Sunday, December 06, 2015

Finale Review with Friends: Hell Bent -Doctor Who Season 9

Hell Bent, the season 9 finale of Doctor Who aired last night. I watched it Alice followed by a two
hours discussion on everything that happened, including what we liked, didn't like, and things that made us go WHAT?!?

It made for a fun night. We had the same reaction to many questions so to avoid me only saying "ditto" I have labelled our answers as "we." We also both realized that some of our thoughts will probably change after rewatching. We both have favourite episodes that we disliked the first time we saw them. Aurora watched the episode this morning and emailed me her thoughts.

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS and strong opinions.

The Good:
Aurora: The military siding with the Doctor (dropping their weapons and crossing the line in the sand). That he remembered Clara (when he was in the dinner) but not everything about her (but the Doctor lies). I liked it was the same Dinner Amy, Rory and River went to and that they got mentioned.

We: The music through out the episode was AWESOME! And there were a number of great lines and cute moments. One of the best was just as the Doctor is about to eat his soup a military flying ship arrives and he is commanded to lay down his weapons. The Doctor sets down his spoon:
The Lord President's reaction after the firing squad shoots, " You all missed?!"
"You cramp my style, look at your hats." -The Doctor
It made us very happy that the Doctor had a plan to save Clara, we don't like the results of the plan, but that he did more than just stand and watch Clara die in Face the Raven was good.
The exchanged between the Doctor and Clara when he yells, "Trust Me!" and Clara responds, "Not when you are shouting."

We LOVED the classic interior!
"Lunch followed by breakfast because we are time travelers and invent a flying submarine because it annoys me no one ever has." -The Doctor
When Me, the actress who is/was on Game of Thrones said, "Summer doesn't last forever." and I (Liz) blurted out "Winter is coming." We laughed through the next commercial break.
During the same conversation Me gives the theory that the Doctor and Clara together could be the Hybrid. We liked that she points out it was Missy that introduced them, Missy that has kept them together, and the Master loves chaos.
That moment you realize that it is the Doctor who forgot Clara and the expectations/roles between the two in the dinner scene suddenly flip in your mind. That was great.
It was the sadness moment, but good sad, when the Doctor said, "if we met again I would know" only he doesn't (or does he and he's lying?)

Alice: Clara's lines "they are the best years and they are mine" and "entitled to my past."
Me's line, "she lived where she stood"
The pears mentioned in the Doctor's good-bye speech "no pears, too squishy"

Me: I loved when Waitress Clara asks "do you travel" and the answer was "from time to time."
Then the Doctor saying "Clara Who" which at the time I thought was cute but now it was a great foreshadowing to Clara's last scene.
I think the Barn the Doctor is at is the same one from Day of the Doctor (maybe?) and definitely Listen, which I liked.
I always enjoy seeing written Gallifrian and the bizarre Time Lord fashion, especially on the Lord President's hood-collar-thing. We created a game, "What Does That Say?"

The Bad:
Aurora: The Doctor seems to care about Clara more than any other companion and wife he's ever had. This seems weird. But I suppose that fits with him remind himself he's not her boyfriend?

We:This might have been the TV we watched the episode on but we found the background music in some scenes made sections of dialog hard to hear.

The colours and sounds during Clara's rescue made artistic sense but were a migraine waiting to happen.

The Doctor wasn't Doctory, he even commented on it "Can't be a doctor all the time" but that was the whole reason he forgot the War Doctor. And yet, even the War Doctor was still the Doctor, he (and we) just didn't know he had saved Gallifrey till the Day of the Doctor. And they made a big deal during the stand off that the Doctor doesn't use weapons and minutes later he shoots a person. NOT OKAY!

Having the Doctor forget Clara feels wrong. It felt like they wrote themselves into a corner and could not figure a better resolution. Alice also pointed out, that it was only a gamble for the Doctor not Clara because Clara "becoming the Doctor" would know she had been successful. Also she had less to lose then the Doctor. She took the memories from the Doctor not to save him and making him forget is the very violation she argued against.

The last thing we discussed, which I (Liz) struggled to think of where to include it was there was a lot of recycling of past ideas and themes. The duty of care woven into 12 and Clara's relationship reminded us of a similar statement made by 9 regarding Rose. Taking "the long way around" reminded us of Reinette in The Girl in the Fireplace. The recreating a memory by the hole they left was the solution 11 used with Amy to save Rory and then Amy used to bring back the Doctor in season five. The reuse of the dinner was nice (had us asking how Clara knew exactly how it looked) but was nice. And then the biggest reuse was the memory wipe. Only Donna's loss of memory made more sense and was better executed.

