[WARNING: The Following Review Contains SPOILERS!]
There was a prophecy among the Time Lords of Gallifrey. Indeed, it was more warning than prophecy. It said that one day there would be a hybrid of two great warrior races and that this hybrid would go on to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins at the end of time itself.
President Rassilon, always paranoid, grew fearful of this hybrid. And he sought to learn of its nature from the one person in the universe who had learned something of the threat to come – The Doctor. But The Doctor guards his secrets closely – particularly from the likes of Rassilon. So with the help of the immortal woman called Me, Rassilon set about creating a trap that would put The Doctor in his control.
Rassilon’s machinations would bring about the death of The Doctor’s most steadfast companion, Clara Oswald. More, they would put The Doctor himself through billions of years of torment, as he faced his own worst fears and coped with Clara’s death as he relived one of the worst days in his long memory, over and over again.
Now, The Doctor is free. And he has returned to Gallifrey. The long way around. And he is angry. Betrayed, trapped and with both of his hearts broken, what might The Doctor do now that he’s returned home? And will the universe survive what happens next?
Doubtlessly there are many viewers who will feel cheated by Hell Bent. The Ninth Series of Doctor Who has built up so much and left us with so many questions. What is The Hybrid? Can Clara be saved? And how has Gallifrey returned?
All of these questions are answered, but it is that last one that is answered the most directly and yet not answered at all. When Clara asks The Doctor about it, he dismisses the question as unimportant. And to The Doctor – and the story Steven Moffat is telling here – it is unimportant just how Gallifrey has returned into normal space. The fact that it has returned is all that matters.
This is probably for the best in the long-term. Doctor Who stories set on Gallifrey tend to be tricky things. The classic series lent an aura of terror and mysticism to The Doctor’s homeworld, shrouding it in mystery. Indeed, the name Gallifrey was never even mentioned until well into The Third Doctor’s reign and we never got to see the world properly until The Fourth Doctor’s era. To develop Gallifrey is to risk erasing its power.
The damnable thing about Hell Bent is that Moffat has done more to develop Gallifrey as a place as well as the lore of The Time Lords in this one episode than any writer since Robert Holmes. Yet the viewers who delight in trivia (such as visual confirmation that Time Lords can change both genders and skin colors when they regenerate) will find themselves wanting more, even as they talk about how The Doctor’s facing down a firing squad is just like when The Seventh Doctor did something similar or how The Doctor’s speech about not having to answer to anyone mirrors The Tenth Doctor’s Time Lord Victorious speech. But that is not the story Moffat is telling.
The return of Gallifrey and The Hybrid Prophecy are just sideshows and the big-top is focused once again the relationship between Clara and The Doctor. And this episode is about just how far the latter will go to save a life. Mark Waid once said that when you took away everything else from Batman, you have “a person who doesn’t want to see people die.” I think that sentiment could be applied even more strongly towards The Doctor.
Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and Maisie Williams (returning once more as Me) give stellar performances that sell Moffat’s script. And the direction by Rachel Talalay astounds, particularly the opening sequences on Gallifrey which are shot like a classic Western right down to the atmospheric music and sound effects.
Truly, the only flaw with the episode is that Moffat tries too hard to fake out the viewers with the script. The fact that he is largely successful in doing so doesn’t change the feeling that he may have sacrificed a proper space opera epic for a more heart-felt tale. Still, this conclusion is a satisfying cap to the three-part story-line as well as the series. Still, one can’t help but think something more could have been done.