Hell Bent

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On Gallifrey the Doctor hatches a plan to save Clara.

The structure of this episode, in which the main events are flashbacks relayed to Clara as a story, immediately calls to mind the previous episode, Heaven Sent. I was initially thinking that the Doctor’s interaction with Clara in the diner was a more elaborate Storm Room and that he was really still on Gallifrey, giving himself thinking time to escape. This is one of a number of occasions where this episode subverts expectations.

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There’s a heady mixture of old and new here. We’re back on Gallifrey, there are Time Lords in big silly collars, TARDISes, the Sisterhood of Karn and regeneration. We once again see the barn where the infant Doctor slept and the War Doctor brought the Moment. The Sixties-era TARDIS interior is beautiful, and has a default exterior like the one we saw him steal in The Name of the Doctor. Some spectres from the past are touched on: the human-compatible Neural-Lock is presumably what the Time Lords used to Jamie and Zoe’s memories of the Doctor at the end of The War Games, and the Eighth Doctor’s controversial claim about the his parentage are raised. New Time Lord lore is introduced like the Cloisters and the Sliders; and it’s made explicit that Time Lords can change sex when they regenerate (the wiggle room of the Master being a sometime body-snatcher being removed).

Ashildr’s hints that the Doctor might be the prophesied Hybrid, as half-human/half-Gallifreyan, refers to a line in the 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie, when he tells a man that he is “half-human, on my mother’s side.” This seems to be a sly moment to worry long-term fans (the popularity of this idea makes the New Paradigm Daleks look like a runaway success). Likewise the Doctor’s question to the American passer-by, “Clara who?” This seems like it might be deliberately invoking the ‘Clara Who’ mating call of the intractable fans viewers who fondly misremember the companions of the twentieth century series as passive bystanders. Another meta-textual element is the Doctor strumming Murray Gold’s Clara theme on his electric guitar.

The Clara Who idea reaches it’s conclusion with her running away in a rickety old TARDIS with her own companion. Had the original run of Doctor Who been been brought to an untimely end in 1989, one of the plans for Seventh Doctor companion Ace’s exit was for her to be enrolled in the Time Lord Academy and effectively become a Time Lord in her own right.

The scenes with Me at the end of the universe highlight the small scale of Clara’s life in cosmic terms. The Doctor’s love for his human companion is highlighted once again, as it was after his time on Trenzalore (he’d known the residents of Christmas their entire lives, but Clara is the one he seeks in his Twelfth body to spend time with). She has certainly been a companion with a huge impact on the Doctor’s life; from comforting him as fearful Time Tot to helping choose which TARDIS to steal.

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It feels like the series effectively undergoes a reset by the end of the story, bringing it further in line with the classic series,  rather like the end of Skyfall. The Doctor’s bloodless military coup has removed the resurrected Rassilon. Now Gallifrey is back, there are other Time Lords, and TARDISes, out and about in the universe. Rassilon still has the potential continue as a recurring villain. Clara has deleted the Doctor’s memories of her, just as she did to the Daleks’ knowledge of the Doctor in her first appearance in Asylum of the Daleks.

That final scene, as the Doctor walks back into his TARDIS is one to raise the hairs on the back of the neck. It feels very much like a fresh start. The Doctor has no baggage, a new sonic screwdriver and new companions to find.

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Order Doctor Who, series 9 part 2 on DVD:

Doctor Who: Series 9 – Part 2 [DVD]

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One thought on “Hell Bent

  1. As with many “epic” Moffat finale attempts, I’m not quite sure that this script was as cohesive as it could have been. For a 60-minute drama, the first 30 minutes had a lot of false starts and red herrings (the soup-eating scene, the random aggregation of orphans and the woman in the barn credited as “The Woman”, Rassilon in a bit part with little displacement on the plot, Ohila somehow becoming a de facto High Council member, and the Doctor landing in a Wrangler Jeans commercial). Still, the second half was, I think, well done enough to make up for the confusion and misdirections of that first half hour… probably one of my favorite Moffat season finales.

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