WARNING: This review contains spoilers
‘Hell Bent’ was probably the most awaited episode of this entire ninth season of Doctor Who. Not because it’s a finale and finales are always highly-anticipated, but because we would finally get to see the Doctor returning to Gallifrey. Ironically, the Gallifreyan side of it was actually downplayed in favour of adding a more fitting finale for Clara than the one she got in ‘Face the Raven‘. This fact could be seen as a bit disappointing at first. After all, pretty much everyone had already said their goodbyes to Clara and, after those 4.5 billion years (!) in the confession dial, what we really wanted to see was Gallifrey. Here’s the thing, though: nothing can beat Moffat picking up a pen to destroy our hearts.
The finale was divided into two different settings that actually came together at the end in a very clever way. For one, we have the Doctor and ‘some sort of Clara’ in an American diner in the middle of nowhere that seemed very familiar to us (‘We were here. Stupid Doctor. Amy and Rory!). This is probably the only time that I actually liked the Doctor bringing a guitar with him, to be honest. He tells her a story, a song named Clara. Even though at that point we still didn’t know why Clara was there alive and why they didn’t recognize each other, it was pretty easy to assume that the Doctor actually knew her and that he was just telling her story to an oblivious Clara. In what could be considered the best plot twist of this season, it turned out that it was the Doctor who couldn’t remember her, and it was Clara who was there (temporarily) to humor him. *clutches chest*
Only the first half of the episode was actually dedicated to Gallifrey and the time lords. We saw that barn, that old mysterious woman, and people calling the Doctor a “war hero”. The Doctor didn’t behave like a hero, though, but like a leader. Far from being shocked or too emotional about finally being there, he walked around the place like he owned it. And he kind of does (“Get off my planet”). The concept of the Matrix database was as interesting as it was confusing. The idea of a big computer made of ghosts was interesting, although I would have liked to see more of the Daleks (that “exterminate me” actually made me sad), the weeping angels and the cyberman. I guess there was no time for that and it would have been kind of pointless anyway.
The biggest strength of this episode is the way its characters were handled. From the Doctor/Clara dynamic to Ashildr, no one felt out of place. Let me talk about Ashildr because she has definitely become my favourite character of the season. “It’s just me“, she says as she sits at the end of the Universe. And, unexpectedly, she has become so much wiser than the Doctor: “I didn’t (kill her), neither did you. She did. (…) It was sad and it was beautiful“. I’m not only talking about her role in the finale though, the way that the writers have handled such a complex, difficult character throughout the whole season has been remarkable. Despite having seen her for only a few episodes, she has been there for a loooooooong time and her growth as a character was nothing but believable.
Let’s talk now about the most important part of ‘Hell Bent’. Apparently, that hybrid creature that had been talked about during all season was… the Doctor and Clara. Yes, I’ll admit it: just like I rolled my eyes when the Doctor temporarily saved Clara from her death, I didn’t like the idea of the hybrid being the Doctor and Clara at first. I still think it’s a tad disappointing. However, I don’t think I exaggerate in the slightest when I say that this was the best episode when it comes to their relationship. I’m glad that Clara called the Doctor out for actually being trapped there for billions of years. And this is something that I still find kind of problematic: I get that the Doctor is a timelord, but those are some big numbers to be waiting for such a long time. Did Clara really impact the Doctor’s life that much? It kind of makes you wonder if he loved her more than Donna, Amy, Martha… or even Rose. Fortunately, the Doctor finally learned his lesson: he admitted that he had gone too far and that he’s always bending the rules of time to obey his desires to keep those he loves safe. He was willing to accept the consequences. The Doctor forgot Clara, but hopefully he won’t forget this lesson.
One last note: I found a very nice parallelism on that talk about “hope“. At first, I thought that it was a beautiful metaphor for what this episode was: they give us hope that Clara can be saved and then they take it away. That’s why I thought that it was going to be a bittersweet return for Clara and that the timelady would actually be right in saying that hope is a bad thing. However, I didn’t feel like that once I finished the episode. As much as I believe that Clara’s death was a very fitting death for her character, I also thought that she deserved a better send off, a proper goodbye. And she finally got it and it couldn’t have been better. At no point the episode toyed with us and made us believe that Clara could be saved. If anything, it was only showcasing how irrational and desperate the Doctor was.
‘Hell Bent’ wasn’t the most exciting, action-driven finale we have seen, but it definitely was, at least to me, the most emotional we have had. There was a lot of talking and confessions, but the episode never felt slow or boring. It actually managed to keep me captivated thanks to the excellent execution of Doctor and Clara’s resolution, while adding the sensation of being “home”. “Memories become stories when we forget them“, which means that Clara is now nothing but a story. But hopefully the Doctor will keep repeating it and singing it for billions of years to come. We will remember her for sure.