Doctor Who #972: Hell Bent

"Nothing's sad until it's over, then everything is."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Dec.5 2015.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor goes home and to the very end of the universe for Clara.

REVIEW: Let's get it out of the way, yes, it's a big cheat for Clara to return, and even for her to complete her transformation into a de facto Doctor, getting a kind of immortality, a reason to go to/run from Gallifrey, and her own TARDIS (in original white, wooo!). Especially since Clara could always have returned, at least in extracanonical media, as the Impossible Girl, intersecting the Doctor's timeline as a version of herself. She had such a strong death in Face the Raven, I can sympathize with fans bristling that it wasn't left as such. At the same time, I'm glad she really did finish the season, and that she has the responsibility to return to Gallifrey and get reinserted into her time stream so her death can happen (and, one could argue, must, else the universe would have ended). Thematically, it completes her transformation into a "Doctor", including a reversal of Donna's fate (another faux-Doctor) thanks to "reversal of the polarity", which leaves Doc12 without his memories of her (though one assumes he can at least get the historical details, unless Clara spends part of her travels erasing them, convincing UNIT not to discuss her, etc.). And just as she died and had that moment, so does her, more symbolically, but played as a death scene. An impression of her remains, and is translated into music. No matter how I feel about Clara's last minute reprieve, I did choke up when the Doctor started playing Clara's Theme on the guitar. And you know, not remembering her is a play on the Doctor's facial recognition problems. Perhaps the bigger surprise is that Clara can't be around for the announced Coal Hill School spin-off, which you'd think she would headline, à la Sarah Jane.

Some might say that Clara is a distraction from the main event, the Doctor's return to Gallifrey. It's not. His grief over her death is the context for his return home. His plan - possibly since his time inside the confession dial - is to return to Gallifrey, stage a coup and take control (punishing Rassilon the Resurrected, now played by Donald Sumpter), and make everyone believe he knows what the hybrid is, but needs Clara to help find/explain it. In other words, all he cares about is saving her life with time loop technology. That's not a let down. It's exactly what should be happening. The girl who saved his life countless times, the one he promised Danny he would take care of, versus the planet he was forced to "destroy", home to what has become a hated warrior race. No contest. The Doctor does, perhaps, put his civilization back on track; it seems on the verge of a revolution, and Rassilon an archaic (there's an irony in that) element, a war-time president that should not be in power now (a mirror of Bonnie the Zygon troublemaker). The Doctor armed with only a spoon, if that, tracing a line in the sand, all guns aimed at him, is a great moment, and an agent for change. It's Harriet Jones and six words all over again. And while we get lots of neat little ideas about Gallireyan society, the Matrix, and the Cloisters (plus, another Time Lord changing sex when he regenerates), that's color and background to the real story, the Doctor's desperate attempt to restore Clara.

But Clara isn't the only mirror of the Doctor, and at the very end of the universe, in its final moments, he meets up with Me who knocks four times (a nice reprise, since the episode talked a lot about prophecy and it puts us in the mood for sad endings) and is alone in the universe. All the immortals are gone (that's her word, not "dead", "gone", probably to other dimensions or times). For my money, this is Maisie Williams' best scene in the role, showing a wisdom (in writing and acting) that just wasn't in Me before. Her theories about the hybrid both feel dead on - though if you hate the half-human Doctor theory, you can easily ignore it, just as its fans can embrace it - and when she gets what she's always wanted, it's not because she plotted to get it, and I don't feel as queasy as I thought I'd feel at the idea of her and Clara roaming the universe in their own TARDIS. No earlier version of Me deserved it, but this one might. At the episode's closing moments, it properly feels like the end of an era. The TARDIS reboots. A new sonic screwdriver comes out of the console. And Clara is gone, leaving one last lesson on the black board.

THEORIES: So is the hybrid a self-fulfilling prophecy? As a boy, the Doctor broke into the Cloisters and learned about the prophecy. It apparently scared him so much that he eventually fled the planet to avoid the creature's wrath. If he was half-human, somehow, then he might have realized he was the hybrid, or had the potential to be, which creates a heroic impetus to leave Gallifrey. If he stayed, he would one day stand in its ruins. Which sort of happened already, come to think of it, if you look at the original ending of the Time War. If he's not biologically a hybrid, then he ran out of cowardice - which is fine, it must have been particularly traumatic to have this information imparted personally like that - and it's his leaving that created the hybrid (the Doctor-humans partnership, face it, Clara isn't unique, she just happened to be the companion at the right time). A prophecy that causes itself is, you'll agree, a very Moffaty thing.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Returning to Gallifrey was always going to be special, but the episode is even better for making the stakes, at their core, so small and personal. I can understand its detractors' problems with it, but there's too much good here for them to drain my enthusiasm for it.


