Doctor Who: 912 “Hell Bent” Review
Reviewed by John Hussey.
Series Nine has been a massive roller-coaster for me. Lots of ups and downs, twists and turns, and the feeling of wanting to vomit due to being dizzy. That sums up my experience with Doctor Who this year. Long gone are the days when I used to sit down, watch Doctor Who and simply enjoy it come what may. But ever since some readers told me I was “too positive” I adopted a more critical approach.
In many ways this has dampened my love for the show, whilst on the other hand has allowed me to see its flaws and no longer worship it like it is almighty and perfect. I used to bow down to Steven Moffat and very rarely found a fault with his writing. Now, it is all a different story.
I really enjoyed ‘Heaven Sent’ for its beautiful journey and the fact that the Doctor gained so much attention. It was nice to see him without being outweighed by his companions. It left me hopeful for a grand finale, where the Doctor finally returned to Gallifrey and was met with the inevitable consequences of bring order back to his race. Sadly this didn’t come into fruition.
‘Hell Bent’ started off promisingly, albeit, the confusing inclusion of Jenna Coleman as a bar-maid in the American diner from ‘The Impossible Astronaut’. The Doctor returned to the barn he went to in ‘The Day of the Doctor’ where he nearly activated the Moment to kill both his race and planet in order to win the Time War. It was also cleverly seen during ‘Listen’ where we saw a young Doctor, cowering and in need of some words of encouragement from Clara.
What I loved about these sequences of events was the subtlety of Peter Capaldi’s performance. He didn’t say a word at first and let his body language do all the talking. But even then it was severe, leaving you clueless as to his intent. Meanwhile, the President (now played by Donald Sumpter) became worried by the Doctor’s presence. This was brilliant, in my eyes, as it showed how dangerous the Doctor could be and how feared he is by his own people. Too right even Rassilon should be frightened. After all, it was the Doctor that brought an end to his plans in ‘The End of Time’ and sent him back into hell.
I suppose it was a little sad to see Timothy Dalton absent as his performance in David Tennant’ swansong was top-notch. A little explanation as to why he regenerated would have been nice. I guess we could say the Master’s attack brought it on. The Doctor had a lot of reasons to be angry at him, namely his corruptness during the Time War which ultimately led to the downfall of the High Council and his race.
Considering Rassilon was once spoke of as the pioneer of the Time Lords society; a wise and brilliant man who led his race to greatness, even tricking those who wanted ultimate power to their downfall in order to prevent immortalities corruption, it was strange seeing him again as the mad man that couldn’t let go of his title and power.
The Time War did terrible things to the “good men” and Rassilon wasn’t an exception. He now clung onto his legacy and tried to rule through fear but that power had finally run out once the Doctor returned to cleanse the filth of the Time War. The Doctor’s statement of “leave my planet” was fantastic and I was cheering after the General, reprised by Ken Bones, and the Chancellor’s Guards joined with the Doctor and turned against their President. With his power gone, Rassilon was forced into exile; a fitting end to the old ways and a fresh start for a new era on Gallifrey.
The Doctor then became President once again, after his brief reign during his fourth incarnation, and kicked out the High Council to replace it with a new one, one not loyal to Rassilon and his insane decisions that nearly caused the end of time itself. This was a promising start and I thought the remainder of the narrative would continue to shine. Boy was I mistaken!
The annoying thing about ‘Hell Bent’ is I see perfectly where it was coming from and thought it was clever but, on the other hand, I was disappointed by it.
I disliked the fact that Clara returned. In my mind she had gone, she was done and it was time to move on. Sadly, like always, Moffat can’t leave things alone, especially when it comes to killing off his dear little characters. ‘Face the Raven’ was a poetic ending for Clara and it should’ve been left alone, not dragged out with timey-wimey nonsense. The centre of attention for this finale should’ve been the Doctor returning home, gaining his revenge and bringing order back to his home. Instead we are given the Doctor’s quest to cheat fate.
Again it was interesting and totally within character. After everything Clara did for the Doctor, why wouldn’t he save Clara by any means necessary? She deserves it and it isn’t the first time the Doctor attempted to break the laws of time. But this went against what we were promised by all the publicity. It essentially dampened my enjoyment because it wasn’t what I expected, or wanted. We hadn’t seen Gallifrey properly since ‘The Five Doctors’, all the way back in 1983 (the 20th Anniversary no less), and Moffat pushed this glorious return out of the way to focus on his second favourite pet (the first being River).
