Monday, 7 December 2015


After 11 episodes, the Doctor and Clara say goodbye. Again. Sort of

Go on, go on, go on... (Image copyright: BBC)

I guess whether you enjoyed ‘Hell Bent’ or not depends on what you think Doctor Who is about. After the ground-breaking metaphysical games of last week, here it looked like Steven Moffat had decided very firmly it was about relationships.

It had a very promising, series finale-ominous start: the Doctor back on Gallifrey, metaphorically apocalyptic clouds gathering as the stakes got higher: impressively, and coolly, not saying a word as he faced off against a battle cruiser, the Time War general and then President Rassilon (the evergreen Donald Sumpter). Winning over the Chancellery Guard, exiling Rassilon and the High Council… this had just as much promise of a fleet of Daleks heading for the Game Station or Amy Pond turning up inside the Pandorica.

And then… a lot of talking. A lot. Talking’s good: that’s what drama’s made of, but as soon as the Doctor sat down at the High Council’s table the energy seemed to go out of the story.

Mainly because of Clara. There’s been a lot of criticism of Steven Moffat’s Who in that he won’t let people stay dead, but in this case I think it was justified. I’d hoped, with all the gravitas surrounding her death, that it would have been left to stand as a defining dramatic moment. As soon as Clara entered the Extraction Chamber, that wish evaporated and the rest of the episode played out like two lovers who can’t say goodbye to each other, with the whole Hybrid theme reduced to the reason for them to split up. 

All well and good – relationship drama, like I said above – but great science fiction ideas like the wraiths in the cloisters, and Ashildr (Maisie Williams) being the last person alive in the universe, were thrown away as window dressing, something that was particularly noticeable after the imaginative peak of ‘Heaven Sent’. And if the Doctor can break his own rules – i.e. by nipping back along his time stream and changing things, something that used to be a cardinal sin in Doctor Who storytelling – where’s the drama?

What did I think was memorable? The dramatic feint that, at first, it looked like Clara’s memory had been wiped was clever and, as a fanboy, I loved the gloriously realised vintage TARDIS set. I couldn’t help thinking, though, that like the first ever episode ‘An Unearthly Child’, ‘Hell Bent’’s final third consisted of people talking to each other around that wonderful white console. Back then, you were transfixed by a mystery being established, here you were waiting for the Doctor and his companion to get to the point. 52 years on from ‘An Unearthly Child’ – and with my grumpy head on for a second – shouldn’t Doctor Who be able to do better?

Of course it can. Look at ‘Heaven Sent’, by the same writer, and the tremendous ‘The Day of the Doctor’, also by the same writer which, three years on, still weaves its captivating spell and always will. This time around, though, I don’t think the audience will have found the resolution of the Doctor/Clara relationship – that word again – as fascinating as Mr Moffat does. And it’s not really a resolution: now Clara’s careering around in time and space with her own TARDIS and companion, it’s highly likely she’ll bump into the Doctor again.

I’m not one of those fans who’s going to scream around the internet demanding that the Executive Producer SHOULD GO NOW. This is a television series, after all: there’ll be more episodes, some of which I’ll be keen on more than others, some of which I’ll love, and already this year’s special looks like a right laugh.

For me, though, as the climax to a whole series, ‘Hell Bent’ was disappointing. Beautifully shot, yes, impeccably acted, true, but it basically amounted to the Doctor saying goodbye the long way round.

Bit to rewind: the TARDIS

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