Sunday, 6 December 2015
Doctor Who: Hell Bent (2)
Virtually everything about tonight's episode ran counter to expectation. I anticipated a reclamation of Clara's soul from the Quantum Shade, all-out war on Gallifrey, and an ultimately devastating denouement. In the end, Gallifrey turned out to be something of a red herring—the real focus of the story was the Doctor and Clara's relationship, and it was told and acted to perfection. I always wanted something better for Clara than death, and although she's still just a heartbeat away from facing the raven, this felt like the perfect send-off.
The beauty of this episode is that Moffat kept setting up our expectations, only to brutally smash them aside. When the Doctor first met Clara in the diner, it seemed obvious that she was the one suffering from memory loss. Why else wouldn't she recognise her own name? And when we learned of the Doctor's intent to use a neural block to wipe her memory, our initial assumption seemed confirmed—the Doctor intended to do to Clara what he'd once done to Donna. So it came as a total shock to find that it was the Doctor who was suffering from selective amnesia, and Clara the cause. It was such a clever piece of misdirection.
Did Clara have the right the sabotage the neural block? I think she did. It's not as though she tricked the Doctor into triggering it, she simply informed him of her modification, and they both activated it fully cognizant of the potential consequences. Clara had the right to those memories. Travelling with the Doctor has been the defining moment of her existence—it made absolute sense that she'd fight to retain them. They were part of her identity. That the Doctor was willing to flip the proverbial coin with her—winner loses all—was an imperfect solution to an impossible situation. If the Doctor and Clara were the composite hybrid, then their relationship had to end. At least this way they could end it on their own terms.
Whatever the neural block did, whoever it affected, as long as it worked on one of them, their mission was accomplished. I loved that the Doctor had no regrets over losing. There were no last minute recriminations, just a simple goodbye between old friends. It was sad too that, despite him saying that he'd remember her smile, he never did. Evidently the Doctor could remember his adventures with Clara—he could remember the events of 'Cold War' and 'Mummy on the Orient Express'—but he couldn't remember Clara's face or what she said to him in the cloisters. So not everything's is gone, but all memory of Clara's personality and likeness has been expunged. Or at least they were until the Doctor saw Rigsy's mural and had the diner de-materialise around him. Surely now he has at least a face to work with?
The Doctor brandishing a gun was obviously a horrendously out of character moment for him, as was him shooting the general, flouting his own rules to save Clara, and potentially destroying the universe as a result—but that was the whole point! Their relationship had become toxic—something Missy had obviously anticipated and schemed to exploit. They were just too alike. Clara wanted to be like the Doctor, and the Doctor just loves to surround himself with smart, brave, and fearless people. But that moment in the TARDIS, where the Doctor finally hung his head and said, 'Oh Clara Oswald, what am I doing?' felt like the real tipping point. From that moment on, their relationship—beautiful though it had been—was over.
That the Doctor should eventually end up back on Gallifrey, only to steal a TARDIS and run away again, was the best plotline ever, and took the whole show in a full circle. Sure, Moffat could have had the Doctor fighting the Time Lords, or Me and an army of Cybermen, but it would have had nowhere near the emotional impact of spending a full episode watching the Doctor and Clara working, fighting and talking together one last time. Whatever Clara told the Doctor in the cloisters, it was a lovely idea that it would eventually reveal itself in song—especially as the Doctor was playing Clara's Theme on his guitar as she walked out of his life forever.
I'm so grateful that Jenna decided to stay for this season. The performances we've gotten out of her and Peter this year have been phenomenal. The dialogue tonight wasn't quite as laden with sadness as 'Face the Raven', but it was no less emotive. Clara's reaction to hearing that the Doctor had spent four and a half billion years punching through an azbantium wall to save her was impossibly moving, as was the Doctor's response that he had a 'duty of care'. He seemed positively baffled by the notion that he should have acted any other way. I also found Clara fumbling for his fingers in an attempt to soothe him quite lovely. For a moment they were just two characters utterly in tune with each other—which made their partnership coming to an end all the more tragic.
But despite the sadness, this was a happy ending. Clara leaving in a TARDIS of her own, with Me as her travelling companion, was inspired. In 'Face the Raven' it was Clara slowly transitioning into the Doctor which led to her demise, yet her reversing the polarity of the neural block tonight felt like the final stage of her transformation. Yes, her gradual metamorphosis into space adventurer will eventually get her killed—in fact, it already has—but not today. Did Clara 'dodging' death undermine the events of episode 10? I honestly don't think it did. Her death still stands—it's just been indefinitely postponed. She'll still face the raven and die, but in the time before her final heartbeat she could have a thousand lifetimes of adventures—all no doubt courtesy of Big Finish productions.
And now's Clara's functionally immortal, who better to have along as a companion than the immortal Me? I know it'll never happen, but I'd watch the shit out of that spin-off series. Whether Clara fares any better with Me at her side is anyone's guess, but you have to believe that her recent mistakes will set her in good stead for a safer future. She seems like the sort of person to learn from past missteps. Me is perhaps more of a worry, but with Clara as a travelling companion, who knows what the two of them might achieve—before Clara goes back to Gallifrey to face the raven one last time.
—The General regenerating into a black woman (surely a reference to the oft regurgitated criticism that the Doctor always seems to a white male), and Me's mention of the Doctor being half Time Lord/half human (a reference to the much ignored Doctor Who Movie), felt like Moffat fucking with the fans.
—No big monster showdown, just a handful of Cybermen, a Dalek and a couple of weeping angels.
—No real explanation why Gallifrey is free from its bubble universe, nor how it happened. Both topics for a future season, no doubt.
—The Doctor laying down his spoon was a hilarious tip of the hat to 'Robot of Sherwood'.
—It looks as though Clara's TARDIS has a knackered chameleon circuit, too. Obviously there was a design fault in the earlier models.
—I loved the Doctor playing Clara's Theme on his guitar. It looked like he was actually playing this time, too.
—The Doctor has a new sonic screwdriver! I thought the shades wouldn't last long.
Doctor: 'You're English.'
Clara: 'You're not.'
Doctor: 'On pain of death, no one take a selfie.'
Doctor: 'We're on Gallifrey. Death is Time Lord for man flu.'
Clara: 'Why would you even do that? I was dead. I was dead and gone, why... why would you even do that to yourself?'
Doctor: 'I had a duty of care.'
Clara:' What if one heartbeat is all I've got? What if time isn't healing? What if the universe needs me to die?'
Doctor: 'The universe if over. It doesn't have a say any more! We're standing on the last ember, the last fragment of everything that ever was, and as of this moment, I'm answerable to no one.'
Doctor: 'Four knocks. It's always four knocks.'
Me: 'You know why we run, Doctor? Because we know that summer can't last forever.'
Doctor: 'Of course it can. Of course it can... you just have to steal a time machine.'
Clara: 'These have been the best years of my life, and they are mine. Tomorrow's promised to no one, Doctor, but I insist upon my past. I am entitled to that.'
Clara: 'I don't think I could ever forget you.'
Clara: 'Memories become stories when we forget them.'
Me: 'Where are we going?'
Clara: 'Gallifrey. Like I said, Gallifrey... the long way around.'