Anonymous said...

There are viewers who feel that Clara's not-yet-death takes away from the power of her death scene the other episode. I have read too many comic books (if indeed there is such a thing) and I feel exactly the opposite: killing off characters for drama is almost always a poor use of those characters, and their "resurrections" (whatever form they take) are not the problem, rather they are the SOLUTION to the problem of killing them off in the first place.

Still, time is messed up right now -- why there are some parts of the time stream where she had kids with Danny Pink! -- so it's good to get that fixed. Eventually. Some time within the next 4.5 billion years.

Somewhere in Shoreditch there is a newspaper story:

A local schoolmaster died this week after learning the details of the life of a deceased employee.

In a statement to police, Robert "Rigsy" Igsy, a local artist, explained: "I told the headmaster that Clara Oswalt was regularly traveling through time and space in a police box with an old man who even briefly worked at the Coal Hill School. That's when Headmaster Ian Chesterson's head literally exploded. I mean literally literally, not figuratively literally."

LiamKav said...

I agree with Anon, but death in comics is always going to be different to death in TV/film. As actors don't live forever, and rarely want to do the same show forever, death (or regular departures) are a required thing, often born out of necessity. In comics, death SHOULD be done when the drama requires it. However, comics are also always fighting with their other role as "IP maintainers", and a desperate built-in desire to return to the status quo. Wolverine is a good character, people will want to make cartoons and movies about him, therefore he needs to be around in Marvel comics. Any death is temporary. By contrast, no matter how much you liked or disliked Clara, I don't think anyone would want 50 years of stories about that character.

(The Doctor escapes this "rule" somewhat by changing character every so often whilst remaining the same character. It's a genius move/stroke of luck that allows the show to remain fresh.)

A lot of writers have realised this issue with comic deaths, and so now basically write them in having already figured out the returns. So Batman and Steve Rogers didn't really die, they were just blasted in to the time stream (I think?)

Oh, and I loved the episode. Part of me is curious as to where it fits in with The End of Time. Are we to assume that after the Tenth Doctor blasted Gallifrey and the High Council back, he just regenerated, dusted himself down, and carried on ruling the planet? So what Time Lords were the ones who actually gave the Doctor a new set of regenerations? (And I loved the little "how many did we give you anyway?" line.)

Anonymous said...

True, live action has different requirements from comics, and character deaths are more practically justifiable on TV/film than in comics (where "I didn't have any use for Tora Olafsdottir so I thought it would be wicked cool to kill her off" is rarely sufficient yet frequently used). And especially "Doctor Who" -- the span of which completely dwarfs any human being's life -- lends itself better than most to seeing the ends of characters.

But even in this best case scenario, for my tastes, it's still better to put companions on a bus, send them to another town, and let them live out their lives. That's more or less what happened with Amy and Rory, and I'm good with that. I still miss the Ponds (especially Rory), but I like the idea that they do / did live rich full lives, surely as other companions did whose ends we didn't see (which is most of them).

Anonymous said...

Haha, I'm watching an old old "Doctor Who" on the Retro channel right now, and I'm pretty sure this is from the Daleks' first appearance ... seems the Doctor / Susan / Barbara have shoved Ian into a Dalek metal shell as a disguise. Yet another similarity between Clara and Ian.

Siskoid said...

Yep that would be from the "The Daleks", Doctor Who's second serial ever.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

...Aaand they screwed it up, big-time. Our major re-introduction to Gallifrey and the culmination of an epic three-parter is an extended goodbye to a character who already HAD a fantastic departure scene, undoing it with an inferior fate (a.k.a. 'pulling a Steven Taylor'), whilst simultaneously using Gallifrey as a plot device, and oh yeah, THE DOCTOR COMMITS MURDER and no one calls him on it, nor are there any consequences, because, y'know, there was a regeneration afterwards.

