RECAP & REVIEW: Doctor Who -‘Hell Bent’

So what happened?

Finding himself in the middle of the Nevada desert, The Doctor comes across a familiar looking diner and inside encounters a friendly waitress who’s mysteriously identical to his deceased companion Clara, yet seems to be oblivious to the events Twelve recounts about her doppelganger’s life. We then flash back to the aftermath of ‘Heaven Sent’ and see that his arrival on Gallifrey has caused the alarm to be sounded, alerting Rassilon, the President, the High Council and the Sisterhood of Karn to his presence and the possibility of their long-held belief that he’s the hybrid who will destroy their planet and stand in its ruins. Realising that it was Rassilon who entrapped him in his confession dial for 4 billion years, The Doctor is aided by the loyalty of the ordinary people on his planet and the soldiers, who consider him a war hero and refuse to kill him, and has the President stripped of his title and exiled from Gallifrey casually accepting the title himself, before informing Ohila (one of the Sisterhood of Karn) and the General that in order to figure out who the real hybrid is, he’ll need Clara’s help.

Twelve Clara gun
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) shoots The General, forcing him to regenerate, so he and Clara (Jenna Coleman) can escape to the Cloisters.

The only way to gain her help is to use an ‘extraction chamber’ and interrupt her timeline moments before her death at the hands of the raven by freezing her biological functions in a time loop, effectively preventing her from ageing and stopping her heart from beating so she has no pulse. After he has the process enacted on her, The General urges the Doctor to explain to Clara what this means, but he steals the fellow Time Lord’s gun and ascertains he has regenerations left, before shooting him and fleeing into the Cloisters with his newly reanimated friend. Once there, he explains to her that it’s where the Matrix, the system that allows all the knowledge held by the Time Lords to be uploaded after their eventual deaths, is housed and protected by numerous security measures, including a number of Cloister wraiths. He goes on to mention that there was once a Time Lord who managed to break out from where they now find themselves, but that the time he spent there made him mad, which Clara soon realises is actually a story about him and the reason why he fled Gallifrey in a stolen TARDIS all those years before. Having regenerated into a woman, The General and Ohila finally catch up to the elusive duo and try to coax the young schoolteacher to come with them and convince The Doctor to tell them what he knows, but she distracts them long enough for him to take yet another TARDIS from the workshop under the Cloister and to whisk them away.

Once inside, Twelve attempts to take them both far away enough from Gallifrey that his companion will regain her pulse. When it doesn’t work, he goes even further, taking them to the last few moments of the Universe in spite of the risk of it tearing Time itself apart. Soon enough they find themselves in the ruins of Gallifrey and four knocks on the TARDIS door alert him to the fact that Ashildr/Me, the last remaining immortal, is outside waiting for him. Going out to talk to her, he accuses her of being the Hybrid because of the melded Mire technology he gave her that has facilitated her long, long life, but she throws the accusation right back at him and proposes that his over-fondness of Earth suggests that his heritage might be both Time Lord and human. When he dismisses this, she goes on to theorise that perhaps he and Clara together are the Hybrid that was foretold to cause such chaos and destruction in Gallifreyan folklore. Taking this possibility on-board, he tells her his intention to wipe Clara’s memory of him with a neuro-blocker he stole from his home planet and take her back to Earth where the Time Lords would consequently be unable to find her, all the while unaware that his friend has been watching his conversation on the monitor inside the TARDIS.

Deciding she’s unwilling to give up her memories of her time with The Doctor, but prepared to go back and meet her death head on, Clara adjusts the device he was going to use on her with his sonic sunglasses, reversing the polarity so that he’d be the one to lose his memory, telling him as such when he and Ashildr return to the TARDIS. Dubious that what she claims to have done will work, but prepared to admit his fellow immortal’s assertion that together he and his companion have become a dangerous entity, he agrees to what she suggests and they press the button on the neuro-blocker simultaneously. With Clara’s adjustments having worked, he’s the one affected and is given just enough time to say his goodbyes to her, before he passes out.

The Doctor diner
Twelve playing his guitar as he tries to remember what Clara looked like.

When The Doctor wakes up, we’re back to where we started with him in the Nevada desert, but now we know he’s completely unaware that the waitress he’s talking to in the diner is actually Clara, the very woman he’s been trying to locate by piecing together the ghosts of the memories he lost. After she urges him to keep going without his friend whilst keeping up the pretense she doesn’t know him, she leaves the counter and enters a door which reveals itself to be the control room of the second TARDIS The Doctor stole from Gallifrey. Reaffirming her decision to seek out her death, Clara tells Ashildr that she intends to use the ‘wiggle room’ her suspended bodily processes afford her and take the long way around to meet her fate, starting up the time machine that’s stuck in the form of the American diner, and once again travelling the Universe with an immortal.

