TV Review / Doctor Who: Series 9, Episode 12: ' Hell Bent'
Spoilers ahead! We mean it!
Cast: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Maisie Williams, Donald Sumpter, Ken Bones, T’Nia Miller, Clare Higgins
Written by: Steven Moffat
Directed by: Rachel Talalay
Two weeks ago in our review of Face The Raven, we couldn’t hold back our anger at Clara’s “death” in the face of the BBC’s own advance publicity. We quite literally raised a clenched fist at the screen as the titles rolled.
In our Face The Raven review, we also talked about the ending of the very brilliant temp from Chiswick, Donna Noble in Doctor Who. Donna’s ending - the Doctor had to wipe all memories of himself from Donna;’s mind in order to save her - was appalling, yet completely fitting. Little did we know that the story would come full circle in a move that we’re calling The Reverse Donna Noble. But more of that later.
Coming on the back of last week’s exceptional episode Heaven Sent, Hell Bent had huge shoes to fill. But this story is not so much a conclusion of a two-parter; rather it is the final instalment of the events that began in The Day of the Doctor.
Veering off from the events at the end of Heaven Sent, Hell Bent starts with the Doctor’s arrival at the diner that he summoned Amy Pond, Rory and River Song to back in the 2011 episode, The Impossible Astronaut. Only the diner has mysteriously moved from Utah to Nevada. Even more mysterious is the girl working at the diner - the apparently not dead Clara.
As the Doctor tells the story of his friend’s death, neither he nor Diner Clara appear to know each other. How can this be? Is the Doctor in his Dream Palace, perhaps? Is this a version of The Impossible Girl - one of the Claras scattered through the Doctor’s timestream to help him out? More likely it’s Steven Moffat trickery at work.
With the feel of a classic Western, the story goes back to the Doctor’s arrival back on Gallifrey and the Space Barn from The Day of the Doctor (and where he spent time as a boy in Listen). The Time Lords, under the direction of the President, attempt to force the Doctor to attend them at the Citadel, sending in first the army, then the High Council and even the President - Rassilon himself. But this Doctor, undoubtedly affected by spending four and a half billion years imprisoned in the Confession Dial, is not a man to be forced to attend the very person who put him there. Turns out that Rassilon believes the Doctor to be the hybrid of Time Lord prophesy who will bring about the end of Gallifrey.
After a Western-style standoff, the army (of course) refuse to carry out an order to shoot the unarmed Doctor. Telling Rassilon (a terrific, if underused Donald Sumpter) to “Get off my planet!”, the Doctor takes control and promptly sets off to retrieve Clara from her own death using a Time Lord extraction chamber.
Showing quite clearly what spending an unimaginable infinitude in the Confession Dial has done to him, the Doctor breaks his own moral code and shoots dead the General who has supported him to stop him from telling Clara the truth about her situation (although he did check that the General had some spare regenerations left first, which is something). Even the one-heartbeat-from-death Clara questions how long it’s been for him since he’s seen her, such is the difference in him.
Some things, four billion years aside, are not so easily changed. Heading to the Cloisters with the newly regenerated General and Ohalia of the Sisterhood of Karn in close pursuit, the Doctor and Clara search for an escape among the Cloister Wraiths and the remains of some of the Doctor’s deadliest/most rubbish foes, including a dalek, a Cyberman and a Weeping Angel. Doing what he does best, the Doctor steals a Type-40 TARDIS and runs away.
Heading for the farthest reaches of time, the Doctor attempts to outrun Clara’s death, even knowing that it is a fixed event that cannot be changed. Ever desperate to save Clara, the Doctor madly hopes that a neuro-blocker will wipe her memories of him and prevent her death. But Clara, ever her own woman, is having none of it.
As the Doctor encounters - who else - Ashildr, the last remaining immortal at the end of time, Clara tries to use his sonic shades in an attempt to reverse the polarity (YAY!) of the neuro-blocker, insisting that she won’t have her life or her memories taken from her. Not even by the Doctor.
And so we come to The Reverse Donna Noble. As the Doctor and Clara activate the neuro-blocker they have no idea whose memories will be wiped. This time, it’s the Doctor’s and not those of his beloved companion.
And so we return to Nevada and the mystery of Diner Clara is revealed. The Doctor has put together the pieces of the Clara puzzle with the exception of the piece showing Clara’s face. He tells Diner Clara that he is sure he would know her if he met her before wandering off into the desert.
Now, we all know that diners generally don’t appear in different US States and we see that this one is in fact the new TARDIS that the Doctor stole, with Clara and Ashildr aboard, its chamaeleon arch stuck in this shape as the Doctor’s TARDIS is stuck in the shape of a Police box.
While travelling with this version of the Doctor, Clara has become more and more Doctor-y, and here we see her deciding to return to Gallifrey and her death. But not before taking the long way back. In her very own stolen TARDIS. Now THIS is a suitable ending for this brilliant companion. Steven Moffat, the BBC publicity people - you are forgiven.
Fan pleasing moments: The return of the diner (we almost expected the return of Amy, Rory and River, too!). Four knocks.
Questions: Will there be a spin-off Clara & Ashildr show? That would be something!
Music: At the diner, the radio plays the Foxes version of Don’t Stop Me Now we saw in Mummy on the Orient Express. The Doctor plays Murray Gold’s Clara’s theme on his guitar.