“Hell Bent” was a nice season finale for what has been, I would say, the best season of the Peter Capaldi era thus far, with some episodes that will surely remain all-time classics.
The way the episode begins is mysterious, and makes sense only at the end. The Doctor is in Nevada, and stops by at a diner – it looks like the diner he visited with Amy and Rory. Clara works there as a waitress, and the Doctor tells her a story about his experience. The Doctor, back on Gallifrey, went to the barn where he had previously considered using the Moment to destroy Gallifrey.
There are some really great lines in the episode, often with great responses. For instance, “Words are his weapons,” to which the reply is given, “When did they stop being ours.” Or “Who the hell does he think he is?” to which the answer is “The man who won the time war, sir.” We see the Doctor regarded as a hero, and he tells Rassilon, “Get off my planet.”
After having been trapped in the confession dial for 4.5 billion years, because he wouldn’t give the time lord high council what it wanted, the Doctor is now determined to save Clara, and so he uses an extraction chamber to take Clara out from the moment before her death. But then the Doctor tries to escape with her, being ready to go to the end of the universe. The Doctor shoots a guard, saying it was his life or Clara’s, and that while Clara’s death would have been the end for her, on Gallifrey death is basically like “man flu.”
A major theme is the cloisters, which is where the matrix is. The Doctor snuck in there when he was younger and learned about the hybrid, something which scared him so much that he ran away.
There is a nice return to the beginning feel as the Doctor steals a TARDIS yet again, and so sets off in a control room like the original all-white one. At the end of the universe, “Me” is still there, and she knocks four times. They exchange theories about the hybrid. The Doctor suggests it is her, then she suggests that perhaps it is him, that he is half human and that is why he spends so much time on Earth. It was nice to see this possibility raised and not dismissed. “Me” suggests another possibility – that they hybrid is the joining of two people who together become a threat to the fabric of space and time, as the Doctor and Clara have in this episode. The Doctor decides, in order to save Clara, to wipe her mind as he did with Donna. In a wonderful twist, however, Clara has reversed the polarity on the device, and it ends up being the Doctor who loses his memories of her.
The episode is basically about death, as something that can be sad and yet beautiful. We don’t escape it forever. At most, we can “take the long way around” to reach it. It is regret that makes death tragic, not death itself. As Clara says, “Nothing’s sad until it’s over. Then everything is.” And then later, “Nobody’s ever safe…These have been the best years of my life. No one is entitled to a future, but I insist upon my past.” It’s a theme that has been explored on Doctor Who before, when the Doctor and River Song have each had opportunity to say “Time can be rewritten” and to respond with “Don’t you dare.”
The question of the hybrid is left unanswered, which is fitting. In an episode that brought us back to the beginning and answered a major question – the real reason the Doctor left Gallifrey – it also kept it alive as a puzzle. There are other big questions that are raised too, such as whether the Doctor might after all be half human on his mother’s side. If so, that will be quite a story to tell. And here’s another question we can ask: was the diner that the Doctor visited with Amy and Rory the TARDIS that Clara and Me traveled in?
The episode is replete with themes that are of religious interest, mostly related to the question of how we view death. But there are others, including the title (and the frequent use of the word “hell” in the episode, more often than in any other, I would guess). But there is another detail that shouldn’t be missed: the Doctor proposed that they could go have “cocktails with Moses.”
This episode represented an end to the era of Clara – although as the “impossible girl” scattered across his timeline, we should not be surprised if versions of her turn up again. But it also witnessed a return to many aspects of the series’ earlier history, classic and more recent. The Doctor steals a TARDIS and runs away, and we get both a reason and a new mystery. The time lords and Gallifrey are back. The time war is over. And so the question is what the series will be in its next season.
What did you think of “Hell Bent”?