Tuesday, 8 December 2015
Doctor Who: Hell Bent (Episode Review)
You have to hand it to the Doctor Who writing staff, it's not often that you find a single story which embodies an entire series. Between each stage of this three parter, we have a trio of stories representing every kind of tale we can find. Fear the Raven: A flawed story with a few errors, which nevertheless manages to come together at the end and delivers an excellent character dynamic. Heaven Sent: An insanely intelligent tale when it comes to time travel, perfect use of the actors, fantastic direction an memorable set-pieces. Then we have Hell Bent: Which is nonsensical crap. Not just your common or garden nonsensical crap, but the kind of nonsensical crap which registers alongside "midichlorians" and "Wesley Crusher" on the this-is-a-terrible-idea scale.
This episode isn't simply bad, it's the kind of absolute terribad which leaves you questioning why the hell you ever liked this series in the first place, and why you're still watching it. It's shark jumping to the Nth degree, it's pulling a full Bloodtide, and it's utlimately what has personally convinced me that Steven Moffat has become the George Lucas of Doctor Who. If you were to watch this right after the excellent delivery and drama of Heaven Sent, any human would urge you to seek out a decompression chamber to counteract the emotional whiplash likely putting your blood pressure into the hundreds. Okay, it doesn't make the Twin Dilemma look good by comparison, but hell's teeth it's certainly up there!
The story follows... you know what, screw it. The Doctor ends up on Gallifrey, stuff happens and we get a raging cluster-fuck of plot points strung together as the writers try to sort out this mess. There's some push to try and make the season long "A hybrid!" theme into an actual running sub-plot worthy of a true examination, the Doctor performs acts of demented character assassination and Steven Moffat destroys anything of value from past and future scrips. How does he do this? He restores Clara to life.
Now, resurrecting a companion is a weighty decision at the best of times. We've had quite a few live and die over the years - especially if you're counting Big Finish - and the Doctor has always felt their departures keenly. Adric is perhaps one of the best known examples of this staggering the Doctor, and it's made clear he can't save people with time travel even if he wanted to. The one time he tried, truly tried, it was made evident that he had finally gone too far in his "Time Lord Victorious" moment. Well, Hell Bent now tells us that the Doctor could have brought almost any and all of those people back to life if he just felt like it. He turns up on Gallifrey, strolls in as the Time Lords roll out the red carpet, and side with him over their president. He then goes and breaks time, bringing one of his companions back from death via a relatively simple means of time manipulation. In fact, the only reason any of them end up being against him is because he effectively didn't ask for their permission, and it has no long-term negative effects.
So, every time we see someone die from here on? Every side character, every companion, every person the Doctor bumps into and he wants to pull an "everybody lives!" moment on? He can do that. He can do that with incredible ease, and ultimately zero consequences. Sure, the story tries to bring up a few points about how this is wrong or how things don't work, but there's little to no substance there. We're just told bits and pieces of that, but there's nothing offered to substantiate this for even a second. So, say it with us kids: SHOW DON'T TELL!
Oh, but the problems can't end just there, can they. Even the complete destruction of all possible drama in the series, all future threats of any kind, can't just be the big problem here. That alone tips this into one of the stories ever produced for the franchise, but even its ongoing narrative threads are utter failures. People were already dubious about how the "HYBRID!!1!" messages could possibly link into a final message of some kind, and understandably so. What we get as a result is a terrible, drunken stab at some kind of story-arc which would be laughed off of most fanfiction websites.
First of all, how is this story-arc set up? Davros. For no apparent reason, the creator of the Daleks brings it up out of nowhere and everyone promptly starts repeating it. All of a sudden it's some massive ongoing theme beaten over the viewer's head at many points, and just thrown in. Rather than a Saxon moment where it's in the background but slowly building up, or even a full on Bad Wolf carefully hidden here and there, it's shoved right in front of the audience. Worse still, it doesn't mean anything, it doesn't actually have any reason to be showing up so often and ultimately it contradicts itself. Case and point - The entire series has featured the Doctor questioning and looking confused whenever mention of a hybrid is made. Then, all of a sudden, Heaven Sent brings up a massive contradiction by claiming he knows exactly what it is and that everyone else doesn't know what it is. So, how does that then play out? All of a sudden the Doctor doesn't know who it is, Ashildr guesses who it might be, and everyone just accepts it. No, that actually happens, and it's even dumber than it sounds. In a move which sees the episode disappearing up its own arse at high speed, the hybrid is actually somehow Clara and the Doctor together. I could add context to that, but it honestly wouldn't help.
Finally, perhaps the most damning point is that things happen without rhyme or reason. Half the time this is done to excuse abrupt things the writers just want to do, or even throw in for sheer fan-service. The sudden return of Rassilon stands out among these, which just happens and adds nothing to the story. Some of these could at least be shrugged off if they're minor, but you have universe staggering story elements relying upon this. Case and point - Clara's memory needing to be erased. It's supposedly being done in order to prevent the Time Lords finding her (not to mention a huge end-of-the-universe thing), and admittedly even after royally borking up her demise this could have still given some reasonable pathos. Wounded pathos, mangled pathos, the kind of pathos which has been burned on one side and is half-baked, but given how bad this is you'd be forgiven for taking any pathos you could get. The problem however, is that this does nothing. The Doctor loses his image of Clara and that's about it, so he knows everything save for what she looks like.
So, let's consider the problems, shall we? Before the memory wipe, both the Doctor and Clara remember everything about one another without the slightest issue. Okay, it's the very end of the universe, but what the hell, that was going to happen anyway and their knowledge doesn't seem to be causing any additional effects.
They undergo the mind wipe, and it changes little to nothing. Clara still has her memory for contrived reasons and the Doctor has just about all of his own thoughts. So, does the universe get squashed down into the size of a thimble or spontaneously turn into a duck? Nope, everything is fine and dandy, without the slightest possible problem.
Hell, the really insulting bit? After the entire episode spent its entire run-time focusing upon how doomy and damning Clara's return and her knowledge will be, it promptly drops that. There's no hurry, no issues, not even the slightest rush to six that which went wrong. In fact, they're so leisurely that Clara openly says she'll take the "long way around" in order to get back. Cue desperate spin-off baiting, yet a-bloody-gain.
Hell Bent just proves one thing: Steven Moffat needs to step down as lead writer. Let's face it the guy has done some great stuff, arguably some of the best stories, for Doctor Who. Lately though, he's continued to chip away at more and more of the mythos, recycled his old ideas and contradicted himself to the point where he seems to be handing in first drafts for stories. Some of the older decisions were bad, inexcusably so, but this? This is the kind of abomination which inspires nothing but rage. It's the kind of insult any aspiring writer can look at, then promptly weep, seeing how easily some people can ride upon their reputation while churning out crap. It's the kind of festering turd which could have had all the dialogue mashed out with the caps lock held down, and the actors deliver it in Hulk speak, and it might only improve things.
Avoid this one. Avoid it to hell and back. Watch the last two by all means but please, just think up your own ending to this finale rather than subject yourself to this gibbering madness.