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Series 9 Finale Review

Posted by SonicR on December 7, 2015 at 1:10 AM

The very best of Doctor Who one week, and some of the worst the next.

I can't think of another supposed 'two parter' that has polarised me as much as this one has. But honestly, I don't think it even deserves to be called a two parter. The difference between the two episodes is so vast it beggars belief.

So, what's there to be said about Heaven Sent? Not much that hasn't been said already. Heaven Sent is the pinnacle of Doctor Who; everything works seamlessly together to create a fascinating, gripping solo adventure for Peter Capaldi's Doctor. The dialogue is engaging, the music is some of the best it's been, and the direction is masterful. Peter Capaldi demonstrates why he's one of the best actors to take on the role, managing to dominate the screen for fifty five minutes. This is his finest moment. The twist in the episode is one of the best I've ever seen on the program - cleverly set up with hints you don't understand before the reveal. The montage as the Doctor breaks through the Azbantium is simply amazing, and the revelation that he's back on Gallifrey and may possibly be the hybrid sets up an exciting finale in Hell Bent.

But then Hell Bent drops the ball in the worst way possibly. Put simply, while Heaven Sent is easily the best episode of Series 9, Hell Bent is easily the worst. First, the good stuff:

The explanation that the Doctor has become too obsessed about Clara makes sense, at least in the episode. The narrative makes it plain that he's gone too far, and realises and regrets this by the end. The Doctor acting so out of character is very effective, and you really could believe that he'd go to those lengths, even if you don't think he should have.

Seeing Gallifrey and the Time Lords again was great, even if they were sidelined halfway into the episode, and were rather underwhelming in general - especially a rather wimpy incarnation of Rassilon. The mentions of the Matrix were also greatly appreciated. The General's regeneration from male to female was something I saw coming thanks to the next time trailer, but it was well executed, and there was even a nice twist with the fact that the General's male incarnation was the anomaly, not the other way round. Didn't see that coming!

But by far the best thing about Hell Bent was the other TARDIS - specifically, the console room. It was a thing of beauty, wonderfully recreating and modernising the original 1963 design. Upon closer inspection, it gets even better, with minute design details from other console rooms as well. Add in the door sound effect from the 70s and 80s...I loved it. Could it be the permanent console room, please?

And that's where the good stuff ends.

Now obviously, the main conceit of the episode is that Gallifrey has returned, and is hiding close to the end of the universe to avoid detection. Okay, that's fine. There's just one problem: we're never told exactly how Gallifrey managed to extract itself from the situation it was placed in at the end of Day of the Doctor - that is, frozen in a parallel pocket universe. Clara mentions this in the episode, but the Doctor handwaves it away, saying that they just did it. No. That's not good enough, and it completely undermines the entire point of The Time of the Doctor. In that episode, the Time Lords were sending the 'Doctor who?' message into the universe in order to determine whether or not they could return via the cracks from Series 5. They never received an answer, but gave the Doctor a new set of regenerations, presumably so that he could find another way to facilitate their return. But now, in Hell Bent, they've already returned. They didn't need the Doctor. So what was the point of the 'Doctor who?' message? What was the point of the truth field on Trenzalore? Why bother giving the Doctor a new set of regenerations if you didn't need him anyway? What was the whole point of The Time of the Doctor?

But it also clashes thematically with The Day of the Doctor as well. The conclusion of that episode indicated that the Doctor had a new 'mission' - to find Gallifrey and restore it. This mission wasn't going to become the full time focus of the series, but it would be there in the background. And it was, to an admittedly small extent. The Doctor was incredibly angry when he couldn't find it in the series 8 finale. But it turns out he didn't need to go looking. It would just come back by itself. So what was the point of introducing that theme in Day of the Doctor, if it would be rendered moot a couple of years later, with no satisfying conclusion? And it doesn't help that when he does return to Gallifrey, he's not happy at all. He's the exact opposite - very angry. It makes sense within the narrative, but thematically it's a big mistake. For a satisfying payoff there, he should have initially been happy to find it. Let the anger come when he finds out that Rassilon is still in charge.

But okay, let's accept that the Time Lords and Gallifrey returned on their own volition, and are now residing close to the end of the universe. In Heaven Sent, the Doctor arrives there via his confession dial. Except that the last time we saw the confession dial, he had given it to Ashildr on Earth. One must then assume that the Time Lords collected it themselves soon afterwards. And herein lies a huge can of worms - the whole of the Doctor's ordeal within the confession dial makes no sense whatsoever. He apparently experiences four and a half billion years of a groundhog day style loop in the confession dial (never mind that we were only told that it was two billion in Heaven Sent). I had thought that extreme relativity was at play here - time inside the confession dial amounted to 4.5 billion years, while only minutes, hours or days passed for the rest of the universe. But dialogue throughout Hell Bent indicates that this isn't the case - everyone speaks as though 4.5 billion years has passed for the rest of the universe as well, agreeing with the Doctor's observation in Heaven Sent that he hadn't time travelled, and all those years passed linearly. So when did Gallifrey arrive back in the universe? 4.5 billion years ago (present day?). When did the confession dial arrive on Gallifrey? Was it lying there in the outlands for 4.5 billion years? Did the Time Lords wait 4.5 billion years before the Doctor finally escaped? Are the Time Lords all now 4.5 billion years older?

