NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of Doctor Who are present in this review
Doctor Who didn’t cap off its outstanding Series Nine in the way that many people expected, no doubt, but, “Hell Bent” still stood as a superb season finale, despite seeming to sidestep some of the drama that the show had set up beforehand. This was most noticeable with ‘The Hybrid’, an upcoming threat to the universe that’s been foreshadowed since the very beginning of Series Nine, though as some speculated with The Doctor claiming that he was The Hybrid in “Heaven Sent” last week, it was confirmed in this season finale that The Doctor is indeed lying, and doesn’t actually know who or what The Hybrid is.
This would seem to officially confirm that The Hybrid will be saved for Series Ten, at the earliest. Still, with The Doctor’s return to Gallifrey, this season finale was full of very strong story material, as we once again revisit the fallout of the Time War, this time with The Doctor on his own turf, and the people of Gallifrey now responding to his heroism, rather than just the higher-ups.
Things begin with The Doctor, as he recounts a story to a seemingly amnesiac Clara working as a waitress in a diner (you’ll see), returning to the barn that he grew up around, and reuniting with a mysterious old woman, presumably his adopted mother, or a caretaker of some variety. Many other people then gather to meet The Doctor, though President Rassilon, now in a regenerated form (sadly, he is no longer Timothy Dalton), is eager to execute The Doctor. Despite bringing a firing squad right to The Doctor however, after he draws a literal line in the sand and refuses to go back to the Time Lords, the soldiers all deliberately miss when ordered to fire, then lay down their weapons to stand next to The Doctor. Even the military’s unnamed general echoes The Doctor’s command to get off his planet, essentially damning Rassilon to exile.
These sort of scenes are what really made “Hell Bent” shine. Even the borderline-emotionless Time Lords of Gallifrey virtually have no choice but to respect The Doctor’s heroism. Even they are willing to defy the unbreakable rules and authorities in his name. The Doctor has, for better or worse, changed Gallifrey, and is now informally recognized as its highest authority.
But even with that much of a following, The Doctor is not above his own selfish motives at times, especially when it comes to saving people. Sure enough, after Rassilon is exiled, and The Doctor is given a chance to say what he knows about The Hybrid to the general and the Sisterhood of Karn (who return once again, after their cameo in “The Magician’s Apprentice” at the start of the season), he convinces the authorities to retrieve Clara from her death during the events of, “Face the Raven” a couple of weeks ago.
Yes, the show is going there. It might be annoying to some, to have Doctor Who ultimately wimp out of truly and permanently killing Clara, but surprisingly, the episode managed to wring even more superb story material out of this situation, despite Clara already being dead. After The Doctor successfully gets Clara back, and shoots the general to escape (who was apparently born a woman, as revealed after regenerating from her current rare male body), the two end up hiding in The Matrix, the supercomputer where dead Time Lord consciousness is uploaded to both serve as a permanent database, and be guarded by creepy, roving Wraiths.
This novel idea sort of had The Doctor himself be the villain of the story, and the way that this played off of Clara was brilliant, especially as Clara tries to resist The Doctor’s whims, saying that the universe needs her to die. A nice echo of the countdown of doom throughout “Face the Raven” was also displayed, as Clara has no pulse or breath, and the countdown timer on the back of her neck is still at “000”, and isn’t disappearing. She has just one natural heartbeat left until her demise, which would indeed seem to suggest that Clara needs to die to restore order in the universe. The Doctor’s stubbornness is putting time itself at risk, which leads to him eventually realizing that he is becoming The Hybrid, after meeting Ashildr at the very end of the universe, in its final hours, billions of years in the future.
On a slight side note, the only problematic element in this otherwise awesome season finale of Doctor Who, is that it seems to have created a continuity error with the universe’s ending. Earlier in New Who, the show established that the end of the universe occurs in a trillion years or so (which makes sense), not billions of years from now. Hell, our own sun probably wouldn’t have even gone into supernova if The Doctor’s timeline is to be believed, so there’s no way that the entire universe would be dying at that point! It’s slightly implied that the real Hybrid might have accelerated the end of the universe somehow, and maybe that’s why it’s dying early, but the show didn’t do a great job of making that clear. Even Ashildr seems to think that Clara’s death was only a few billion years ago. I know that time is always in flux in Doctor Who, but that only applies to events, not basic astrophysics.
