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Doctor Who Series 9 Review: Hell Bent

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By Jack Rea

An unconventional series finale rounds out an extremely strong series of the show, with mixed results. There’s been a lot of build up to get to this point, and if you’ve been playing close attention lots of hints and teases. A confusing script satisfies many of these plot strands set in motion, but equally leaves just as many hanging. It feels slightly undercooked and as a series finale not quite at the high level of quality we’re used to (especially in light of the last two week’s stellar episodes.) It seems that as a result of series nine being frequently at the top of the show’s game, us viewers are more likely to notice a dip in form.

That’s not to say there’s not a lot to talk about. First up as last week revealed, Gallifrey. Now to long time viewers of the show this is a big deal. The Ninth Doctor burst onto our screens over ten years ago now to whisk shop-assistant Rose away for adventures in time and space. Since then Gallifrey has only been mentioned as a mysterious legend. We’ve had glimpses of the citadel and stern-looking time-lords but always as a long-forgotten story, lost in the ravages of the Time-War. Now going back two years ago to the fiftieth, Steven Moffat made the controversial decision to bring back Gallifrey from the brink of destruction. As a result Peter Capaldi’s tenure up to now has seen him trying to get back to his home-planet. Taking this all into context, the way Hell Bent largely side-lines Gallifrey’s return to focus on Clara’s swansong part II might frustrate a few people.

14541792453_4f2f152d2c_bWe do get a small amount of exciting Gallifrey action and the Doctor unlike any time we’ve seen him before. One moment in the episode is particularly debatable; the Doctor uses a gun to kill an unarmed and (mostly) friendly character. Though this character then regenerates for largely comic effect, you have to remember that to time-lords it feels like dying. Steven Moffat has described the Doctor in this episode as a “Clint Eastwood” type figure and it’s clear to say that the beginning of the episode plays heavily on the tropes of the Western. The Doctor doesn’t speak for a large proportion of the opening time on Gallifrey, moodily wandering alone in the desert and drawing a line in the sand.

Now as for Clara’s unexpected return to the land of the living I can see where the show is going. Her arc has largely been her becoming the Doctor, and what better way to bring this full circle than having her steal a TARDIS and escape from Gallifrey? We also get a role-reversal of the usual Doctor/companion trope, as Clara is the one that erases herself from the Doctor’s memories. Is this karma finally catching up with the Doctor for how he left Donna? In its rather muddled manner the show has established Clara’s death as a fixed point in time, but it seems to have opened up a rather convenient opportunity for her to whizz around time and space a few more times. A blatant spin-off tease perhaps?

The nitty-gritty of the plot manages on the whole to elude me but it tackles big and bold ideas, one of series nine’s key strengths. If you’re watching this episode to see Gallifrey’s momentous return you may be disappointed. If you’re watching this episode hoping to learn about the hybrid you may be left scratching your head. It’s the character development between the Doctor and Clara that’s the episode’s saving grace. Even though we didn’t need another goodbye for Clara in my opinion, you can’t deny that certain moments were written beautifully. Plus it’s hard to complain at seeing one of the best Doctor/Companion dynamics being given one last moment in the limelight.

Now fear-not fellow Who fans; as the festivities approach so too does the Doctor Who Christmas Special. Looking back on the series I can say Peter Capaldi’s performance has elevated him to one of my favourite Doctor’s. I find it near-impossible to award any actor the coveted title of my favourite Doctor but I can safely say I am looking forward to more of this angry, unpredictable and frankly rocking incarnation of the Doctor.

Jack is a third year English student and self-proclaimed Whovian who also enjoys film and live music. You can read his blog here.

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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