Thursday, 10 December 2015

Review: Doctor Who 9.12: Hell Bent

I would have had this out earlier, but as I explained previously, I've had a bit of a weather situation.

Expectations are a difficult thing to bargain with. I didn't expect a lot from this episode, but I expected that if it did something, it would do it in an entertaining way. After eleven weeks of well-made but fundamentally flawed episodes, Moffat fell back on a lot of old tropes, and undid a lot of the meagre good will I've built up for him over the past couple of years. After last season finished its arc with quite a nice, satisfying conclusion, Hell Bent tried to capture Capaldi's lightning twice, as well as expanding the series mythos - but the result, while not outwardly offensive, ended up feeling like a bit of a waste of time. I'll try not to spoil every twist and turn to start with, but be cautious.
The sunglasses are stupid. And so is the electric guitar. But
this shot is totally awesome.
     The episode had a fascinating framing device which prevented it from being a complete washout. The Doctor, equipped with Electric Guitar, tells the story of the episode to Clara, who is a waitress at the same American diner visited in The Impossible Astronaught. At first it appears as though Clara, who returns within the story, has had her memory erased by The Doctor, who is now seeing her for one last time. As the events of the episode transpire, however, it becomes clear that it is the exact reverse - The Doctor cannot remember what Clara looks like, only who she was, and how he lost her. It brings up a few plot holes here or there (especially given the detail to which The Doctor seems to remember the story) but it also provides the few genuine moments of emotional satisfaction between The Doctor and Clara.
     The thing I was looking forward to most of all about this week's episode was the actual return of the Time Lords. The retcon of their existence irked me a lot back in Day of the Doctor and Time of the Doctor, when they seemed to be portrayed as really cool dudes full of love and happiness. Here there are still some elements of that, but at the same time their appearance has been updated to tie into their Classic Series appearances. Rassilon, previously played by Bond actor Timothy Dalton as a hammy but terrifying dictator, appears here played by Donald Sumpter as a tired, bitter old man with no power to his name. It's an interesting choice, and one which kinda works, even if it feels a little odd for the great Rassilon himself to be put aside so willy nilly, and with such little significance to the rest of the episode. If I could say anything really positive about the portrayal of the Time Lords, it was the diversity. I loved the fact that there are Shabogans; there's an actual distinction between Galifreyans and Time Lords. I loved how many black Time Lords there were, and even though it was sad to see the amazing Ken Bones leave the show, seeing an old white man regenerate into a young black woman was an amazing moment for Moffat's time on the show. I also adored the version of Hartnell's TARDIS interior, which the show has barely touched. Talk about timeless design.
     Clara of course returned this week, via The Doctor's use of a Time-Lord tech to bring her from the moment before she died in Face The Raven. I cannot tell you just how disappointed I ended up being with this fact. Even if it had some character significance for this episode (which it does), it's yet another case of Moffat not letting people die. Clara has decided she's going to leave in Mummy On The Orient Express, Death In Heaven, Last Christmas and Face The Raven, and this fifth goodbye felt incredibly hollow. The way her exit was left open was so incredibly frustrating, because Jenna Coleman is not coming back. She's gone. She wanted to go last year, and now she's finally left. It speaks of poor planning to kill her off in a semi-satisfying way and then just ruin it again. She doesn't even do much in this episode, besides complain that she didn't want to be brought back in the first place, and be the moral chain which is driving The Doctor to do the crazy, stupid things he is doing. I think that Jenna Coleman deserves better than this, no matter how cool it is that she has, essentially, become The Doctor after all.
The Classic Console Room used for Clara and Me's TARDIS
is gorgeous. More of this, please.
      And now, to the Hybrid. All season we've had this as an RTD-style arc-word, introduced in a mad rant by Davros as the reason why The Doctor left Gallifrey. Its existence is key to The Witch's Familiar and last week's episode, Heaven Sent, and while its introduction in that episode was a little rushed, it had the potential to be a really interesting mystery if solved well. However, like all of Moffat's little mysteries, there was a deeply unsatisfying conclusion. Why did the TARDIS explode? The "Silence" did it, and then never mentioned it again. How did the Doctor survive death? The Teselecta from that one episode everyone hated. Why does Missy greet everyone who dies? It's all a hologram. It turns out that the identity of the Hybrid is not even something that The Doctor knows. He blames Me, who is part Human, part Mire. She asks him if he is half-human (presumably on his mother's side.) and he denies it. Eventually there's a sweet if stupid cop-out; the Hybrid is in fact both The Doctor and Clara, who together would lead to the death of the Universe, as The Doctor is too determined to save her to let her death, a fixed point, actually happen. It's a metaphor for Moffat, really.
     I really want to like Doctor Who, and there are huge parts of this episode I do enjoy. I love the scenes on Gallifrey, with the Sisterhood of Karn and the High Council and all that grand, amazing stuff. The problem is with everything that Moffat brings to the table, and it's stuff we've seen far too many times before - characters who never die, mysteries with empty or unsatisfying conclusions. The thread is well and truly wearing very thin on his tenure, and as I sat and watched the Doctor and Clara say goodbye to each other for the fifth time in two years, I couldn't help but wonder just how brilliant this episode would be if Clara didn't appear. If we spent the whole thing on Gallifrey. If Moffat knew how to leave well enough alone. I love Capaldi and he makes this show worth tuning into every week. I'm not exactly back to the point where "I'm never watching this show again", but I really have to ask the question - where can Moffat go from here?

Thanks.

THIS CHRISTMAS: Jesus, I didn't think he'd go there. We face the unfortunate return of an old friend in The Husbands of River Song.

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