With all the twists and turns in this season’s storyline, the idea of providing an adequate end seemed damn near impossible. However, somehow ‘Hell Bent’ is able to rap up the hybrid storyline effectively and provide a nice bit of Closure to The Doctor’s relationship with Clara.
‘Hell Bent’ starts strangely and only gets odder from there. The episode begins with The Doctor meeting an apparently amnesiac Clara and telling her the story of his companion and friend. I was expecting a twist here, mostly related to all those time duplicates of her which should still be running around, but I didn’t guess the final reveal. This brings us back to where The Doctor was at the end of ‘Heaven Sent’, wandering across Gallifrey. Much of the scenes on Gallifrey appear to make little sense. The Doctor is suddenly being called a war hero and just seems to accept it, despite his aversion to war. He keeps calling Gallifrey his planet, when why exactly would that be? He also seems to take the Presidency, when he usually rejects leadership roles. Much of this can be explained via the Doctor’s time in the confession dial, which he claims made him something other than The Doctor, though this feels like a lazy explanation.
The main plot of the episode reveals itself when The Doctor has control in Gallifrey, as it’s revealed that he is still determined to save Clara, no matter what it takes. The return of Clara is welcome, providing the character with a much needed sense of closure, and a far better exit than her rather stupid death earlier in the season. Jenna Coleman gives perhaps her most complicated performance since her arrival, presenting a woman who is perfectly ready to accept her fate if The Doctor would just let her go.
Peter Capaldi is also very compelling this week, presenting a care for Clara that is almost unprecedented. He is willing to do anything, even break his own rules about time travel, if he can save Clara. His pain at losing her is believable and relatable, making The Doctor feel incredibly human.The episode makes great use of only a handful of sets, many of which are incredibly well realised. The Gallifrey locations look suitably otherworldly, particular the tomb-like cloister. Some of the CGI is a little clunky, with the main city in particular looking very fake. Most impressive is the appearance of the classic TARDIS, which is a loving recreation of the original interior. The cloister makes a great return at the episode’s end, with The Doctor and Clara visiting it at the end of the universe, only to find their old frenemy Ashildr (I still refuse to accept Me as her name).
The reveal of the hybrid takes several turns even just within this episode and last week’s explanation that it’s The Doctor ends up being a half truth. When Ashildr suggests the hybrid is The Doctor as he’s half timelord/half human, explaining his love of the planet Earth, it makes a modicum of sense. However the actual twist, that The Doctor and Clara together are the Hybrid, explains some of the season’s dangling threads. The ways Clara began to resemble The Doctor suddenly exist as them being a mirror image. The Doctor can’t let her go because they are tied to each other.The episode’s end, which sees The Doctor attempt to erase Clara’s memory only to erase his own memories of her to a degree, provides a bittersweet end to Clara’s story. The Doctor will probably never be able to travel with her again, though the door is definitely left open for a reappearance, and is left with only vague memories of her. Clara gets to survive her apparently fixed death, for a time at least, leaving with Ashildr in the classic look TARDIS. It is unknown how much time Clara has left but the idea of her running around the universe with Ashildr as her companion is just perfect fuel for a spin off.
The final scenes of the series set the stage for an interesting new direction. The Doctor steps into a new look TARDIS, which has a very cool, slightly retro vibe. He gets a swanky new screwdriver, and hopefully we’ll never see the glasses again. Clara is able to remind him of the man he needs to be, while Ashildr introduces him to the concept that sadness can be beautiful. He steps into the Christmas special with hopefully a new outlook on life. The Christmas episode looks to be a fun romp, and brings back River Song, a favourite companion of mine. I’m wondering how Capaldi will manage with a more light-hearted, comedy focused adventure, but I’m looking forward to finding out.