Saturday, 5 December 2015

Doctor Who: Hell Bent

I"I insist upon my past!"

This is a brilliant season finale and a brilliant proper farewell to Clara, yes. That would be enough to make it brilliant. But there's more. Much, much more. Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I much prefer the littler, more character based stories to the big overblown epics: give me The Rescue over The Dalek Invasion of Earth any day. And Moffat clearly agrees. So much so that he takes the big, epic Gallifrey story we've expected for so long, only to swat it away in favour of a nice little intimate character piece.

And it's blatant. Yes, we have Gallifrey, the Citadel, the Chancellery Guards and the Matrix. We even get Donald Sumptrr, no less, as Rassilon. Except... the first twenty minutes of the story consists of the Doctor emphatically rejecting the epic power of the Time Lords in both the narrative and the wider mythology of Doctor Who: his relationship with his companion is far more important than all this fanwank.

Hence the Doctor assumes charge in Gallifrey through doing did all, by his Time War reputation alone. Hence the fact that Rassilon, that iconic figure of Time Lord mythology, played by Donald Sumpter in a real casting coup... is casually expelled from the narrative at a very early point on the episode. This episode is about Clara's death, the Doctor's hubris at refusing to accept it (very The Waters of Mars), and how this is making shades of the old War Doctor seep through. And it's Clara who saves the day. "Run, you clever boy, and be a Doctor".

Not that there isn't some glorious fanwankery, of course. Most brilliant is our first male-to-female regeneration, which has a nice transsexual subtext. Also, Ohica and the Sisterhood of Karn are back for absolutely no reason other than that they're cool, which is absolutely right. It's 2015, and Doctor Who still shows the unmistakable influence of Terrance Dicks, as it should.

The real emotional and dramatic centre of the episode is its second half, from the point at which Clara is extracted to the Matrix from a point just before her death. She's trapped between moments, with no heartbeat, and will eventually have to be returned to her timeline, and death. From this point, Gallifrey and all its flummery are but a MacGuffin in the service of Clara's relationship with her mortality and the Doctor's hubris in bending the laws of time in forever postponing her return to her death.

Clara is horrified to hear that the Doctor spent 4.5 billion years in the confession dial. For her. She, unlike him, appreciates that she has to die. It's in the nature of things, and she has had an amazing life.

The ending is inspired. The Doctor and Clara run away in a TARDIS just like throne he stole all those years ago, with an uber-retro interior exactly as designed by Peter Brachaki, right down to that thingy off the ceiling that was quietly dropped after An Unearthly Child. The Doctor has no solution to Clara's mortality other than procrastination- but isn't that the case for all of us? None of us know how much time we have, so we need to make the most of what time we have.

The Doctor doesn't understand: he just wants her to live. He intends to wipe her memories of him so she will have a better chance of survival, but that misses the point: our memories are our life. And it is better to die young with strove of amazing memories than to die old after a life unlived. 

And this is the bit where we find out what the framing device with the diner was all about. The climax happens at the very end of history, where the Doctor and Clara meet, inevitably, Ashildr. It is she who points out that this is the prophecy referred to as the Hybrid. Pleasingly, it's left open whether or not the Doctor is actually half-human (shudder!) or whether the "Hybrid" refers to both the Doctor and Clara. 

We end with the Doctor in a retooled TARDIS, with a new Sonic Screwdriver, adventuring again. Meanwhile, Clara and Ashildr have their own retro Type 49, its exterior stuck as an American diner...

Oh, and it's just occurred to me: the diner in The Impossible Astronaut was Clara's TARDIS, parked a few feet away...

I can't even tell you how brilliant a piece of telly this is. I'm utterly floored by it.

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