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"Hell Bent" and other sundry thoughts

It's been a while since "Hell Bent" aired. My initial reaction upon seeing it was intense disappointment, and it devolved from there into hatred, mostly due to discussions about it with my husband, who loathed it (it was his first ragequit during a viewing for a number of episodes, if not all season). Thinking about it now, I don't think I really hate it, but I don't like it. I thought about writing a review here, but put it off for a while, because I couldn't quite get a handle on why I disliked it, but I think I got it now.


Part of the problem was the promise that "Heaven Sent" made about this episode. The Time Lords trapped and tortured the Doctor in a puzzle box for 4.5 billion years, and he came out of it angry and ready to take the planet by storm. We had no idea why they would do such a thing, but knowing they had been stuck in an instant of time and kept there because their own renegade child wouldn't answer a question, almost exterminated by Daleks after a centuries-long war, denied becoming Eternals by said renegade child, and almost wiped from time itself by guess who again, the implication was that they were a tad upset with the Doctor. Thus, we have the war-weary, corrupted Time Lords who've just regained their power on one side and the justifiably angry Doctor on the other side, stepping onto Gallifrey proclaiming that he's going to conquer the planet and leave it in ruins. This episode should have been epic.

Instead, all of that beautiful history and conflict was resolved in ten minutes of the most ineffectual blather from a billion-year old Time Lord dictator. I'm not going to go into detail about how horribly Rassilon was characterized here, though I will point out that he was wearing the gauntlet he used to vaporize the Partisan but apparently felt that using a firing squad repeatedly was the best way of executing the Doctor with "no witnesses". And apparently, the High Council - the hundreds of them we saw in the council chamber - are going to run off with their tails between their legs.

The rest of the episode was a testament to the Doctor's obsession with Clara: it turned out that the only reason he refused to reveal his knowledge about the Hybrid to the Time Lords and chose to stay in the oubliette was because he wanted to make it to Gallifrey to obtain an extraction device to save Clara from her death. So, it's all Clara again, and this time it's a doozy. The Doctor gives up everything he believes in to do this: dissolved the government of his home planet, killed a man (and rationalized that it wasn't a bad thing because he regenerated), and caused a reality-tearing paradox by altering a fixed point, just to save her. What did he learn from it? Nothing: he said he knows he went too far, but rather than taking Clara back to her death and putting things right, he decided to play Russian roulette with a faulty memory-wipe. He only finally admitted to have made a mistake when it backfired on him; knowing the Doctor's usual hubris, if the wipe had hit Clara, he would have decided that everything had worked out exactly right.

However, the problem is far worse than a simple story of watching the Doctor devolve as he loses sight of what's important; after all, "The Waters of Mars" is similar in theme and is one of the best episodes in the entire show. It's made abundantly clear that the Doctor doesn't devolve here: he's already far gone. He cannot function without Clara. In "Heaven Sent", some of the most fascinating and interesting sequences are the ones where we see his thought processes, and in all of them, she's telling him what to do. Without her voice, or what he thinks is her voice, he's ready to curl up in a ball and die. He relies on Clara to tell him what to do, what to say, what's right, when to care. He told her, "You're right. You're always, always right." He's completely obsessed with her, and we're supposed to think that's good. We've already been conditioned to think that, because he's been obsessed with her, controlled by her (consciously or unconsciously) all along.

And therein lies the problem I have with this episode, and I'm finding, with the show in general. It's taken me a while to figure it out, but I think I've finally pinpointed it. Back when I was first watching Eleven's episodes, I remember remarking, "I like this Doctor, but you know, he doesn't feel like the Doctor." My impression of him is pretty much summed up in the Pandorica speech: "I'm the Doctor, and I'm so great and powerful, and I'm here to stop you. You don't even have a chance. Give it up." He knows he's superior. He knows he'll win. And he wants everyone else to know it, too. River had it right when she said, "Now my Doctor, I've seen whole armies turn and run away. And he'd just swagger off back to his TARDIS and open the doors with a snap of his fingers." That's her Doctor.

That's not my Doctor. What was it that made me fall in love with this character? The Doctor that I fell in love with - and if I'm being totally honest, that would be Nine, because I know you think I'm talking about Ten, but it really applies to all of them up through Ten - traveled the universe to see it (or to show his good friend around it), trying to help out wherever he had found a problem, protecting people who otherwise didn't have anyone else to turn to. I found as I delved into the classic series that that was the constant throughout the changes due to regeneration, that the Doctor was simply trying to do what he thought was right, putting right the wrongs because he cared about the people that he met. He had a rough time in the Time War which caused him internal turmoil that manifested in occasionally losing his direction, which was corrected by his companions. This tendency was a character flaw in the tenth incarnation, the darkness that he battled in his very first story, and when he realized he'd gone too far, he knew it was time to die.

