Hell Bent is the finale for Doctor Who’s ninth season, following the really great episode that saw the Doctor trapped within his own confession dial, facing the same events over and over, for billions of years.
We start on a red pick-up truck traveling on a dusty road through the desert, which we’re told is in Nevada, U.S.A. When it comes to a halt outside a rest stop diner, who should step out but the Doctor with his trusty electric guitar strapped to his back. And in the diner? Clara! At least it seems to be Clara, although she doesn’t seem to remember the Doctor, or her name when it’s mentioned.
The Doctor seems to be subtly interrogating her to see what she knows, or possibly remembers, asking where she’s from and how she got here. Surprise, she got here by plane, while the Doctor answers the same question with magic.
We jump to where we left off last episode, with the Doctor standing outside the city on Gallifrey. He’s less interested in walking towards the city though and instead makes his way to a familiar barn, which we saw in the 50th special and when Clara visited the Doctor as a child. It’s likely his childhood home.
While the Gallifreyan townsfolk have all turned out to see the infamous Doctor, some soldiers from the city also turn up to welcome him by taking him prisoner. The Doctor has little interest or time to worry about them, and instead heads back inside the barn.
Meanwhile, in the city, Gallifrey’s Lord President Rassilon (LPR) is somewhat disturbed that the Cloister bells are ringing below. What does this mean? Well, underneath the city sits the Cloister, a sort of crypt for the matrix that holds the downloaded consciousness of Time Lords once they’ve died. These consciousnesses have the ability to pool knowledge and, as a side effect, seem to be able to predict the future, or at least when dangerous events may take place, and thus ring bells as a warning. Who do the bells ring for this time? The Doctor, of course.
LPR also gets a visit from the Sisterhood of Kahn, and Ohila tells him that the Doctor hasn’t come for revenge on Gallifrey, but solely for him. This forces LPR to make a visit to the Doctor himself, who this time is more than happy to take the call. The Doctor responds nonchalantly with a threat to get off his planet, but LPR is way too cocky, ordering him to be executed on the spot.
We briefly switch to the diner with Clara, and it seems that the events on Gallifrey (or Space-Glasgow) are the retellings of a story to her. She also makes a tongue-in-cheek remark that he loves cliffhangers – so true of the show as well.
Back to Gallifrey, where the soldiers all mysteriously missed their mark. LPR finds that they’re all familiar with the hero of the Time War; some had served with him and, as a soldier points out, the Doctor is always unarmed. The soldiers step down, abandoning their weapons. LPR is going mental, and figures he’ll do the killing himself with his glowing claw hand. Fortunately, the Doctor already called for reinforcements, and the Gallifreyans make it clear that they stand with him.
Once LPR is banished to reappear and take revenge at a later date, the Doctor makes a quick stop to the Cloister and chats with Ohila. He reveals that the confession dial was originally meant to allow a Time Lord to make their peace and not instead be used for torture, as was his experience. He also makes time to sit with the council (really, only consisting of the General and Ohila) and discusses the dangers of the hybrid, which the matrix prophesized and informs the General that he’ll need to visit an old friend if they wish to investigate further.
We fade to black, before finding that we’re back in the alley watching Clara face the raven again. But this time, the raven freezes right before hitting her, and the Doctor reaches out a hand to pull Clara through a doorway to Gallifrey. After a happy reunion, it’s apparent that Clara isn’t really alive, but was just pulled the moment before her last heartbeat, leaving her without one, much to her distress. She also can’t stay out for long, as her death was a fixed point in time, which you know – universe go boom!
But the Doctor doesn’t care, escaping with Clara in hand, and shooting the general in the process (who regenerates into a woman, gasp!), which really just goes to show how much he’s been affected after being trapped in the last episode. They make it down into the Cloister and we get the biggest treat when we find that there’s a plethora of past baddies caught within it: a Dalek crying to exterminate itself, a couple of tangled weeping angels, and even some Cybermen, all being used by the matrix as a form of protection.
They soon find a man-hole-like entry down into the matrix database itself, and the Doctor tries to explain to Clara the intricacies of this crypt of Time Lord ghosts. We learn that the Doctor found out the secret of the hybrid from going into the Cloister when he was younger (let’s note, it sent others mad), which set him on a course to steal the TARDIS originally. He’s quick to point out that he doesn’t actually remember who the hybrid is, and was just playing along so that the Gallifreyans would give him access to save her.
Clara can’t help note that something’s’ different about him though, and when she asks what happened after she died, she’s shocked to learn that the Doctor was trapped in his confession dial for four and a half billion years. His only response is that he had a duty of care, which is something we’ve heard him say before.
In tears, she reprimands him before turning her attention to the General and Ohila, who have now joined them. She scolds them for being the fairly terrible people that they’ve been – it’s kind of odd just how antagonistic Ohila is being right now, but either way – distracting them long enough for the Doctor to make his way through the matrix hole and reappear in a TARDIS, picking Clara up on the way. They escape in what parallels the start of the series, only this time he’s not alone.