By this point I was done with Clara. I used to like her character but I felt that this entire season was a tag-on, and a bad one at that. Jenna Coleman clearly wanted to leave last year but both Moffat and Capaldi managed to persuade her to stay. The result was her character was given a crap extension. Her story-arc last year was fantastic, a brilliant sequel to her “Impossible Girl” arc. As for this year, Moffat turned her into a bland character that was, to me, un-relatable and nearly completely selfish. I get Clara was always as good as the Doctor but the way Moffat went about writing that this year really spoilt her character and demeaned every piece of development she had had since ‘The Bells of Saint John’. In many ways this year I couldn’t even recognise that character. I re- watched ‘Deep Breath’ and ‘Into the Dalek’ recently and by god has her character fell flat this year.
This isn’t Coleman’s fault. She did well with what she was given, like within ‘Face the Raven’ in her final moments or in ‘The Zygon Inversion’ when she played both Clara and Bunny or her interactions with Missy in ‘The Witch’s Familiar’. The rest of the time she seemed to fall flat which was a massive shame. Her return in ‘Hell Bent’ wasn’t welcomed and it simply ruined both her exit and her character with over indulgence. She should’ve been allowed to leave last year like Coleman originally wanted.
I actually thought at first the Doctor was bringing her back to ask about the Hybrid because she knew important information about it, but was annoyed to see her return dragged out because the Doctor couldn’t accept her demise. It worked to its advantage in once again displaying the Doctor’s hatred of “endings” but again this plotline was unnecessary. I was convinced that Clara would’ve persuaded him to send her back straight away, similar to her superb speech in ‘Face the Raven’ but alas didn’t go anyway.
The whole imagery of her finally becoming the Doctor, accompanied with a companion and her own TARDIS was over-the-top rubbish in my eyes. It was simply daft and destroyed a lot of credibility to her once wonderful character. We didn’t need to see this to confirm she was “the Doctor’s equal”. She had displayed this countless times before, especially at the end of ‘Death in Heaven’ when she learned to lie like the Doctor to keep others safe.
‘Hell Bent’ had so many great ideas when concerned with Gallifrey, especially the new eerie look to the Matrix, the inclusion of Daleks, Weeping Angels and Cybermen trapped within, as well as the creepy Cloister Wraiths. It was exciting to see Gallifrey again, and not just as a flashback or a brief scene. We were back on Gallifrey. Sadly, as mentioned above, its return was ruined by Moffat concentrating on the wrong thing. This finale had the chance for greatness and instead became a Clara-fest.
I suppose my other dislike with this series has got to be its pacing. Why has it been that the majority of the first episodes of the two-parters have opened with grand ideas, only to be let down by long, convoluted conversation scenes that don’t necessarily go anywhere and leave the rest of the plot hanging in the air with a unimaginative resolution. ‘Hell Bent’ did this to death, leaving the finale little more than a conversation with little, to no action in the second and third act. I’m not an action junky but a little bit of momentum would be nice.
Even the Hybrid arc went up in smoke with the conclusion being: “we still don’t know.” It’s the “Silence” arc all over again but at least back at the end of ‘The Big Bang’ we had some results, combined with exciting narratives and some clear indication as to where the plot was heading. Here I’m wondering why the arc was even conceived? It added very little to the series and resulted in nothing spectacular, other than pure speculation; essentially back where we started. I was hoping for some answers and an interesting revelation. If the Hybrid turns out to be another excuse to give Clara some spotlight than it was all for nothing. I’m just going to say the Doctor is half human and call it a day.
I suppose I would’ve enjoyed the ideas of ‘Hell Bent’ more if we hadn’t got ‘Heaven Sent’. Because of its brilliant storytelling, and direction, I wanted more from ‘Hell Bent’. Sadly we weren’t given the episode ‘Heaven Sent’ deserved to conclude its storyline. It should have been about the Doctor accepting things, moving on after his torturous events (which Clara helped him with), and facing the Time Lords in order to pave a way to a brand-new era. Had ‘Face the Raven’ been the previous episode and the Doctor went straight to Gallifrey to save Clara, it would’ve made more sense. But to have an episode absent of Clara, showcasing the Doctor moving on in the cruellest way, to then have her back was poor writing and a rubbish conclusion to both the series and the character.
I just can’t find myself fully liking this episode. Looking at it from a “what it was trying to accomplish” standpoint, yes it was good. But looking at it in the bigger picture just makes me all the more sad. It had potential to be great but fell on the second hurdle in order to go two steps back, tarnishing ‘Heaven Sent’ and its paving into the future. Moffat needs to learn to let his characters go, and to stop overemphasising their importance. Let them shine on their own, stop glossing them with over-complicated, and drawn out storylines. It’s about time we tone down the companions and let them be normal people, traveling with the Doctor to have adventures. Let’s go back to the original formula, just for a bit, and then perhaps the show can get back on track without being side-lined by obscure ideas that are potentially damaging the show’s legacy.