So, Hell Bent. If you haven’t seen it, click away now. This review of the Steven Moffat Twelfth Doctor story is littered with spoilers. What the Hell! If you’re just passing, I liked this (in the main) though wish it had tried a bit less and achieved a lot more. Not to say it didn’t achieve a fair amount!
Being a big story, I am looking at it from three angles — as a writer, a fan and a critic. There’s balance for you!
A writer’s view of Hell Bent
You may not like some of Steven Moffat’s episodes, deride elements of his plots or find fault with his science (I have probably done all of these) but you have to admit he can write. There may be a lot of arcs, hidden clues and other teases but that is style, not craftsmanship.
At the heart of Hell Bent is a simple setup with twist. The viewer will assume the Doctor has found Clara (or a good copy / splinter of) and is telling her his story. The flashback technique allows for the Gallifrey narrative to be told in key scenes without being disjointed. Good stuff. We get near the end and realise Clara is Clara but the Doctor is the one with the faulty memory. Clever, simple and well-executed.
I also admire a lot of the dialogue. Coupled with the direction of Rachel Talalay and the performances of Capaldi and Coleman (sounds like a firm of solicitors or a 60s blues band!) there are many excellent moments.
A fan’s view of Hell Bent
The episode drips with fannish elements:
- Gallifrey is back and the barn from Day of the Doctor and Listen
- The sonic is back
- Rassilon is back
- Ohila is back and the Sisterhood of Karn get mentioned
- We get a classic TARDIS interior in simple white
- The matrix, cloister bells a-plenty, a Dalek, Cyberman, Weeping Angels…
A critic’s view of Hell Bent
Gallifrey is back, so what’s it been doing? Rassilon — nice to have him appear, but the way he meekly left in a shuttle (followed by the council), really? As to the legend of the hybrid, more of a damp squib. Why are they hiding away?
The Doctor shoots the general to make them regenerate. Why? Yes we get a definitive race and gender change, but is that enough justification?
Ashildr: her memory was ruined after a few hundred years. The last surviving immortal; really? All from a bit of tech grabbed from a body?! There would be thousands / millions of immortals.
Clara: why can’t people stay dead? This is the unforgivable one (along with the Ashildr point). Why can’t people stay dead? I’m looking at you Jenny Flint, Rory, Clara..
I don’t mind Clara and Ashildr having a diner shaped TARDIS, I don’t mind the memory failure gimmick (overused though it is), I do mind many of the other things.
Rumour suggests Steven Moffat was thinking of leaving and this might have been has last written story as show-runner. He took a big spoon, threw lots of ingredients into a pot and stirred. For me undercooked. Enough ingredients to make a feast lasting one or more series, I feel a classic episodes was just in reach here.
Still, it’s all a hell of lot better than we every dreamed we would have fifteen years ago; we’ve become spoiled!