Thursday, December 10, 2015

Doctor Who 9.12 "Hell Bent"

In a nutshell, “Hell Bent” brought a disappointing season to a fittingly disappointing close, but left things hopeful going forward.

“Doctor Who” has a shaky history with season-long arcs. Historically they simply didn’t do it. One of the few examples was season 16 in the Tom Baker era. The through-line was a bit of a tack-on to otherwise independent stories. So, it felt extraneous, but the benefit was that the stories were allowed to stand on their own. Some were good, some were… not.

Since Who returned in 2005, that has been the approach favored by most seasons, especially during Davies time. Stories did their own thing, but teasers were thrown in here and there that paid off in the finale. When Moffat took over, he made the season arc a bigger part of things and that has increasingly dominated more stories in each season. This has become more of a problem, culminating in a rather shaky season 12, ever since Clara came along.

In the past I have complained that she was more of a plot device than a character. Some people complained that this current season finale cheapened her death a couple episodes ago. The real problem was that Clara was never allowed to be a fully developed character, she was always a function of the season-arc-plots. When her death came along it was supposed to be a moving moment, but it felt contrived. For one thing her death was stupid and unnecessary, but also because we never really connected with her.

The list of problems in “Hell Bent” is extensive. A few examples:

People say it was a triumph for feminism. While the end was arguably good for girls, the moment where a male Time Lord regenerates into a female cheapens the sexes as I have argued before.

The Doctor comes off quite deranged in this story. The reveal that he suffered through billions of years simply to get Clara back may sound like a huge testament to their relationship, but it feels more like an inability on his part to overcome an obstacle.

When Gallifrey finally makes its return to the series, it is a letdown. It feels small and frankly like a terrible place to live.

On the good side of things, we had a collection of fan service moments: the original Tardis design is nice. The return of a sonic screwdriver is a welcome relief after the stupid shades. The novel approach to removing a companion is great. Don’t kill them, trap them or erase their memory of the Doctor. Remove his memory of them. Now that was really good.

Here’s hoping things get back to great as soon as the Christmas special!

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