Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Hell Bent written by Steven Moffat and directed by Rachel Talalay

This story in a nutshell: The Doctor has returned home and it's business as usual...

Indefinable: The saving grace of the series at the moment, Peter Capaldi is the shining beacon of quality that the show simply cannot topple. Although it is trying hard. Hell Bent is salvaged by the quality of its performances, Capaldi in particular really believes in the dodgy material he is being asked to sell and as a result it is at least half possible to buy into. He spends the first fifteen minutes of Hell Bent in silence (when words are often this incarnations weapon of choice) which is quietly unnerving and at least injects a level of unpredictability to the scenes that otherwise fail to ignite in any fashion. Whilst the acting is superb, I really don't buy into the characterisation that I am seeing here. The Doctor is suddenly a modern day rock hero on his planet who can turn the head of the army and stage a coup without uttering a word? He is willing to murder somebody in cold blood to prove a point? He's willing to break all the laws of time in order to save one life and risk the end of the universe that he has spent so long trying to protect...just so he doesn't have to be lonely? He's characterised as somebody unhinged, perhaps unsurprising in the wake of Heaven Sent but in a way that shows the character out of control and lacking any sound judgement. This is not the sort of Doctor I would want to travel in the TARDIS with. Irrational and overly emotional and dangerously out of control. Looking at his character as a whole, series nine has done some pretty loopy and unfortunate things with Capaldi's Doctor. Where series eight felt as though it had a plan for him and his relationship with Clara, this season has bent the character out of shape in very strange ways. To a point where even an actor of Capaldi's calibre has trouble convincing. His rant in the TARDIS about defying the fate of Clara at the expense of the was an especially troublesome moment for the actor because it felt like even he didn't believe what he was saying. We're supposed to buy into the fact that the Doctor can stage a coup on the strength of the fact that he won the Time War and saved the planet. I can buy into that. But I need a little more convincing than one line to cover how an entire planet can change it's allegiance on a sixpence. One line. Sheesh. You cannot make sweeping reforms like that and cover it with one line. It's all part of Moffat's (and Davies' before him) plan to immortalise the character, to mythologize him. But it's elevating him without context. I don't need you to keep telling me how amazing the Doctor is. I already know it. His 'Get of my planet' is one the worst lines since 'Clara, I'm not your boyfriend' and for exactly the same reason. It should never have been said. Arrogant prick. He's so unhinged by the climax that he is scaring the life out of even Clara. She is frightened at the lengths he might go to to protect her and she has to make steps to intervene. The sooner he moves on from all this, he better.

Impossible Girl: Clara is the perfect example of the law of diminishing returns. This is her fourth exit from the show (Kill the Moon, Death in Heaven, Face the Raven and Hell Bent) and with each successive attempt to prise his hands from her apron strings Moffat loses conviction more and more. She has become his Rose, a character he simply cannot say goodbye to and one that becomes more tedious as a result. I thought we had made a definitive farewell to the character when she looked the raven in the eye but I should have known better and despite the get out cause that she will ultimately return to that scene and meet her maker the show has effectively ducked out of its one brave decision in series nine and left her character available for possible return visits. Is two and a half seasons of this non-entity not enough? I better not tell you the sort of language I was wielding when Clara walked free of her death and wound up on Gallifrey. I'm the biggest cynic when it comes to Moffat's death-free universe but even I was convinced after Clara's mile long speech in Face the Raven that Moffat had finally decided to let somebody go. The reset here renders the previous episode pointless - the whole point of that Face the Raven was put her out of the way and now that has been unpicked what was he point of it? The Doctor loves Clara so much that he is willing to bring the universe to the brink of calamity? Is that something the show is really saying? Then he's even more dangerous than I suspected because she's really not worth it. Because it ditches any kind of epic narrative in favour of more Clara love I'm guessing that your reaction to Hell Bent entirely rests on your opinion of his latest companion. I'm sick to death of her so wasting a potentially riveting homecoming in favour of setting Clara free in the universe again is particularly tedious. Clara is a character that is drowning in the shows history - she was there at the moment when the Doctor left Gallifrey, she was there at pivotal moments throughout all of his lives, she was there when he saved Gallifrey from the Time War and she was there when he finally managed to set foot on his home planet again. She's almost like an anchor, preventing the show from setting sail into a creative furtive future. The only thing that salvages the fact that Clara returns for yet an even weaker conclusion is Jenna Coleman's sincere performance. For two and a half seasons she has fought against Clara's insipid characterisation. I don't think she succeeded but I lover a trier and she has at least managed to develop a fine rapport with Capaldi. They've just milked it for too long now.

Dreadful Dialogue: 'On pain of death no-one take a selfie!'
'Was I supposed to understand any of that?'
'Get out of that TARDIS and face me boy!' - what the hell was that line all about? Since when did the Sisterhood of Karn start threatening the Doctor?
'The universe is over - it doesn't have a say anymore! As of this moment I'm answerable to no-one!'

