be celebrities. Shouldn’t Doctor Who at least attempt something similar occasionally?

The episode also failed with the child actors. To put it politely they varied in capability. Abigail Eames as Maebh was a particularly tough watch, although in fairness she had the unenviable job of conveying possession by tree.

The number of actors in the episode was distracting. The entire class of kids seemed to be about eight strong, a very low number for a class anywhere in the general vicinity of London. Even worse was that the episode was set in central London and nobody was about besides half a dozen scientists and a mum on her bike. Even if this area were overrun by a forest that couldn’t be burned there would be more people around than this. A throwaway line was added about people being told to stay indoors and fill baths with water (the reason for that escapes me but I remember thinking it was daft) but it didn’t seem convincing enough. The centre of a city wouldn’t remain completely devoid of people just because of a government warning and a fantastical forest. A more convincing throwaway line could have sorted the problem, and that could have been added if Steven ‘Two Drafts’ Moffat had given this script the attention it needed. You know, like he’s paid to.

I’m sure the attention Moff did give this script went into Clara and Danny. If you overlook the fact that the rest of the episode suffered as a consequence this is fine. Clearly the Clara and Danny relationship is intended to be an important part of this series so seeding stuff into it is a necessity if there’s to be a payoff to it. Going on the first ten episodes of this series (and emphatically not going on the trailer that aired at the end of ITFOTN) their relationship and the tease of how it will affect Clara’s friendship with the Doctor doesn’t seem especially interesting. But finale stories are there in part to surprise us, and perhaps one of the surprises will be Clara and Danny’s relationship having been given more substance than it currently seems. Though I doubt it.

ITFOTN had a “star” writer, a strong spot in the running order (coming just before the finale should have ensured it got some extra attention), and a premise that could have been excellent. It could have come together to give us something amazing and memorable. Instead it ended up a mediocre filler episode that existed primarily to contribute to a relationship storyline. What a waste.

Thursday, 23 October 2014


The TARDIS lands at a train station on the edge of what looks like an industrial estate. It starts shrinking. The Doctor gets trapped inside and Clara The Companion has to save the day with wit, ingenuity and pep talks. She manages this in spite of a group of two dimensional beings and that may or may not be invading the planet (or Bristol) and having to deal with a particularly surly council employee.

It doesn’t sound like it should be a particularly good episode of Doctor Who. In fact it actually sounds pretty basic. Modern day Doctor Who hasn’t shied away from council estates in British cities and alien invasions have been around since William Hartnell’s second story. And while episodes that see one of the starring actors in a reduced role can work very well (Midnight and Blink for instance) it’s not the most promising sign that an episode will be of high quality.

But Flatline works. It starts by featuring what is probably the most interesting alien creation the show’s had since the Weeping Angels: sentient artwork that can disassemble three dimensional objects. They provided plenty of memorable visuals for the episode: a human nervous system spread across a wall looking like a painting of a pond; a woman being sucked into the floor; and a perspective trick that revealed that a man was not standing and staring as we thought but had actually been absorbed into a wall and bits of bric-a-brac in front of it are just three examples. The latter is likely to be the shot this episode is most remembered, although my personal favourite was a couch being taken apart in front of Clara and forgettable but inoffensive guest companion Rigsy. For the required action scene the creatures learned how to mimic human forms and started moving about. It was shot in a particularly eerie way, heavy on lurching and with a buzz of activity where faces should have been.

They are a creation too good for just one outing. There are so many things that could still be done with them and their ambiguous origins and motives are a refreshing change for the programme. Part of what made them so interesting is that they were written as a race that puzzled the Doctor, leaving him unsure of whether they were aliens, a new life form, or creatures from another dimension (a concept that gets floated astonishingly rarely in Doctor Who) and with no idea of what their intention was. By the end of the episode it was getting tough to take them as anything other than aggressors but it was left open ended enough for them to come back for a different use.

The episode also benefited from not being as Doctor Lite as it could have been. Capaldi was shunted onto the TARDIS set to cut back on the amount of work he’d need to do for the episode, freeing him up to put in more time on other episodes. But being on the show’s lone standing set meant his absence from the episode was minimal. He entered what has become his usual strong performance and played his banishment to the TARDIS with a delightful array of reactions. Matt Smith would have gone with bad children’s TV levels of ham acting for the scenes with the Doctor peering and reaching out of a miniaturised TARDIS. Capaldi showed restraint, making the humour about the situation rather than his gangly limbs. It was another reminder of what a welcome change of pace he’s been in the lead role.

