Hell Bent

14-episode
full season set
6-episode set
Region A/1
6-episode set
Region B/2

See below for purchasing options
(Doctor Who Story No. 267, starring Peter Capaldi)
  • written by Steven Moffat
  • directed by Rachel Talalay
  • produced by Peter Bennett
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 1 episode @ 63 minutes
Story: The Doctor's return to his home planet of Gallifrey sends shocking ripples through its society all the way up to the Lord President of the High Council. Can the legends of the arrival of the Hybrid be pieced together and understood? Are the tolls of the cloister bells correct in warning that there is much to be feared?

DVD Extras for this story on the 14-episode box sets include:

  • Doctor Who Extra featurette segment (9 min.) with Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Maisie Williams (Ashildr),
    writer Steven Moffat, and director Rachel Talalay.
  • Clara's Journey (19 min.) with Coleman, Moffat, Capaldi, Matt Smith (The 11th Doctor), and executive producer Brian Minchin.
  • "Sublime Online" featurette segment (approx. 2 min.) with Capaldi, Coleman, and Williams.
  • Trailer
  • Fan Show Finest (16 min.)

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program.
To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide to the season instead.


This episode leaves my enthusiasm quite torn. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the odyssey of environments that we see our characters going through in this one. But on the other hand, more importantly, I felt there wasn't really an actual story here to get engaged in. All the "conflicts", if I can even say there were any, were too artificial and unsubstantiated, and we see pretty much every character bumbling along, being ineffective at doing anything to get to a decent outcome.


Gallifreyan Glory

Theoretically, this episode enjoys the opportunity to explore things we've never been able to do on this show since it resurrected itself in 2005. The current Doctor is back on Gallifrey in its most current and up-to-date form. We should be able to explore where it's been, what has happened since we last saw a current Doctor on the planet involved with its politics back in "The Five Doctors" (story no. 130), and where it might be headed next. This is in fact a large part of the immense drive powering the cliffhanger between the last episode and this one. Heck, all you really had to do was catch a glimpse of the North American DVD cover for "Series nine, part two" displayed above, and, if you recognized what you were looking at, the anticipation was there.

The opening segments of this story play on this drive and tease us with various notions of what is yet to come. I thought it was really quite cool for the Doctor to go all "Ghandi" on the ruling leaders, and bring them to their knees with nothing but quiet, centered, resolute defiance. In many ways, this segment relies on his having pulled off such an impressive success in the previous story "Heaven Sent", although perhaps it draws equally on "The Day of the Doctor" (story no. 245), "Arc of Infinity" (story no. 124), "The Three Doctors" (story no. 65), and, if any of its events did eventually manage to become known to the Gallifreyan public, "The Deadly Assassin" (story no. 88). This segment is especially a treat thanks to all the production value put into the visuals, with all these giant war vehicles bearing down on a tiny Doctor drawing a small line in the sand.

But, as great as this opening is in bringing together a swath of interesting characters of Gallifreyan descent, it still left me wondering exactly what kind of story would eventually get kicked off once their convoluted greetings were gotten out of the way. And so it was quite bizarre that the episode stopped short of really doing anything with greater Gallifreyan society. I don't think new fans who have been following the show only since 2005 have ever had it acknowledged on screen for them that the planet Karn was once a Gallifreyan colony, which is why it makes some sense for Ohila to be here with a few members of her Sisterhood. (And if regeneration can change a Gallifreyan's gender naturally and randomly, why are there no brothers in the sisterhood?)

Personally, I still have a lot of questions about how Rassilon went from being a long-dead, revered, legendary historical figure whose eloquent speeches about the lack of wisdom of immortality were re-played during "The Five Doctors" to a current war-mongering Lord President. The canon TV show has raised these issues without addressing them so far. This episode was a great opportunity to explore some of these fascinating areas, and it bizarrely failed to go anywhere near them. Indeed, the Doctor's scene meeting with the remaining leading political figures high up in the city's towers is really the last interesting bit we get concerning Gallifreyan society, which is then forgotten by the rest of the episode. It left me feeling that the real story hadn't kicked in.


Dematerialized Plot

And a real story never does really kick in. What happens next NARRATIVELY speaking is yet another great big re-run of all the usual Steven Moffat hang-ups concerning time-theory, victimhood, and tragic endings. It seems like we have to trudge through the same dreary muck for EVERY season finale and companion exit story, and it's not getting any fresher or more believable or more enjoyable.