The Good:

* There was an episode of Stargate Atlantis where the station was under siege and the camera appeared to be swinging around the exterior of the station in a dizzying, vertiginous fashion. It was quite an effect given that the city was rendered entirely in CGI. Heaven Sent achieves a similar effect on Gallifrey, offering us a guided tour of the citadel in a way that we have never experienced before. It's spectacular and visually arresting. But it reminds me of films like The Phantom Menace, the money being spent on how it looks to paper over the artistic faults. The scenes in the Council chamber are pure Phantom Menace. That's not a compliment.
* Moffat's obsession with America continues. And why not? Doctor Who doesn't have to remained tied to England all the time. Although given the many hops to the land of the free of late it is perhaps paying lip service to a continent that is far more receptive to Doctor Who than this one at the current time. It makes for a more interesting visual than the show landing in London again but there are plenty of places that Doctor Who hasn't gone still. At the moment it feels anchored between two geographical settings.
* The one turn of the plot that I really enjoyed (because I was hoodwinked) was the assumption I had that Clara was the one that had lost her memory, rather than the Doctor.
* A regeneration from a white man to a black woman. It's Moffat pushing buttons but he must have gotten such a vehement reaction from some quarters that it had to be worth it. Although the way to counter sexism in Doctor Who is not to reverse it onto men with lines like 'Dear God how do you cope with all that ego?'
A few character beats that rang true: Clara's reaction to the Doctor suffering four and a half billion years, Clara accepting that her time is up, the notion of the Doctor running away from his people again,
* The original TARDIS is beautifully recreated and looks wonderful on screen. I think that might be enough for some people to rate this as 10/10 on it's own. But it's another kiss to the past in an episode that is full of kisses to the past. It's the best one, it fills me with the same warmth as a close hug and warm porridge but it's indulgent all the same. What's interesting is how this console works so vividly in  2015...they could have returned to the original from 2005 and it would have worked.
* My favourite scene in the entire piece took me by surprise. A moment of poetry at the end of time with Ashildr, the girl who lived. Maisie Williams looking radiant and giving the sort of confident performance that I am used to her in Game of Thrones. Acting-wise, this is her strongest moment in the season. Gorgeously lit and with some thoughtful things to say, this is a little ocean of calm in a world of crassness.
* Despite the fact that I have been complaining about the electric guitar all season I have to say the Clara piece that the Doctor plays in the diner at the end of the episodes really touched me. It was the most impressive thing about that scene. Don't say I'm not changeable.

The Bad:

