I was never sure if I had a cut-off for Doctor Who. In quality, I mean- I sat through Kill the Moon with my eyes rolling so hard that I thought they might get permanently wedged towards the back of my head, and I dragged myself through what felt like the physical assault of The Girl Who Died, and I kept watching. I truly believed that nothing could shake my faith in Doctor Who so badly that I would basically have come to terms with the fact that I would never want to watch it again. But, as it turns out, I have my limits. And that limit was pranced over in this week’s season finale, Hell Bent.
I honestly don’t know where to begin with this nonsensical garbage, so I’ll start by harkening back to a quote from Jenna Coleman, explaining the show to Conan O’Brien a few months back: “Don’t apply logic, ever.” This, to me, is one of the biggest problems about this season, and about Capaldi’s run in general: many of the plots don’t make logical sense. And yes, I know that this is a show about an alien flying through time and space in a phone box, but every science fiction world should have it’s own internal logic, through which the stories do actually make sense. This season of Doctor Who failed dismally at so many turns to do that, and Hell Bent was the worst offender of the lot. This episode failed in providing logical character motivation, logical development, or a fucking coherent plot on top of all of that.
As you can probably tell, the script for Hell Bent-written by Moffat himself- was a staggering disaster. The direction, the acting, the look of everything, it was fine- but the script was a pointless, flabby waste of time that offered no real answers but swanned off all smug with itself at the end up anyway. The plot was so bitty and broken that I have no interest in trying to string it together here, keen as I am to crush this episode into a tiny cube in my brain to make way for more important things like how to peel an orange, but suffice to say it was fuckery of the highest order.
Where to begin with the logic-fails? You might think rule one is “The Doctor Lies”, but it’s actually “Moffat Retcons”. First, how can Rassilon be the mightiest force in all of Gallifrey, only to be usurped and mutinied-on within minutes of his arrival on screen? Why did the Doctor shoot someone, when he’s always been passionately against using violence as a method of resolution? How come Clara’s continued existence hasn’t broken time and space, considering that she was meant to die at a fixed point in time? If the Doctor has his memories of Clara wiped, how can he remember enough to tell her about their adventure together? Why was Clara so insistent on her death and the Doctor letting go of her, only to jaunt off to fly through time and space with Ashildr at the end of the episode? On top of that, ARE WE EVER GOING TO GET A RESOLUTION TO THE ORSON PINK PLOT?
Then there was the pointless time-wasting- I’m sad to say that most of the stuff on Gallifrey felt utterly without reason, especially the endless time they spent wandering around the dimly-lit rogues’ gallery while the Doctor warbled on about…well, that’s a good question actually, because it had nothing to do with the plot or themes of the episode. To bring the Doctor back to Gallifrey for the first real time in the whole of New-Who’s run, and that have it serve as barely-relevant background for a plot that had to do with the Doctor bringing Clara back to life felt like a slap in the face after having it as a distant shadow over the show for so long. All of that plot revolved around the Doctor finding a way to travel back in time to save Clara between her final heartbeats, and surely there was a better way to do it than by invoking Gallifrey’s name in vain?
Oh, and let us not forget the “resolution” to the Hybrid arc. It staggers me that someone, somewhere, sat in the DW writer’s room and went “what if we make up a creature, a creature so powerful that it will apparently stand in Gallifrey’s ashes, one that we build to all season and purposely invite endless speculation around with a parade of would-be candidates, and then, and here’s the twist, it turns out that it’s nothing? Wouldn’t that be revolutionary storytelling?” And, in all fairness, I didn’t see the end of the Hybrid plot boiling down to “Maybe it was the Doctor and Clara, maybe it was Ashildr, but who cares when we’ve got a Tardis shaped like a goofy 50s-themed diner!”. I wrote earlier in the season that I was firmly sick and tired of Moffat’s habit of ending potentially interesting stories with a smug “gotcha!” and this was the worst of the lot, because the story didn’t even really get a resolution. It sort of wetly disappeared into nothing, like a fart in a bath. I threw a bottle against the wall when Missy was revealed last season (where was she, by the way?), and I almost punched a hole in it with this jaw-droppingly lazy “tell”.
But Hell Bent hinged on, above anything else, me buying Clara as the Doctor’s soulmate. And I don’t. Nor have I ever. Clara is another in a parade of Moffat’s wise-cracking, know-it-all women without much to differentiate her from Amy or River, and I never really, really brought the relationship between her and Capaldi’s Doctor. If this episode had come during Matt Smith’s run, it might have been a touch less infuriating, but here it was violently awful. The Doctor breaks his codes-codes that are integral to his character, like not committing murder or messing with time- just to serve the episode, and when you’e writing an episode where the characters do whatever you need them to in order to push the plot along, you’re penning an anthology, not a series.
Clara asks him to let her die; his not respecting that is some condescending bullshit. And the “devastating” ending I was promised- where the Doctor wiped his memories of Clara, except didn’t really, because he could remember her- made me long for the days when Martha took a stand and left the Doctor for her own good. Essentially Hell Bent reversed the polarity of the Donna plot, and someone made it even worse than that already was. I used to think that some of RTD’S writing was unforgivably schmaltzy, but I take back every bad word I’ve ever said about him after this almost offensively awful drivel. When the Doctor can just save anyone he chooses, when death doesn’t actually stick, all the stakes for the show are gone. And it makes the Doctor look particularly evil in retrospect, when you think about all the people he could have saved had he really wanted to. When Clara has died so many times before, forgive me if I’m not exactly chewing my nails wondering how this one will turn out.
All in all, Hell Bent was a catastrophe- overwrought, underwritten, poorly plotted and embarrassingly cheesy, a series-worst episode that rendered season nine even worse than it’s dull predecessor. It’s only saving grace was the return of the sonic screwdriver, and even that felt like finding a penny coin at the bottom of a barrel of steaming horseshite. I don’t know if I’ll be bothering with the Christmas special, or indeed season ten, but time heals all wounds- maybe Capaldi can take me back to before I watched this episode, considering that all logic has been thrown to the four winds at this stage. I’m thoroughly looking forward to getting back to my New Who recaps (which will start back next week, with the superb Father’s Day from season one), and leaving this mess firmly behind me, so if you’re looking to continue your Who coverage in between seasons, please do join us. I’ll have you yet, Moffat, if the rest of the anti-fans don’t get there first.