There's another problem too. The end of the universe does not occur in circa 4.5 billion AD. In fact, it's nowhere close. As established in Series 3's Utopia, the universe's end happens in circa 100 trillion AD. Hell, the Earth hasn't even been destroyed by the year 4.5 billion - as seen in 2005's End of the World, that event doesn't happen for another five hundred million years later! But no, here the end of the universe happens 99,995,500,000,000 years earlier. So either the Time Lords are actually hiding closer to the year 100 trillion, got their numbers wrong, and the Doctor did time travel whilst in the confession dial (or relativity was in play), or the universe's lifespan decreased by 99.9815%. I prefer the first option.

But Gallifrey's problems don't end there. Later in the episode, the Doctor nips forward to the last five or so minutes of the universe, and encounters Ashildr, who has somehow, inexplicably, survived all this time. Dialogue indicates that she's sitting in the cloister room in Gallifrey, from which the Doctor just departed. So, considering that Gallifrey was already hidden close to the end of the universe...where did all the Time Lords go between then and the last five minutes? Surely they all didn't die out? Surely they wouldn't have let that happen, by placing themselves in a pocket of time that operated independently from the rest of the universe, like they were in the classic series? Apparently not, for Ashildr is indeed sitting in the ruins of Gallifrey as the universe ends. So much for restoring it - it didn't last much longer anyway.

And so now we come to the conclusion of the hybrid arc. It transpires that the Doctor actually had no clue what the hybrid is, and was pretending to in order to have leverage over the Time Lords so that he could save Clara. So his confession in Heaven Sent that he a) knows the hybrid is real, b) where it is, and c) what it is - that's all completely false? So how is it in anyway a confession? How did it stop the Veil in that instance?Does that mean that his other confessions are lies too? That he actually did run away from Gallifrey was scared? And if the confessions don't actually need to be true, then why did he waste all that time punching through the Azbantium wall? He could have just said anything, labelled it a confession, and it would have allowed him to exit the confession dial. So what's the point of Heaven Sent?

When talking to Ashildr, he posits that she is the hybrid - human and Mire (incidentally, that 'immortality' chip is the absolute definition of miracle technology if it can last to the end of the universe without malfunctioning or breaking completely). However, Ashildr disagrees, instead postulating that the Doctor could be half human and half Time Lord. Ignoring the fact that I wouldn't ever call the Time Lords a warrior race, the moment she said this my heart stopped, fearing the worst. Thankfully, though, she dismisses the idea (though unfortunately without refuting it, and the Doctor doesn't either), and instead says that the hybrid is actually the combined force of the Doctor and Clara causing havoc throughout the universe. I don't agree with this at all, as it's a complete cop out from what the hybrid arc has been leading up to, and discredits the initial prophecy altogether. It was wrong about the half Dalek part, the 'crossbred [from two warrior races]' part, the 'conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins' part, and the 'destroy a billion hearts to heal its own' part as well - wrong about practically everything. Ashildr being the hybrid makes much more sense, especially as she does actually stand in the ruins of Gallifrey, and one could assume that, since all the Time Lords have vanished, she actually killed them all, therefore conquering Gallifrey. However, the argument that the Doctor does technically stand in the ruins of Gallifrey (along with Ashildr) is a valid one, but I disagree. I just don't buy it. The hybrid being two people isn't actually a hybrid either. It's just two people. At least Ashildr is actually an amalgamation of two species, even if one only ensured her immortality.

Regardless of what the hybrid actually is, though, the revelation goes absolutely nowhere, and once the Doctor and Ashildr depart the ruins of Gallifrey, everyone forgets about it. However, I have to wonder why on earth the Doctor allowed Ashildr to come with him. She's lived longer than anyone in the universe, is the last living being left in reality, and is about to face the end of everything. Quite frankly, I don't think she needed or deserved an escape option. Yet the Doctor just lets her tag along, with no explanation given. I honestly don't know why this decision was made, except for the fact that she was needed to fly the other TARDIS later in the episode.

So now we move onto Clara. Clara Oswald whom, for about a week or so, I thought to be the first companion killed off since 1982. Her death in Face the Raven was the result of a simple error, of her being trying to emulate the Doctor; but she was being too clever for her own good. And she realised that. She learnt her lesson. She accepted her death and walked bravely to it...and was rescued at the last second. This should never have happened. Just by that happening, it cheapened her death. But it wouldn't have ruined it. Had the next scene played out as it did except for the Doctor escaping with her out of the extraction chamber, I might have even rescinded on the opinion that her death was cheapened, and actually thought that it was improved. Had Clara convinced the Doctor to stop in the extraction chamber, told him that he was dishonouring her memory, that she didn't want him to do this, that she accepted the consequences of her actions, all would have been fine. If she had said all of that, and returned willingly to the trap street to face the raven, it's likely that I would have felt that her character arc was done more justice than it was initially.

