I'm still not sure what to think about this episode but it did make me think. And that, as far as Doctor Who goes, is usually the sign of a good episode. Usually. There's enough problematic aspects to this episode for me to be reluctant to endorse it but it is worth watching at least once in spite of its flaws, which makes it far stronger than a lot of episodes that are best skipped entirely.
After being accused of telling Disruptive Influence Courtney Woods that she isn't important, The Doctor elects to take Courtney and Clara on a quick field trip to Earth's moon so Courtney can be the first woman to set foot on its surface. Naturally, the TARDIS scoots them forward a bit too far and they wind up on a space shuttle carrying Earth's last three astronauts to the moon on a mission to blow up it up.
Why? Because The Moon has been mysteriously increasing in mass and gravity to the point where it is threatening all life on Earth. The Doctor's glib on the subject of how much he knows and what is supposed to happen, saying this is one of those vague points in time where an Important Decision must be made. But for once The Doctor is reluctant to interfere and it will fall to a teenage girl, a school teacher and an astronaut to decide what to do when it turns out The Moon is a giant egg on the verge of hatching!
THE GOOD PARTS
* The script by first time Doctor Who writer Peter Harness has a lot of clever moments, good lines and generally does a good job of explaining itself. This is one of the few stories to truly explore The Doctor's unique memory and sensory powers - how he feels the turn of the universe, as it were - and just how he decides when he can and cannot interfere.
* Capaldi establishes his Doctor as a magnificent bastard with a firm emphasis on the 'bastard' side of The Doctor this time around. At the end he's all smiles and plays up that this was all a glorious teaching exercise that he had planned out to some degree. And for a moment, you almost believe that until you see behind the mask and realize The Doctor is trying to convince himself what he's saying is true more than he is trying to sell this BS to Clara.
* The direction and cinematography of the episode are top notch.
* The CGI on the monster bacteria is motion-picture quality.
* I don't know if Courtney is being groomed to be a replacement companion at this point. After last week, I would have said no, but now I'm not so sure. In either case, she is well played here as a realistic teenage girl with the perfect mix of innocence and moral certainty.
* Clara's speech at the end. No matter what problems this episode has, it is worth sitting through just to get to Clara's speech at the end in which she gives The Doctor the dressing down he's deserved for a while on behalf of every companion who was forced to make a difficult choice so The Doctor wouldn't have to. And Jenna Coleman nails the performance here.
* Let's just get this one out of the way first - the whole episode is one big metaphor regarding the ethics of abortion and the script is not at all subtle in letting you know this fact. From The Doctor's leaving the decision of what to do about the moon child in the hands of three women (a maiden/mother/crone triumvirate no less!) to The Doctor emphasizing that this is the women's choice and no business of his to Clara's pushing a big button that flashes the word ABORT in big red angry letters, we are told repeatedly that this is a Very Important Episode that is really about Very Serious Issues. The problem is that metaphors have to have some sense of subtlety to be truly effective and the script is about as subtle on this point as Brian Blessed leading a parade of marching bands and dancing elephants.
* We're told there's been all manner of disasters on Earth because of the moon breaking apart yet we so no evidence of this anywhere in the episode.
* On that note, I refuse to believe that humanity are a bunch of bastards for making the decision that no, we don't want to wait and see what happens when the giant space dragon hatches and trust it will all work out somehow when the fate of the human race is at stake. There are many reasons we suck as a species. A sense of self-preservation is not one of them.
* The supporting cast for this episode is woefully underwritten, with the two male astronauts serving no purpose other than to be cannon fodder for the episode's monsters.
* Giant spiders are the ultimate sign of lazy design in any medium and the bacteria should have looked like... anything else, really.
* CONTINUITY GAFFE FOR THE SAKE OF A BAD JOKE: Courtney is somehow able to post pictures on Tumblr from 25+ years in the future, despite Tumblr apparently being an archaic form of technology. And the communication networks supposedly being unreliable due to the effects of the moon breaking apart. And let's not forget The Doctor had to reprogram Rose Tyler's mobile phone to be able to do anything while time-traveling in the first place and there';s no indication he did this for Courtney anywhere at any time.
THE FINAL VERDICT
There's a lot to admire in this episode, despite the annoyingly unsubtle political statement at its heart. The performances and direction are great and the script is good during the moments it isn't hitting the audience over the head with its message. If nothing else, it encourages discussion about points beyond the usual trivia so for that reason alone I'm willing to give this one a thumbs up.