Series 9, Episode 12 – “Hell Bent”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. The Doctor returns to Gallifrey, to the same barn in which John Hurt’s War Doctor contemplated mass destruction. Rassilon’s minions turn against him and refuse to kill The Doctor. The Doctor shoots a Time Lord general. Clara is as rosy-cheeked as can be for someone suspended between heartbeats. Me/Ashildr has a front-row seat to the end of time and coolly watches stars die. And wait – were those Weeping Angels, a Cyberman and a Dalek begging for death? I would need a TARDIS to have enough time to digest the events of this episode before reuniting with River Song in the Christmas special.
This was a cliffhanger of the emotional persuasion – no lives, planets or universes are dangling on a thread, no real mysteries of time and space are being explored – just a study of the dynamics between The Doctor, Clara, Ashildr and maybe Missy, and who could possibly combine to become The Hybrid of the Time Lords’ prophecy. Granted, The Doctor has been reckless enough to allow his relationship with Clara to affect just about every creature in time and space, but half the life span of the universe locked inside a Confession Dial can do strange things to a body.
WHAT WORKED: Moffet’s bait-and-switch of battle expectations turned mostly on their head to focus on The Doctor’s desperation to save Clara. We see flashes of a warring Doctor – he shoots another Time Lord, even though he has always been staunchly against weapons – but for the most part he is scrambling to “fix” his companion. While the rest of the Time Lords serve as a warning of the dangers that befall selfishness, The Doctor makes one wonder if 4 billion years punching at an Azbantium wall is really a reasonable way to express one’s love. Still, a story oscillating around human complexities lingers longer than an oft-referenced battle with an obsolete race.
WHAT DIDN’T: Rassilon and much of the Time Lords’ plot almost seemed the byproduct of writing oneself into a corner. Whereas Timothy Dalton projected power and instilled fear, Donald Sumpter’s version of Rassilon is more maniacally out-of-touch. His failure to command authority over his army adds to the impotence of the upper echelon of Time Lord society, which now seems as self-contained, self-congratulatory and delusional as a Bible Belt college town that believes an influx of yoga studios and co-ops translates into “diversity.”
“Nothing’s sad until it’s over. Then everything is.” – The Doctor.
Clara: “Is this a story or did it really happen?” The Doctor: “Every story ever told really happened.”
The Doctor: “They only attack if you make any attempt to leave.” Clara: “How long are we planning to stay?”
Clara: “You realize how well that conversation went, right?” The Doctor: “I’m starting to, yeah. A bit.”
Me/Ashildr: “I’ve been watching the stars die. It was beautiful.” The Doctor: “No. It was sad.”
“Clara Who?” – The Doctor
BEST MOMENT: The General’s regeneration into a black woman not only ticked off a few boxes for Moffett, but also opened the door to Doctor diversity. The show’s second gender-hopping regeneration in Peter Capaldi’s tenure, BBC is easing Whovians into the possibility that The Doctor will not always wear the face of a privileged white man.
EPISODE’S MVP: Clara. Jenna Coleman’s enormous peepers ran the gamut of emotion absorbing just what The Doctor went through to save her (if you can truly call suspending someone indefinitely between two heartbeats “saving” them). Coleman has naturally expressive features she always needed to guard as Clara. In “Hell Bent”, billions of years after her death, she holds back nothing. Sadness, anger, hope, fear at what The Doctor has become (and all to save her) – we see them all in the Matrix of Time, a heart-wrenching display of restraint and love as she first encounters The Doctor with no memory of her.
– “Clara Who?” This seemed more like a clarification than a question, underscoring the Doctor/Clara hybrid theory.
– Can’t say I saw Clara and Ashildr flying off together in the First Doctor’s TARDIS coming from a mile away. Maisie Williams’ Me was much more expressive and enjoyable to watch than we’ve seen before. Surely it’s too much to ask that she and Jenna Coleman would find enough time for a spin-off, but their chemistry is palpable and I do hope we see the pair again.
– I’m still trying desperately to wrap my mind around how Peter Capaldi can occasionally wander around aimlessly, noodling on a guitar and not look like an utter d-bag. If it were Matt Smith I would probably have stopped watching.