Doctor Who Season 9.12 – Hell Bent

doctor_who_hell_bent_gallifrey_croppedHow peculiar.

While I was watching Hell Bent, I was enthralled. There is so much to like!  So many excellent ideas; so many fantastic visuals; so many familiar faces. Unfortunately, the morning after, a lot of it seems a bit empty and largely unnecessary which is a shame as as far as it goes, each part of the story, in isolation, is rather good.

Confused?

Yeah, me too.

Okay, the episode is essentially one long flashback and the Doctor tells the story to a familiar waitress in a familiar diner. It’s Clara. Not a clone, or a duplicate or a flesh double, not one of those ‘Impossible Girl’ Claras but Clara. Although it appears that she has no idea who the Doctor is. Something is afoot.

After last week’s tour-de-force, the Doctor has made it back to Gallifrey and ordered a child to tell the Timelord High Council that he has returned.  The Doctor, meanwhile, retreats to the barn that featured in The Day of the Doctor and Listen. He waits as Gallifreyans – non-Timelords – gather round, clearly in awe of the returning war hero.

The Timelords attempt to bring him back to the Bottle City of Kandor – well, it’s the Timelord Citadel, but . . . and he refuses to go until Rassilon arrives to take him back. At which point, things move a bit too quickly and Rassilon is despatched rather quickly.  Despite the Ohila’s – of the Sisterhood of Karn’s – wonderful comment “I heard the Doctor had come home. One so loves fireworks,” there are little more than a few damp squibs. She seems to have been brought in solely for that line as she contribute very little else to the plot; just a few choice scowls.

What could have been an episode long taut political thriller is dismissed in a symbolic laying down of arms from the Gallifreyan High Guard – who defy Rassilon’s orders in favour of their respect for The Doctor – a threat by Rassilon that is met by skyborne reinforcements for the Doctor and a cringeworthy “Get the Hell Off My Planet”.

I say cringeworthy because it reminded me of the end of The Shadow War in Babylon 5. A series and a half of epic war between two planets that ends in “Get the hell out of my galaxy”. Ugh.  Horrible. Here were have the culmination of the The Great Time War and it amounts to the same thing. What is worse is that the rest of the Gallifreyan High Council are banished off screen.

This could have been an amazing arc.  It could have been an entire series worth of political machinations but it was dismissed in a few words and a token tantrum. While it might be incredibly cool that the Doctor gets rid of the entire Gallifreyan High Council in a few words – words are his weapon, says Rassilon – it just seems unreasonably fast and perfunctory.

The next part sees Clara extracted from her timeline, the moment before the Raven takes her life, to explain to the Timelord General about The Hybrid.  She knows nothing, of course and it’s merely a ruse to stop Clara dying. And it looks as if that’s a permanent state as she is essentially caught ‘between two heartbeats’.

This is probably the flabbiest bit of the episode. Despite the General’s death at the Doctor’s hand – sort of complicit and not done until the General confirms he has more regenerations at his disposal – it’s surprisingly drama free.  We run around the Cloisters a lot, meet the creepy but pointless Cloister Ghosts; meet some foolish alien who have become trapped and are in a state of permanent torment.

But the point of this is to have a bit of a fan wank, escape to the Tardis repository and steal a Type 40. I rather liked that, actually. Seeing the original Tardis console room with it’s ‘factory settings’ was rather wonderful and – not being above a bit of a wank myself – I have to point out the original was actually a sickly green colour. Take a look at the marvellous “An Adventure in Time and Space” for the true horrible colour. Of course, having been filmed in black and white, we saw it as white and the green was used simply to negate glare. Then  when colour came along . . .

So, The Doctor and Clara in the Tardis. Everything is as it should be except that Clara may well be a fixed point in the universe and thus what happens to her in Face the Raven must happen. The Doctor does what the Doctor does and runs. This time to the end of the Universe (again) where, after an ominous four knocks, he finds Me waiting for him who, after the Doctor has a bit of a hissy fit, convinces him that there is beauty in death; that it entirely natural; that he is denying Clara a part of life.

This is followed by an infuriating conversation that doesn’t clear anything up at all.  We’ve got to this point in this series to find out who and what the Hybrid is.  The Doctor has already said “The hybrid is me” or perhaps “The Hybrid is Me”. Me agrees, it could well be the Doctor/Human hybrid; it could be the the Human/Mire hybrid; but has he considered that it may be The Doctor and Clara, roaming the universe reckless and just having fun, each pushing the other to potentially catastrophic actions. ; ignoring the rules of the universe and the Timelords and general mucking about with the laws of time? We’ve already seen what happens around time fractures and I really don’t want to see The Reapers again…

But, we’ve entered ‘Sherlock’ territory. Several theories to what has happened, each plausible to greater or lesser degrees, but not offering an actual ending or any kind of resolution.  The hybrid is just a MacGuffin, driving the plot but with no real meaning at all. Disappointing.

