After a disappointing season 8, Doctor Who season 9 was fairly impressive. Though still held together with the same flawed logic and last minute cop-outs that acted as the adhesive for Doctor Who plotlines since Hartnell’s slapdash episodes, season 9’s Hell Bent refrains from dressing up the Doctor’s revenge in action and adventure–something that brought down previous finales–and instead gives the emotions and revelations some time to breathe. When Clara learns the sacrifice the Doctor went through to save her, the time he spent, and the effect she had on him, we have time to feel it. Yeah, there’s a lot of yackedy-yack, but talking is what the Doctor does best. That’s his weapon. And that’s the format for this season finale.
The episode is also a mash-up of references and new mythology. We open on a Nevada road sign with the quote “No matter where you go, there you are,” a phrase popularized by The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the Eighth Dimension, a cult film about aliens and rockstars in the desert. Appropriately, the Doctor (an alien) walks into a diner in the desert carrying an electric guitar.
The Doctor is no stranger to the American Southwest. Number 9 found himself in Area 51, which was harboring what the Doctor thought was the last Dalek. Recently, Unit went face-to-face with Zygons in the desert. Number 11 quite famously nearly adapted a Stetson when visiting Nevada in his last incarnation, and finds himself again in the same diner…or is it?
We have crossed through the time bubble to the end of the universe where Gallifrey is hidden. Moffat & co. borrows off an old element of Tom Baker’s day: The Matrix, a subterranean database, which is organic and absorbs dead Timelords to add to its memory banks. If the living get lost there–even Daleks, Cybermen, and Weeping Angels–they get filed. They have what are referred to as Cloister guards, which have the faces of screaming people (dead Timelords?). Finally explaining why science savvy creatures like Timelords are so bent up in mythological things like prophesies, we learn that “prophesy” is just a name for something that the super-intelligent database predicted based on the massive amount of information it has. Brilliant!
“The Timelords have a big computer made of ghosts guarded by more ghosts.” –The Doctor
Cross about Rassilon–another familiar name from ancient Doctor Who episodes, as well as the Tennant years when Rassilon appeared in the form of Timothy Dalton–sticking him in a torture chamber to discover the nature of the Hybrid, the Doctor takes over Gallifrey. Little do the Timelords know that this isn’t a revenge story. This is a Save Clara story.
We are at the end of time now. The Doctor in recent seasons has been here only once before, when he and Clara met an ancestor of Danny Pink. There had been a knock knock knock knock at the door. This tapping was a signature of the Master, Number 10’s downfall, and the Doctor Who baseline. But they never stopped to look outside at who was tapping. What one person could possibly have survived to the end of the universe. Now we find out.
So what is the Hybrid? Is it Me, who is half human and half the Mire? Is it the Doctor who is half Timelord and half…wait…what? Is it a combination of the Doctor and Clara? This is what they claim, but unless the Doctor-Clara is like Legion (one but many), two separate people is not at all the definition of a hybrid and is a cop-out. If they’re smart, later we’ll learn that the characters were forcing the narrative to fit their situation, and the Hybrid will turn out to be someone else. Well actually, the Doctor-Clara is not a far cry from the Doctor-Donna.
In fact, Clara is following Donna’s footsteps in more than just the hybrid aspect. It seems like the Doctor is trying to pull another mind wipe–wiping himself from Clara’s memory–but it takes a surprising twist.
One more David Tennant-era reference: Number 12 says “Never eat pears. They’re too squishy. And they always make your chin wet. That one’s quite important. Write it down.” You won’t remember Number 10 talking about his displeasure of pears because his “death message” to Martha Jones in Human Nature is skipped over. However, if you can get a hold of the raw footage Tennant recorded (like on the DVD), you will see this: