If Heaven Sent was about death, then Hell Bent returns to a corrupted culture obsessed with it in this season finale and end of an era. The Doctor’s quest, set up as a hope of a dream in The Day of the Doctor, is now an ode to his devotion to his companion and a revelation of the depth of the damage home can cause.
Last week’s episode was a circuit that breaks only after 4.5 billion years. But this episode is an elliptically looping narrative that repeats what has gone before in order to change it: but only a bit. Anyone expecting a reboot in a new direction is wrong. After 50 years, every direction and none, is new.
Some of the criticism seems to come from people peeved there is time travel in a science fiction time travel family adventure program. They don’t like how stories veer back on themselves, or how The Doctor can end up where he began, like characters meeting again in the same rain they first met in, after 40 years.
Doctor Donna Redux
It quelled whatever vague worry I had about whether departures of central characters could be unique, because it reversed the polarity of what happened to Donna. Doctor-Donna had to forget to survive. In Steven Moffat’s didactic way we are also directly told this, in case we weren’t concentrating.
DOCTOR: Four knocks. It’s always four knocks.
And for those of us remembering all the episodes we know there was all kinds of doom at hand, because of that someone knocking.
Meanwhile, this companion did what she was taught to do. She got to be The Doctor while he forgot. In her defining refrain to tell others to run and remember, she gets to do the running and remembering for the both of them. Of course, it riffs off the erase himself from history notion, only this time it is Peter Capaldi’s Doctor seeing the shape Clara left behind, rather than Matt Smith’s Doctor realising his enemies will do the same of his own absence from history.
In this way, wily Doctor Clara, will continue to mirror The Doctor’s loop, taking her own time to return to Gallifrey and her eventual death ‘the long way round,’ with a suitably immortal companion in a Tardis. Already his equal in craft and guile, she now gets his lifestyle in a permanent a fashion as is possible while suspended between life and death. And in the way of loops, they can’t (or shouldn’t) cross each other’s paths again.
While I’m not surprised that Time Lords have ways and means of cheating death and fixed points in time, and I’m also not surprised at The Doctor shooting the General, more time could have been spent on consequences. Not just for Clara, but for the Time Lords. His revenge to exile a bunch of military and political leaders was tame, and I guess we’ll loop back around to this Gallifreyan death fixation too.
I’ve ranted about the dead and returned before and I won’t again. But I did like the point of death moment of grace extraction. If you didn’t, you can find literary precedents for it in Jorge Luis Borges’ The Secret Miracle.
Ghosts in the Tardis
In Hide, Clara realises the The Doctor’s perspective gives him a view of life few have.
CLARA: I mean, one minute you’re in 1974 looking for ghosts, but all you have to do is open your eyes and talk to whoever’s standing there. To you, I haven’t been born yet, and to you I’ve been dead one hundred billion years. Is my body out there somewhere, in the ground?
DOCTOR: Yes, I suppose it is.
CLARA: But here we are, talking. So I am a ghost. To you, I’m a ghost. We’re all ghosts to you. We must be nothing.
DOCTOR: No. No. You’re not that.
CLARA: Then what are we? What can we possibly be?
DOCTOR: You are the only mystery worth solving.
This time, at the other end of the universe, with nothing left, The Doctor proves this time he can’t leave those he loves as ghosts. Clara is no longer a riddle, but a friend, a true companion, his saviour, the Soufflé Girl with the right words to get him through cloister tunnels (Hell Bent) and traumatic childhoods (Listen). Of course he would do everything in his power and beyond to get her back. Amy did the same for Rory. River did the same for him. It’s what his companions have always taught him. In a place where death is ‘man flu’ and he is a war hero, The Doctor of War is licensed to do as he pleases (prolly in a way he wasn’t, to say go back and save Adric).
Thus, even though she is forgotten, and he knows this, those The Doctor loves are ‘seared onto his hearts forever.’
Man on the Run
Those looking for a change or something new seem to forget this is a story that is also a loop. He always eventually ends up where he started on Gallifrey, and because of this he will run away from it. It will always be thus, as we wouldn’t have his adventures without his defining trait. We know when he doesn’t run, he is not the Doctor, but the War Doctor. And Clara does the same. Because of course she would.
It may not (yet) matter who the Hybrid is, because it’s purpose is clear even if the identity isn’t: it was the catalyst to make him leave. There’s a case that Ashildir is the Hybrid. The Doctor even called her that, but I can see too that the combination of Clara and The Doctor has always been suspicious, simply because the Loki of Time Lords, Missy, wants them to be together. And therefore, they shouldn’t be. Or they should, because Missy is also a liar.
Day of Clara
I imagine forgotten Clara will be like the War Doctor…some one who was The Doctor more than anyone else. Especially in some earlier episodes, when he was being nasty Doctor (like Kill the Moon).
DOCTOR: All those years, burying you in my memory. Pretending you didn’t exist. Keeping you a secret, even from myself.
She, like his previous incarnations, will be a story, one that is half remembered, but part of the matrix of his past incarnations because something of her was left at Trenzalore. And, because writers can’t resist talking about the craft that makes them as close to immortal as a human can get.
DOCTOR: Stories are… where memories go when they are forgotten.