TV Review: Doctor Who Series 9 Episode 12 “Hell Bent” (UK, 2015)

After last weeks goosebump-inducing episode “Heaven Sent”, this weeks episode “Hell Bent” had a lot to live up to. It had to deliver a compelling conclusion to the season, solve all this hybrid nonsense, and would finally reintroduce the eagerly awaited Gallifery whose disappearance has been teased for several seasons now. With so much to cover, it was certainly going to be a feat to fit into the mere hour of screen time. And indeed, it seems that there was all too much to cover with the episode, at times, ultimately sacrificed narrative in lieu of non-sensical novelty.

As the Doctor returns to Gallifrey, years of anticipation return too. Since the 50th anniversary episode, the return of Gallifrey has been teased incessantly. This week, we’re finally confronted with it. And to say it’s a letdown would be a gross understatement. We’re never really given the chance to explore the impact of Gallifrey’s return on the Doctor. We’re only really offered brief glimpses into how Gallifreyians perceive the Doctor; a brief, but ultimately wasted look at Rassilon; and we leave Gallifrey before it really sets in that we were there in the first place. It’s not the focus of this episode – and that’s all well and good, but perhaps it was a mistake to brush over a return that has regularly been hinted at.

Indeed, the focus of “Hell Bent” wasn’t the return of Gallifrey (which was hinted) – it was the final goodbye to Clara. Clara is retrieved from her final seconds of life to offer some wise words to the Doctor – all of which turn out to be his elaborate plan to save her as she remains under his ‘duty of care’. With the help of Ashildr, it soon becomes apparent that the Doctor needs to let go of her – Clara must die in order to prevent a rupture in the space-time continuum (I’m going to be honest, I can’t recall if she said that exactly, but it sounded so Doctor-esque that I couldn’t resist).

In a bit of an anti-climatic fashion, the Hybrid is revealed to be The Doctor and Clara together, forcing them to erase themselves from each others memory. Although it’s a bit of a nonsensical longshot, I did like that for once, it was the Doctor that got his memory erased, not the companion (poor Donna). Beautifully, we then cut back to the Doctor and Clara in the diner that was pictured at the beginning of the episode, the full extent of the situation suddenly becoming apparent.

It wasn’t Clara who couldn’t remember the Doctor as was once suggested – it’s the Doctor. He’s desperately searching for a woman named Clara who he travelled with, with no idea that the woman in front of him is her exactly. It’s a sad moment, but one that is perfected by Capaldi who captures the feelings of loss and confusion perfectly. As the Doctor heads back to his Tardis (it returned, somehow), Rigsby’s mural reveals that bittersweet conversation to the Doctor. Knowing that he just spoke to Clara, he hops into the Tardis and puts on his Doctory coat, takes off the sonic glasses (thank God), and FINALLY gets a new sonic screwdriver. In the background reads those four words that we associate with Clara – “Run you clever boy”, but it ends with something different – “and be a Doctor”. It’s a beautiful moment, and one that really captures the profound effect that Clara has had on him.

But that’s not the end for Clara. That diner – turns out it’s actually a Tardis. As Clara walks through the doors, there’s Ashildr waiting for her. After all, Clara has no heartbeat so is effectively immortal until her inevitable death – so why not spend the next little while exploring the universe with another immortal, in true Doctor fashion? It’s a fitting and neat send off which ultimately explains why her death in “Face The Raven” seemed too jumbled – it’s because it wasn’t the end of her. And who knows? Maybe she’ll run into the Doctor again one day.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

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