* I remember Russell T Davies discussing how he insisted on anchoring Doctor Who in reality, to ensure that the show kept one foot in the real world show that the audience had something that they could buy into. That they could relate to. He didn't want lots of stories set on dull planets that failed to connect to people. That's probably why he got rid of Gallifrey in the first place. And what a sound creative decision that was in my eyes. Gallifrey has only ever really worked in one story for me (The Deadly Assassin) and in that story it was perversely playing against type to produce another Hinchcliffe/Holmes horror/thriller pastiche. Otherwise it is simply a terrifically boring stock SF planet full of pompous characters spouting stilted dialogue involving a horrific amount of technobabble. Heaven Sent happily picks up that mantle and reminds us of why Gallifrey is such a tedious place to visit. Not even Capaldi's unnerving silence can reduce these scenes to anything above stock SF blandness. Simon turned to me halfway through the episode whilst the Doctor and Clara were poking around in the guts of the planet and talking nothing but continuity and technoshite and declared he had no idea what was going on, that he had no interest in what was going on and that he failed to see how anyone that was not a Doctor Who geek could be getting any enjoyment out of this. I can see his point. Setting up the return of Gallifrey was a massive deal, getting the Doctor back to his planet was a huge struggle...and this is the result? It tarnishes the era of the 12th Doctor in a spectacularly disappointing way. I wish this had been Moffat's swansong and in some ways I wish it had been Capaldi's too because I think it would have pushed the showrunner into making some more savvy creative choices with the Doctor's homeworld. Why wouldn't you re-imagine Gallifrey in your own image? Why would you stick with the same palette as The Invasion of Time? This could have been a savage, war torn land turned to madness...but instead it's vanilla Gallifrey restored to it's factory settings. I would have loved to have gone down into the bowels of the planet and seen obscene experiments being performed on all the races of the universe, the lengths that the Time Lords went to to try and defeat the Daleks. Something truly horrific and immoral that would question the Doctor's loyalty to his world.
* This is so laden with continuity, both from the past and the shows recent history, that it could be written by the love child of Gary Russell, David A. McIntee and Craig Hinton. It's obsessed with the shows history in a way that is detrimental to it's creative present. Why would Foxes Don't Stop Me Now be playing in an American Diner cum TARDIS? Because they thought it was cute. Why would the Doctor play Clara's theme on his electric guitar? Because they thought it would be cute. Both are utterly self indulgent and turn up in the first scene and tell you everything you need to know about the episode ahead. The Matrix, Rassilon, the Sisterhood of Karn, the Doctor returning to the scene of his near defeat in The Day of the Doctor, whistling the Doctor's theme (at least that was a fine innovation, very memorable and highlighting the western tone), the Chancellery Guard, the Matrix, the confession dial, Clara's death, a Dalek, Cyberman and Weeping Angel, Shobogans, 'four knocks', the original TARDIS console, Missy/the Master. Hilariously one fan on Gallifrey Base staunchly refused to admit that this episode did not pay lip service to the fans. Are you having a laugh. There's probably more I haven't mentioned. I'm saying there isn't a place for continuity, I'm just saying it shouldn't damage your chance of understanding if you aren't a fan. Series nine with Daleks, Davros, base under siege stories, Zygons and Time Lords has been obsessed with the past. Stop it.
* Donald Sumpter is a great actor. Like Maisie Williams his work on Game of Thrones was extraordinary. In a role that is both underwritten and overwritten (which is some feat), Sumpter is at sea trying to bring any kind of gravitas to Rassilon. He resorts to growling and chewing the scenery and the result is one of the least effective guest turns since the show returned in 2005. Timothy Dalton was vivid and terrifying in The End of Time, Sumpter follows that with a deflated performance.
* Why are the Sisterhood of Karn in this? What narrative purpose do they serve? Why are the Gallifreyan Outsiders all wearing normal clothes now? Why are the Time Lords hated? It's not like anybody even remembers them anymore.
* The Hybrid has to be the most half arsed arc that the series has ever kicked up. Again Moffat is trying to tie his storylines into the misty dawn of Doctor Who history to give it some kind of status but the fact that this awe inspiring Hybrid has never been mentioned before rather gives the impression that it has been made up on the fly and slotted in unconvincingly. Again Moffat promises a huge revelation and what transpires barely makes any sense. Is the Doctor the hybrid? Are the Doctor and Clara the hybrid? Is Ashildr? Do you really care? Is it relevant in any way? Does it have anything to do with the Time Lords and the Daleks? Was it all overblown pomp? Of course it was. It felt like the show was trying to cash in on the popularity of the Doctor/Donna concept. And failing. And that's not the only concept stolen from Journey's End.
* I hate how easy this episode is on the Doctor. Steven Moffat is trying so hard to maintain the status quo from Face the Raven (the death of a companion) and save his favourite creation (Clara) that he contrives a situation that allows both characters to walk away Scot free whilst pretending that the show has still done something brave. Clara is still going to die, she is existing in between her penultimate and last heartbeat but for all intents and purposes her adventures are going to go on and on in that moment for as long as the viewer (or Moffat) wants them to. I have been saying all year that the show has been afraid to make tough choices and this is probably the worst example, it's the most blatant example of chickenshitedness for many, many an episode. A bold show would murder off a character and move on. Doctor Who arranges a way for her to survive because people just don't die on this show anymore. And the whole idea of the Doctor not remembering Clara strikes me as a way of trying to capture the melancholy and unfairness of his situation with Donna in Journey's End...and it even chicken shits out of that by having the Doctor remember certain details about their adventures. Moffat could have been truly brave (like Davies) and erased their entire time together (but this time in the Doctor's mind) but instead he maintains the status quo in as neat a way as possible. I suppose at least it means the show can move on from her character now, once and for all. But I would have loved for the show to go for the gut with a knife, instead of waving it at the audience and then putting it away and letting everything continue as normal. Essentially this episode exists to complicatedly give Steven Moffat the chance to take the easy option. Thanks for that.
* I do like a happy ending. I do. But the Clara floating off in an American diner for adventures with Ashildr is her least compelling exit of the four. It's certainly the most idiotic. And it means Clara could come back again.

The Shallow Bit: Clara as the waitress. Phew. If she had to go out here, at least she looks wonderful.