Alice:  There are two sexist lines against men that were troublesome, the "man-cold" and the female general's comment about male egos. Moffat is often criticized for being sexist or misogynistic. Disparaging the other gender to be like "we do it to everyone" does not improve things. The solution isn't to be sexist against men. The solution is to stop being sexist.

The story the Doctor tells Clara about the person who escaped from the Matrix, who stole the president's wife or daughter and stole the moon. It seemed out of character for the Doctor (especially cause it would have been an earlier Doctor's adventure) so less like a story the Doctor would tell and more like one Moffat would tell at a cocktail party.

Having the theory that the Doctor is half human brought back issues about a comment the 8th Doctor made and makes them almost canon again. Why would the writer's do that when the answer has been, "the doctor lies."
Clara becoming the Doctor goes against the point of her death.

Me:We are told the Matrix is a dangerous place that there are guardians, monsters used to protect it, even the wires are dangerous. Then Clara and the Doctor sit and have this long conversation close to the dangerous wall and nothing happens. I haven't been thing frustrated since The Angels Take Manhattan when they have the long discussion on the roof -who was looking at the angel?!?!

The Crazy Sauce:
Aurora: The Doctor is now president (or whatever) of Gallifrey... and he leaves it?

We: When the episode started we were both "huh?" this doesn't fit with where we last saw the doctor. But it was neat how they did the dinner scenes and the storytelling. I (Liz) thought that the waitress was one of the echo Claras that were created from the Doctor's time-rift.

The Gallifrians standing and watching the Doctor almost eat a bowl of soup was just odd, followed by their clapping when he draw the line in the sand...also where did the crowd come from and where did they go?

The confession dial left us with many questions, like was it really 4.5 billion years? But he was always reset so just a few moments from when Clara died. How does that factor into things.

Alice: The Lord President has a glove that can remove regeneration.

Me: This isn't crazy per say, but with a female Master and the general regenerating into a woman, I feel like they are preparing us for the next Doctor to be a woman.

Things We Are Not Okay With:
  1. The Doctor punched a person
  2. The Doctor holding a gun (of any kind)!
  3. The Doctor shooting someone!!! The Doctor asking what regeneration the General was on and hi joke about death is like a man-cold are meant to soften the Doctor's actions. It doesn't. Even with the regeneration THE DOCTOR SHOT A PERSON. It is still a violent assault with a weapon. This was also frustrating because it contradicted the Doctor's comments to Wilfred about guns.
Character Development:
Aurora: There was the strong emphasis on the Doctor need to care for Clara above all others. Other than that I didn't really think about it/notice anyone be different than another episode.

We: The Doctor's character was blown up, reconstructed, and reset. It was a regeneration without a regeneration.

Clara ended where the story has been leading her. Since Danny Pink's death (season 8) Clara has been moving towards being the Doctor. She completes that arch when she wiped the Doctors memories and got a TARDIS of her own.

Ohila, the immortal from Karn, first appeared in the mini episode The Night of the Doctor, then in the season 9 Prologue, and The Magician's Apprentice has always been a sage giving advice. She was unfortunately characterized in this episode. First she was there was a witness, almost like a stand in companion asking the very questions we wanted to ask the Doctor. But once Clara returned her role seemed to switch and she replaced the exiled Presidents as an adversary of the Doctor.
The return of Me seemed forced but beyond that her character traits seemed to have been completely forgotten like her finite memory and contradicts other aspects of her past interactions with the Doctor.
How Were The Monsters?
Aurora: I liked seeing usual foes. I felt bad for the Dalek
Alice: There wasn't a monster unless you count what the Doctor was doing. Oh, I guess there was the monster hall of fame to show how important and dangerous the Matrix is but it didn't do anything and the sentries could have been so interesting.
Me: I liked seeing the mix of classic monsters. I also felt bad for the Dalek and even jumped at the second Angel...but I am a wimp. I would have liked more neat stuff to happen in the Matrix.

Missed Opportunities:
Aurora: No thoughts
Alice: There were two moments for me 1) right after Clara is "saved" and figures out the Doctor's plan she says "this isn't right." 2) The hybrid conversation with Me in the time bubble was a missed chance for closure about the hybrid. They both made speculations and theories about the hybrid but it felt open ended.
Me: It would have been a different story but Time Lord's Matrix and lack of using it's guardians feels like a missed opportunity.