Jenna Coleman put forth another good performance too. Probably the best thing that can be said about her is that she didn’t feel out of place as the lead, and when you’re essentially guest starring in place of Peter Capaldi, as opposed to co-starring with him, that’s quite an achievement. She was particularly good in the investigative scenes in the episode’s opening third. Meanwhile the closing scene in which she asked the Doctor why he couldn’t tell her she was good was one of her best performances on the show. Previously I’ve been unimpressed with her angry, affronted routine but here it was very good.

On a character note it was interesting to see Clara lying to Danny about her adventures with the Doctor again. It’s clearly going to lead to something, though I’ve no idea what. It didn’t do much for Danny though. He heard his girlfriend crash through a window and then disappeared from the episode. Would it really have been that much trouble to drop in a line to explain Clara’s phone had been turned off or lost after that call? Unless the point of Danny is for us to not feel fully invested in him as a creation (and I don’t think it is) then I don’t understand the role he’s been placed in in the last two episodes.

Flatline will inevitably be remembered for the visual trickery employed for the Boneless but it achieved a lot more. It gave us what deserve to be returning monsters, the best episode with a mostly absent lead actor since 2008’s Midnight, and another strongest, possibly the strongest, performance from Jenna Coleman. After a hit-and-miss opening half series eight is shaping up to be pretty good.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Mummy on the Orient Express

Mummy on the Orient Express saw the current series of Doctor Who revert to the title first, content second approach that had been the its approach last year, as it had with Kill the Moon. It hadn’t really worked with Kill the Moon, mostly because too much was attempted. It had also failed for much of the last series in general. But with Mummy on the Orient Express it worked nicely. In fact, I’d say that Mummy on the Orient Express is the best episode of series eight so far.

The biggest thing it had in its favour was the presence of a clear, well-defined threat. Those have been a surprising rarity during the Moffat era1. The threat itself benefited from the interesting quirk of the sixty-six second countdown and a particularly impressive outfit being. The countdown is the sort of thing Doctor Who as a programme does very well and writer Jamie Mathieson made good use of it, feeding in new information every time it was employed. Even the enemy’s name, the Foretold, was well chosen.

The cast was great too, Frank Skinner’s hammy performance aside2. By this point it can just be assumed Capaldi’s going to put in a worthwhile performance but the same can’t be said of his co-star. Jenna Coleman has been fantastically unreliable as a companion actress. Here she gave what was probably her best performance in the role. She was everything from happy to angry to bright to betrayed, a range I’ve not seen from her in a single episode before, and she was convincing doing it. Daisy Beaumont was particularly good too. For that matter I thought John Sessions was entertaining as a silkily voiced maniacal train.

Which (clunkily) brings me to the next point. The concept of a villainous train is a very Doctor Who one. It’s not something that could support a script by itself but when blended with other small ideas it worked very nicely. That’s where Kill the Moon went wrong: too many big ideas were crammed into too short a time and nothing had the chance to satisfyingly develop. The combination of an evil space train, a mummy, and general Agatha Christie trappings (though I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a murder mystery because nothing beyond a token attempt was made at the mystery part) complimented each other nicely.

It was nice not to have to deal with Danny Pink too. Although when he did appear he seemed more tolerable than he has previously. Perhaps it was Anderson entering an above average performance or that the part was written better. More likely it was just that he didn’t get enough screen time to become a chore. Whatever it was there was nothing to complain about with him. If only he were like that every week.

If this were the average Moffat era offering (Moffering?) I think it would be a more enjoyable period of the show. That Mummy on the Orient Express was so enjoyable bodes well for next week’s offering. It’s written by the same author and seems to have a bit more money behind it. I won’t get my hopes up though. That’s never a good idea with The Moff.

Oh... and that chat about broken soldiers being fixed towards the end of the episode? I'm sure that definitely won't turn out to be foreshadowing for something that happens to Danny at all.


1 I’m not sure what he has against them. Most of the standard Doctor Who plots feature the Doctor figuring out a way to stop a monster. Perhaps Moffat really does think all of that nonsense with time loops and River Song was a suitable replacement. If so he was wrong.

