Doctor Who Series 9, Episode 12
Posted by Kim
“A week ago you said to me “Do you believe I’ll never be too far? If you’re lost, just look for me, you’ll find me in the region of the summer stars.” The fact that we can sit right here and say goodbye means we’ve already won. A necessity for apologies between you and me, Baby, there is none.”
A familiar diner in the middle of the Nevada desert with a familiar tune on the jukebox. A roguishly handsome Scot easily banters with a beautiful English rose. “How did you get out here,” he asks. “Magic,” she replies with a hint of a smile. It’s achingly familiar yet it feels entirely different. Of course, we know that these two are The Doctor and Clara Oswald…but it seems as if THEY don’t. He strums his ever-present guitar (a new model that had guitar nerds cheering) and the opening notes of what we know as “Clara’s theme” echo through the diner. Her eyes light up ever so slightly, as if she knows this one.
CLARA: Is it a sad song?
DOCTOR: Nothing’s sad till it’s over. Then everything is.
CLARA: What’s it called?
DOCTOR: I think that it’s called Clara.
CLARA: Tell me about her.
Or, as Ood Sigma once told the Tenth Doctor, “This song is ending. But the story never ends.”
Raise your hand if you totally expected “Hell Bent” to open with a sweetly melancholy scene between Twelve and Clara? No one? Good. Doctor Who has been all about keeping us on our toes this season storytelling wise, sometimes with disastrous results (“Sleep No More”, WHY DO YOU PLAN ON DOING A SEQUEL?) but often with thrilling ones (“Heaven Sent”). Ten years after the Ninth Doctor grabbed Rose Tyler’s hand and told her to run for her life, Doctor Who refuses to (as Sage said in her last recap) rest on its laurels. Steven Moffat, Rachel Talalay, Peter Capaldi, and Jenna Coleman are all at the top of their game right now and it’s been a PLEASURE to watch. So let’s dive into “Hell Bent”, shall we?
Okay, I know we’re supposed to SUPER CARE that The Doctor has returned to Gallifrey at last. But really, given the weight of everything that happened with Clara, the first 20 minutes of the episode ended up being almost an afterthought. Thus, here are the three things I learned from the Doctor’s return to Gallifrey…
- Gallifrey is basically the space version of Panem. Think about it. You have all those crazy mofos who dress funny in the Urban Capitol and the downtrodden common folk in the rural areas. Guess which side The Doctor relates to? Instead of going directly to the city to tear the high council apart, The Doctor retreats to his barn from “Day of The Doctor” and “Listen”. He is surrounded and taken care of by the residents of that area. He just wants to eat his soup. He LITERALLY draws a line in the sand when the soldiers from the Capitol show up. (“Get off my planet.”) The Doctor is surrounded by the common folk who may as well be giving the soldiers the Mockingjay signal because The Doctor is the Gallifreyan Katniss Everdeen. “Who does he think he is,” Rassilon sneers. “The man who won the Time War.” DAMN SKIPPY. Even the soldiers sided with him when it came down to it. He’s a WAR HERO and don’t you forget it.
- Rassilon has always been and will be a dick. GOOD RIDDANCE.
- OH HEY TRANS-REGENERATION IS CANON.
If you read our post on Long Island Who, you’ll recall that Sage and I were on a panel about whether or not there should be a Female Doctor. (There should be.) The contrarian (HA) teenage boy on the panel insisted that one of the reasons against trans-regeneration was the fact that we had never SEEN it on-screen. (Graeme Burk: So what you’re saying is that you would need to ACTUALLY see John Simm regenerate into Michelle Gomez to believe it? CTB: Yes.) IMAGINE MY DELIGHT when we saw the General regenerate into a woman with a FIERCE smoky eye right before my eyes. When the underling who witnessed the regeneration immediately adopted his pronouns as if he were used to seeing this all the time, I CROWED. And when the General admitted that her last body was the only time she had been a man and she was relieved to be “back to normal”, I jumped up and down and pumped my fists as if I were Tom Cruise on Oprah. THANK YOU Steven Moffat. THANK YOU. And I hope that kid stopped to think when he saw this episode. I imagine he probably added this to his list of why we don’t NEED a female Doctor because “Haven’t we be given enough now?” but one can dream. Maybe we’ll know at LI Who next year when we are inevitably on this panel again.
“We had some good times, didn’t we? We had some good tricks up our sleeves. Goodbyes are bittersweet…but it’s not the end. I’ll see your face again.”