What's really acute in this one is a lack of any real threat anywhere to drive anything that's going on. Is there really any point in the Doctor replacing Rassilon and the High Council with himself? They really weren't up to any great evil as far I could see. Gallifrey isn't really any better or worse off either way, and nothing that the Doctor does subsequently truly requires him to be Lord President. Tom Baker's "The Invasion of Time" (story no. 97) had a story premise that capitalized well on this idea. "Hell Bent" just tosses it in the bin after going through a few of the motions.

A lot of the other characters just simply don't have any teeth to make any impact on the issues that concern them. Our biggest military tough guy, who starts out being played by Ken Bones, is at first on Rassilon's side against the Doctor, then on the Doctor's side, and then is seen organizing a big and completely ineffective effort to hunt him down. Gallifrey's location was supposedly a great big secret to the Doctor while he went often to Karn to chat with Ohila, but now that he's finally found the place, Ohila just turns up there like she's known where and when it was all along and just couldn't be bothered to have told the Doctor while counselling him on his troubles. Then there are the Matrix wraiths, who never do anything. And Moffat throws in a couple of cameos of a Dalek, a Cyberman, and a Weeping Angel, all of whom apparently have no chance of doing anything or informing anything. Between my first viewing and my second, I had completely forgotten that they were in this, so... not a very memorable showing for any of them. Ashildr shows up to poke through the ashes of Gallifreyan legend without really advancing any of it.

~"You realize how well that conversation went, right?" - "I'm starting to, yeah, a bit."

And then there's Clara, who just comes back, without really coming back, and my God what a huge mess it is to try to follow any of the logic concerning what her existence is or why anyone would really mind whether it turned out to be one thing or another. First let's just note that this supposed field of conflict is extremely intangible. It has very little to do with what you see on screen, and really depends on the dialogue to trigger the imagination of the audience as it goes along. Steven Moffat may be entertaining false hopes here that the audience's imagination will stay on the same page as his own and be suitably entertained, because sadly, the page that Moffat is on is yet another re-run of some of his most embarrassing, least effective stuff. Level Three Alternate Universes resolve most of his time paradoxes and make moot most of the concerns raised here. I'm really tired of seeing such understanding being kept from entire societies as in this tale, and I can't stay invested in the characters while they continue to paint wise centeredness and arrogance onto the opposite theories to which each emotional attribute should belong, and then lead themselves to wallow in a ton of maudlin sentiment on top.

Our only real consolations this time around are the story's settings. The matrix doesn't fare too badly while it is on screen, while we anticipate that something will yet be done with it. However, looking back on the adventure afterwards, it really was less effective here than in ANY of its prior outings on the classic show. Both "The Deadly Assassin" and "The Ultimate Foe" (story no. 147) continue to rule as the best of Matrix shenanigans, while even "Arc of Infinity" had a more sensible and satisfying take on it.

The best yet comes up next, as we witness how excellently the show's production crew can recreate an exact replica of the TARDIS interior of William Hartnell's era, down to all the minute details, and shoot it with today's cameras and lighting techniques. It's a bit strange, but very nostalgic and very cool. That alone gives "Hell Bent" a significant number of points. We could have gone straight to this when the series was first resurrected in "Rose" (story no. 161), and been a few steps ahead of the game even then. Interestingly, the sound effects are not those of the 1960's, but of the 1980's and very late 70's (my preference anyway), which perhaps highlight how well the TARDIS interior of that era matched the original.

Now, all that said, I'm sad to say I'm not all that enamoured with the content of the scenes that take place in this beautiful classic console room. It turns out to be more fun to watch the scenery and look for all the detail than to pay attention to the rubbish given to the characters to say.

Gallifrey truly is left far behind quite quickly in this story, as the Doctor supposedly goes to the end of the universe. I quite liked finding Ashildr here in a burnt-out smoky orange what-not environment, chilling in some chairs that look borrowed from Morpheus in the Matrix film trilogy. One thing that isn't working in this story is that the notion that the far future end of time and the universe is just some 4.5-to-5 billion years in the future. Ahhh, that kind of only takes us to the point where our sun will balloon to red giant size and possibly roast the Earth, as seen in "The End of the World" (story no. 162). The rest of the universe, however, is widely predicted by scientists to have a lot more kick left in its legs. If you really want to get a nice freaky sense of what the universe is headed towards at the end of time.... and how much further stretched out that time is, check out the season two finale of "The Universe" titled "Cosmic Apocalypse". Now THAT was a freaky ride.