But Clara’s heart still isn’t beating, and while the Doctor theorises that leaving Gallifrey should restart it, they travel to the very end of the universe in an attempt to make it. And then a knock at the door.
Who could possibly be waiting at the end of existence? Me, or Ashildr. She’s the last immortal standing, waiting idly by in a reality bubble watching the stars die, and she appears to have been expecting him. They have the chat that Me seems to have been waiting a long time to have, and she scolds him for not being able to accept when something ends. It’s around this time too that Clara eavesdrops on their conversation by using the sonic sunglasses.
Me also brings up the hybrid and accuses the Doctor of faking his lost memory of what he was told in the Cloister. The Doctor accuses Me of being the hybrid, half human and half Mire, which brings a new perspective to the final statement of last episode, when he proclaimed, “the hybrid is Me”. She’s quick to turn it back on him though, and suggests that the hybrid doesn’t necessarily have to be one person; it could be the Doctor and his companion – half human, half Time Lord. It makes sense, seeing as Missy was the one who introduced them in the first place and we’ve witnessed just how far the Doctor is willing to go to save Clara.
The Doctor has already realised though, and he’s planned on wiping her memory of him so that she can live in peace, à la the tragic fate of the awesome Donna Noble. Clara hears all of this, and when the Doctor returns to use his memory-wiping device, she alerts him that she’s already changed the polarity. It will wipe his mind instead. She’s angry with him for even thinking that he could carry out such a thing, stating that of all things, she’s entitled to her past.
With the knowledge that there is no way the two can remain together, and with the uncertainty of whom it is the device will effect, they decide to Russian roulette it, with both taking hold. And as the two wait to see who is affected, it’s the Doctor that starts to finally get weak. In these final moments, he accepts that he truly was the hybrid, and says his final goodbyes to his friend.
When he wakes, he’s in the desert and, what we assume is revisiting prior events, he proceeds to walk into the diner. It’s clear now that it was never Clara in the diner that was missing her memory, but the Doctor, who’s trying to remember the companion he’s forgotten. It’s enough to move Clara to tears, and when the Doctors begins strumming a song he named after her, it’s obvious he’ll never truly forget her.
And as she steps out the back, the diner disappears, being the façade of the stolen TARDIS all along, leaving the Doctor in the desert. Luckily, his TARDIS is sitting waiting for him, and when he enters he gets a shiny new sonic screwdriver and a message from Clara: “Run you clever boy, and be a Doctor”.
But it’s a bittersweet ending, because even though Clara will return to Gallifrey to face the raven at some point, she and Me will take the long way round, presumably to have many adventures before they do.
- Looking back on the running motif of the ‘hybrid’, I’m not sure if I’m totally content with how it played out. It kind of harked back a bit to ‘Bad Wolf’ and its random appearance of mentions, but while those messages scattered through the universe made sense, the constant hybrid mentions seemed to just be saying the word rather than building to anything. I guess it was creating a mystery in a way, so that at the end we’re left with many options for who the hybrid would be. But in that case, it would have been better to lay out the hybrid prophesy at the start of the season. I can see how it applies though: the two races, the costing of a billion hearts being the Doctor’s in the confession dial, and the standing in the ruins of Gallifrey would work with the Doctor standing at the end of time. Still, this could have been more fleshed out and better executed.
- I’m also a bit unsure why Me’s topic of conversation was the hybrid when the Doctor turned up. There wasn’t much reason for her to ask about it, and the only obvious link she had to the topic was her securing his capture for the Gallifreyans. So it was a bit odd. Also, seeing that she’s supposedly lived billions of years versus her few thousand years alive from earlier in the series, which resulted in her completely forgetting her past, it’s kind of weird that she’s acting like it was only yesterday.
- The issue of Gallifrey’s return has been one I’ve eagerly waited to be resolved, and I haven’t been that forgiving of the fact that Moffat essentially ignored it after the 50th It didn’t even really seem like it was an after thought over the past two seasons, and it definitely could have been built up a lot better. I also fear that the show will continue to just ignore that they’re back, which is a bit disappointing.
- Fans complaining about the sonic sunglasses will probably be satisfied with the screwdriver’s return, but we can all enjoy that it’s extra cool-looking. Plus, it’s TARDIS blue!
- If this is the last we see of Clara, then it was an okay send off, although leaving on her facing the raven was a much stronger and emotional goodbye. Not sure if it would have been better to just leave her end there, as she could essentially go on an endless adventure as long she ultimately returns to Gallifrey. I guess now there’s the possibility that she might pop back up at some point in the future, although probably unlikely. Also, a bit unsure about her travelling with Me, who was somewhat crazy in her past. Plus, would Me be the Companion or is it still Clara? My guess is Me.
- Either way, this was a strong episode to go out on, and a worthy end to what has been a rather great season. Luckily, there’s still the Christmas episode to look forward to before we have to say our goodbyes yet again to the Doctor.