Result: There were times during the shows hiatus in the wilderness years where it was being used as the product of wish fulfilment, turning it into really bad fan fiction and much of Hell Bent reeks of that kind of fannish discharge. Half Gallifrey porn, half shippers paradise and almost entirely wank. The build up to Hell Bent was extraordinary. It felt the show was going to say something huge about Gallifrey and it's future but ultimately all it had to say was the Doctor loves Clara and the show lacks guts. Which is not what I was expecting. What irritated my no end is that it takes the potential of Steven Moffat's personal finest achievement in his own era (The Day of the Doctor) and throws it away, it wastes the return of Gallifrey which should have been a spectacular event in favour of more obsession with the least interesting companion to have stepped out of NuWho. Clara has become Moffat's Rose, an unfortunate anchor in the series that he cannot toss away. There are moments of poetry in Hell Bent, some wonderful lines and the acting is first rate but so much of the episode is overblown, drawn out, clever clever and incomprehensible. I have no idea where it leaves the casual viewer because we're playing lip service to the fans again, the show having a very similar feel to the mid-eighties. What it desperately needs is a shot of originality and innovation. Doctor Who is leaning so heavily on the past now that it can only make tentative steps forward. It's in danger of disappearing up it's own arse crack completely. Heaven Sent proved the sort of rich furrow the show can plough once Clara was out of the way but as soon as she's back we're drowning in continuity again. Now she has moved on perhaps we can take a few risks and try some new things again. What's next then? Oh, River Song. Sincere performances (for the most part) are what salvage a few scenes but for me this was the weakest of the Steven Moffat finales because it exists for the show to lack balls in a season where the show has lacked balls: 3/10


Ernesto Guevara said...

I would have less criticisms of the Moffat era as a whole than yourself Joe but this was just fanwank at its worst. I was really enjoying this series, even the continuity heavy stuff, because at heart all Whovians love a bit of that, but this finale ruined the series which with the exception of Sleep No More I really enjoyed. This is not just fanwank, it's bad fanwank, the return of Gallifrey being used for a resurrection which ruined a character arc is pretty inexcusable considering the buildup prior to this. No serious Whovian who is not a Moffat fanboy have I seen rate this beyond 4/10, which I think is too generous. Somewhere like 1/2 out of 10 would be my rating to be quite frank. I think Moffat still has plenty of potential, but after this I'd really like him to leave the top job, he'd be better suited with someone reining him in. I said this from the start about Gallifrey coming back, it's boring and it should stay dead, just don't have the Doctor be the only Time Lord left, some Time Lords are still interesting. Worst Steven Moffat finale ever? It may be that, but it's definitely the worst Doctor Who season finale since The Twin Dilemma.

Anonymous said...

Great and insightful review, glad you're back!

About the episode:

* Moffat is pissing all over RTD created, isn't he? The Time War and the destrucion of Gallifrey was genius on RTD's part to reboot the new series afresh. I don't usually mind fanwank and continuity if the story is good. I love The Stolen Earth/Journey's end to bits (yes, even the bad parts**ahem Handy**) but then I'm a sucker for the RTD era because of his wonderful characterisation and his ability to make me cry and engage with his companions. And it was my first exposure to the wonderful world of Doctor Who. But the Moffat era... lacks any soul... and so I'm much more critical when I cannot engage with any companion (only Rory is worthy and he was treated apallingly) and everyone are plot devices.

* Moffat can't allow anyone die, can he? After watching Face the Raven, I just knew that it wasn't to end there,in no way would Clara stay dead. And Hell Bent proved me right.

* You know, during this episode I had strong flashbacks to a particular audio story: Gallifrey, the Doctor refusing to let a companion die, a companion who SHOULD have died and the Doctor refusing to have her dead. Din't he learn anything from his Eighth self to mess with the web of time and so? If we are going to refuse to let someone die, please, can we have the wonderful Lucie Miller back?
changing, ins't he?

* Regeneration: the Migthy Moff is obsessed about changing genre ,isn't he? what will we have next? Romano? I know he is aiming for a female Doctor but for the love of everything that's holy, DON'T ALLOW HIM to have a feamle Doctor. Not him. I don't care very much for the idea of the female, but in good hands it could be done. Not in the current show producer's. We all now how Moffat's women are. (**shudder**). I have nothing againts the change of colour though

* Hartnell console room: magnificent! had me in stitches

* So the half-human can of worms is opened again... and the all the Hybrid hype turned out to be totally balderdash

Don't you miss a time where the Doctor and his companions just exited the TARDIS and had adventures? without big arcs, without complicated plots (with more holes than a swiss cheese sometimes). Remember when the Doctor coildn't stir his TARDIS? when he was on the run from his own people? I', not saying we should return to the past but just leave the overbusy overcomplicated plots and arcs and foreshadowings and so and have the Doctor and a likeable companion explore the universe

Sorry for the tome, I got a bit carried away U_U

Anonymous said...

Nope, sorry. I respect that you have the right to your own opinion but I have never seen someone so greatly missing the point and ignoring the point of it all.

The hybrid was the most half assed story arc? the whole point is that it is the doctor and Clara, two people who love one another so much that they would do the worst things imaginable for one another, what did Missy say? "You'd go to hell if she asked, and she would?"

And the doctor got off to easy, it's not like this is the second part of a story where he just got tortured for four and a half billion years, oh, wait. Yes it is!