Clara, little minx that she is, has been eavesdropping and learns that the neural doo-hickey (human compatible) is to erase all memories of the Doctor from her mind. Something to do with the Timelords not being able to gain information about the hybrid from her. What annoyed me about this was that the Doctor had erased the mind of a previous companion without the aid of technology, to go through all that death, chase, flight and conversation about death when he could have just reached out and pulled the memories out of her as he did with Donna, seems a little pointless.

Except, of course, Clara has other ideas and, as the Doctor has done so many times, reverses the polarity of the neutron flow. Now, neither the Doctor nor Clara knows what will happen once it is deployed.

As I’ve said before, this is an episode that promised much but seemed not to deliver.  The flash was exciting, but it doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny.  Each of the different sections have merit but they don’t work as a coherent story and are either too overblown or underdeveloped. The script was overwrought and hand-wringy and the pacing is all over the place. It lurches.

I personally think that this would have worked better if the Timelords had extracted Clara before death; the Doctor had then raced to Gallifrey and gone directly to the citadel; rescued her and let it play out from there.  The whole Gallifrey section did little for the story as it was. It could have been a neat two parter.  Of course, that would have negated the need for the series highlight that was ‘Heaven Sent’ which simply would do.

I’m hoping that next year, there will be more Gallifrey and the fate of Rassilon – who still has that nifty glove of doom  and various other presidential gifts – and the High Council. I’m hoping that the Doctor will engage himself in rebuilding the Gallifreyan High Council and re-establishing Gallifrey as something more than the Gormenghastian bureaucracy it had become.  I doubt this will happen, although it might explain the lack of media fervour over a new companion.

And then there was the diner.

The Doctor and Clara in the diner that isn’t a diner. Clara recognises the Doctor but the Doctor has fallen victim to the neural mind wipe thingy – inevitable given the decision to use technology rather than innate ability -and he doesn’t recognise Clara.  Instead, after telling her the story, he plays her a tune on his guitar.  Confusingly, it’s and amalgam of both “Rose’s Theme”  and Clara’s Theme, which he calls ‘Clara’.  Why didn’t he just play Clara’s theme? it would have made a lot more sense. And why, when Clara has a perfectly serviceable theme herself, was Rose’s theme used throughout the episode? With the aid of a large shoe-horn, I could suggest that with Clara being caught in her final ‘moment’ and ‘The Moment’ taking the shape of Rose, there’s a ‘kind’ of link, but it came over as incongruous; totally out of place and frankly a bit insulting to Clara.

That said, those final moments in the Diner were very much worth waiting for. Clara’s demise in “Face the Raven” was dull and lack-lustre and it’s good to see a much more satisfy ending. It was fitting that having essentially become the Doctor in the series and facing the consequences this series, she should have learned a lesson about the ‘duty of care’ and run off in her own Tardis with Me – something she wanted to do from the first time she met The Doctor and learned of her immortality. She got her wish and is travelling time and space with another de facto immortal in a manner that is slightly reminiscent of the final episode of ‘Sapphire and Steel’. The rips in the universe caused by changing a fixed point in time don’t happen.  I presume this is because Clara intends for the death to take place as it happened, but having been removed from time temporarily, she intends taking the long way round to get back to the Raven.

This comes across as a bit cheaty and takes away the emotional investment you had at her death scene . . . although having said that, her death scene was so badly handled, the emotional investment was minimal. Either way, I have this uncomfortable feeling that her recklessness, arrogance and stupidity has been rewarded. That can’t be a good message. Whatever happened to consequence?

The heart break in having pieced together everything about Clara from the hole she left, except what she looked like was palpable.

Meanwhile, the Doctor having missed all the prompts from Diner Clara about the Tardis wanders off, oblivious to the Diner Tardis vanishing. He finds his own graffiti covered Tardis – oddly, covered in paintings of roses. I do hope that wasn’t Rose announcing her return next series . . .

So much to like but so much that needs expanding on to give it the proper drama and gravitas it deserved.

Marks for promise and scope: 8.5

Marks for coherence and satisfaction: 5.5

Marks for a decent finale for Clara: 8

A real curate’s egg of an episode.

And Missy didn’t turn up. That was a surprise.

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