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Hell Bent

Review by Paul Bowler

[Contains Spoilers]

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The Doctor has faced his greatest ordeal and reached Gallifrey at last. Now, with everything taken from him, betrayed on all sides, and with his hearts broken after Clara’s death the Doctor must now confront the power of Time Lords themselves. But how far will the Doctor go to save his dearest friend? Its a confrontation that will take him to the very end of time itself, and soon the mystery of the hybrid will be revealed…

Following Clara’s death in Face the Raven and the Doctor’s lone struggle to escape in Heaven Sent, the series finale of Doctor Who’s ninth series is finally here. Hell Bent, written by Doctor Who show runner Steven Moffat and directed by Rachael Talalay (The director of the two-part 2014 finale Dark Water & Death In Heaven, and series nines incredible solo Doctor story Heaven Sent) finds the Doctor back on his home world of Gallifrey at long last in this special sixty five minute episode for a cataclysmic showdown with the Time Lords.

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Hell Bent effortlessly draws us in with an ending veiled within a new beginning, as the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) chats to a waitress in a Nevada diner, she looks exactly like Clara, but neither of them seem to recognise the other… The setting may be the same as the diner in The Impossible Astronaut (2011), but this is indeed Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), and as the Doctor tells her his story about “Clara” these flashbacks begin to entwine with the narrative of events unfolding on Gallifrey to bring all the various plot threads of Series 9 together as one.

Gallifrey awaits, the bells are ringing in the cloisters, and the Cloister Wraiths are growing restless as we find the Doctor revisiting a poignant location from his past on the outskirts of the citadel – the barn the Doctor visits here seems to be the same one we saw in The Day of the Doctor (2013) and Listen (2014), although its not actually stated. A line is drawn in the sand and the Doctor is soon confronting President Rassilon himself (Donald Sumpter), who he blames for horrors of the Time War. Peter Capaldi is on magnificent form once again as the Doctor confronts the highest echelons of Time Lord society. The way he turns the tables on Rassilon is brilliantly staged, this Doctor of War is unarmed, but his reputation as a war hero is more powerful than any weapon, and its enough to win over the military and have the President exiled in a heartbeat.

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After this less than welcoming homecoming the Doctor learns he was actually trapped inside the confession dial for four billion years. The General, last seen in The Day of the Doctor (Ken Bones), has a key role to play in Hell Bent, and following her appearance in The Magician’s Apprentice, Clare Higgin’s also returns as the mysterious Ohila, leader of the Sisterhood of Karn, and she has some really good scenes with Capaldi’s Doctor in this episode. It seems that Clara’s story isn’t quite over yet either, as the General and Ohila want to know more about the Hybrid (A creature spawned from two warrior races long prophesised by the Time Lords that could potentially unravel the web of time itself), but the Doctor insists to help them he will need to speak his old friend, Clara Oswald, and use the Time Lords Extraction Chamber to remove Clara from the time steam at the exact moment just before she faced her tragic death in Face The Raven.

Though it might seem a bit convoluted, the reappearance of Jenna Coleman as Clara is another undoubted highlight of this series finale. Her reunion with the Doctor is one that soon leads to an impromptu, if somewhat superfluous regeneration for the General, who then become the female General (T‘nia Miller) from here the pace of Hell Bent doesn’t let up for a moment as the Doctor and Clara flee into the cloisters. The heartfelt revelations continue to come thick and fast after they evade the Cloister Wraiths, especially when Clara realises just what the Doctor has endured to save her and uphold his duty of care to his companion.

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It is here that Steven Moffat skilfully begins drawing together the numerous plot threads that have been surreptitiously woven throughout series nine, indeed, there are connections to past series too, many of which only begin to gradually become apparent in this episode, with everything from Missy’s (Michelle Gomez) throwaway remarks to Clara in the series opener, to the story the Doctor tells Clara of the lone Time Lord that supposedly escaped from the cloisters and went mad, and the ominous Time Lord prophecy of the Hybrid finally becomes a startling reality knocking four times on the door as Hell Bent races towards a thrilling, and deeply moving conclusion. Hell Bent is an episode that touches on elements and themes from both the past and the present; and it seamlessly folds everything together in the most sublime way imaginable.