This si, quite possibly, the most wretched piece of dreck I've ever had to suffer through in new Who- and I've been forced to watch Love and Monsters multiple times!!!

Much of my sentiment has already been expressed on previous comments, so I won't reiterate (beyond this mention) how this transformed my empathy and respect for Clara into a double-amplifying of my previous loathing, or how I consider the undead the duo unleashed on time and space the antithesis of a happy ending (more of an existential horror), and an insultingly-silly subversion of what could have been a truly classic companion departure. Frankly, if they hadn't mollified me with a classic TARDIS interior (though smaller than the Hartnell room, right? Or is it just the way they shot it?), I'd probably be buying my plane ticket to England, pitchfork and torch in hand. :-)

There *is* some nice world-building for Gallifrey, but so much potential is just discarded, Rassilon's survival/regeneration/lack-of-genocidal-intent-to-end-the-universe is no more explained than the Master's (seriously, when we last saw them in End of Time, which gave the Doctor and DARNED GOOD REASON to destroy Gallifrey, begs some following up. He can weep on about 'how many children' in the 50th all he likes, but it doesn't change the fact that there was a clear and present threat to the entire universe, and they never explained how it was undone!), and he was aggravatingly reduced to a pathetic figure; even the new status quo, and the Doctor's reuniting with Gallifrey, are tossed aside because of the show's single-minded obsession with a character that was, need I reiterate, ALREADY DEAD. If I didn't resent Clara already, I certainly would after I saw how much potential was squandered just so that one more companion can become THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE UNIVERSE EVAR AND I WOULD DIE FOR THEM I CAN'T GO ON WITHOUT THEM.

(Sorry, I have to disagree; it IS indeed a let-down, of the most major way. The quest for Gallfirey/dealing with the loss of it has been a 10-year plotline; resolving it in service to this companion, using it merely as a plot device to further her already-concluded story, is an absolute and stupid waste.)

Now, credit where credit is due- the idea that Missy set the Doctor up with the perfect, most disastrous match for his personality is actually really clever; that bit I like. Similarly, if the Doctor MUST be crippled by the loss of every companion (that's REALLY got to stop), then the idea of taking his memories so he can get over it like every Pre-Rose Doctor could is a nice idea. But all of this would have worked a lot better if the Doctor hadn't gone this OTT with *every* New Series companion loss (except Martha; poor Martha), making it seem par for the course, rather than a special case.

"It's Harriet Jones and six words all over again"
So, the stupidest and most overbearing, arrogant, wrongheaded mistake (that he had no right to make) he's ever made, again? Yeah, I can cop to that. Fits with this idiotic episode.

In short- I listed the only good things I can see about it above; can't agree with any of the other positives. I loathe this one with a hatred that I can't recall mustering for any other episode of the series. Ever.

LiamKav said...

Hartnell's Control Room changed size between the first and second episodes. It wasn't a standing set until (I think) Davison's second season, so the size of it depending on how much spare space they had that week.

Also, Love and Monsters is great. Apart from the monster. And the horrific fate that befalls Elton's girlfriend. And the pavement slab blow-job. Apart from those things, it is (honestly) great.

Siskoid said...

Speak that truth, Liam!

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Perhaps so. It's just that, for me, those are some pretty big 'apart from those things.' ;-) If it helps, you could substitute 'Voyage of the Damned' for 'Love and Monsters' in the above paragraph. Or 'Fear Her.' Or 'Daleks In Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks.' Or 'Journeys End.' Or 'Robots of Sherwood.' Or 'Death In Heaven.'

YMMV, but hopefully at least one of those captures the proper sentiment. :-)

Siskoid said...

Mine from that list would be Voyage of the Damned, yes.

Anonymous said...

A-dogg - for whatever it's worth, I didn't have much investment in the return to Gallifrey; the point that it got un-destroyed is enough for me. That place has always been full of jerks, though, so I didn't look forward to the Doctor actually returning.

I definitely agree, though, that the Doctor should have less trouble letting his companions go. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if the new series wasn't in the habit of subjecting them to disastrous fates? Sent to another dimension, brain-wiped, sent back in time, took a raven to the knee ... the Doctor should just leave them all in Aberdeen and let them get on with their lives. Which BTW we almost got with the Ponds, with that home the Doctor bought (?) for them, and I would have been perfectly happy if that's how their involvement on the show ended. "Amy and Rory have spent almost a decade across time and space, and realize that it's time to hang up the TARDIS key." Not a very climactic ending, but I'd like it.

