TV REVIEW: Doctor Who, S9, E12: Hell Bent

As the world enters December and chunters towards a brand new year, television viewers must say farewell to a certain wandering Time Lord from the weekly schedules. Until Christmas Day … but that’s another story. When we left the Doctor, he had arrived back on his home planet, Gallifrey, with an anger boiling inside and vengeance very much on his mind. Will that anger boil into an exciting finale or simmer away to nothing? Here are my thoughts.

If you took everything from him, betrayed him, trapped him, and broke both his hearts… how far might the Doctor go?

Returning to Gallifrey, the Doctor faces the Time Lords in a struggle that will take him to the end of time itself. Who is the Hybrid? And what is the Doctor’s confession?

NOTE: The preview version I watched was stamped with a “Work in Progress” notice.

Having been hinted at since the anniversary story back in 2013, the Doctor finally finds himself back on his home planet. Perhaps it’s not the homecoming he wanted, but it could well be the one he expected. Throughout the 2015 series, there has been mention (often rather clunkily) of a hybrid. A blend of two warrior races that would rise to destroy Gallifrey. With their recent return to the “main” universe, the Time Lords seem to have been focussed on locating this hybrid. Turning the Doctor’s confession dial into a torture and interrogation chamber was the latest move in this search. Possibly their biggest mistake!

One thing I enjoy about the series since Steven Moffat took over is that there is less of a reliance on the “safe” way of presenting a series. The formula proven by Russell T. Davies certainly worked but I do like a series that moves on and tries new things. With this year’s series we were treated to an opening two-part story that felt like a finale and a finale that was somewhat … well, quieter is the wrong word but certainly less epic than the season opener.

There are some brilliant ideas introduce here. The “Sliders” are certainly creepy and fit nicely into what is known about Gallifrey – from the old series and current. Perhaps they were a little under-used as a threat, but their existence was enough for me. Counter to this, I think the other “guardians” found in the lower levels of the Capitol were a little unnecessary. To my mind a focus on the Sliders would have been neater.

Steven Moffat seems to have remembered something here that many of us – myself included – have forgotten. Finales do not need to be epic. They need to tie up the threads of the show’s current run and potentially point to the future. At this, Hell Bent succeeds and is probably one of the better finales for it. My problem is that I thought elements of the plot un-tied a knot that very neatly and appropriately was tied a couple of episodes ago. I do understand why … but also wish this hadn’t happened.

Something that I am completely on-board with though is the on-screen cross-gender regeneration that also included a change of skin colour. Seeing something on-screen makes the implied ability explicit and it was a nice touch to show that such transformations were common place. I especially liked that the General was clearly more used to being female, given her post-regeneration comments! Performances throughout were superb. Gallifreyans and Time Lords alike seemed comfortable in their roles, with recurring characters a joy to behold.

Hell Bent continues the excellence of the 2015 Doctor Who run in terms of the cast and direction. Rachel Talalay proved an excellent choice for the epic finale last year and the same is true for this lower-key affair. The pace and flow of the story is judged well and even the inter-cut scenes didn’t jar me out of the story as they have in previous episodes. Zygon two-parter – I am looking at you!

Without a doubt, the design of this year’s Doctor Who has been exemplary and this trend also continues in the finale. Gallifrey looks exactly as it should. There are reflections and call-backs to the old Time Lord stories while at the same time being fully updated for a modern aesthetic. A lot of this work had already been done for The End of Time and Day of the Doctor, but never before in the relaunched series have we seen so much of Gallifrey and the Capitol itself. On top of this, it brought a song to my heart to see some lovely white console rooms with roundels on the walls. I still prefer the various classic TARDIS console rooms to most of the newer ones – the exceptions being the current and the one from the 1996 television movie. Which was practically perfect.

I’m at a bit of a loss with how I ultimately felt about this story. On one hand, I really liked the optimistic note on which it ended. I thought it a solid plot with excellent production work and performances. The twist towards the end is wonderfully executed but I can’t help but feel that once again this Time Lord who has become more and more godlike (even to his own people) has dodged facing the full consequences of his life and the effect he has on others. It’s a solid episode that is beautifully executed … I just find myself a little underwhelmed and disappointed in certain plot reversals.

Rating: 3 /5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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