Sunday 6 December 2015

Hell Bent - Review

There is a lot of good things to be said about Hell Bent, the finale to Series 9. There are also quite a few bad things to say about it.
I think casual viewers will have been mostly bored with it, waiting for a bit of spectacle that never comes. Long-term fans will certainly have been pleased with the various references to past stories (such as The Deadly Assassin), and the sight of a classic era TARDIS interior. Clara fans got to see her saved from death, or at least death deferred.
Pre-publicity all focused on the Doctor's return to Gallifrey. The Time Lord President, played by Donald Sumpter in his third role in the programme since 1968, turned out to be Rassilon - last played by Timothy Dalton in David Tennant's swan-song. The Doctor returns to the barn where he slept as a boy, and where he went to activate the Moment at the end of the Time War. After having the entire episode to himself last week, Capaldi took a bit of a breather and didn't say a word for the first 10 minutes or so. If we thought the episode was going to be about Rassilon we were wrong. He gets beat fairly early on, and is exiled from Gallifrey, along with the rest of his High Council.
Clara then gets saved by an Extraction Chamber, lifted out of time in the last second of her life. She's supposed to go right back, but the Doctor has other ideas.
The rest of the episode is about the Doctor attempting to keep her alive. The trip to the Cloister was ultimately pointless. It was simply somewhere for the Doctor and Clara to pass through to get to somewhere else. Rather gratuitous cameos for a Dalek, Cybermen and Weeping Angels, posing no threat whatsoever. If you thought that Ohila was going to have some relevance this season, you'd be wrong. She turns up just to watch, and doesn't do anything.
The Doctor then steals another TARDIS. If you ever wanted to see the return of the old console room on a full-time basis, this should have gotten that out of your system. It is just too cold, white and clinical. The Doctor then pays a call on the end of the Universe - and there's Ashildr / Me waiting for him. From her we finally get to know what the Hybrid is - it's the pairing of the Doctor and Clara (I think).

It then looks as if they're going to repeat the conclusion to Donna Noble's travels, by having Clara forget the Doctor - except they put a tiny spin on it and it is the Doctor who forgets Clara. Except he doesn't. In the framing diner sequences he clearly remembers what they got up to together, and he then sees her portrait painted on his TARDIS - the same face as the girl he just talked to in the diner. That's the diner which dematerialised like a TARDIS. We know from previous stories that the TARDIS keeps records of its inhabitants. He's a bit thick if he can't piece this together.
Clara and Ashildr go flying off through the Universe in a TARDIS that's stuck looking like a diner.
She's been acting like a Doctor for a while, and now she really gets to be one. Or will she be the "companion" to Ashildr, who will have vastly more knowledge than her.
I've watched it twice now. It doesn't really feel like a series finale somehow. I've come to expect the companion's departure to come out of the adventure. The Doctor meets and defeats the series' menace, and the departure comes about as a consequence to this. Here, the whole story was just the companion's departure. Again. Everything else was window dressing.
It looked good and, as I have said, it was fan-pleasing - but it lacked incident and felt a little cold.
Am looking forward now to The Husbands of River Song for a bit of warmth and humour. And a plot.

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