... I just realized how much I'd like it if the Ponds had "retired" in the present, but they were in the habit of hosting yearly gatherings for the Doctor's old companions. Not something the show would actually have to show, but I'd be tickled if it were at least mentioned once or twice.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

I do agree with you, vis a vis Aberdeen. in fact, I was extremely upset that they undid the Ponds ending in God complex- as I thought it was a good one- and I was particularly angry when I saw where they ended up in Asylum of the Daleks instead. But, it turned out to be worth it for Angels Take Manhattan to put them in a better place; much closer to one-another, with a happy ending that was a lot happier. :-) (And again- if I felt that this episode put Clara in a *better* place than her previous one, in terms of payoff and fate, I'd've cut it some slack. I just didn't.)

But I would love to see some companions just get to walk away- an amicable parting to go back to their lives, and both they and the doctor are okay with that. I think it's the problem with a show run by a generation of fans; the Doctor has been built up into such a legend, and time and space so amazing (though we seldom see the wonder anymore, just the danger; I'd love to see that change, too), that it requires a disastrous fate to cause anyone to ever separate from the Total Amazingness(tm) of the Doctor/the TARDIS. It's kind of an unavoidable consequence of the way they've built him up.

And, yeah- that would've been a great alternative; heck, I'd still like to see some of the Doctor's companions on Earth (particularly Ian Chesterton- hint-hint spinoff!- and Ace) pop up every now and again. If only Mr. Copper's program from Stolen earth had worked correctly, and not had that glitch that limited it to only new-series companions... ;-) But a 'just tending the home front and enjoying normal life' (as Power of Three suggested Amy and Rory were on the verge of) would be SUCH a welcome change of pace!

(Oh, and about Gallifrey- actually, you're right. I do consider the Time Lords to be the most evil and monstrous villains that the Doctor has ever faced- ever since what they did to poor Jamie and Zoe. :-( BUT, they've made such a big deal out of it, and the Doctor's emotions toward it, that I would've just like to have seen that explored more. Gallifrey isn't a fun place- but it is a dangerous, powerful place with huge ramifications, and I'd like to have seen that as the focus of a story to justify all the emotional buildup that they'd infused the mystery of its fate with.)

Anonymous said...

"that it requires a disastrous fate to cause anyone to ever separate from the Total Amazingness(tm) of the Doctor/the TARDIS"

You know who immediately saw through that? Danny Pink. So I am going to put forth a theory right now: Missy herself killed Danny in a traffic accident, so that he couldn't persuade Clara to leave the Doctor.

Which begs the question of what Missy would drive, so I am further going to theorize that the Master -- possibly the Roger Delgado one -- built an evil version of Bessie.

"that they undid the Ponds ending in God complex"

Additionally, they killed off Rita in that episode -- the Doctor could have had a faithful Indian companion, literally, and they decided not to go there. To me that's criminal.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

"Which begs the question of what Missy would drive, so I am further going to theorize that the Master -- possibly the Roger Delgado one -- built an evil version of Bessie."

...Okay, if someone from the show, or at the very least, Big Finish, does not start making this story RIGHT NOW, there should be a lawsuit for criminal negligence. I would pay good money to see this.

"Additionally, they killed off Rita in that episode -- the Doctor could have had a faithful Indian companion, literally, and they decided not to go there. To me that's criminal."

Isn't that New Who's favorite game, though? Tease us with fantastic would-have-been one-offs and then kill them off or otherwise discard them? Part of what made Donna such a treat is that she's the one-off that actually came back! :-) But generally, they just enjoy torturing us...

Siskoid said...

I can't believe the Master's never had an evil Bessie. At least during the Delgado era. After, for sensitivity - Delgado died in a car accident - I could understand. But DURING?

Kaiser The Great said...

The diner...Same diner as "The Impossible Astronaut" but Clara was not in the "The Impossible Astronaut." So...was Clara and Me secretly visiting Eleven in that episode?

Siskoid said...


I was going to say the TARDIS remembered the diner... but different TARDIS! Or they're all connected via the Matrix.


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