Doctor Who – “Hell Bent”

If you took everything from him, betrayed him, trapped him, and broke both his hearts… how far might the Doctor go?

Returning to Gallifrey, the Doctor faces the Time Lords in a struggle that will take him to the end of time itself. Who is the Hybrid? And what is the Doctor’s confession?

Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in Hell Bent.

X X X X X

Cast
The Doctor – Peter Capaldi
Clara – Jenna Coleman
Ashildr – Maisie Williams
The President – Donald Sumpter
The General – Ken Bones
Female General – T’Nia Miller
Gastron – Malachi Kirby
Ohila – Clare Higgins
The Woman – Linda Broughton
Man – Martin T. Sherman
Wraiths – Jami Reid-Quarrell, Nick Ash, Ross Mullan
Voice of the Dalek – Nicholas Briggs

Written by: Steven Moffat
Directed by: Rachel Talalay

Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yak3ujqxDw

Gifs by: J-Ru

X X X X X

Hell Bent encapsulates every single critique and compliment that goes along with a Steven Moffat penned episode. It’s crammed with plot points and awesome moments that are quickly forgotten in the shadow of the next awesome moment, but it also contains a finely written exit that’s incredibly well acted by both Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman.

There’s a waitress in a diner somewhere in Nevada. Sitting at her counter is an old man who doesn’t have any money, but he does have a song and a story. It’s a story about a man returning home after some time away, and those who are happy to see him and those who tremble at his approach. But it’s also a story about a man looking for a friend, a friend who means everything to him. Their travels will take them to the very end of the universe, the last heartbeat of time itself, where it will time for one of them to finally say goodbye…

Let’s get the bad out of the way. After ten years, the planet Gallifrey, capital of the Time Lords and birthplace of the Doctor, has returned from its extradimensional/extratemporal exile. None other than Rassilon, the founder of Time Lord society and its High President, is calling for the Doctor to make an account of himself. And the Doctor’s response is to…blow his forces off a couple of times, wait until Rassilon makes an appearance, and with nary a word drives him AND the High Council off-planet. Ten years. TEN YEARS, not counting The Day of the Doctor. The return of Gallifrey should have been a big deal, a HUGE deal, at least worthy of a full episode. Instead, viewers get less then 15 minutes before Rassilon gets jobbed out for the sake of the story…and even then, his departure doesn’t do anything other than make the Doctor look like a badass. Spending four billion years punching your way through a wall of solid diamond doesn’t make the Doctor cool enough in Moffat’s mind; he has to once again up the ante by reducing one of Who’s Big Bads to the character of “Old Man Yells At Cloud.” Even if the story was never about Gallifrey’s return, it SHOULD still have been handled better.

With that said, HOW it was done was beautiful. After an entire episode of the Doctor talking to himself, the opening to Hell Bent is Capaldi acting without saying a word. The Doctor lets his body language and his facial expressions do all the talking, through simple actions such as dropping a spoon or drawing a line in the sand, leading up to the Doctor staring down a firing squad…

There was a saying, sir, in the Time War. First thing you notice about the Doctor of War is that he’s unarmed.

It’s all very well done and very well shot. My major nitpick aside, this opening sequence does exactly what its meant to do – establish that even after four billion years in the Confession Dial, the Doctor is still calling the shots. The remaining Time Lords and the Sisterhood of Karn (it’s never established just WHY the Sisterhood has arrived. Could be because of their presence during the season premiere, could be because Moffat wants to engage in just a bit of fanwank) explain that Gallifrey is hanging at the end of time and space, and the prophecies of both the Sisterhood and the Gallifreyan Matrix about the Hybrid concern both of them. The Doctor knows about the Hybrid…but in order to help stop it, he’s going to need the help of Time Lord technology to pull of something incredibly tricky. He needs the Time Lords to help pull Clara out of her timestream during her very last heartbeat, right before the raven takes her life, in order to stop the Hybrid and save Gallifrey…

…and it’s all a bluff on the part of the Doctor. The Hybrid scared him enough to flee Gallifrey, but he doesn’t give one whit about the Time Lords or the return of Gallifrey. All that angst over its destruction, all that concern over being the last of the Time Lords…and when they’re finally returned, he simply uses them to save Clara…and then, in a moment completely against his character, shoots the Time Lord General and flees into the Matrix.

This was the episode’s “holy CRAP” moment for me. How often in the revival series have we seen the Doctor use a gun? How often have we heard him talk about how he doesn’t like guns? But here he is, shooting another Time Lord in cold blood. Even though the General regenerated, it’s still an incredible moment because it’s here that we see just how far the Doctor will go for someone he cares for. But it’s both the good (FOUR BILLION YEARS) and the bad (compromising his strong held moral code) that are on display here. The Doctor’s dedication to Clara and the situation the Time Lords put both of them in have driven him to this breaking point, which is both in character and radically out of character for him.

Here’s a good point to talk about Rachel Talalay and how beautifully directed this episode was. The scenes in the Matrix are a great example of her top notch directing. The Matrix is used by the Time Lords to predict the future, a supercomputer comprised of the personalities of Time Lords who no longer held corporeal form. It’s dark, it’s foggy, it’s crisscrossed with glowing blue wires, and in the background are the Cloister Wraiths, silently gliding throughout the Matrix to keep it secure by making sure anyone that comes in…wayward Time Lords, Daleks, Weeping Angels, old-school canvas-headed Cybermen…doesn’t comes out. Talalay does a grand job of establishing just how alien the Matrix is, where around every corner could be a Wraith or a Dalek begging for its own extermination. This style extends throughout the episode, from the bright, shiny, clean architecture of Gallifrey and a brand new TARDIS to the ruins of the Cloisters at the end of the universe. It’s simply a standout job, something I honestly would have never expected from the person who directed Freddy’s Dead and Tank Girl.

