Sunday 6 December 2015

Reviews in Time & Space: Hell Bent

Doctor Who s09e12 - Hell Bent

It's been an entertaining ride, but the end of Doctor Who's ninth series/season (I need to decide on a word and stick to it really) has come to an end. In true Doctor Who style though, that end will of course be with a bang. Finale episode Hell Bent sees the Doctor finally make his return his home planet of Gallifrey - an event that has been years in the making and (with the exception of a few little detours) a first for the modern iteration of the franchise. The episode also serves as our proper goodbye to Clara Oswald, with actor Jenna Coleman having stepped down from her role as companion after serving for an nearly three years. The episode was once again directed by Rachel Talalay, and of course written by show runner Steven Moffat.

The Doctor & Clara
One last goodbye

After spending billions of years trapped inside his own confession dial, the Doctor has returned to Gallifrey and he isn't happy. Making short work of Lord President Rassilon, the Doctor then sets about achieving the real task he set out to do - saving Clara Oswald. Pulling her out of time the very moment before she died in Face the Raven, the two then journey into the bowels of the Matrix to set the Doctor's plan in motion. However the Time Lords, along with the Sisters of Karn, aren't too happy the Doctor is happy to break such a fundamental rule of time.

Taking them all the way to the very end of the universe where they reunite once again with Me, unfortunately one way of another this is goodbye for the Doctor and Clara. But can the Doctor still save her? And just what is the hybrid prophesied to bring Gallifrey to ashes?

Donald Sumpter as Rassilon
Rassilon returns

The Doctor's returning to Gallifrey in a proper manner is perhaps the biggest even a Doctor Who finale could pull out at this stage. Fans have wanted it ever since the Time War was first mentioned all the way back in 2005, and after the planet was revealed to have survived in The Day of the Doctor things have certainly been building up to it. And the first 15 minutes of the episode treat this return with a suitable amount of momentum - returning the Doctor to the now key location of the barn before he manages to conquer Gallifrey and become Lord President (again) without having to utter a single word. But as powerful a sequence it is, it moves by much too quickly and doesn't address some of the things it brings to light. For example - Rassilon returns, no long played by Timothy Dalton but instead by Donald Sumpter who is completely wasted here. While the issue of him regenerating isn't something that needs specific mentioning, a little moment that addressed the stunt he pulled in The End of Time or what happened to him or the Master following it might have been nice. But instead he's quickly exiled away from the planet and society he was key to creating - in what can only be assumed is set up for a future storyline Moffat can address whenever he deems it necessary.

Similarly the Matrix proves to be equally underwhelming, hyped up as this threatening space which no Time Lord should enter but coming across like a recycled set piece with some other monsters thrown in for good measure. The Wraiths are touted as being dangerous, but other than glide about like Daleks there's absolutely no indication of what they are capable of. On top of that the idea of the Doctor having to journey all the way into the Cloister just to steal another TARDIS feels rather far-fetched - if this was what he planned all along surely there would be a more convenient place he could park one? Especially if he's Lord President again.

There until the end of time itself

From here on out the episode becomes less about the Doctor's homecoming, and more of an intimate affair about the Doctor and Clara. The Doctor seems to be feeling the effects of spending billions of years inside the Confession Dial, even though this doesn't make a whole lot of sense since the Doctor should only feel like he spend a hundred years or so in there at the most (as he was constantly being reset with each death). Going full Time Lord Victorious once again, he sets about making it so Clara will live even if she has to forget all her memories of the time she spent with him. Naturally Clara is none too happy about this, giving a powerful speech about memory entitlement that's very befitting of her character and how she's grown over the past few years. Emotions are high and having the two jump in together to see which one would lose their memories works really well, it's just a shame that what follows isn't quite up to the same powerful standard.

But before the ending hits there's also the return of Me to consider, whose role in the whole thing has proved much bigger than we all probably initially thought when Maisie Williams was cast in the role. This is where the question of who or what the Hybrid is comes into play, although in typical Steven Moffat fashion it's a question that doesn't really get a proper answer. A lot of the theories developed over the past year are explored - including baiting fans once again with the prospect that the Doctor is half-human, but in the end it doesn't really matter and so no one seems to particularly care about a sure answer. It isn't all that surprising since a similar stunt was pulled in regards to the Doctor's name, but it is frustrating to see the show once again base itself on questions it has no intention of ever giving an answer to.

Clara and Ashildr/Me
Spin-off bait

So the story of the Doctor and Clara Oswald ends with the Doctor having his memory wiped of Clara (though memories of the adventures themselves still seem to be perfectly intact), meeting her in the diner one last time before she flies off in a stolen TARDIS to explore the universe with Ashildr. Sure she confesses that one day she'll catch up with the Time Lords and face up to her death, but for now she's immortal and will take "the long way round" with her equally immortal buddy. Congratulations Steven Moffat you've done it - you've literally made Clara into the Doctor. For years people have criticised Russell T Davies for giving his characters idealised fanfic endings and it seems Moffat is no better in that regard, as we're treated to a shot of the Doctor's TARDIS flying off into space alongside a spinning American diner. Little touches like the classic console and references to Amy and Rory are nice, but this ending effectively kills all the emotional impact of the previous two episodes. Face the Raven deserved commendation for doing something that hadn't been done in over 30 years, but now it has been completely cheapened. Having Clara die because she got too close to the Doctor's world was a perfect (if tragic) end, which now means little because just like him she's cheated that death for an undisclosed period of time.

However things are looking up in those final moments, as the Doctor returns to the TARDIS and a new beginning is signalled. New clothes, a new Sonic Screwdriver and a revitalised vigour - this sequence feels like a return to the Doctor we all know and love. There's still no word on what kind of companion the next series will bring, but fingers crossed it's anything but a 20-something woman from modern day Earth. I think it's fair to say we've had quite enough of those now.

The new Sonic Screwdriver
A new beginning

Hell Bent is far from the worst Doctor Who finale, but it certainly feels like a bit of a low coming off of the incredible Heaven Sent. Clara's happy ending is sure to appease a certain section of the fandom, but others are likely to be put off by the fizzle of Gallifrey's grand return and the lack of answers to the questions that have been constantly asked for the past year. The Doctor will return on Christmas day along with River Song in tow for The Husbands of River Song - an episode that looks to be low on the drama and high on festive tomfoolery. And after a broody series such as this, perhaps that isn't such a bad thing after all.

1 comment:

Phil D said...

Totally agree with your average.

Nice to see the Time Lords back - well, they were going to be 'found' eventually
Good to see a hint of back story to The Doctor's pre-Time Lord life - at least his Mum still recognises him.
They could have kept Clara dead - flying off with Me just doesn't cut it as a end to her story.
They could have hinted at a new companion - maybe something at the end of Christmas, but please can we end the River Song arc.
Possibly tied-up enough for Moffat to start handing over his show runner/writer duties.
Overall, yes, average.