After months of procrastination which owed more to my wife and I being awake enough to actually sit through them rather than any intentional neglect, we finally sat down to watch ‘Heaven Sent’ and ‘Hell Bent’ Steven Moffat’s final two parter for series 9 of ‘Doctor Who’.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 28/11/2015 - Programme Name: Doctor Who   - TX: 05/12/2015 - Episode: HELL BENT (By Steven Moffat) (No. 12) - Picture Shows:  Clara (JENNA COLEMAN), Doctor Who (PETER CAPALDI) - (C) BBC   - Photographer: Simon Ridgway

Sort-of in love.

New ‘Doctor Who’ has often strived to reconcile the relationship of its central characters, the need to write-out actors and universe-shattering events in its series finales. Four times it’s ended with the death of the Doctor, four times with the destruction of the current Doctor and companion dynamic. The Doctor, Amy and Rory all manage to make it out alive by the end of series 5 and 6, plus Clara and the twelfth Doctor survive the end of series 8, even if poor old Danny Pink doesn’t.

It was therefore interesting to see series 9 try something different. A dead companion, a resurrected companion, a nearly dead companion hanging out with an immortal sociopath – it’s a different sort of journey. For that to happen we need the Doctor to be at his most achingly romantic. Living in a prison for two billion years and repeatedly punching his way through a wall of pure diamond, only to be stopped each time by a hooded beastie giving him a cuddle. When he does punch his way out and finds himself back on his home planet, he’s going to usurp the President, get rid of the High Council and then use the might of the Time Lords to rescue his girlfriend. Except that he finds his plan is a little screwed-up. We get Doctor Hubris again, just like when Ten went nuts at the end of ‘Waters of Mars’.

Here’s the kicker though, he’s not going to remember any of it – well, he’s not going to remember Clara. He recalls their adventures, but possibly not spending two billion years in a confession dial or becoming President of the Time Lords (again). It’s a reversal of the end of ‘Journey’s End’ where Donna’s mind was wiped. Poor Doctor, he can’t recall the girl her sort-of loved.

I say ‘sort-of’ because the final moments of the Doctor and Clara together are just plain weird. It’s not clear if Clara is able to amend the ‘neural block’ using the sonic specs or not, so perhaps the Doctor engineers the ‘block’ to just work on himself. They decide to both press the mind-wipe button at the same time. The look lovingly into each other’s eyes, they almost touch thumbs, they don’t kiss. To be honest I found it to be a little impotent, pathetic even.

I keep asking: Why did this need to happen? Because the Master foresees that the Doctor and Clara will be agents for chaos and therefore perfect for each other, resulting in the unravelling of time. Me decides this needs to stop and declares that they need to break-up. This is remarkably shrewd of her as she gets what she always wanted: a TARDIS, removes the Doctor from the equation and still ends up with the girl – result! In fact if you really wanted to get timey-wimey about it, then let Me go back in time, plant the rumour of the Hybrid into Time Lord history, thus having her earlier self manipulated into killing Clara and capturing the Doctor, triggering the events of her getting a TARDIS.

So, the Doctor doesn’t win. Me does. Clara doesn’t win really, cos if I were her, I’d have pushed Me into the nearest supernova. If anything, this is a cliffhanger, passed off as an ending. And I think that’s why I was largely unsatisfied- it wasn’t a celebratory ending, undercut by tragedy. It wasn’t the resolution to a puzzle box. It was instead our heroes getting a kick in the teeth for simply existing. If this was passed-off as a series end cliffhanger, a to-be-continued it would have had resonance. Instead the Doctor gets a bit of his mind-wiped, a drop in the ocean for a near-immortal. He picks up a new sonic screwdriver and re-dons the velvet jacket. Now what? So what?

Another problem, at least to my mind is that this is a tragedy played out to the tune of romantic comedies. ‘Heaven Sent’ is ‘Groundhog Day’ or ’50 First Dates’, the Doctor wants to win the woman of his dreams by repeating his actions over and over again, romance through perseverance. ‘Hell Bent’ is ‘ Sweet Home Alabama’ where the Doctor comes home, treats it with total disdain, but eventually realises that even he needs to play by the old-fashioned, home-spun rules. Home is even portrayed as a barn, it doesn’t get much more folksy than that. He even upsets all the old fogies in charge, just like ‘Footloose’.

Old people are grumpy.

Old people are grumpy.

One more word I could use to describe both parts is ‘intimate’. Not necessarily reflecting the emotional content, but if you’re going to make ‘Heaven Sent’ a one-hander, it would have been nice to have ‘Hell Bent’ a little more filled with characters. Admittedly, budget will always be an issue, but the epic and beautifully shot Gallifreyan landscape didn’t really match the four interiors we were treated to: barn, board room, Tron clinic, cloister. Even the end of the universe is just one woman sat in a chair. It felt empty and lacking in scale. This is perhaps precisely what was wanted, to put the Doctor and Clara’s relationship front and centre, but even then I think ‘Doctor Who’ should always aim for a little bit more than two people talking, shouting and getting a bit upset with each other.

There was a lot to love in series nine. Excellent returns for Missy and Davros. The Zygons getting a great come-back story (that slipped into talkiness). An intriguing character arc for Me and in ‘Under the Lake’/’Before the Flood’ some of the best balls-out scary ‘Doctor Who’ in ages. It could have all led up to an incredible reveal of what the Time Lords wanted and how the Doctor could defeat them. In the end they were grumpy and shouty and a little confused by their own motivations, exactly the same applied to the Doctor and Clara.

At the end we see the two TARDISes go their separate ways. I thought, if I was given the red button choice, which one would I follow now? The duplicitous Me, to all intents and purposes a Doctor without a moral code, plus his funny, loveable companion or the grumpy old man, moping over his memory-loss and lacking purpose? Somewhere along the way, for me at least, the tone got lost, confusion reined and the fun disappeared in the other TARDIS.

Advertisements