Fortunately, the awesome interaction with Ashildr, the last remaining life form in the universe (so the Mire medkits can outlive Rose hacking Jack Harkness’ life cycle with the Heart of the TARDIS? Really?), made for another of the season finale’s highlight scenes, after Clara and The Doctor run away in an old-school TARDIS, complete with the all-white aesthetic from the early days of Classic Who! The two debate who The Hybrid may actually be, and present several interesting theories to that effect, including that The Hybrid may actually be two complementary people, The Doctor and The Master, Ashildr may be The Hybrid, since she’s part human and part Mire now, or that The Doctor may be The Hybrid, as Ashildr brings up the little-known mention from the Eighth Doctor’s 1996 TV movie that The Doctor actually has a human mother, and is only Gallifreyan on his father’s side. This would explain why The Doctor has emotions that he shouldn’t have, as well as an attachment to Earth. Another Hybrid possibility that isn’t mentioned, but is also quite possible, given that she’s about to show up in the Christmas special later this month, is River Song, who is also half-human and half-Time Lord. As much as the issue of The Hybrid is ultimately put off, there are lots of interesting possibilities as to who or what they or it may be, which should have Doctor Who fans nicely buzzing while they settle into the long wait for Series Ten.
Ultimately, The Doctor decides to wipe Clara’s memory, in hopes that it will prevent the Time Lords from ever finding her, even mentioning performing the same trick on Donna Noble back during the Tenth Doctor’s run. Since Clara is spying on the conversation however, she reverses the polarity (yep, that old trick) of The Doctor’s memory wiping device, and says that if he uses it, he’ll lose his memory of Clara instead. The Doctor claims that this is impossible, and that both of them should try it, to see who will end up being affected. Surprisingly though, Clara does indeed successfully invert the device, and The Doctor does start to lose his memory of Clara. What follows is another brilliantly emotional scene, this time with the roles reversed, as Clara must say goodbye to The Doctor, with seemingly no way around it. It was another fantastic showcase of the chemistry between Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman as Doctor and companion, and something that is bound to be missed with Jenna Coleman now leaving the show.
This was a very clever twist in regards to the frame device, where it’s revealed that The Doctor is actually the one who lost his memory, and Clara’s is intact. The Doctor then recognizes that he’s in the same diner from “The Impossible Astronaut”, back when he was the Eleventh Doctor, and was traveling with Amy and Rory. From there, Clara enters a hidden door into the stolen TARDIS, where Ashildr is waiting for her, revealing that the diner was the stolen TARDIS the entire time, as The Doctor is reunited with his original TARDIS, which still has the paintings of Clara left by Rigsy from “Face the Raven.” Realizing that he had been reunited with Clara, and found who he was looking for, The Doctor finds the resolve to move on (complete with getting his own brand new Sonic Screwdriver, much to the delight of fans, I’m sure!), as Clara tells Ashildr that she must be returned to her death, though there’s nothing wrong with taking the, “Long way around”, as the two decide to go on their own unseen adventure, leaving hope that both characters could show up again on Doctor Who in the future. The episode then concludes with the two TARDIS’s just barely missing each other in flight, without realizing that the other is there.
Again, it may annoy some that Doctor Who is completely backpedaling on killing off Clara at this point, after making such a big fuss about Clara’s, “Death” in “Face the Raven” and “Heaven Sent”, but there’s no denying that “Hell Bent” was still a strong ending to a very strong season of New Who. The threat of The Hybrid still seems to be out there, but The Doctor has ultimately become better and stronger from his having to let go of Clara, even if he had to trade his memories of her for her new lease on life with Ashildr. Hopefully, this means another very strong Series Ten to look forward to in the future!
- The Gallifreyans' actions toward The Doctor
- The Doctor resurrecting Clara, at a big cost
- The Doctor and Ashildr's Hybrid debate
- Why is the universe dying so early all of a sudden?