Even in his most arrogant forms, these Doctors didn't crave limelight or adulation: they were first and foremost quiet explorers. More explicitly in the classic series, he worked to uphold the Laws of Time and the Web of Time, and Nine and Ten respected them as well. In summary, the Doctor I love is the simple traveler who, through his intelligence, his courage, and the strength of his convictions, is a hero. This is what the last two incarnations of the Doctor have lacked. Eleven swaggered through his episodes, delivering bombastic speeches, making armies turn and run, inserting himself into Earth history wherever he felt like. He was fun to watch, but he never felt like the Doctor.

And then there's Twelve. From the very first, he debated with himself about what it meant to be good, doubting himself all the way through his first series. He begged Clara to travel with him, and received constant guidance from her about what to do, what to say, how to think, and we find out at the end that he actually needed it, that he would have turned and fled without it. When a village was threatened with being wiped out by an alien force, he turned and walked away, refused to help teach them to fight, with the rationale that it was okay because it was only a village being killed, not the whole world. There's now a threshold number of people that have to be threatened for the Doctor to care. This is the man who once stood in front of a handful of people in a Hooverville and screamed at the Daleks, "All right, so it's my turn! Then kill me! Kill me if it'll stop you attacking these people!"

I make no effort to hide the fact that I hate Clara. She has not only been a wildly inconsistent character with ambiguous morality, but she's also been made so important to the Doctor's entire history that I'm surprised that it didn't turn out that she's the Doctor's human mother. (It can still happen. She has a TARDIS now.) However, this has nothing to do with Clara; this disintegration of the Doctor's character would have appalled me if it had happened with Donna as the target.

This is why I don't like "Hell Bent", and why I've come to the conclusion that this show no longer enchants me. It can't. The Doctor doesn't have a reason to travel - or do anything else - anymore, and he simply doesn't truly care. I no longer can trust the Doctor to do what's right, to fight for the underdog, to find the glimmer of hope in the darkness. He talks a good game, but he's been shown to no longer believe it. I completely understand that the show cannot stay the same forever and that the different incarnations have to be different, and that's fine. I also completely understand that other people have different views on what the show should be, and that's fine, too. I'm good with that. I'm content to live in the Doctor's past, with the incarnations that I love, and the show can go on without me. I'm sure I'll watch the future seasons as they come along, and perhaps, with the attitude that I'm just watching some angsty sci-fi show and not the Doctor, I'll enjoy it as that. Meanwhile, I'm happy where I am.

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Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
bas_math_girl
Dec. 15th, 2015 11:05 pm (UTC)
You've managed to put your finger on all the things I've been having problems with lately. Clara was elevated to an insane height whilst failing to have prove to me why she should (but apparently being an arrogant risk-taker is what ticks all the Doctor's boxes! Who knew), and the Doctor became far too unlike his original moral character. Doctor Who stopped being an inspirational family show I expect to see and became this massive piece of Doctor/Clara fanfiction.

I prefer my Doctor with a touch more altruism, morality, and lovable-but-embarrassing uncleism (I don't care that that isn't even a word; it fits).
shivver13
Dec. 16th, 2015 07:19 am (UTC)
"Inspirational"! That's the word! Doctor Who was inspirational to me! The Doctor has inspired me in so many ways - the most obvious of which are that I've started traveling to see the world and that I've written fiction for the first time in my life - but Twelve only shows me what I don't want to become.

I do want to say that I've enjoyed the blunt, arrogant, bristly, and socially clueless Twelve personality. He actually was pretty much what I'd hoped he'd be like, back before series 8 started - a prickly blend of Six's bluster and disdain, Three's superiority, and Four's eccentricity. A person can be an arse socially while still being a good person, with a rock-hard moral core - this is probably the entire point of DI Hardy, actually. As a role model to aspire to, though, I'd put Hardy far above Twelve any day.
doctorxdonna
Dec. 18th, 2015 04:55 am (UTC)
Whoop, there it is!

I agree with you on pretty much everything you've said. I really hope Moffat's reign is over and someone with a different vision can come in and bring back the show that I used to love.

Also, Alec Hardy <3 <3.
shivver13
Dec. 18th, 2015 10:47 pm (UTC)
It doesn't seem that he has any intention of doing so in the next few years. While I am sad that Doctor Who doesn't have anything for me anymore, I am still very happy that of its 52-year history, there are 49 years of stories that I enjoy, and still more coming from Big Finish. The show will keep me entertained for years to come - it's just not the current TV show that's doing it.

*a little squee for the Tenth Doctor Adventures in May!* *and a pipe dream for Ninth Doctor Adventures someday*
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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