Hell Bent

A brilliant series draws to a close with a finale that’s a little light on spectacle compared to previous efforts, but focuses instead on mythology and character resolution. To both of these ends, Gallifrey is back, and in a way that adheres surprisingly closely to those heavy Time Lord stories of old. A gang of old fuddy duddies are plotting about what to do with the Doctor, who ends up overthrowing the High Council to become President and piss about with the Matrix. Reassuringly familiar to me now, thanks to this project.

Rassilon was back of course, in the guise of The Sarah Jane Adventures‘s Donald Sumpter. The Doctor’s total victory over him was perhaps as good as it got for him in this episode – the revenge he needed for his four and a half billion years of torture, without a single shot being fired. The same can’t be said for his rescue of Clara, as the Doctor guns down a fellow Time Lord in cold blood, which provides an on-screen precedent for male-to-female regenerations that you’d think would be enough to shut whinging manbabies on the internet up, but isn’t.

It’s definitely a shocking sight to see our hero do something so violent, but I don’t mind it, perhaps because what he’s been through is so extreme as to make his actions understandable, if not entirely justifiable. The revelation that his ordeal was part of the plan to get Clara back is a heartwarming touch – he didn’t spend billions of years punching a diamond wall because he had to, but because he chose to, for Clara.

Escaping in an old style TARDIS was obviously amazing, but the rest of the episode is very very talky, and it slightly fails to live up to the genius that came before it. I was never that excited by “the Hybrid” as a series arc, and that fact that it turned out to be merely a metaphor is a little underwhelming. I buy that the Doctor and Clara push each other to extremes, and that it might be dangerous for them to carry on as they have been, but not that dangerous that it’s worth all this fuss.

I think the diner scenes really helped disguise the lack of whelm on first broadcast, as they’re designed to keep you guessing. I remember assuming at first that Clara would be one of the leftover splinter Claras, until it became apparent that one of them had been memory-wiped. The twist that it’s him is a very good one, and the whole thing is a masterclass in misdirection.

It’s a sad way for this pairing to end – I didn’t like Clara at all for a long time, and I know that many people never changed their mind about her, but I really love her and Capaldi together. In retrospect, I feel slightly short changed that she missed quite a bit of her last series, but she left on a high. I love the idea of Clara and Ashildr going off on adventures for all eternity, through time and space in a flying diner. Can’t be long now til the Big Finish spin-off.

RATING: 8

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 8.56

  • Seasons/Series watched: 35 of 36
  • Stories watched: 262 of 276
  • Individual episodes watched: 825 of 840

And that rating confirms that this is my favourite new series so far. A great Doctor on top form, with a high proportion of absolutely classic stories. And blimey, I’m so close to the end now. One series and three Christmas specials. Just fifteen episodes. I can fit the remainder of the spreadsheet on my laptop screen. Blimey.

Advertisements

Face the Raven

First of all, there is no way in hell that this is a self-contained story, despite what the official lists will have you believe. I recall that the series was initially billed as having a three-part finale, and that’s what it is as far as I’m concerned; despite how different the three episodes are, it’s clearly one continuous sequence of events.

Nevertheless, this blog must slavishly follow the rules, so I find myself contemplating a still incomplete tale. Luckily, it’s an absolute corker. The trap street is such a good idea, although perhaps it would have been a bit more fun if it wasn’t for the perception filter that made every member of the alien menagerie look human – which is admittedly another good idea, from a budgetary perspective.

Ashildr/Me is back as the mayor of the street (can you be a mayor of a street?), and she’s a full on villain here. This is surprising after she seemingly turned a corner at the end of The Woman Who Lived – no sign of her immortality buddy Rufus Hound either. It sounds like I’m moaning, but I only mention this because I spent the majority of the episode totally gripped and thus unable to make many notes – even the second time around, the twists in the mystery that ensnares the Doctor kept me guessing.

I was worried that the knowledge of what’s to come would lessen the impact of what happens to Clara, but not a bit of it. Her recklessness has been a theme of this series, and this is what it’s all leading up to. The realisation that Clara can’t be saved is heartbreaking to watch, and the Doctor being so furious and vengeful is strangely touching. There must be very few actors who can make you cry by being angry.