But alas, that wasn't to be the case. Instead, Clara went along with the Doctor, all too aware that she was avoiding her death. And by the end of the episode, Clara's death is completely undermined. It holds no merit whatsoever. For although Clara does eventually return and is eventually killed by the ravenat some indefinite point in the future, she learns nothing from the experience. She has no consequences for her actions, for her mistake. She is instead allowed to essentially keep on living for as long as she wants before she decides she's had enough and is ready die. It's the exact opposite of what the whole point of her death was - that choices have consequences! But no, she's allowed to get off scot-free. Worse, she's effectively immortal now, so any life and death choices that she makes have no value whatsoever, so she can continue making the reckless, consequence free decisions. I'm sorry, but her death in Face the Raven is completely and utterly ruined, and completely and utterly undermined.

The less said about Clara and Ashildr travelling together in a stolen TARDIS, with a faulty chameleon circuit, the better. It's as bad as Rose getting her own human version of the Doctor. It's on the level of bad fanfiction. It's horrible.

I would also like to point out that the Sisterhood of Karn have no reason to be in the episode. They add nothing to it, they don't do anything, and worse of all, I have no idea how they managed to get to Gallifrey in the first place. The planet's meant to be hidden at the end of the universe - some protection that is if a group who has never shown any capability of space or time travel to find it and get to it so easily. Hell, how did they even know it had returned?

Oh, and the barn. Apparently it is on Gallifrey, which I still think is a load of rubbish. It's apparently within view of the Capitol's a wonder the daleks didn't see the Doctor walking to it in Day of the Doctor. Nope, not buying it.


And so, all in all, while Heaven Sent is an utter masterclass in Doctor Who, Hell Bent is an travesty. Everything in Heaven Sent works, while barely anything in Hell Bent does. The difference in quality between the two is astounding. In fact, they're so different I can't rate them together, because I can't even think of them as two parts of the same story.

Heaven Sent gets a 10/10

Hell Bent gets a 4.5/10

For a series that has arguably been the best since Series 5, or perhaps even since the revival began, for it to end on such a bad note is incredibly depressing. And with the Christmas Special only eighteen days away, I'm afraid my enthusiasm for the show may not recover in time.

Thanks for reading,

A very broken SonicR

Categories: Doctor Who Reviews

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Reply Patch
7:13 AM on December 7, 2015 
Oh Sonic, I hope you will be able to enjoy the christmas special. I agree with you about Clara's death and her timeless escape from it. The whole point of Face The Raven has been lost. I was proud of Moffatt for killing her off, it made perfect sense, then he ruined it by bringing her back in Hell Bent. As always Sonic, an excellent review, if a sad one.
Reply Patch
7:15 AM on December 7, 2015 
Hey, my comment worked! Woohoo!
Reply Photon
4:02 PM on December 7, 2015 
Sonic you've made some very valid points about Hell Bent.
Never less it was very entertaining and I can't agree with a score of 4.5 / 10.
I do agree with you about that Steven Moffat's reluctance to kill off characters, he's the opposite of Russell T Davis who was far too quick hit the kill button.

P.S. Regarding the Christmas Special, if River doesn't put a smile on your dial, please seek medial help.
Reply sm
4:28 PM on December 7, 2015 
I agree on a number of points- the barn location, the sisterhood of Karn, etc. But these things didn't distract me from what I felt was a very good story. As far as Clara escaping death- if we have accepted over 50 years that The Doctor will always be saved at the last minute- why can't one his companions do the same? it is a much easier to understand last minute saving than Amy Pond simply remembering The Doctor back to life in Big Bang. For me this Ep was a little disappointing in the beginning but from the Doctor in The Matrix onwards I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Reply Tardis001
5:34 PM on December 7, 2015 
I think you would be angry on your arrival at Gallifrey if your best friend had been killed and you had been imprisoned and tortured for several billion years.

As for Gallifrey's journey to the end of the universe, I'm sure we'll learn more about that in future series, perhaps in Series 10. Perhaps it was the parallel universe that the Doctor stepped into when he left the confession dial, a universe that has a shorter life span than our universe. Maybe it will be the subject of a movie once Doctor Who moves onto the big screen. We have had 52 years of Doctor Who (if you include novels and audio plays) and we still don't know much about Gallifrey. So I think it is unrealistic to expect answers to some of the questions you have posed to have been answered in one episode. I think the drip-feeding of information about the Doctor and his relationship with Gallifrey is one of the things that keeps us interested in Doctor Who.

I understand that Clara's ultimate fate has polarised fans. But she is dead - she has no heart beat and is only breathing out of habit. Metaphorically speaking, she is the female version of the Doctor in a stolen Type 40 TARDIS. I think it would be really good if one day if she returns her TARDIS to Gallifrey and encourages the First Doctor to steal it.

So rather than people feeling disappointed, I think it is best to be open-minded and realise that there are potential explanations for apparent lack of continuity. It keeps us guessing and wanting to come back to the TV show to see if we are right. To me, that's 75% of the fun of watching, listening and reading Doctor Who stories.