WAITRESS!CLARA: Is this a story or did this really happen?
DOCTOR: Every story ever told really happened. Stories are where memories go when they’re forgotten.
So how does Clara Oswald factor into this? After The Doctor banishes Rassilon and the High Council, Ohila from the Sisterhood of Karn (who should have been carting around a bowl of popcorn because she was really only there to watch the show) and The General sit The Doctor down so he can spill what he knows about The Hybrid.
DOCTOR: I’ll need help, obviously.
GENERAL: Gallifrey is at your command.
DOCTOR: Oh, not from you lot. No, you’d cramp my style. Look at your hats. I’m going to need the use of an extraction chamber, to talk to an old friend.
OLD FRIEND. HA. Whatever you say, Doctor. Thus we return to the Trap Street where Clara Oswald stands with her arms outstretched. (Me: DON’T MAKE ME LIVE THROUGH THIS AGAIN.) Time freezes the moment before the Raven hits her chest. A door opens and a hand appears. “This way. I can save you.” It’s VERY “Fires of Pompeii” and I am too fragile for this.
Clara is understandably a little panicked once she enters the extraction chamber. She was about to die and MORE IMPORTANTLY, she was fine with dying. While she is thrilled to see The Doctor and obviously delighted to actually be on Gallifrey (Sage: Even in near-death Clara doesn’t lose her sense of adventure), Clara’s primary response is one of confusion. How is she here? What is The Doctor doing? To Clara’s credit though, her response to the whole “frozen before her final heartbeat” thing is minimal. She’s more concerned, as she’s ALWAYS been, at how this is affecting The Doctor. What OF The Doctor in this moment? Well, The Doctor looks at her like she is the most precious thing in the world that he would do ANYTHING to protect. (In other words, he’s a little crazed but in the best way possible.) “We have extracted you at the very end of your time stream to request your help,” the General says. “Once we’re finished here, you will be returned to your final moments. Your death is an established historical event and cannot be altered. I’m sorry.” The Doctor’s response to that is basically “Fuck that noise.” He will not let Clara die a second time, even if that would fracture the entirety of time and space. And despite his protestations, the General KNOWS this. Clara, naturally, is horrified because the LAST thing she wanted was The Doctor to be in this kind of mental place. She grabs his fingers, hoping her touch will stop him because she doesn’t WANT THIS (MY HEART), but The Doctor will not be deterred. He shoots the general (prompting the trans-regeneration, so thanks for that), grabs a human-compatible neural block, and runs away with Clara. Clearly “Hell Bent” was meant to describe the Doctor’s determination to save his Clara, no matter what the cost.
WAITRESS!CLARA: So what was it, the thing you took?
DOCTOR: There was only one way to keep Clara safe. I had to wipe some of her memory.
WAITRESS!CLARA: Of what?
DOCTOR: Of me.
The Doctor and Clara flee to the Cloisters, which is essentially a rogue’s gallery of The Doctor’s greatest foes (spotted: Weeping Angels, a Cyberman, and a Dalek). It also happens to protect the Matrix Database, a living computer where all Time Lords are uploaded when they die. As The Doctor tells Clara about it, she realizes that the Matrix is how The Doctor was able to escape Gallifrey for the first time. She looks at him with the wisdom of a person who has been gone billions of years without even realizing it. Somehow she KNOWS what she’s been through. “How long has it been for you since you last saw me,” she asks gently. The Doctor brushes off her question as if he is embarrassed for her to know JUST how lost he was without her. Clara, precious Clara, doesn’t let the subject drop. “Tell me what they did to you. Tell me what they did to The Doctor.”
When we watched “Hell Bent” we commented on the time it took for The Doctor to grieve the loss of Clara. Well, it turns out we were wrong. The Doctor wasn’t grieving Clara, he was trying to figure out a way to SAVE her. He led the Time Lords to believe that he had information about the Hybrid so he would have something to bargain with. “What were you bargaining for,” Clara asks, even though in her heart of hearts she knows the answer. “What do you think? You. I had to find a way to save you. I knew it had to be the Time Lords. They cost you your life on Trap Street, Clara, and I was going to make them bring you back. I just had to hang on in there for a bit.”
A LITTLE BIT. OKAY.