Clara's whole point is that she is like the doctor, that can be seen right since bells if you pay close attention to her character and she became the doctor in her own way, flying off in her own TARDIS with Ashildr/me is the perfect end to her character.

Also, obsession with America, has America even been a setting since season six?

Also, death is cheap. You should only kill a character if there are no more stories to tell and there are more stories to tell with Clara and she does have a personality, I'm sorry you don't see that but that doesn't mean she doesn't have one.

And I would rather have Sumpter rassalon then Dalton rassilon any day of the damn week, he may be chewing the scenery a little but he's less of a massive ham than Dalton.

But none of that is the point, this was one of my favourite episode's this year and again, I respect that you have the right to your own opinion but I think this is the last straw for me.

With this low score for this masterpiece I am afraid that I will no longer be visiting this blog.

Christopher "Peaky" Brown said...

Well...I see no reason whatsoever to pull "Truth or Consequences" on one of my favorite bloggers as Anonymous seems to above ;D but I must concur in my utter disagreement with this review as far as feeling you missed the point. I supposed this day would come ever since I found out you feel the way you do about Amy Pond and Moffat vs. RTD, but I admit to having such an allergic reaction to seeing your score that I am ashamed to admit I haven't been able to bring myself to properly and fairly read it all the way through - our different approaches to the Moffat era finally reach their head.

Christopher "Peaky" Brown said...

Leaving multiple comments since blogger is a pain on mobile - I grant you that while I too had huge problems with Series 7 on whole, my views on Clara as a character have completely swung around since the 50th and especially Series 8, thanks in no small part to that dang TARDIS Eruditorum and Phil Sandifer's superb noting of how the emphasis on Clara as a mystery obscuring her as a character was the whole point of the arc, and hi

Christopher "Peaky" Brown said...

(See, Blogger keeps cutting me off.) His observations of just how much character she *does* have even in those episodes, in fact.

To answer a question you posed to me forever ago: no, "The Waters of Mars" did not address the issue of the Doctor's ego satisfactorily, it did a damn shitty job that confuses "bringing up theme, bad thing happen

Christopher "Peaky" Brown said...

, dramatic music, angry/sad Tennant face" with actually exploring a theme and its consequences worth a damn; if anything, Ten's even more pious and self-obsessed than ever in the End of Time. Series 6 not only brought that theme back, but the season arc is an active critique of it *exactly* in the vein you were complaining about in your reviews. Frankly, I felt while watching this last three parter that the Doctor's response made pretty much perfect sense for who this incarnation is and what the Doctor's been through in the Moffat era. And I'm sorry - you think this took no risks and lacked balls by *having the Doctor shoot someone out of desperation!?* Even I've been grappling with how I feel about the Doctor doing that!

Christopher "Peaky" Brown said...

I'd love to elaborate more and more in-depth about elements, including fanwank vs. the general public's memory + deeper themes justifying it, how utterly bored I am of death as a lazy narrative trope in popular culture

Christopher "Peaky" Brown said...

And other things I would have mentioned had Blogger not eaten them, but alas I'm pretty busy with a film short I'm directing for my college application due the new year. I'll just say this: while it's had its flaws and even serious problems - especially in how badly the Zygon 2-parter failed to address the real life context for the issues it comments on and to show us the Zygons as a fully rounded culture (and choosing to bait with the image of Muslims as the Other in the first place) - Series 9 has been my favorite year of Who-viewing since 2010 and has surpassed it in terms of quality, with only "Before the Flood" needing to remain in the depths of the Dalek sewer where the script was presumably discovered. (Or perhaps it was found Under the Lake...*self-satisfied laughter xD). This season took a TON of risks in my view, and perhaps the most rewarding experience of being a viewer has been eagerly hoping for them to stick the landing week after week - and the sheer exhilaration of feeling them accomplish that over and over right to the end, and then feeling that way towards a full-run finale for the first time since...The Big Bang, when I started following NuWho. And while I'm not sure anything can top the Series 5 finale experience for me, there was that pesky story arc lingering - here, we've ended with the feeling of a fresh start (give or take a River). Never have I felt more content and thrilled about the show as I do with where it stands right now. What a season. :)

Though yeah, Donald Sumpter as was kind of a letdown. I'll give you that.

(Can we call him...Erassilon Darkeling? No? I'm about to receive probable threats for that pun? Time to leave...)

Anonymous said...

Uh, so - you know you missed an entire episode, right?

Tim said...

The fact that 'Hell Bent' has a current score of 6.9 on The Time Scales (in stark contrast to 9.2 for 'Heaven Sent') is a strong indication this episode is not the instant classic or masterpiece some would argue. Indeed, a closer look at the breakdown of ratings on that website would suggest 'Hell Bent' has polarized fans in a way the penultimate episode of Series 9 hasn't. If you enjoyed 'Hell Bent', great, but Doc Oho Reviews is hardly alone in slamming it.

