Hell Bent Advance Review
Note: Doctor Who TV’s pre-air reviews aim to be as detail-free as we reasonably can while still offering a critique, but as everyone’s spoiler sensibilities are different, we advise you read on at your own discretion.
Has it really been 12 weeks already? Where did that go? Perhaps the abundance of interlinked stories has made the series feel shorter this year. Alas, here we are at the grand finale and Doctor Who is going all out. Does it top last week’s sensational Capaldi tour de force? It’s a bar extraordinarily high and the short answer is, unfortunately, no, not quite. But let’s get to that fully later.
After a pre-title diversion to an all-too-familiar diner featuring an all-too-familiar face, we pick back up on Gallifrey, as seen at the conclusion of Heaven Sent. The Doctor is finally home, but this isn’t going to be a happy homecoming. Far from it. Instead he finds himself taking on his own people in a dangerous quest to avenge Clara’s death.
The final episode of this run has a lot of winning factors in place: the long-awaited return of Gallifrey and the Time Lords, character returns and cameos, plenty of other fan-service, and a comment-stirring regeneration. However, while the episode starts off promisingly enough Moffat decides to take things on a different path around the halfway point. As a result Gallifrey ends up taking more of a back seat. After all the build-up and a decade long absence (sans flashbacks,) this is disappointing, especially as threads are left unresolved by the end of the episode (though it does leave scope for future exploration).
The strand the story ultimately ends up following is the most conflicting part. Face the Raven set things up on a grim note; we then saw the Doctor grieving and tortured for over billions and billions of years in Heaven Sent. Yet in Hell Bent Moffat dabbles with things. This is going to split fans (again!). Some will undoubtedly find a sense of closure in these developments, while others might be irked that things weren’t left alone. For this reviewer it’s a case of the latter and it felt like it somewhat devalued certain scenes that came before.
One thing that can’t be faulted is Peter Capaldi, who is once again brilliant (though inevitably not quite as good as last week – it’s that very high bar again). Impressively Capaldi does a lot of acting without even speaking a word early on; making you wonder just what actions the Doctor has in store. When he does finally get to business though this is probably the furthest the 12th Doctor has come to the “Time Lord Victorious” yet. He is verging on unlikable due to some extremely questionable actions. How far would the Doctor go to heal his heart? A bit too far!
There’s a few character returns, but frustratingly we are not permitted to talk about a couple of the most important, even though the episode’s publicity has once again spoiled them for everyone by the time this review is published. So apologies if we don’t mention these characters or actors. We can assure you these ‘mysterious’ individuals are very good again.
Comprising the rest of the guest cast is Donald Sumpter (some may remember him from The Sarah Jane Adventures – explain that one Moffat), here playing The President. Sumpter is a seasoned actor though he does chew the scenery a little much here. Joining him and reprising his role from The Day of the Doctor is Ken Bones as The General. He’s fine, but little more than a side character again. The other more significant character of note is Ohila played by Clare Higgins (last seen in The Magician’s Apprentice). Sadly she doesn’t really get enough time either. This is a role that would be nice to see fleshed out a lot more.
The episode looks incredible thanks once again to the stable directing hand of Rachel Talalay. The overseas filming really pays off once again with the deserts of Gallifrey allowing an early Western infused feel. There’s also a couple of trips to some surprising destinations with a chance for some horror elements, though it’s never really a huge focus. Murray Gold as always delivers a fine soundtrack and fans will cheer on some remixes of old favourites, and cry at others (in a good way).
Overall, Hell Bent is a reasonable enough ending to Series 9, but falls a little short of being a real showstopper.