By this point, The General and Ohila have shown up, so when The Doctor refuses to divulge exactly how long he was in the confession dial, Clara turns to them. “We think four and a half billion years,” Ohila says solemnly. “He could have left anytime he wanted,” the General adds. Clara’s REACTION to this information though. She looks like she was punched in the stomach. She looks like she wants to strangle The Doctor and cover his face with kisses at the same time. She’s furious with him yet she’s never been more in love with him. “Why? Why would you even do that to yourself?” “I had a duty of care,” The Doctor says simply, almost dazed from the sheer amount of weight that simple admission carries. Being The Doctor though, he can’t deal with too much emotion at one time, he starts to talk about how they need to get to a TARDIS so they can buy themselves more time. But The Doctor’s “duty of care” admission is enough to push Clara from asking The Doctor to stop what he was saying in “Face the Raven” to “People like me and you…we should say things to one another. And I’m going to say them now.”
Of course the camera pans away before Clara starts talking, leaving Clara and The Doctor with their Lost in Translation moment. I mean, we all know what Clara said. She told him how much she loved him, how much he’s meant to her, how she would never trade her time with him for anything in the world. She told him how special he is and that she KNOWS what that four and a half billion years was like for him. I think she also told him to LET GO, that it’s OKAY for him to let go of her. The thing is, I think while Clara knew how The Doctor felt about her, perhaps in that moment she realized that maybe he didn’t know how she felt about HIM. That maybe not knowing is what drove him to fight for four and a half billion years. IT ALWAYS NEEDS SAYING, YOU IDIOTS. (Also they clearly discussed their getaway plan, but only after all the important stuff was said.)
Once the important stuff is taken care of, Clara gets her turn to express her distaste for the Time Lords. “You’re monsters. Here you are, hiding away at the end of Time. Do you even know why? Because you are hated. You are hated by everybody. But by nobody more than me.” Clara is 100% done with the bullshit. Who has time for it when you are LITERALLY frozen in the moment before her last heartbeat. The General and Ohila demand to know what she told him. I amazed Clara didn’t laugh in their faces cause that’s no one’s business but hers and The Doctor’s. The one thing she DOES tell them is that she knew that no one would be watching her in this moment. Cue that wheezing groaning sound that brings hope where ever it goes. “You really are thick, aren’t you? The Doctor is back on Gallifrey. Took him four and half billion years to get here. What do you think he’s going to do now? Why, he’s stealing a Tardis and running away. Bye!” Naturally, this enrages Ohila, who cries that The Doctor has gone too far, that he’s completely broken his moral code. Here’s where we get some “Waters of Mars” realness and it’s TERRIFYING. “After all this time, after everything I’ve done, don’t you think the universe OWES me this.” Should you at all question how The Doctor feels about Clara…allow me to present the fact that the ONE THING he feels the universe owes him, after EVERYTHING he’s done, is more time with Clara Oswald. I think that’s a little thing we like to call canon. *places the mic on stage because they are expensive*
The Doctor’s new wheels are classic First Doctor because why NOT bring this trip to Gallifrey full circle? Once he and Clara run away, The Doctor is completely manic. He’s SO CERTAIN that he’s going to be able to beat Clara’s destiny. He’s so blind in his determination to save her. Every moment that he refuses to accept that maybe this time he won’t win is like a punch in the heart. Again, we have to look at Clara here. She’s never angry at The Doctor for being unable to save her. She is eternally grateful for the extra time with him but she never expects that it will last forever. I do think Clara’s serenity pushes The Doctor to fight harder. He is clinging to her so tightly because he knows she is on borrowed time. He’s clinging to her because he’s been alone for 4.5 billion years and The Doctor should NEVER be alone for that long. It’s all just awful.
DOCTOR: This should work. This has got to work.
CLARA: What if one last heartbeat is all I’ve got? What if Time isn’t healing? What if the universe needs me to die?
DOCTOR: The universe is over! It doesn’t have a say any more! We’re standing on the last ember, the last fragment of everything that ever was. As of this moment, I’m answerable to no-one!
*FOUR KNOCKS* (SERIOUSLY STEVEN MOFFAT? ARE YOU TRYING TO MURDER ME?)
Who else should we expect at the end of the Universe but Lady Me, the patron saint of all the Doctor’s leftovers? The Doctor is completely not surprised to see her there, it’s almost like he was waiting for her to show up. (YOU GUYS, it was the first time he called her ME and MEANT it, my heart can’t take it.)
DOCTOR: The one and only Me. Finally, you earn the title, sitting here in a reality bubble at the end of Time itself. How are you sustaining it, by the way?
ME: Brilliantly. I’ve been watching the stars die. It was beautiful.
DOCTOR: No. It was sad.
