Doctor Who S09 E12: Hell Bent


Remember that old rule? You know the one. “The Doctor lies.” It’s not just him. It’s his heritage. It’s his people. Just because The Doctor comes from the Time Lords of Gallifrey, some new schoolers might guess that the Time Lords are the good guys. Not true. The Time Lords are among The Doctor’s greatest enemies. They lie, don’t forget this. They fear him. Proof positive, meet me after the jump for my thoughts on “Hell Bent.”


Pronoun trouble. Let’s get this straight. When The Doctor talks about the Hybrid that will destroy Gallifrey at the end of “Heaven Sent,” and he says “me,” he’s not talking about a fabled Time Lord/Dalek mix, or even himself, he’s talking about Me. And when I say ‘Me,’ I’m talking about Maisie Williams, from “Game of Thrones,” our ratings busting guest star this season, also known as Ashildr.


She’s not a Time Lord/Dalek mix, but Ashildr is the creation of two warrior races, thanks to The Doctor, a hybrid of the Viking and the heretofore unheard of race The Mire, and like the Time Lords, she’s essentially immortal. And of course it’s worth mentioning that much of this season has revolved around the concept of hybrids, especially in the case of Osgood in the Zygon stories here and here. The hybrids are everywhere.


Just what exactly showrunner Steven Moffat’s obsession with the American West is I’m not sure, but here we are again. As Peter Capaldi enters the Nevada diner from “The Impossible Astronaut,” with guitar in hand and sound system built into his sonic sunglasses, it really is the iconic image of Matt Smith in his Stetson all over again. We’re meant to smile, we’re meant to grin even, but what is the purpose? Why does The Doctor always return to this place like the Hulk to the gamma bombsite that spawned him?


The waitress who looks like Clara, with Foxes’ cover of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” (from “Mummy on the Orient Express“) playing in the background, listens patiently to The Doctor’s tale of this episode, never letting on who she is or why she’s there, except of course for “magic.” Don’t panic, to borrow a phrase from a closely associated science fiction franchise, we’ll get to it. It seems that Clara has much more in common with previous companions I’ve disliked (Donna, and to an extent, Rose) than I would have thought. I did like The Doctor playing “Clara’s Theme” on his guitar however, no matter how overwrought in the meta column it is.

You Are Hated

All too often when we see Gallifrey, it’s the stuffed suits with the unwieldy high collars we see. Rarely do we see the plebeians of that world, those that really live there. It’s become apparent that that Gallifrey is a class society and the Time Lords are top of the food chain, but it also seems that the non-Time Lord faction of the planet love and protect their renegade Doctor. This shows us more about Gallifrey than Moffat could ever tell us. Once The Doctor makes himself known (at the very place he used to hide as a child, and met his other selves more recently), the people are fiercely loyal, even against the Time Lord military.


I should point out that I don’t really like the Time Lords. A lot of old-school people don’t like the Time Lords. It’s a fact, except for like special occasions like “The Five Doctors” or The Three Doctors,” I don’t think anyone really likes the Gallifrey episodes, they just suck. If I were watching the series again all the way through I’m telling you I would skip the Gallifrey episodes. Like the Gamma Base is that I mentioned with the Hulk, The Doctor does seem to be returning to this same place in the Moffet era. I did like how the common folk gathered around The Doctor just like the dust bowlers in Bonnie and Clyde, sort of like they know their real leader, and savior.

The Long Way Round

It’s the showdown between The Doctor and the Lord President, and anyone who has watched all those Gallifrey episodes of Doctor Who, you know, the boring ones, knows what a putz the Lord President is here in the new series in the new century. The Doctor is a returning war hero, and he won the Time War, so of course, no matter what the Lord President says, they are on The Doctor’s side. But what is our hero’s beef with the Lord President? What else, but time.

Fear of the legendary Hybrid made the Lord President trap The Doctor inside of his confession dial. He made it into a torture chamber where he would be imprisoned for billions of years – four and a half billion years to be exact – not a good idea. We all know what a grumpy old man The Doctor can be, don’t make him older. That’s just asking for it, ya know?

Between the Heartbeats

Once The Doctor has entered the Citadel victorious, and the High Council as well as the Lord President have been exiled – thoughts turn towards the Hybrid. What do they actually know, apart from the legend? The Doctor is helping what remains of the Time Lord hierarchy, and the Sisterhood of Karn as well, returned to their homeworld of Gallifrey finally, but he really has a completely different agenda.


The Doctor claims he needs Clara to help him, and using technology only the Time Lords possess, brings her out of her timeline – just seconds before her death. And then the fireworks start. He doesn’t really care about the Hybrid, he just wants to save Clara. And in a frantic and very familiar escape, steals a TARDIS. It’s not just any TARDIS either, it’s a model that resembles William Hartnell’s TARDIS from the original series, all white and plain. I wondered if they borrowed the set from An Adventure in Space and Time. Either way, very cool.

Forget Me Not

There’s some fun in the Cloisters, the noted hell of the Time Lords, where the Matrix exists, the Matrix being the accumulated knowledge of the Time Lords. Monsters stalk its smoky hallways, including Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, and other assorted baddies – called Matrix sliders, ghostly guards – that haunt the people of Gallifrey. In a bit of Moffaty science, The Doctor thinks that if he takes Clara to the end of time it will start her between-the-beats heart and bring her back to life – breaking of course a fixed point in time. It doesn’t work.


Plan B involves removing The Doctor from Clara’s memory. How that would help eludes me, but in a scene reminiscent of the iocane powder scene in The Princess Bride, The Doctor gets the mind wipe instead. Thus The Doctor doesn’t remember Clara in the diner in the beginning. Or does he? Remember, The Doctor lies. And the Peter Capaldi Doctor has always kept his cards close to his chest. Would he let on if he did know? Did he indeed succeed in saving Clara, but can’t admit he did?


At the end of time it is said there are only immortals. There are a few Gallifreyans, the Sisterhood of Karn, The Doctor and the exception, Clara, and one other. The one and only Me. The Hybrid. In classic Tom Baker fashion, the climax is a duel of trying to talk the opponent to death. Really, I expected more. Me is a more formidable enemy, and she is evil. She’s fun, yes, but still dangerous, somewhere between River Song and The Master in crazy and bloodthirstiness, and I hope it will be dealt with at some point.


As it is, The Doctor lets her go. He allows Me and the between-heartbeats-about-to-die Clara escape with the stolen TARDIS to who knows where or when. Honestly, the idea of Clara and Me traveling in a TARDIS shaped like a diner seems more like Moffat wanting to fill the Who-niverse with more bizarre oddities than anything else. It’s just what he does.


Despite my dislike of companions like Rose, Donna, and especially Clara, the ones who have just gotten too close to The Doctor, I did like his talk of ‘duty of care.’ As has been bandied about in Who fandom for decades, The Doctor dislikes being alone, and he does in fact sometimes view his companions as ‘pets,’ so there is that duty of care responsibility. I would like to see him acknowledge this before it’s time for a companion to die or leave however. After four and a half billion years, one would think he might learn.


There are things I liked about this overlong season finale, like the return of the sonic screwdriver and the velvet coat. As I mentioned, I dug seeing the original style TARDIS, and loved that it had the convenient broken chameleon circuit design flaw. One thing that is an enjoyable part of any Gallifrey episode is The Doctor taking charge, and we certainly got that. One of the better ones this season. Maybe now we can have a new companion, or companions? Maybe River Song?

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