2 I can’t think of a worse actor to appear in such a significant role since the show returned nine years ago.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Kill the Moon

Kill the Moon would have sat very snugly in series seven. That’s the series, in case you’ve forgotten, which saw showrunner Big Stevie Moff Moff (I get bored just calling him Moffat and I’m running low on relatively sensible abbreviations) using his movie poster approach. That was basically “Come up with a title and think of a plot to fit it.”

That approach didn’t work wonders in series seven, something even most of the exec’s troupe of devotees seem to agree with. Which makes it quite surprising that he’s returned to the approach here, considering his desire to be constantly popular with the majority of the show’s fans. He did at least slot it away in the middle of the season, and he also had nuts ‘n’ bolts writer Peter Harness have a fair chunk of the episode revolve around a moral quandary. Oh, and some science. But we’ll get to the science.

The moral quandary was a nice idea, being something the revived series hasn’t actually done that much of, but it didn’t pan out in practice. They went for something too overblown and clichéd: kill an apparently unique, new-born life form to save the human race, or sacrifice the human race for said life form. It’s the sort of thing routinely trotted out in films, TV and novels and has reached the point where it just can’t have the effect authors want (hence referring to it as a cliché). Not only has the moral quandary been done to death in recent years but it’s also been done better within Doctor Who. Genesis of the Daleks did it far better than Kill the Moon, and Genesis didn’t even do it especially well. It worked thanks to a combination of Tom Baker giving a particularly enthusiastic performance (the first season euphoria working to the show’s advantage) and involving the Daleks. There’s a reason it overshadows practically the same situation having appeared five years earlier in (Doctor Who and) The Silurians. Also, neither of these stories dwelt on the predicament, in each it was a few minutes out of a larger story enjoyable because they well told, not because of moral pontificating. 

But what really set this episode apart as a failure was its distracting use of science. I’m not going to argue in favour of the Bidmead approach, with everything adhering to reality and being explained painstakingly so that kids learn something. The show works fine in its current entertainment format. But when science forms such an integral and heavily referenced part of the plot it should at least be easy to follow, make sense in relation to itself, and not seem contradictory. Kill the Moon did not achieve this.

At the beginning of the episode we were told the moon had become too heavy and started adversely affecting Earth’s tides. The cause of this weight gain was initially said to be a species of microbe-spiders. Later it was revealed to be the previously mentioned utterly unique-baby monster. I suppose it could be both, but that seems needlessly confusing and a bit like sloppy writing designed just to get a scary monster into things in the first twenty minutes of the episode. That the baby grew from seemingly nothing inside of thirty-five years seems questionable too.

Someone desperate to defend the episode who knows their science could probably explain that. My point remains that it seems too convoluted for a forty-five minute family TV show, but fine, let people explain it. The really infuriating bit is the ending. And here I’m not talking about the moon dragon giving birth to an egg several times larger than itself (although it does seem pretty incredible that something could give birth to something so large into perfect orbit around a planet). The biology of this wasn’t even speculated on, so I think it can just be chalked up as a curious in-universe mystery. It’s not like it’s the first time the show has dealt with deceptive sizes: the lead character flies around in something deceptively sized.

What makes no sense is that people were concerned about whether or not to kill the dragon baby at all. Whether it was a baby nuzzling its way out of the moon or a corpse sitting inside its rocky egg, it would weigh exactly the same. Whether it was living or dead it would have exactly the same effect on the Earth’s tides. Burrowing its way out of the moon wouldn’t have helped Earth, no, but then neither would have blowing the moon to pieces with nuclear weapons. Both options would have led to the same conclusion if we’re going to apply a basic understanding of science to the plot. Even the new moon wouldn’t have been the immediate tide-fixer it was presented as.

It’s a shame the episode was so unclear on its science, how to explain it, and how to link it to the plot. The central idea was solid enough. The moon being an egg that hatches into a dragon is the sort of idea I can imagine being tried in the Hinchcliffe or Cartmel eras (to limited success, natch). Creepy, deserted space bases aren’t overly familiar to the show (or at least the reincarnated version of the show). The space spiders were an interesting idea with a suitably eerie design. Splitting the three things up would have allowed each a chance to be developed into something understandable and satisfying. Instead too many ideas were included, resulting in a dodgy plot and nothing reaching its potential.

Also: the episode lost marks for the Doctor not referencing the Racnoss or the Eight Legs.