Doctor Who blogging: “Hell Bent”
[previous: “Heaven Sent”]
“Nothing’s sad till it’s over.”
So Steven Moffat has just told us that nothing can ever be sad on his Doctor Who. Because nothing is ever goddamn over.
Clara’s not really dead: she’s off traveling in the “wiggle room” with Ashildr in their own TARDIS. Such exciting! What adventure! Only it hasn’t been four and a half billion years for Clara since she last saw Ashildr: it’s only been a few minutes. But I guess that’s enough time for her to forgive Ashildr for selling out the Doctor. How long does she need, anyway? Oh, it’s that infamous Clara Oswald recklessness we keep hearing about!
The Doctor hasn’t actually forgotten Clara. He is telling us this story! We are overhearing him as he tells this story to the diner waitress who is actually Clara. He doesn’t remember what she looks like, obviously: he just remembers absolutely everything else. (Except one other thing, which I’ll get into below.)
Or maybe he doesn’t! Maybe he’s an unreliable narrator whom we shouldn’t trust. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe there isn’t really a legend about the Doctor being unarmed during the Time War, a notion so powerful that it would move soldiers ordered to execute him to instead drop their weapons at his feet. Maybe it’s not then a contradiction to see the Doctor do this:
We watched the Doctor kill a man. With a gun. Yeah, that man will regenerate, but just because he can heal — though the Doctor’s “good luck” suggests that’s not a sure thing — the Doctor still murdered him.
(Unless he really didn’t do that at all. Maybe he’s exaggerating his story to the diner waitress for dramatic effect, because why wouldn’t the Doctor invent a story about killing someone? That totally seems like him. *facepalm*)
Without that legend, this is still an outrageous violation of a character we have known and loved for 50-plus years. Having that legend and this action occur within mere minutes of each other is inexplicably bizarre from a dramatic standpoint.
Oh, I know: it’s meant to show us how far the Doctor will go for Clara. But if last week’s episode didn’t make me understand why he would suffer four and a half billion years of torture for her (way worse than the two billion years that episode suggested), there’s certainly nothing here that makes me understand why I should believe that Clara is so much more special than any other companion he’s traveled with that he would do something so out of character. (He wouldn’t pick up a gun for Gallifrey, but he will for Clara Oswald? What a pile of horseshit.) Nothing here makes me appreciate that the power of their devotion to each other could destroy the universe.
I feel like we’re being trolled by this show. “Ha ha,” it seems to be saying. “Did you cry when Clara died two episodes back? Psych! She’s still around.” Did you find this sad, the moment when either the Doctor or Clara was about to forget the other?
Psych! They both still get to remember. Joke’s on you for crying.
If you did. I didn’t. Moffat’s Doctor Who cannot commit to its own story, which makes it impossible to believe in it. Like this: In this episode we learn that the Doctor doesn’t actually know what the Hybrid is and where it is, yet one of his confessions in the dial was that he knew these things. Which means he lied in the confession dial. The Doctor knew he was lying and that a lie would achieve the same result as the truth, but this is contrary to everything that was explicit and implicit about what was happening in that episode. So why we should we trust anything that we see or hear?
And then there’s all the really important stuff that we don’t see or hear! Like the one other thing the Doctor doesn’t remember about Clara: the thing she told him in the Matrix chamber. “People like me and you,” Clara says, “we should say things to one another, and I’m gonna say them now.” And we don’t get to hear them because, I suspect, Moffat has no idea what she could have possibly said. He doesn’t know why the relationship between the Doctor and Clara has been so intense that they could destroy the universe for each other. He hasn’t actually written the drama of their friendship: he sees only what the highlights of that drama might be.
Everything in the gaps between those highlights is the “wiggle room” of Moffat’s Doctor Who… and all that wiggle makes it really tough to care.
Random thoughts on “Hell Bent”:
• He actually drew a line in the sand?
Because Gallifreyans have the same cultural references as people from just one of the many cultures on an uncivilized backwater planet that hasn’t even developed time travel yet.
• The Sisterhood of Karn can just wander into the center of power on Gallifrey? How does that happen?
• Clara can reprogram some Gallifreyan technology on the fly? How does that happen?
• Funny how many Time Lords who aren’t the Doctor can regenerate into women.
Oh, and hey: Maybe in a culture where people regularly change gender, gender wouldn’t be such a concern that someone would have to hurriedly apologize for using “sir” with an “er, sorry, ma’am.” Maybe they would have gender-neutral ways to address people.
• One thing in this episode did move me:
The appearance of the classic design actually made me gasp. And then it made me sad, because it reminded me how much joy I used to get out of this show, and haven’t now in quite a while.
[next: “The Husbands of River Song”]