Hell Bent by Steven Moffat
Warning: Major Spoilers!
There is a tendency for penultimate episodes of Who to be better than finales (Army of Ghosts, The Sound of Drums, The Stolen Earth, The Pandorica Opens and Dark Water were all better than their concluding parts – which were by no means bad). Given this was only the 2nd ever 3 part finale I was interested to see if Moffat could maintain the quality this time. Not quite – but its a very narrow miss (and still a mile better than the last 3 parter which ended with the lacklustre Last of the Timelords – which is about the point I fell out with Russell T. Davies now I think of it.)
This is an episode (and a review) that will probably divide viewers. It’s very, very good episode – but it has some ideas floating around that fans might hate. Not only does Moffat resurrect Clara for a large part of the episode, but he has the balls to address one of the most controversial theories about the Doctor and have the Doctor break one of his cardinal rules in the same 60 minutes.
First off the segment on Gallifrey as the Doctor defiantly faced down President Rassilon (who has regenerated from Timothy Dalton into Donald Sumpter) and used his status as a War Hero to cause Rassilon’s troops and the General (Ken Bones returning from Day of the Doctor) to mutiny, before exiling Rassilon (normally considered the most powerful timelord on the planet) and telling the high council they won’t be far behind.
It turns out the Doctor is merely using his knowledge of the hybrid as a ruse to get the timelords to save Clara, by lying that she has crucial information about said hybrid. The timelords then take Clara out of her timestream just before her death – having frozen her between one heartbeat and her last. Before she can be returned to her timeline though the Doctor flees with her, shooting an objecting General in the process. I know he’s a timelord and the Doctor checked he had regenerations left first, but it’s still cold blooded murder (of arguably a good man), showing how damaged the Doctor is after the previous two episodes. Clara initially refuses to allow the Doctor to save her after this, but grows increasingly angry after realizing what the timelords did to him in Heaven Sent (turns out it took him 4.5 billion years to punch through that wall!) and then her stunned realisation that he only went though that to save her (he knew the timelords would never resurrect Clara if he gave them the information about the hybrid). This makes Clara feel insanely guilty and is brilliantly acted by Coleman (as ever).
The Doctor then flees Gallifrey with Clara (in a new-gen TARDIS that looks near-identical to the original William Hartnell one) to forestall her death – however, no matter how far he runs, her heartbeat doesn’t restart, showing her death is inevitable. The Doctor runs to the End of the Universe to escape and finds Ashildr/Me, the final immortal left, watching the last of the stars die. Here Moffat finally confronts the two fan theories about the hybrid. The Doctor suggests its Ashildr (part Mire, part Human) but then Ashildr accuses the Doctor of being half-human (and thus the hybrid himself). This idea was first ventured in Paul McGann’s TV Movie in 1996, and while it makes a certain amount of sense, I.E. explaining why the Doctor spends so much time on Earth (other than for BBC budget reasons) it isn’t a popular idea among fans. For the second time in two episodes I thought Moffat was about t0 confirm it, but then he threw in a curveball. Ashildr delivers a third theory – the hybrid is actually two people: The Doctor and Clara, who will go to such great lengths to save each other that time itself is endangered. After all the Doctor never saved his previous companions who died (numerous ones from the classic series, River in the library episode) because it was too dangerous to tamper with those timelines. But with Clara he does.
The Doctor then plans to erase Clara’s memory so she can live a normal life free of the timelords who won’t be able to find her. Clara however attempts to ‘reverse the polarity’ of the device so it erases the Doctor’s memory of her so she can go back to the timelords and meet her end without losing her memories of ‘the best years of her life’ with the Doctor. It was a similar kind of standoff to ‘The Zygon Inversion’ with a 50/50 chance of losing. In a final twist, this time, the Doctor loses and Clara erases his memory, before stealing the 2nd Tardis with Ashildr, promising that she will go to Gallifrey ‘the long way round’ – basically at long last, she becomes the Doctor, albeit one with a death sentence over her head (also – Clara and Ashildr spin-off anyone? I’d watch it!). Some people might feel this lessens Clara’s exit in ‘Face the Raven’, but I’d argue that episode is still brilliant regardless, plus I think this was a great ending for her character. Though I recognise some may not agree.
Overall an emotional, crazy and complex finale that wraps up series 9 but as ever leaves a few questions to be answered next year. Regardless – well done to Moffat, Capaldi and Coleman – its been a hell of a season.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
I’ll post a summary of the entire series later, and I imagine I’ll do the Christmas specials soon after it comes out. Speaking of which…
Next Time: Twelve teams up with River Song as they run into Matt Lucas and end up getting threatened by Greg Davies severed head…