ScarvesandCelery said...

To offer an alternative opinion, I’d like to say why I personally loved this episode. I actually found it more interesting (not necessarily better, but more interesting) than "Heaven Sent", which I also loved, and was masterfully put together, but worked as you'd expect a Moffat puzzle box to work (the first time I saw the burnt hand in the pre credits, I thought "That'll probably turn out to be the Doctor").
By contrast, I found it much trickier to figure out what this episode was doing, but once it became clear, I was delighted. Rejecting the epic for the personal is a Moffat era theme I rather love, and I think it's one that's done particularly well here. For the first act, we get the "Gallifreyan western" pastiche, that is genuinely fun, but also seems to be setting up the epic plot where the Doctor becomes the hybrid who stands in Gallifrey's ruins.
The Second act starts when Clara is taken out of her Time stream, ostensibly to help with the hybrid. We spend most of it in the matrix, with the episode's turning point coming midway through the act when Clara learns that the Doctor was just bluffing about the Hybrid to get a chance to save Clara. The epic Gallifrey/ Hybrid arc was only ever a Macguffin, the bait in a classic Moffat bait and switch. The real story of the season was about the Doctor and Clara’s friendship, about its joys and pitfalls. Which makes sense: the hybrid was just a word that got repeated a handful of times, but the Doctor’s fear of losing Clara, Clara’s discomfort with his paternalism, and their love for one another, have been major, plot driving themes in multiple episodes this season. And here we begin to address the implications of the Doctor’s actions, in particular Clara’s horror at what the Doctor went through to save her (I was in tears when she started asking how long he’d been in the confession dial) The act ends with the Doctor and Clara stealing a TARDIS and running away, rejecting the epic plot completely.
The final act is set at the end of the universe, with Lady Me and Clara critiquing the Doctor’s paternalism and inability to face endings: a critique of his behavior at the end of both Donna and Amy’s stories (Donna’s ending in particular, which I’m really glad of, because that mind wipe didn’t do her character justice). It sees the Doctor and Clara realize that they have to leave one another, and is an effective extension of Clara’s desire to end her story on her terms in “Face the Raven”. Which leads to the reasons I don’t think this episode cheapens Clara’s death: firstly, she’ll still die on Trap Street. Secondly, this episode extends the themes of that episode, critiquing the Doctor’s flagrant failure to follow Clara’s request that he doesn’t insult her memory by hurting himself and others, and with her further insisting that she is allowed to keep her past, her story, in tact. That’s so very Clara, and I love that this story is so aware of the importance of her agency in her departure.
And the episode’s use of the diner scenes as a framing device is expertly handled: our understanding of what is going on changes as our understanding of what the episode is doing changes. At first, Jenna Coleman seems to be playing a Clara echo, who the Doctor is recounting the tale of his epic return to Gallifrey to. Then, she seems to be playing a mind-wiped Clara, who the Doctor is visiting because of nostalgia/ to check she’s safe and well. Then we finally realize that the Doctor is the one who got his memory wiped, not Clara. And the episode really is worth rewatching with this knowledge: those scenes work beautifully when you know what’s really going on.
And then, out of all of this, we get the first outright hopeful and optimistic companion departure from the new series, one that asserts that Clara can be a Doctor in her own right, and rejects the notion that she was any less important to the show than the Doctor. Yeah, I loved this episode.

ScarvesandCelery said...

“the way to counter sexism in Doctor Who is not to reverse it onto men with lines like 'Dear God how do you cope with all that ego?'”.

Okay, so I thought for a while about whether to respond to this or not. I mean, while you’re not wrong that it’s not a particularly feminist moment insofar as there’s a real gender essentialism to the line – it’s the kind of “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” jokes that Moffat has an unfortunate habit of falling back on in his lazier moments, and I say that as someone who has a broadly positive read of the Moffat era from a feminist perspective.

But the thing is, I don’t feel like this moment was that much of a response to feminist fandom’s critiques of his era. I feel like the episode (including this moment), and the last two seasons as a whole, have plenty of evidence that Moffat is responding in depth to feminist critiques of the show. But for the most part it was more of a response to the strand of fans who are still insisting that Missy is the Rani, or the Master possessing a female body, because we didn’t see John Simm regenerate into Michelle Gomez. And note the way Moffat puts in a line about the General being female in every regeneration save for the one we see on screen in this episode and Day of the Doctor. That’s an explicit rejection of the claims the Doctor could never be female because he’s been male in so many incarnations. It’s far more a response to the reactionary strands of fandom than it is feminist fandom.