How Do You Feel Hell Bent Wrapped Up The Season?
Aurora: Yep, all that Gallifrey stuff was wrapped up, I liked the excuse of why the Doctor likes Earth so much (maybe we'd heard that before, but I don't remember it or paid attention to it). We don't ACTUALLY know who or what the hybrid is (though I think it's the Doctor himself).

We: It didn't. The big heavy handed question of the season was "who/what is the hybrid?" That was never answered. The idea of the hybrid was woven through the whole season but lacked the elegance of "Bad Wolf" or the crack in the wall. And the wrapped up seemed to be the unsatisfying conversation about possible theories between the Doctor and Me.

The other theme was the Doctor's duty of care for Clara. Having him go back and save her satisfied that...also clear the frustration of the Doctor stoically standing by watching just watching Clara die seemed out of character, I am glad he was just needing time to figure out a plan to save her. However, having Clara strip his memories and run away doesn't satisfying conclusion for this theme.

The last theme that began in season 8 was Clara becoming the Doctor. This is a point Alice and I disagreed on:

Alice: Clara cannot be the Doctor. We had already learned she couldn't be because she is human.When humans attempt to be a Time Lord they run into the brick wall of their limitations and it is disastrous. It is why Donna's memory was wiped. This whole season she tried to be the Doctor and when she ran into her limitations the Doctor (or Missy) was there to fix things. Face The Raven felt like the perfect end to her "be the doctor" story arch. It was a great conclusion and this finale undid that. Don't get me wrong, a girl a breath away from death traveling with her immortal companion through time and space in a 50s dinner, that is a show I would watch! But as a conclusion for Doctor Who it was done better with Donna's goodbye and this just fell flat for me.

Me:Once Alice said her bit, I agreed, but during the episode I was like awesome. I have enjoyed the twist on who is the Doctor and role switching that began in the season 8 finale when Clara's eye appeared in the intro in place of the Doctor's.  I thought it was a decent parting of ways, a bit frustrating because I did not like the Doctor forgetting, but fun.And when she flew off in her TARDIS with Ashildr/Me was was ready for the spin-off.
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How Does Hell Bent Compare To Past Finales?
Aurora: I sort of lose track of what are season finales, or just hiatus breaks. But it did seem more SERIES finale in the American sense than the British sense. It would not surprise me if someone was going to tell me that was the last episode of Doctor Who ever.

We: Hell Bent did not farewell in our comparison. We started by thinking about the previous eight season finales, deciding what were are favourites and why. The things we love are the Doctor being brilliant, clever solutions, and genuine pulling on our heartstrings. What we dislike were convoluted stories that have solutions that seemed to be "because stuff."

Hell Bent has some fun lines, twists, and amazing music. Only we didn't feel like the episode was ready for the public. We were expect to suspend belief beyond reason and take leaps that weren't clearly prepared for or that felt natural. In Whovian speak, it was wibbly beyond the point of enjoyment. Even our least favourite finales wrapped up the season's story arch. The Hybrid reveal sucked, it wrapped up nothing. And where most of the finales pulled on our heart strings, causing all the feels, and evoking real tears and joy. This took the feelings Face the Raven and Heaven Sent gave and set them on fire. I (Liz) was so upset about Clara's death in Face the Raven, I was not ready for her to leave and had planned to rewatch all of her episodes. After Hell Bent, I am "meh" not interested in the rewatch and don't care two hoots that she's gone. The only feeling this episode gave us was confusion and outrage.

The biggest reason Hell Bent is contending for our least favourite finale is that it had all the trappings of good Doctor Who, there was a dalek, it occurred on Gallifrey, but we don't know who that guy was because it wasn't the Doctor. and the one thing a finale needs if for the Doctor to show up and be the Doctor.

Our Hopes for Next Season:
Aurora: "I want a spin off!"

We: Would like to see an end to the super complex story arches that are in comprehensible and fall apart when the tiniest thread it considered. And a finale that doesn't paint self into a corner. Please stop trying to be so clever that you leave yourself no way out. Be better than LOST. It would be nice to have good stories about running from monsters.

Also, our hopes for the new companion it that it would not be another 20s-30s pretty English girl with sassy. Alice: it would even be great if there were two or three companions like in Classic Who and even an unwilling or anti-Doctor companion. Me: I would like the "idiot" guy from the season 9 prequel "The Doctor's Meditation" and an alien companion, it's been done before.

