12 “Hell Bent” (Doctor Who series 9) [SPOILERS]


doctor who peter capaldi

So here we are.

We’ve come so far, that it feels like a lifetime ago that I sat down to watch the first episode of Doctor Who‘s ninth series, with that familiar mixture of excitement and trepidation; hoping against hope, but expecting to be disappointed.

Actually, that familiar disappointment hasn’t come. There haven’t been any out-and-out bad episodes, or even any mediocre ones. The odd one or two which hasn’t worked has been a noble failure, in that I could see what it was trying to get at, and it’s failure was not any real disgrace to the series, simply experiments that did not quite pay off.

And along the way, we have had a few episodes which weregenuine greats, up there with the likes of “Midnight”, “Blink” and even old greats like “The Genesis of the Daleks”.

The question now is whether the season finale can finish on that high note, or whether the dying chord will let the whole thing down.

No pressure, guys!

Returned to Gallifrey, amid fear amongst the Time Lords about what his coming and the prophecies of the Hybrid mean, the Doctor is concerned about only one thing: Clara Oswald.

Well…yeah.

In fairness, this was never going to be an easy sell, and this isn’t a bad episode. It’s major flaw is that it crams far, far too much into one episode. It’s a common flaw in Doctor Who, and one which this series has deftly dodged with its multiple-episode arcs. Sadly it runs out of space here, and ends up in a bit of a rush.

So having survived the trials of his confession dial, the Doctor has emerged in Gallifrey, several billion years after Clara’s death. And the Time Lords are, it’s safe to say, not amused. Lord President Maester Luwin Rassilon (Presumably having regenerated after “The End of Time”, into an cheaper actor than Timothy Dalton -Ed) is a bit panicky, and well he might be since he was behind Clara’s death and the Doctor’s imprisonment.

The Doctor seems a bit pissed off himself, going the barn where he grew up, and being welcomed with applause (And soup! -Ed) by the poor townsfolk living in the wasteland outside of the Citadel. With the cloister bells ringing in the bowels of the CitadelRassilon sends a series of envoys. First a military ship. Then the commander of his armed forces — conveniently named the General. Then the High Council. And then finally, the Lord President himself.

All until the last the Doctor rebuffs, and Rassilon himself gets only the wordsGet off my planet. When Rassilon tries to have him executed, the firing squad recognise him as the hero who won the Time War, and refuse to shoot. And the Doctor banishes him from Gallifrey.

The Time Lords, and the Sisterhood of Karn, are both terribly bothered about the prophesied Hybrid, who will conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins. The Doctor, at the end of the last episode, announced that it was him, but they didn’t seem to have heard that. He reckons he can save them from it, but only if he can have a chat with Clara.

Now, we can surely all see where this is headed, right? The Time Lords can pluck her out of time a moment before her death, but only for a brief time. Of course, the Doctor’s plan is to break the rules to keep his friend alive. Making an escape through the creepy cloisters — the giant computer that serves as a graveyard for the brains of dead Time Lords. They steal a TARDIS, and the Doctor takes her to the dying moments of the universe so that the Time Lords can’t find them. And Me/Ashildr is there.

So who or what is the Hybrid? I’m not actually sure. The Doctor makes a good case that it’s Me/Ashildr; the prophecy only says two great warrior races, and the Time Lords and Daleks jumped to conclusions. Me/Ashildr’s riposte is that it actually the Doctor and Clara, and that together they’re willing to break time by changing a fixed point in time.

The end result is that the Doctor and Clara can’t be together any more. They’re bad for each other. Or bad for the universe. Probably a bit of both. His solution is delightfully Tenth Doctor, in that he’s going to wipe her memory clean of him. But she gets wind of this, and maybe swaps the effect by maybe reversing the polarity (I know, and I think that’s the point -Ed), to maybe wipe him instead of her. Which, actually, it does. So we have a reverse Catherine Tate, where the Doctor forgets most of the stuff about Clara, and we end up with the framing device of him unknowingly telling the story to Clara in a diner in Nevada. Except the diner is the TARDIS that they nicked, and at the end Clara heads back to Gallifrey to go back into her timeline — via a few adventures, no doubt.

So thus ends both series nine of Doctor Who, and Clara’s tenure as a companion.

I don’t want to be too harsh. “Hell Bent” was one of the best episodes that Doctor Who has ever produced, so “Heaven Sent” was always on a bit of a hiding to nowhere. That said, there was far too much going on here for a single episode.

The return of the Time Lords (Properly, this time -Ed) deserved more than to be a backdrop for Clara’s swansong. It’s brilliant to head back into Gallifreyan society and discover that the Time Lords are sticking with their long-standing tradition of being jerks. Rassilon was a nice piece of continuity, with the door left open for a return, and actually the Doctor’s bloodless coup was very well done. More could have been made of the cloisters and the cloister wraiths, but there just wasn’t the time here.

Some of the sentimentality, though, grated a bit. The reversal of the memory wipe from the Donna Noble storyline was a good idea, but the truth was that if you’re going to play off one of the most touching and tragic goodbyes in the show’s history, you’re going to need to bring something new to the table. This…didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel better towards Clara than I have in a good long time, and I feel that eventually she did manage to escape the “mere plot device” cul-de-sac that she was written into at the start.  But nonetheless she has been one of the weaker companions.

This is still a cut above a lot of Doctor Who‘s series finales, though I don’t think it quite measured up to last series. That said, this has been a stronger series overall, and this final episode doesn’t take away from that in any meaningful way. If Doctor Who can go forward in this vein, putting real life into the story and the characters, then I do think that Capaldi’s tenure could easily be looked back on as a glittering pinnacle.

Closing thoughts:

  • The sonic screwdriver is back! Thank God we’ve seen the last (Hopefully -Ed) of those stupid sunglasses.
  • So, was the diner from “The Impossible Astronaut” just Clara and Me’s TARDIS the first time around? In a grand tradition of Doctor Who, I feel like this has raised more questions than it has answered.
  • Jolly nice of the Doctor to check which regeneration the General was on before killing him.
  • I liked the touch of Me/Ashildr knackering the chameleon circuit, and winding up with an American diner hurtling through space.
  • I wouldn’t mind a Me/Ashildr and Clara spin off, actually. Which is a big step for me, since I started this season not being able to stand Clara.
  • So is the Doctor now President of Earth and Lord President of Gallifrey? The man’s building an accidental empire…
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2 comments

  1. The Doctor has been president of Gallifrey before – he didn’t like it much and ran away [Sisters of Kahn are right about that tendency of the Doctor ].

    I would rather Clara did not come back. Perhaps there can be a postscript when she does go back to Gallifrey, renters her timeline and dies.

    More could be done with Me – an immortal who is billions of years old and has a Tardis.

    The Christmas specials tend to be a bit silly so I don’t expect any of this to be resolved then,

    1. Right you are! According to my internet sleuthing, Twelve is the third of the Doctor’s incarnations to be president.

      I’m of a similar mind regarding Clara and Me. That said, I do expect Clara to make a re-appearance, when the writers run out of better ideas.

      You’re right about the Christmas specials, with the honourable exception of “The Time of the Doctor”, which having re-watched it recently was a decent send-off for the Eleventh Doctor.

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