Sunday 6 December 2015

Doctor Who - Hell Bent

Hell-Who There

Doctor Who - Hell Bent
UK Airdate: 5th December 2015

Warning: Plenty of spoilers in here, I guess.

Okay... I’ll be honest, this wasn’t the kind of season finale I was hoping for from this current series of Doctor Who... but it’s the one I was expecting. It’s not a particularly weak episode though and it certainly managed to tie some (not all) of the various plot threads together. There are things I quite liked about it and other things I am a little perplexed about (yeah, okay, not perplexed... downright angry) but it’s a fair enough conclusion to what has, in all fairness, been one of the best seasons of Doctor Who we’ve have for a number of years now... so you won’t find me complaining too bitterly about this one.

There were two clever things here which both occurred fairly early on in the episode and returned later in the bookend scenes which really impressed me a little bit and which writer Steven Moffat, Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and composer Murray Gold all had a hand in making magical moments of television. These elements had me ‘on the side’ of the episode and wanting it to succeed in spite of some of the complicated things I personally felt it needed to do... some of which it failed at.

The two things, as I said, all happen in the opening and closing bookends which are, by all appearances, set in the same diner in Nevada that Amy, Rory and River Song all visited when they saw The Doctor die in the 2011 story The Impossible Astronaut (reviewed here). The first thing is, when we see The Doctor go to see Clara and tell her ‘their story’ of their (possible) final events together, at least in this episode... we, the audience (or at least, me the audience, at any rate... well done if you weren’t taken in), assume that The Doctor has the advantage over Clara who doesn’t seem to remember who she is. And what’s brilliant here is not the fact that there has been a reversal of the memory wipe thing that The Doctor himself did to Catherine Tate’s character Donna Noble at the end of their season together in the David Tennant era of the show (although it seems to work somewhat differently)... that’s kind of a rubbishy cop out, to be honest...

No, the clever thing about this scene, and it comes down as much to Peter and Jenna’s performances as it does to the writing, is that the rug is pulled out from under us in the end of show bookends, where we realise that it’s Clara acting dumb for the benefit of The Doctor who can’t remember who she is... and not the other way around. Clara has the advantage and, what’s more, runs off with Ahsilda (or ‘Me’ as she likes to be called now) to have her own adventures in time and space in the moments before her final heart beats before she dies... so she both dies and lives on and, if the writers ever wanted to do this, could be reintroduced into the show for guest appearances if required. There’s also a nice symmetry to this when it’s revealed that she’s stolen an old TARDIS which has its chameleon circuit stuck, perpetually now, in the shape of an American diner... just like The Doctor originally stole his TARDIS and has it stuck in the shape of an old London Police Box from a time the show itself, outlived long ago. Nice.

The second clever thing in this is a metatextual reference in that The Doctor plays a tune for Clara in the diner at the start and I jumped up in my seat when this happened and exclaimed to the people who I was watching it with... he’s playing Clara’s Theme. Oh yeah... nice breaking of the fourth wall moment here where Murray Gold’s leitmotif for the show is actually introduced into the show itself, transforming itself at the last bookend, when The Doctor names it Clara’s song, from a strictly non-diegetic musical motif into a piece of diegetic source. I really applaud this move and although most people watching the show might not realise the tune is a Murray Gold composition, which he introduced with the introduction of Clara into the show a few years ago, it’s a nice little credit to him and a bit of a thank you from Moffat, I reckon. Good stuff.

Okay, so bad stuff was the fact that the reintroduction of Clara (as we all knew was going to happen, right?) still doesn’t cover how she could get pregnant with the child of the now dead Danny Pink and have Orson Pink as a “time travelling runs in our family” character she meets earlier in the show... if she didn’t meet him then that stuff never happened and she didn’t arrive in this point in time, right? So that’s a big ‘temporal logic’ continuity  problem as far as I’m concerned. Honestly, it’s like watching Back To The Future Part 2 all over again.

The other bad thing is, no matter how much you have a moody, spaghetti Western styled post credits section set by the barn The Doctor grew up in... which featured in that very episode where we met Orson Pink, as it happens (and reviewed here)... and which also played a big part in the 50th anniversary special The Day Of The Doctor (reviewed here), it doesn’t hide the fact that the events of The Day Of The Doctor showed the thirteen incarnations of The Doctor (including Capaldi) hiding Gallifrey in a frozen moment in time... not somewhere at the end of time, which frankly makes no sense. And, as it happens, we still haven’t seen Capaldi play his part in that episode either, only from the point of view of his cameo debut guest appearance in that particular episode. So... I’d really like to know when this was supposed to happen please? Because it’s not holding a lot of water now, to be honest.

Okay, so apart from those two ‘dropped the ball’ ideas as I see them (Clara’s mishandled resurrection and the seemingly random return of Gallifrey) then the episode was pretty good, Notice it kept mentioning ‘the matrix’ which we first, in my memory, came across properly in The Deadly Assassin, which I keep citing as my best guess at Moffat’s inspiration for this current series... so that was kind of satisfying for me. Of course, it kinda goes hand in hand with Gallifrey lore but, you know, I reckon I saw that coming. Also, it was really nice to see the old TARDIS control room again after so many decades. That was cool.

The other thing that paid off for me, in a way, was the fact that I was correct in thinking that Moffat was just ‘winding up the fans’ with the introduction of the ‘sonic sunglasses’. Now, I realised the other week that any future incarnation of The Doctor would have to go back to using the sonic screwdriver because it’s what he gives to River Song before she dies while meeting The Doctor for the very first time (from his point of view, not hers). So it comes as no surprise now that The Doctor has a new sonic screwdriver and the cynic in me says that the new design of it will be in all good toy shops ready for next year’s television adventures. So, yeah, saw that one coming too.

But, all in all, I really didn’t mind this as an ending to what has been a much more ‘on track’ series of the show and, it has to be said, I do hope we’ll be seeing both Clara and Ashilda back in the show before long. Meanwhile, I’m really looking forward to seeing the Christmas Day special this year, The Husbands Of River Song, so you can expect me to have some kind of response to that here on either Boxing Day or the day after, depending on when I can actually get to see it over the Christmas period. No details of the next series yet but... I’m sure those will be pending. And please, in the meantime, come back here and check out some of my other reviews and upcoming articles... there’s some interesting stuff coming up, I reckon... plus some more old school Doctor Who reviews too including, I’m sure, a look back at The Deadly Assassin at some point next year.

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