Did It Make You Excited For The Christmas Special?
Aurora: No, not really. It wasn't a cliffhanger or anything.
We: We are Doctor Who fan so of course we are excited for the special, maybe in spite of this episode.
Alice: I love Doctor Who they would have to do much worse to make me hate it.
Me: Yes, Rive Song!
Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston in Doctor Who 2015 Christmas special 'The Husbands of River Song'

Aurora: 3.5 enemies out of 5
Alice: 1 regenerations out of 5*
Me: 1.5 sonic screwdrivers out of 5*
*Both Alice and I would have rated this episode higher except that the Doctor holds a gun and shoots a person, Time Lord or not, HE SHOT SOMEONE!

What did you think of Hell Bent? Did we get it wrong? Do you agree? Please let me know in the comments.

The BBC's digital Doctor Who 2015 Advent Calendar.
Countdown Till Christmas Special Airs: 19 sleeps
Countdown Till This Whovian sees the Christmas Special: 20 sleeps


Amai said...

I know it'll come off a little egotistically to say this, since I was sort of part of it... but I loved your review. You did a really good job compiling all the random bits into something readable and intersection.

Aurora's Line "It would not surprise me if someone was going to tell me that was the last episode of Doctor Who ever." is going to give me nightmare though.

As to the next companion, I was reading an article where Moffat said they have some ideas but they haven't cast an actress yet. To which I say sigh. An actress (singular). Very different.

Damien said...

Great review and some good points, but there is a missing detail from your review that I need to point out - not because I'm elitist, but because in my mind, it encapsulates all of the egregious un-Doctory things that happen in this episode... and in a weird sort of way, this little detail makes it all make sense in my mind.

The Doctor switches guitars....

Not only does he switch, but it's not just to any old axe... It's an Epiphone SG (The Gibson version was probably too expensive of a prop, but go with me on this one):

The SG has always been a significantly iconic rebel instrument, played by people like Agnus Young (AC/DC), Tommy Iommi (Black Sabbath), and Frank Zappa... this is the relentless, unapologetic guitar that says, pc'll put: "I am here to rock and there is nothing you can do about it..."

Throughout this entire episode, the Doctor embodies that same spirit by doing the unexpected: instead of marching into the city to burn it to the ground - he goes home and waits, he eats a bowl of soup in front of gunships, he walks away from the High Council, he impeaches/banishes the Lord President without lifting a finger, and even pulling a gun on an ally. He is relentless and unapologetic... and to a certain degree, there is almost an entitlement that he has to be so in the face of everything the Time Lords put him through. If he's cruel and un-Doctorly, it's because they pushed him beyond the brink - fully aware AND warned of how he'd respond if they did something to one of his companions.

That being said, there is that moment when he realized he's gone way too far to simply fulfill a "burden of care" and that it has to end. As much as I liked Clara as a companion, I think that Moffat tried way to hard to make Doctor Clara happen... her final scene in Face the Raven was as Me described it: beautiful and sad. It was the moment of validation from the Doctor that every companion wants: to make the Doctor proud of what they've become. It should have been left alone, but that's my opinion. That being said, the "Run you clever boy..." moment at the end was touching.

Ok, so how does the Doctor's guitar make everything alright? It doesn't have to do the expected... because they (The Doctor and the guitar) have nothing to prove to anyone, except that they're going to go the least expected route: the long way around... and with a whole lot of thunder!

Anonymous said...

Frankly I'm still not sure what the heck happened, and I have no desire to research until I can binge the season on Netflix. But there were a few things that stood out to me:

1. Despite maybe feeling the whole Me thing was forced, I rather liked that after making it to the end, presumably the long way at that, she got pulled out and had a chance for a new adventure. Maybe Clara will be her Rose.

2. In a way, Me is also Clara's Rose.

3. I like Clara, but knowing the actress was leaving just made me dreadfully sad for the Doctor. He has lost too many people he loved, and seeing him go off the rails to save Clara kind of showed that he just couldn't survive another loss and still be him. So while I can't for the life of me figure out the "why" of the flip-a-coin memory wipe in the context of the scene it happened in, in the context of the whole series it provided a great relief. He can remember her in stories, but not be destroyed by her leaving. To be able to move on to the next season without that baggage is something I'm very happy about. And for the Doctor to go on to the Christmas special and be able to have FUN with River, rather that just mourn Clara, couldn't have happened otherwise.