ME: No, it was both. But that’s not something you would understand, is it? You don’t like endings. She died, Doctor. Clara died billions of years ago.
DOCTOR: You killed her.
DOCTOR: You let it happen.
ME: No, I didn’t. Neither did you. She did. She died for who she was and who she loved. She fell where she stood. It was sad, and it was beautiful. And it is over. We have no right to change who she was.
As angry as The Doctor is with her, he needed to encounter Me because she would tell him the TRUTH. He knows he’s running from the inevitable, he just doesn’t want to admit it. “You know why we run, Doctor?” Me asks patiently. “Because it’s fun,” The Doctor says stubbornly. “Because we know that summer can’t last forever,” She replies, proving that Me and Arya Stark are one and the same. (View Game of Thrones through THAT prism if you will.) It’s time to tell the truth…and if you can’t tell the truth to someone like Me, someone who has seen lifetime upon lifetime slip away, then who can you tell it to. Me KNOWS what the Doctor is going through. Perhaps over the span of her immortality, she too has clung to someone beyond the point of logic. While she was nothing but cold fury in “Face the Raven”, Me’s expression now is naught but compassion and understanding. She knows how much he loves her but she also knows how important it is for him to let go. Because she knows the truth. The much feared hybrid is not one person, but two. “A dangerous combination of a passionate and powerful Time Lord and a young woman so very similar to him.” It’s WHY they need to be separated. Because it’s obvious that the Doctor and Clara have no regard for anything other than each other. The Doctor is literally willing to rip apart time and space for Clara just because he misses her.
(And sure, Moff, I’m going to go with this loose definition of “hybrid” because I get what you are going for, but this is really REACHING.)
“I know I’ve gone too far,” The Doctor finally admits. “I’m taking her back to Earth. Somewhere safe, somewhere out-of-the-way. I’m going to wipe her memory of every last detail of me. It’ll be like our friendship never happened.” “That may not be what she wants,” Me replies. Something tells me Lady Me has checked in on Donna Noble at some point in her life.
Unbeknownst to him, Clara is watching the whole exchange from the TARDIS. I imagine her inner monologue was much as mine was. “OH HELL NO.” She takes the Sonic Sunglasses and does SOMETHING to the neuron thingy. Because there is no fucking way that Clara Oswald is going to have her memory wiped without having a say. I don’t know why The Doctor thought he would be able to wipe Clara’s memory without a fight. He’s just too blinded by his desperation to know that somewhere out there Clara is alive, even if she doesn’t know who he is.
CLARA: What do you think? Ashildr’s right, you see? We’re too alike.
DOCTOR: Tell me what you did.
CLARA: What else? What else do you think I did? I reversed the polarity. Push that button, Doctor, it will go off in your own face.
DOCTOR: You were trying to trick me?
CLARA: What were you doing to me?
DOCTOR: I’m trying to keep you safe.
CLARA: Why? Nobody’s ever safe. I’ve never asked you for that, ever. These have been the best years of my life, and they are mine. Tomorrow is promised to no one, Doctor, but I insist upon my past. I am entitled to that. It’s mine.
DOCTOR: Oh, Clara Oswald. What am I doing? You’re right. You’re always, always right.
Do you REALIZE how important this is? A companion DEMANDING her agency? I almost fell of my couch, I was so happy and sad at the same time. God knows I don’t want Clara to leave. But the fact that she demands to leave on her own terms, that she claims the right to her past and her memories…that I can be okay with. And so it comes down to the two of them. Just as it should. The Doctor deduces that Clara wasn’t fully able to reverse the polarity. They can use the neural block and they have no idea who it will affect. “Let’s find out. Let’s do it like we’ve done everything else. Together.”
For a brief moment, Clara considers that they should just chuck it all and run away together. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?
CLARA: How about we just don’t? Why don’t we just fly away somewhere?
DOCTOR: Oh, that’d be great, wouldn’t it?
CLARA: God, yeah.
DOCTOR: Good luck, Clara.
CLARA: Good luck, Doctor.
Naturally, my mind immediately went to one of my favorite OTPs in this moment. Clara and The Doctor know how this is going to end, they know they HAVE to do this. But they allow themselves one more moment to let their imaginations go wild.
Rose: Why can’t I be like you Jack? Just head out for the horizon whenever I feel like it. Say we’ll go there sometime to that pier. Even if we only ever just talk about it.