But as I said, overall, I do think this episode is engaging with feminist critiques of the show as a whole, in a very substantial way. It focuses on Clara’s agency at every turn in her departure, and makes sure that she gets to leave the show on her own terms, in a way that’s wonderfully true to her character. I loved “tomorrow is promised to nobody, but I insist upon my past”. It’s such a Clara line. It finally acknowledges that what the Doctor did to Donna in “Journey’s End” was a violation of her consent and trust, and holds him accountable for that. And Moffat also critiques the Doctor’s less than savoury behaviour in “The Angels take Manhattan” when Me/Ashildr calls him out for his inability to accept endings. The episode also rejects the idea that Clara becoming more Doctor-like over the course of her arc is something that leads to her hubristic downfall – instead she just becomes like the Doctor, and flies off into her own adventures. There’s a reason whovianfeminism (who has been critical of the Moffat Era in the past) called this “The most explicitly feminist episode of Doctor Who” on twitter.

(more to follow)

Anonymous said...

On Gallifrey Base, this episode gets more hatred than love...

ScarvesandCelery said...


Also, I think it’s worth talking, in broad terms, about how the season as a whole has responded to feminist critiques of the show. There’s quite visibly been a substantial push for more diverse representation, both behind and in front of the camera over the last two seasons. Just focussing on Series Nine, “The Magcian’s Apprentice” had a large section of the story where the plot was being driven solely by female characters. “Under the Lake/ Before the Flood” featured a guest cast of a diverse science expedition team, lead by a deaf woman, who was mostly written with nuance and respect, and played by a deaf actress. The next two episodes centred on the story of Ashildr/ Lady Me. The Zygon two parter gave us a story where pretty much all of the characters in positions of influence save for the Doctor were women, each with distinct worldviews, personalities, and responses to the crisis the episodes centre on. “Sleep No More” gave another guest cast who were mostly POC, and were once again led by a woman, as well as casting the show’s first openly transgender actress (they could have chosen a more sensitive role for Bethany Black to play, but it’s worth noting that she seems to have loved playing the part). “Face the Raven” gave us a story that was once again driven by female characters (Clara, Mayor Me, Anahson) and addressed issues such as refugee camps and a black man being assumed guilty until proven innocent with a great deal of nuance and subtlety, in my opinion. As for the finale, see my above points. On top of this, he’s responded to calls for more female writers and directors by giving more of those slots to women this season, and significant slots at that. Hettie Macdonald and Rachel Talalay were given the role of directing the Big Moffat two part opener and finale respectively. Catherine Treganna was given the episode that was intended as the big showcase for Masie Williams, the season’s big guest star, and Sarah Dollard was given the start of Clara’s departure. As for finale, see my above points. For a quick look at the thematic content of the season, it’s also worth noting that Clara, Osgood, and Ashildr/ Me each get a storyline that, in differing ways, critique and subvert the “Women in Refridgerator” Trope.

Sorry for the lengthy comment. But reading your comment about the general made me feel like it was worth a detailed look at how, while Doctor Who’s still not above critique (No show is, imo), Moffat has engaged in a substantial and nuanced way, with feminist and social justice critiques of the show.

Urlance Woolsbane said...

"Also, obsession with America, has America even been a setting since season six?"
Yes. Angels of Manhattan and Town Called Mercy are both set in the States. I'm not sure that qualifies as an obsession, but it's more than usual, Who-wise (though Davies' obsession with East London does skew things more than a bit.)

"With this low score for this masterpiece I am afraid that I will no longer be visiting this blog."
While I appreciate that there's no point in reading a review blog that you don't get anything out of, is a review of a finale really the best thing to base your decision on? Finales tend to be marmite, and are, IMO, more remarkable when they don't disappoint. Factor in Joe's less than glowing opinion of Moffat's era, and what did you expect?

"(Can we call him...Erassilon Darkeling? No? I'm about to receive probable threats for that pun? Time to leave...)"

Egads, you have unleashed the dreaded Pun of Rassilon!

Meep Morp said...

Hey, Joe! Good to have you back, first of all. Hope you and Simon have been enjoying yourselves. :) As to the episode, it seems to me- and apparently DWTV if you ever participate in the community there- that this is the single most divisive episode of the revival. I'm sorry to hear that you came down on the other side of the fence from me, but I have to say that I agree with your assessment that, "... that your reaction to Hell Bent entirely rests on your opinion of [Clara]." As someone who loathes Series 7B, I never thought I would be in a position to defend Clara Oswald, and yet... While I don't like her as a person, I love her as a character. I recognize that she's selfish and manipulative and callous and neurotic, but guess what? So's the Doctor. While this series went to the point of nearly beating its audience over the head with the message that Clara is leaving, I could have done without the supposed riskiness we never once see outside of Face the Raven. Setting that aside, Clara's arc of becoming the Doctor really works. I loved it. And the Hybrid- which I initially thought was the single dumbest thing ever created in Moffat Who- turning out to be the Doctor and Clara was actually a beautiful choice. I'm sorry you didn't care for the episode, Joe, but it was certainly not without merit, and for some of us, it was a fantastic departure for a pretty good companion.

