MORE OF THOSE DAMN SPOILERS.
Was Hell Bent always going to be a slight disappointment after Heaven Sent? Possibly. It’s still pretty damn good though. Even though I get the impression that it isn’t held in that high regard by other fans. There seems to be a feeling that having waited so long to see Gallifrey again we only get a flying visit before its all back to the Clara story.
But honestly, what was Gallifrey in Classic Who except a series of dull rooms (and a weird Matrix). We get to see some bits of Gallfrey we’ve not seen before. We get hints at the Doctor’s past and then, instead of staying, the Doctor runs away again. Gallifrey is a very boring place. I mean, whatever the theories for the Doctor’s departure, I’m still going with the original: he was bored and he wanted to see the universe not just look at it from some intergalactic ivory tower.
I love the way this story is told though. Chopping between the diner and the Doctor. I love the way it ties up several threads without overloading everything. Clara’s original request to the Doctor all the way back to Asylum of the Daleks to ‘run, you clever boy and remember…’ has more poignancy after this story. It tries to tie up the Hybrid theme but then decides not to bother, but not before Me/Ashildr gently hints that the Doctor might be half-human – presumably on his mother’s side – again. Although this gets the brush off. Sort of.
The question of whether the ‘rescue’ of Clara undoes the emotional impact of her death is an interesting one. I felt – at the time – that it did. But then on re-watch I felt Clara’s loss in Face the Raven as much as I had on original watch even though I knew what was coming. And her ‘escape’ isn’t quite perfect and the Doctor’s punishment for his hubris is to lose his memories of Clara, which might also feel a bit like retrospective karma for what he had to do to Donna all those stories long ago. So, in effect although he rescues her, he’s lost her again. And this time he can’t even grieve for her because he doesn’t know there’s a loss to grieve. Just a feeling that something is missing.
The Doctor’s been heading this way though since The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived after he convinced himself he knew why he’d picked his face and that he was tired of losing people. The example of Me/Ashildr didn’t seem to put him off though. He’s still determined to save Clara. Even though she’s dead. It’s un-Doctorish to an unusual degree. It’s like grief has driven him slightly mad.
Again, I love Rachel Talalay’s direction, which brings a real film feel to this episode. Heaven Sent was incredibly creepy and claustrophobic. Hell Bent opens up a little. Plus we get an old-school original TARDIS interior to gawp at. The second TARDIS the Doctor has stolen and the second TARDIS that won’t get returned to Gallifrey as it is now in the hands of Me/Ashildr and Clara.
The interesting thing in this story is how out of control the Doctor is. He even kills someone. Even if that is a Time Lord and they can regenerate. He’s let off a bit lightly on that I think. And the General’s transformation also is another little seed sown in the path towards a female Doctor. Ooh and black Time Lord’s and Gallifreyans* too. This must be driving the non-PC crowd batshit crazy. Good.
In the end the Doctor is alone again. In his TARDIS with a new sonic screwdriver. Clara and Me/Ashildr have gone off to have adventures of their own, which I’m sure Big Finish will get around to one day. Clara and Me/Ashildr are effectively immortal so how that’s going to work out in the long run I don’t know. I suppose both can be killed. I have this image of them landing for the first time and the Time Lords just waiting for them. I mean it is one thing the Doctor stealing a TARDIS but two random aliens running off with one. That’s not going to end well.
Hell Bent certainly isn’t as strong as Heaven Sent but that applies to most Doctor Who stories. It is, however, still rather good and told in an interesting way. And just because Gallifrey is back it doesn’t mean we need to pop by every other week. Let it be there. Waiting for the right moment.
*My theory is that Gallfreyans are the ordinary population. Time Lords are taken from that population. That becoming a Time Lord – with regeneration etc – is a process / an education. So not all Gallifreyans can regenerate for example.
Image – BBC.