On the bright side, Ashildr's scene here may be the first time in the history of the canon TV episodes that the Doctor's half-Human nature was acknowledged since it was first mentioned in Paul McGann's big movie as the Eighth Doctor, and Ashildr nicely repeats on screen the reason why I've always thought it fit into the history of the show quite nicely. Good one.

But on the note of all the discussion of the "The Hybrid", this feels to me like something that's been whispered about backstage since the Sylvester McCoy era, a new excuse to put some mystery into the Doctor's background, something to be hinted at whenever he needs to justify continuing to keep secrets from his ever-present audience. I never expected to get any definitive answers on this, so I'm not surprised when we don't get any in this story. What I am surprised at is how much time, energy, and emotion is spent in this story crying wolf on the idea that we might go somewhere with the Hybrid legend - again, it's a huge non-story we ended up with here.


Forget Everything

One of the biggest groans here is a whole sequence devoted to sorting out who's gonna lose their memory of the entire Doctor-Clara relationship and Moffat-only-knows how much else. Yo, fools! Why is anyone in the room even contemplating such a dumb action? Moffat does pull a line of dialogue out of the air to offer some kind of justification, but there's really nothing compelling or convincing about it, nor does it have any kind of precedent. This whole memory-loss concept is just another poorly-thought-through sledgehammer tactic to give the actors some big emotions to play... which comes across as quite hollow.

Really, since the actors never seem to have a problem deciding to give up TARDIS-traveling roles on the BBC's flagship adventure series to go off and do something else, why is it we can't see their characters coming to a similar decision anymore? How hard would it be to see a character say, "Yep, that was fun, but I think I'd like to try something different now."??? I think it would make a better exit than pretty much anything we've seen since 2005.

I don't mind the diner seen at the end of this odyssey... although I admit it was VERY bizarre and perhaps counterproductive to achieving any suspense in the story to see it being used as a wrap-around framing device all episode-long. But it's a nice way of re-using an old set to put extra production value again into this story. The final scenes of everyone leaving in their respective TARDISes works okay for me, and in a way the end result underscores how SILLY the underlying temporal concerns had been from the start.


At any rate, "Hell Bent" turns out to be much more of a pleasant, inconsequential piece of fluff than you could guess from its title alone. It's not bad viewing, but it does seem like much of a non-story. Doctor Who has done far better in most other stories though, particularly this season. Finales just aren't Steven Moffat's strength.

And I do consider these last three episodes to be separate stories in their own right. I might have considered "Hell Bent" to have been the second half of "Face the Raven" (story no. 265), but the middle episode of this trilogy "Heaven Sent" (story no. 266) was so strongly off doing its own far more successful thing, in its own style, that, as was the case with "The Myth Makers" (story no. 20) splitting the epic "The Dalek Masterplan" (story no. 21) off from its prologue episode "Mission to the Unknown" (story no. 19), we end up with more separated instalments than might have been ideal. And in any case, both "Face the Raven" and "Hell Bent" are different enough from each other that perhaps counting as separate stories is truly best for them in any case.


Looking for the annual ranking of the season stories? Well, this time around, there's one more story to go to get to that....



This story is available on DVD and Blu-ray:


Season 35 Box Set
11 stories in 14 episodes
U.S.


NEW for
April 5, 2016.
Canada


NEW for
April 5, 2016.
U.K.


NEW for
March 7, 2016.
Blu-ray U.S.


NEW for
April 5, 2016.
Blu-ray Canada


NEW for
April 5, 2016.
Blu-ray U.K.


NEW for
March 7, 2016.



This story is also available in a 6-episode volume with only some of the special features.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:


half-season volume
6 episodes
DVD NTSC
Region 1 U.S.


NEW for
Jan. 26, 2016.
DVD NTSC
Region 1 Canada


NEW for
Jan. 26, 2016.
DVD PAL
Region 2 U.K.


NEW for
Jan. 4, 2016.
Blu-ray U.S.
Region A/1


NEW for
Jan. 26, 2016.
Blu-ray Canada
Region A/1


NEW for
Jan. 26, 2016.
Blu-ray U.K.
Region B/2


NEW for
Jan. 4, 2016.



Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

Contact page


LYRATEK.COM


Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "The Husbands of River Song"



Home Page Site Map Star Trek Sliders Doctor Who Peter Capaldi Era Episode Guide Catalogue