(P.S. Happy holidays! Hope the two of you have a great time!)

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed this story. I felt like you touched upon some of the right notes but went off-topic on a rant about fan-service. Gallifrey was always coming back; RTD had flirted with the concept and it's just not in the nature of the character to cause so much untold destruction. Hell this was even covered in Resurrection of Mars/Deimos. Gallifrey was hardly an integral part to the original series other than in the War Games (it didn't even appear during Sylvester McCoy's tenure and had less than 10 appearances in a show that had surpassed over 26 years) so writing it out was always a bit of a faux pas. So naturally when the show brought back Gallifrey they decided to make it a big deal and so Moff had to follow that, and no-one doubts how brilliant "The Day of the Doctor" was. However the threads in that story had to be continued and the Doctor had to find Gallifrey. Sure it was all a bit of a disappointment as it was more about Clara than finding Gallifrey so it lacked the gravitas that it should have had, and the Doctor should not be shooting anyone. But it was important for him to find it.

It wasn't lazy to save Clara, she's the impossible girl. Hell she's already died twice in this show as Osgood and Oswin; if anything it would have been easy to kill her off (and in all fairness she did die). But what better than to give the Doctor-like character a Tardis and then pair her with Ashildr for further adventures. At the other end of the extreme, JNT caused the Peri married Yrcarnos scenario, I prefer Moffat's solution any day.

I appreciate your opinion but I profoundly disagree.

I'm glad you had an amazing wedding too!

Anonymous said...

About the person not returning to this blog, Joe sometimes slags off stories that I love and praises to high heaven ones which I find as dull as dishwater, but I enjoy his reviews so much that one bad review of a beloved story isn't enough reason to quit the blog. Your loss!

ali said...

"She's almost like an anchor"

Reminds me of Jake Sisko from "The Visitor". (I just finished that series with my mom; she loved the finale so much she's making me watch it with her twice.)

Seems to me there is a strong temptation by RTD and Moffat to move on from Doctor Who, and it manifests in these "99-Percent-Like-The-Doctor-But..." characters. I don't doubt, also, that Moffat is aware of the substantial hate-dom around the character.

Somebody on another blog described it "self-challenging, self-flagellating brinksmanship". I think that sums up Moffat pretty well. Clara has been an enormous time-sink, he cut the knees off future writers with "Heaven Sent", and now he's trying to make Gallifrey interesting. It's a gambler's mentality, trying to beat the high odds and show up all your critics.

ali said...

One of my biggest regrets with this show is Cartmel's abandoned plan to reboot Gallifrey. I'm not sure Lungbarrow would be everyone's cup of tea, but his vision of "Addams Family on Acid" is really appealing, and something we haven't seen before in stories about immortality. Instead of endless rows of senators, give us more of the Sisterhood and others weirdos. You wouldn't be sure if you could trust them or not. But at least viewer's ears would prick up.

The Time Lords on this show have always represented creative death. You bring Daleks back if you want to shake things up. You bring Gallifrey back if you're out of ideas. Two sides of the same coin, like the Shadows and Vorlons.

TheTillmanator said...

Sorry to hear you didn't like it, it's easily my favorite series finale so far. I can't help but be happy that the status quo has been restored, I cannot stomach anymore "I'm the Last of the Time Lords" or "Gallifrey is missing." I honestly feel like Moffat took the best approach. Establish Gallifrey is back so if someone else takes over they have a new toy to play with, give us ten minutes of fan service, then fuck off and do something far more interesting with The Doctor breaking all of his own rules because he's tired of losing people and suffering the consequences. If I spent four billions years trying to break through a wall to save someone, I'd sure like to be able to remember them.

I'm also tired of the companions getting over dramatic tear jerker exits. "Oh no, Rose is in another dimension! Donna had her memory wiped! (Stupid.) Amy and Rory are stuck in the past!" Martha is the one that walks away with the most dignity in tact, not settling for being in The Doctor's friend zone. But this is after she spent a year traveling the hellhole that was planet Earth ruled by The Master. Can we just get a normal departure? "That was fun, Doctor. See you around!" We almost got that with Series 8, but screw it. What we got was much better. Not only does Clara not get fucked over, she gets to graduate to Doctor level status and for once the companion comes out on top. How refreshing.

Congratulations on getting married!

David Pirtle said...

Martha got the worst of it. She married Mickey Smith, a fate worse than death!

But seriously, this is a favorite episode of mine from Series 9. However, its success or failure entirely depends upon how invested you are in Clara Oswald's character, and a lot of hardcore fans just don't care for her, so I understand why it tends to get lower marks from the fandom community than from TV critics, who praised it.