The direction by Rachel Talalay is superb, every scene of this epic action-packed saga is beautifully shot, the special effects are jaw-dropping, and you will be blown away by the sheer scope and spectacle of it all. There are so many memorable moments in Hell Bent: from the Doctor playing his guitar in a the diner in Nevada and chatting to the waitress Clara, to the majesty of Gallifrey itself, shadowy glimpses of Cloister Wraiths, the hell of the Time Lords were haunting phantoms act like a firewall that guards the Matrix, where Time Lords, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, and even a Dalek lurk in the shadows. In fact, I’d say the sight of a Dalek ensnared by the living cables of the cloisters, filed away for all eternity and begging to be exterminated, is perhaps one of the most disturbing sights and concepts I’ve ever seen in Doctor Who. Throw in the General’s unexpected regeneration, along with the Doctor and Clara escaping from Gallifrey in a stolen TARDIS, complete with a beautiful original style TARDIS console room, and you have a polarity reversing series finale that rocks and rolls its way across time, space, and continuity which is often as poignant as it is exciting.

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However, the Doctor’s attempt to get Clara far enough away so she regains her heartbeat, travelling to the end of time so she can evade the moment of her death in Face The Raven even though it may damage time itself, ultimately leads the Doctor to an encounter with Ashildr / Me in a reality bubble at the end of time. Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams makes a triumphant return as the immortal Ashildr / Me in Hell Bent, her character’s arc comes full circle here at last, and her theory concerning the actually identity of the Hybrid brings a new dimension to the Doctor’s and Clara’s friendship that is resolved in a heartrending farewell that finishes where everything begins.

As the Doctor’s original plan to wipe Clara’s memory of him in turns becomes his own fate, his memories of Clara fades away (Perhaps echoing the similar fate Donna‘s (Catherine Tate) character endured in 2008‘s series finale Journey‘s End), and we return to the diner in Nevada where the Doctor finishes telling the waitress his story. She goes into another room, where we see Ashildr in the original style TARDIS console room, the diner is a TARDIS, and as Clara and Ashildr depart in their TARDIS for their own adventures, the Doctor is left alone with his own TARDIS which is still covered in the memorial Rigsy painted on the exterior.

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The closing moments of Hell Bent sees the Doctor entering the shadowy TARDIS interior which suddenly bursts into life around him. Donning his jacket, a new sonic screwdriver, and with a final message from Clara on the chalk board offering one last piece of advice – and perhaps a mission statement for series 10 and beyond – the Doctor is finally ready to depart in the TARDIS and continue his adventures in time and space – with the paintings for Clara on the exterior gradually peeling away as the time machine dematerialises.

On the whole, I think Series 9 has been a relatively strong season. I really liked the return of the two-part stories, like the Doctor, I think we all love a good cliff-hanger, and there was something very special about how this series kept the suspense and excitement building throughout each adventure as the overall story arc gradually built towards the finale. This has also been a great season for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, his portrayal of the Time Lord continues to go from strength to strength, and he’s really made the role of the Doctor his own now. Likewise, I think this has been one of Jenna Coleman’s strongest seasons too. I know her character has divided opinions at times, but I’m still glad we has one more series with Clara before her departure, and its perhaps fitting that the impossible girl eventually had to leave the Doctor in the most impossible of circumstances imaginable for both of them…

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Well, series nine is over, its been fun reviewing the episodes, and thank you for reading my reviews. We still have the 2015 Doctor Who Christmas Special: The Husband’s of River Song to look forward to though, along with the return of Alex Kingston as River Song, its sure to be a fun episode, and I can’t wait to see what the chemistry is like between the 12th Doctor and River Song in this special Christmas themed episode!

Images Belong / BBC