Back inside his own TARDIS, Twelve finds his velvet coat hanging up and a message on the blackboard that reads, ‘Run you clever boy, and be a Doctor.’ Apparently taking notice of the message, he clicks his fingers to close the doors on his time machine and it throws him a brand new sonic screwdriver, before he sets the coordinates to a brand new destination. With the tribute Rigsy spraypainted onto the sides of the Police box flaking off as he enters Space, he unwittingly crosses paths with Clara’s diner and they head off in different directions.

Monster of the Week

Marieke: In the case of The Doctor there is always the question of who is the monster and maybe The Doctor essentially is one. He is a war criminal after all. This episode wasn’t so much about the monster, but about actions and the consequences everyone had to bear. I am not keen on the memory erase trope. Even though it was the Doctor suffering from it and not his (former) companion, it did feel a bit like Doctor Donna 2.0. to me. The Doctor knows he had marvellous adventures with Clara, he just doesn’t recognise her anymore. It is a little less cruel than the fate Donna had to go through. I partially understand it was necessary, a grief-stricken-hurt-turns-into-vengeance-Doctor isn’t what the show needs, but he still remembers her so it did feel like a cop out to me.

Half human
The Doctor standing in the ruins of Gallifrey at the end of the Universe fulfilling the Hybrid prophecy jointly with Clara. 

Danielle: I actually think a much wider case was made for Time Lords and maybe immortals in general, being the orchestrators and victims of own unhappiness as a consequence of their innate ability to outlive those who are destined to die, and the very fact they’re drawn to these same people. Either out of necessity, as was the case with Ashildr who then, as a result, morphed into the much colder ‘Me’; or The Doctor who always finds himself travelling through Space and Time with human companions who are destined to break his heart when they leave, die, or in Clara’s case, die then leave. The Doctor wasn’t necessarily the bad guy in this finale and throughout Series 9. Yes, he’s incredibly dangerous when he’s angry and grieving, but his willingness to tear up the rule book and put himself and his friends at risk by playing with fixed points in time has come from a place of naivety and an urge to help others, rather than a predilection to be outright evil. There’s been a question hanging around Capaldi’s tenure so far as the Twelfth Doctor, – is he a good man? I believe we now know he is, but we also know he’s fallible. So does he. The only way he can learn from his mistakes, it seems, is by forgetting the person who caused and encouraged him to make them.

Creep Factor

Marieke: The bit in the Cloisters was surely creepy. Also because some classic villains were added into the eerie atmosphere. Even so this episode was not about creep. To be honest, it wasn’t about Gallifrey either…

Danielle: Yeah, those Weeping Angels will always creep me out, no matter how brief the appearance they make is. I found Ashildr calmly watching the end of the Universe in an armchair pretty damn unnerving too, but then I’m a mere mortal.

Mystery

 

Marieke: Will we see a Clara and Me spinoff? I am not too bothered, but I am slightly curious how they would work together. I always had the idea Me had several agendas and she may also not have been the nicest person, so I am not sure if Clara has been done a favour. Maybe she just reaaally likes diners. But if I am really honest, I still do not get the whole hybrid fuss. It wasn’t explained properly and it felt tacked on, just because the word had been used in previous episodes. Is it Me? Is it the Doctor? Is it the Doctor and Clara? Clara and Me? At that point, I did not even care about the hybrid any more. Also, why is the hybrid so dangerous to Gallifrey when all the people mentioned actually fled the place? And why was Missy only mentioned??? For me her appearances in the first two episodes still were the highlights of these series. And the confession, well, we might never know what that was either. I don’t think the mysteries that were set up throughout the series have been handled well in ‘Hell Bent’.

Ashildr end of Universe
Ashildr/Me (Maisie Williams) asserting the possibility that The Doctor is half human. Is she right?

Danielle: I think it’s almost a foregone conclusion that ‘Wiggle Room’, The Adventures of Clara and Ashildr, will be explored further by some portion of the Who franchise. Maybe we’ll see Maisie Williams back in the series again at some point too? Although, I’m sceptical we’ll have Jenna Coleman return any time soon. Mind you, I thought the same about River Song and she’s about to pop up again at Christmas, so what do I know?! Where Marieke and I really differ is that I think the whole thing with the ‘Hybrid’ was dealt with fairly well, and I like the fact it ended up being a self-fulfilling prophecy, which fitted in well with the recurring trope of the bootstrap theory this series. It actually threw up a really interesting conundrum that The Doctor refused to give a definitive answer to as well: is he really half human? Also is that why he feels so duty bound to protect Earth? Answers on a postcard…

Quote of the Week

The Doctor to Clara after he shot The General:

“You’re on Gallifrey. Death is Time Lord for man-flu.”