Jack: No, we’ll do it. We’ll drink cheap beer, we’ll ride on the rollercoaster til we throw up, then we’ll ride horses on the beach, right in the surf–now but you’ll have to do it like a real cowboy, none of that side saddle stuff.
SORRY NOT SORRY.
But because Clara and The Doctor are Clara and The Doctor, they press the button. No turning back now. “I don’t think I could ever forget you,” she says lovingly. “Clara, I don’t think you’re ever going to have to,” The Doctor says, gripping the console. I don’t know why the thought of The Doctor not remembering Clara is worse to me, BUT IT IS. The first face that face saw. The woman who changed him, who made this regeneration the man that he IS. HOW. HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN? I HATE THIS SHOW EXCEPT I LOVE IT. Then. AND THEN. The Doctor fucking tells HER how to BE a Doctor. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME? I am a good person, I don’t deserve this pain.
Clara holds him as he slips away from her, apologizing to him because she never wanted this. This is the LAST thing she wanted for him. But the beautiful thing is the Doctor accepts it, wholeheartedly.
CLARA: There has to be something I can do.
DOCTOR: Smile for me. Go on, Clara Oswald, one last time.
CLARA: How could I smile?
DOCTOR: It’s okay. Don’t you worry. I’ll remember it.
And we’re back to the Nevada Desert. Now we know that Waitress!Clara is Clara!Prime. Now we know that The Doctor doesn’t remember her fully, even though there is a section of his brain and his hearts that Clara Oswald will ALWAYS occupy, even if he’s not fully aware. Now we know that Clara has been asking him all these questions because she’s trying to jog his memory, because she’s trying to see if destiny will smile upon her one last time. “She could be me, for all you know,” Clara says, daring to hope to for a spark of recognition. “There’s one thing I know about her. Just one thing. If I met her again, I would absolutely know.” (IF THERE IS JUST ONE THING, HE BELIEVES IN HER. BYE.) Clara’s face falls and I weep. SHE IS RIGHT THERE AND SHE IS LOVING YOU SO MUCH, DOCTOR. PLEASE JUST SEE HER. Part of him DOES is the thing. You know that he feels an instant connection with this beautiful waitress in the middle of the Nevada Desert, but he doesn’t know WHY. He recognizes the diner, for Christ’s sake. (Pour one out for the Ponds everyone.) Just not Clara. His Clara. His Impossible Girl, who truly IS impossible now, as she lives in that breath between heartbeats. He plays her theme on his guitar and even though she shouldn’t recognize it, she does. (META.)
CLARA: You said memories become stories when we forget them. Maybe some of them become songs.
DOCTOR: That would be nice.
CLARA: Yeah, it would be, wouldn’t it?
Clara smiles one last time, as she opens the backdoor of the diner, revealing Me and the console of the stolen TARDIS. The diner disapparates around him, revealing HIS TARDIS, still covered in Rigsy’s graffiti. He smiles, and there is a hint of recognition in his smile at the portrait on the door. Does he realize he was talking to his Clara the whole time? One can only hope. He surveys the interior of his TARDIS. Clara left one last message for him. “Run you Clever Boy and be a Doctor.” That’s all Clara has ever wanted for him. Be a Doctor. I firmly believe that he will carry that bit of Clara with him for the rest of his life. A new sonic screwdriver (which is BAD ASS) emerges from the console. The Doctor is going to be okay.
Meanwhile, in her TARDIS, Clara grins at Me. The chameleon circuit is broken and the TARDIS exterior is frozen as a diner. (Clara: Awesome.) Clara still has no pulse, suspended in the moment between life and death. Her death is still a fixed event in time. She’s not afraid to go back and face the raven when the time comes. It’s something we all must face. But…there’s a bit of wiggle room, isn’t there? She’s not aging, after all. Gallifrey will always be there waiting for her, even if she takes an age to get there. Besides, Lady Me is due for some adventures and Jane Austen would surely get a kick out of her. Why not take a detour? It’s only fair when you have your own TARDIS at your disposal. “Where are we going,” Lady Me asks, with a glint in her eye. “Gallifrey,” Doctor!Clara replies. “The long way round.”
In the farthest reaches of space, a Police Box and an American Diner cross paths. Like ships in the night, they keep passing each other by.
“You will find me. Yeah, you will find me in places that we’ve never been, for reasons we don’t understand…walking in the wind. Walking in the wind.”
**All lyrics from One Direction’s “Walking in the Wind”. Give it a listen here and I DARE you not to think about Twelve and Clara and their ending.