But cry I did, as Clara was killed by a big crow. Despite how daft it sounds on paper, it’s incredibly emotional and expertly crafted. Even the mural Rigsy paints on the abandoned TARDIS makes me sniffle again, after I’d been snapped out of it by the power of the Doctor’s furious threat to Ashildr. It’s pretty hard to forgive her for what she does, but it reminds me of the recent series finale of Peaky Blinders, in which (SPOILERS) Alfie Solomons agrees to set a trap for the Shelbys, even though he knew he’d be killed in retribution, mostly just for a quiet life. The Doctor must forgive her to some extent by the end of the finale, but I guess he has lots of time to think it over…

RATING: 9

The Woman Who Lived

Sorry to go on about it, but this is blatantly the second of a two-parter. It’s a comparison I’ve made before, but this is essentially the same structure as The Ark – the first 45 minutes are so are the Doctor having an adventure, and the second half explores the unexpected consequences of that adventure, which he then has to put right.

Here, he doesn’t fix things in a literal sense, but instead it’s about helping Ashildr/Me come to terms with what’s happened to her, and that’s at the heart of the story. What she’s been through in the last eight hundred years is horrific, and it’s great that the show spends so much time addressing some pretty grim subject matter. It says more about the dark side of immortality in one episode than Torchwood managed with Jack in four series.

I mean, it’s made her into a bit of a dick, but you really can sympathise with her. I liked the detail that she became expert at things using the same method that Phil Connors uses in Groudhog Day. Her big lion mate was very obviously going to turn out to be a rotter, and I wasn’t keen how evil Me was being at first, but it was necessary to take her to the peak of inhumanity in order for her outlook on life to change so completely.

What was weird is that this big metaphysical resolution was tied in to Rufus Hound doing stand-up on the gallows. For ages. They kind of get away with it, because Hound has an inherent charm as an actor that wasn’t always present earlier in his career, but it is a very strange diversion, almost as if they were worried the episode was a little too dark. I also wonder whether the big lion chap was really necessary – I’d admire an episode that had the balls to completely forego a monster or alien element in favour of deep philosophical debate, but I guess the show has to cater for viewers who aren’t 30-something nerds on the internet.

There’s no Clara this week, which is a bit of a shame, consider she also has an episode off later in the series due to being dead. You do miss her slightly in this episode – despite how great it is without her – because her and Capaldi make such a good pair in this series. She turns up briefly at the end, and the way the Doctor looks at her when she says she’s not going anywhere made me wonder at the time if he already knew that she was doomed.

RATING: 8

The Girl Who Died

First of all, I object to having to write this entry today. This is clearly the first episode in a two-part story. The clues are in the titles being similar, plus the fact that this one ends with a “to be continued”, and also the fact that the next episode carries on the story that this one starts. Fairly straightforward, you’d have thought, but apparently not, and I have to comply with official classifications, otherwise my story counts would be all to cock. This is all clearly very important.

There’s a theme emerging to this series, which is telling a relatively straight-forward story on the surface (escape from trap, base under siege, fight off alien invaders), but mix it all up with a variety of difficult moral quandaries about life and death, and how the lines between the two can sometimes be blurred. It’s going to much darker places than you’d normally expect on Saturday evening BBC One, and it now seems to represent the peak of Moffat pushing the format as far as he could in this direction, before he toned it down a little in Series 10.

Nevertheless, the straight-forward stories are still at the heart of these episodes, and this is as simple as it gets – captured by Vikings, Odin appears in the sky (looking exactly like God in Holy Grail), kills all the good Vikings and leaves all the shit ones, and then your woman from Game of Thrones challenges him to a scrap. The whole world isn’t under threat, just this one village, and the smaller scale allows the episode to focus in on the villagers, mining them for comedy and heightening the emotional drama later on.

The Doctor’s doomed attempts at turning the rubbish Vikings into warriors was good fun, as was his eventual method of getting rid of the aliens with a mixture of improvised gadgets and psychological trickery, like a medieval MacGyver doing Home Alone. Everything was so light-hearted at this stage, peaking with the Benny Hill music, so naturally the loveable little girl had to die. I say “little girl”, it’s quite hard to tell how old Ashildr is supposed to be; Maisie Williams looks younger than she is. Her dad treats her like a child, but Clara implies that she fancies her at one point, so I’m confused.

Either way, she’s carked it, until the Doctor remembers why he chose that face. I love that Peter Capaldi’s face is now a major plot point in the mythology of Doctor Who. His memory of saving Caecilius and decision to do the same for Ashildr is surprisingly emotional and stirring. We, like the Doctor, get caught up in the moment as he brings her back, and it’s only when we calm down a bit that we realise that making someone immortal isn’t quite the same as bringing them back to life, and that it may have been a slightly rash course of action in hindsight. But that’s, apparently, another story.

RATING: 9