Familiar Face
Sumpter
Donald Sumpter as Rassilon.

This week Donald Sumpter turned up as the Time Lord President and all round spoilsport, Rassilon. Not just known for his roles in Game of Thrones and Being Human, he’s also a Doctor Who alumni several times over. Fun Fact: in fellow BBC Saturday night prime time show, Merlin, Sumpter played the Fisher King, a character vastly different from the creature of the same name that turned up in Series 9.

The Verdict?

Because we came to two completely different conclusions regarding the finale, we decided to split the verdicts this week. So here goes…

Marieke: My first reaction after watching this episode consisted of a big sigh. I did not like the memory wipe cop out and that was what bothered me the most. After some time I realised that the episode was a bit like wet sand which was held together by the hybrid concept which just didn’t work. There is also the question whether Clara’s brief return alters her death in ‘Face the Raven’. For me, she didn’t have to return, I thought the Raven was good enough as it was. But I don’t mind too much that there was some more closure. It must have been nice for the true Clara/Twelve fans, a relationship that did not always work for me.

I guess my disappointment mainly came because the promos and picture pointed at a Gallifrey-centric episode, which wasn’t what we got. Maybe this created a bigger surprise about Clara shining in one more episode (although, was anyone really that surprised? Moffat can’t seem to properly kill the companions!), but it was not what I tuned in for. I am still undecided on the Time Lord regeneration being a troll move towards the fans who want the Doctor to be a woman someday, or towards the fanboys who definitely not want him to become a woman. I did love the General’s regeneration going with “Only time I’ve been a man, that last body. My goodness, how do you cope with all that ego?” I also approved of the monochrome TARDIS interior, it was a nice reminder of how it all once started. All in all this series went a bit up and down for me. Some two parters needn’t be cut in two, the only standalone episode didn’t work at all. I don’t know if I am not completely on board because Twelve just isn’t going to be my Doctor. I can appreciate Capaldi’s acting and he has had some great scenes. But I am just not feeling it. I am hoping for a great new companion who will make him click for me. Before that, Twelve will face River for his first time in the Christmas episode (curious about that!) and there is also Greg Davies’ floating head. If that doesn’t say Christmas! I don’t know what does.

The Doctor Clara diner
The Doctor and Clara in the diner: we couldn’t agree if this was a fitting ending for Coleman’s character or not.

Danielle: It’ll probably be easier to start off with what we both agreed on, rather than our disagreements. Yes, I did feel let down by the fact that Gallifrey basically turned into a minor subplot, rather than the episode revolving around it, especially as we’ve essentially been building up to The Doctor setting foot there again since the 50th anniversary special. I, however, loved Clara’s denouement. There perhaps is an argument to be made that her being stolen from the jaws of death detracts from the sacrifice she made in ‘Face the Raven’, but I didn’t see it like that. That sacrifice will be made again. It’s a fixed point in time and she has no intention of running away from it indefinitely. To me, it’s not just Moffat having his cake and eating it. I really think Clara’s sacrificed herself not once, but twice by letting The Doctor be the one to forget her, so it’s not necessarily a cop out at all. In some ways it’s much easier to be the one who does the leaving, rather than being the one who is left behind, and whilst she was the one who physically jumped into her own TARDIS and went off, he was the one who mentally divested from her by the time the credits rolled on this episode. Memories are both a gift and a burden. With that in mind, it was an incredibly bittersweet and, in my opinion, apt ending for a character who’d previously saved The Doctor on numerous occasions by turning up when he least expected it. It really was time for them to take their own paths down either side of the fork in the road.

Another thing that my Fezzy friend and I are unlikely to see eye to eye on is Capaldi. I’ll always love Smith. Tennant too. Even Ecclestone had his moments. But there was a second or two when I was watching last week’s episode, ‘Heaven Sent’, where I realised Twelve was probably going to be my favourite Doctor. I like his weariness. His unexpected delicacy and surprisingly childlike nature that’s masked by his overt cynicism. It suits his stark exterior. But most of all I like the journey he’s taken, and the fact that Clara really has definitively changed him and we’ve seen that change, an evolution I haven’t always seen evidence of in other Doctor’s arcs. In no small part that’s down to Peter and his considerable acting chops. Without question, the writing has been uneven in Series 9, but I’m totally on-board to see where the Twelve reboot will take us in Series 10. Bring on River at Christmas too!

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