So what is the Hybrid? This is the question none other than Ashildr/Me, the last sentient being in the universe, has for the Doctor. The Doctor is pulling out every single trick in his playbook and making some up as he goes along to save Clara, taking her to the very end of the universe, its last microsecond, where her resurrection won’t have any effect on…well, anything. It’s again a sign of just how desperate the Doctor has become, to push a TARDIS further than he’s ever pushed one before, to save his friend. And it doesn’t work.

And there is Ashildir, because apparently Mire technology is so good that she outlived everyone, even Captain Jack Harkness, to wait for the Doctor in the ashes of Gallifrey, asking him about the Hybrid. Is it a being combined from a Time Lord and a Dalek? Or perhaps a human and a Mire? Maybe a Time Lord who’s half-human (on his mother’s side)? Or perhaps it’s two people, a Time Lord and a human, who will burn down the universe together? It’s actually a brilliant piece of writing by Moffat – after an entire season of the Hybrid, IT DOESN’T MATTER. The Hybrid was just the ultimate piece of leverage the Doctor had over the Time Lords. It may still exist out there somewhere, or it may not even exist as all…or maybe the prophecies were right and wrong. In any case, the Hybrid doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things. All that matters is the Doctor’s final trump card to save Clara, to erase any memory of him from her mind. Without his presence in her mind, neither the raven nor the Time Lords would be able to track her; she’d be just another human, free to live her life.

But Clara refuses that option. Her memories are her right, and she won’t allow the Doctor to rip them from her without her consent. The Doctor and Clara instead make a pact – one of them will have their memories erased, protecting each other from the Time Lords and the Web of Time…

…and that’s why the Doctor sits in a diner in Nevada, one familiar to him, telling a story to a waitress about a girl named Clara. Stories, after all, are just memories that have faded away. She nods sadly as the Doctor plays a song on his guitar, a song that just might be called “Clara.”

As soon as the Doctor and Clara step into the Cloister, Hell Bent becomes The Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman Show with special guest star Maisie Williams. Everything about the past two seasons comes to a head as both the Doctor and Clara realize just how reckless they make the other person. Clara has made some rash and foolish decisions, which lead to her taking the raven and her impending death, while the Doctor has broken nearly every code he’s ever held to save her life. The Doctor/companion dynamic, which showed signs of concern during Mummy on the Orient Express, has become a full blown toxic relationship by this point. The Doctor has always been willing to sacrifice himself for his companions (this is one of the reasons The Caves of Androzani is held in such high regard) but in the process he never compromised himself or his beliefs. Both Doctor and companion realize this, but only after both took the long way round to get there. Moffat does a great trick by turning what happened to Donna Noble around so that the Doctor is the one who forgets Clara. It adds to the “aging rock star” character that Capaldi has developed over the past series, someone who is so burned out that even those dearest to him have faded away. One of the themes that the revival series has driven home is how traveling with the Doctor changes the companions, with only one of them (Martha) walking away on their own terms. While I hope the next companion has a bit of the Ten/Donna dynamic of being “blokes and mates” just bouncing around the universe with a time machine, Moffat has done a great job with showing just how the Doctor is an alien, and being around him for a long period of time changes people, for better and for ill.

I can’t praise Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman enough here. I really can’t. I feel like trying to do so would be a disservice to both actors because they both are just amazing in this episode. Coleman deserves praise, especially when Clara realizes just how far the Doctor has gone for her and is willing to go even further, and it’s her, the companion, who says “enough.” Clara has been the bold and reckless one, and for her to embrace her death even when the Doctor, who has never failed her, promises to do everything to keep her safe…it’s just astounding. The Doctor is deciding Clara’s fate, and Clara will have none of that. Everything that’s happened to her is HER doing and she’ll accept the consequences. I was ready for Clara’s departure during Last Christmas and even during Face the Raven, but I am glad Jenna Coleman stayed on for one more series solely for the back half of this episode. And Capaldi…I mean, even when breaking all the rules, he was STILL the Doctor, willing to tell the Time Lords, the Web of Time, the Sisterhood of Karn, even the heat death of the universe to go hang, all because of the anguish he felt over Clara’s death. Hell Bent is about the Doctor coming to terms with Clara’s passing from his life, that even her memories are gone. Only a story remains…




…but what stories they just might be.

The best praise I can give Hell Bent is this – this was a great piece of television. It was more than just a top notch episode of Doctor Who, it was a damn fine 60 minutes of drama. Sure, the Time Lords and Gallifrey have returned, but it was never about them to the Doctor. It was about the final fate of Clara Oswald, and Steven Moffat and Rachel Talalay give Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman the tools to give her a poignant farewell that also, in a way, wipes the slate for Twelve going forward. Gallifrey’s fate isn’t hanging over his head, and the story of a girl who turned away from the raven and survived resonates in his head. All there is to do now is compose a new song.

Random Thoughts
– For the record, this isn’t the first time someone pulled a “get off my world.” https://youtu.be/tP6T1wcFwms?t=65
– I liked that in the end both the religious prophecies of the Sisterhood and the mathematical deductions of the Matrix were right, wrong, accurate, and vague. I’m a Christian who believes science is humanity’s way of decoding God’s underlying code for the universe, so it was a nice moment of personal affirmation for me.
– A male Time Lord regenerating into a female. That should shut Tumblr up for a bit.

Cobi’s Synopsis – Get past the wanky first fifteen minutes, and Hell Bent is a poignant season finale that closes the book on a great Doctor/companion duo with fine writing, top notch direction, and two memorable performances.

Next up – Hello, sweetie…

Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in…The Husbands of River Song

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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