Doctor Who “Hell Bent” — So is Clara dead or not?

This weekend season 9 of Doctor Who ended with the second episode in the two parter “Heaven Sent” – “Hell Bent”. I was excited! But sadly I was also disappointed by the end; I feel like they could have made more of it.

Oh by the way if you’re afraid of big bad spoilers read on at your own peril!

Glad that’s out the way (am I the only one who thinks spoiler-alerts have got a bit out of control?).

My two biggest Whovian friends both liked/loved the episode, so I’m letting my frustration out on you (yay 😛 ). My problem with this episode isn’t really the basic storyline, or the way it was made, it’s the ending, really. So last week the Doctor was trapped in his confession dial for 4.5billion years (!) and throughout that time the pain of losing Clara was kept fresh because he kept creating new versions of himself. This means that when he finally reaches Gallifrey on the other side of that harder-than-diamond wall, it’s still only as if a few days have gone by since Clara died. This is an excellent premise to take the story further.

The episode opens with the Doctor entering an american diner (the same one he met Amy and Rory in) and Clara is the only other person in there, except she’s a waitress. And the way they talk to each other, you’d think they don’t know each other. My first thought was actually that she was another version of Clara, one of the Clara’s she split into after jumping into the Doctor’s time-stream back in season…7?
The Doctor plays Clara’s theme on his guitar, which is really sad, and then he starts telling Waitress-Clara about Clara and we go back to Gallifrey. I really liked the way this was done, with only a few well-placed cuts back to the diner at the right moment, all the while keeping quiet on the relationship of the Doctor and Waitress-Clara. The point I take issue with really came later on.

So the Doctor is back in Gallifrey, and after the firing squad ordered to kill him mutinied and he got rid of the Lord President guy, he immediately went to an extraction chamber where he saved Clara from the Raven. Kinda. Basically she’s frozen between her two last heartbeats, but can still walk and talk. This seems at first to be a perfect solution (although I honestly thought her death in “Face the Raven” was a good way to go), but of course, it’s Doctor Who and nothing can ever be as simple as all that. According to the Time Lord General Clara needs to die at that exact moment, because it’s a point in history that happened 4.5 billion years ago and if she doesn’t go back and die then all of space and time will crack. Or something like that. Basically everyone will suffer if Clara doesn’t die at the exact moment she did die two weeks ago. I’m not quite sure how that ties in with the whole “time can be rewritten” “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” stuff, but sure, I’ll go with it.

However, the Doctor really needs Clara to be alive, because he has a “duty of care” which basically means he can’t deal with her death and feels guilty about it. This I still don’t take issue with. Bear with me. The Doctor then gets a human compatable neuron block (or neuro block? who knows) and shoots the general. This was the first big shock for me, because even though he’s been through hell and even though the general just regenerates, the Doctor shot someone! He then steals a TARDIS (which looks like a round lift) and runs away with Clara, to the absolute end of the universe, in the hope that he can get them far enough away from the Time Lords that Clara’s pulse will start again (spoiler alert: it doesn’t).

At the end of the universe Me is waiting. She’s been watching the stars die. The Doctor goes out without Clara, who uses his sonic sunglasses to spy on them via the screen in the TARDIS, and the Doctor and Me share another great scene (those two actors just seem to be amazing together, I don’t know what it is, but I love Me and the Doctor together). They throw out three theories about the Hybrid: a) it’s Me (two warrior-races combined) b) it’s the Doctor (apparently the eighth Doctor once said he was half-human) and c) it’s the combination of Clara and the Doctor together (them being pushed together by Missy and how far he went to bring her back is support for that one). Me also says something very important that gave me hope for the ending: “She died for who she was and who she loved; she fell where she stood. It was sad. And it was beautiful.” She accuses the Doctor of not understanding that things can be sad and beautiful at the same time, and of not liking endings. This made me think that maybe the Doctor would accept that Clara had to die, would take her back to the extraction chamber and recognise the beauty of her death (because it really was beautiful, let’s be honest).

However, the Doctor reveals to Me that with the neuron block from Gallifrey he can wipe every trace of him from Clara’s memory and thereby keep her safe. This honestly makes no kind of sense, because even if Clara forgot everything, it would still have happened. It’s like blacking out after getting too drunk, you may not remember what happened, but does that mean the past just erases itself? No, you still have to deal with the consequences. And in this case the consequences would be that Clara would still have to die, with no memory of the Doctor or any of their adventures, or time would fall apart.

Anyhow, because Clara was eavesdropping she heard that and immediately told the Doctor not to be so horrible to her and how dare he anyway because her past is hers and she has a right to it. Go Clara, just what I wanted to hear. Then she tells the Doctor that she reversed the polarity on the neuro block thing, so that if he tries to use it on her, it will go off in his face, and he’ll get his memory wiped instead of her. The Doctor says that she probably didn’t manage to reverse the polarity, but if they activate it together there’s a fifty-fifty chance for either of them to lose their memories of the other. So they do that. !!! Apparently my question “WHY?” is not important here. As they couldn’t really redo Donna, the Doctor loses his memories of Clara and wakes up in Nevada with his guitar (where did that come from I wonder?). Which brings us full circle to the diner, where we now know the real Clara is pretending to be a waitress. The reason the Doctor was able to tell her the story was because he literally only lost his memories of Clara, but not of the adventures he had with her, so he knows her name and nothing more. He says he would recognise her if he saw her again, but sadly that is not true. Clara leaves him and goes through a back door into the second TARDIS. The diner vanishes around him, leaving him alone in Nevada, with his own TARDIS (still decorated as a memorial to Clara) next to him.

Clara and Me are in the diner TARDIS and Me somehow managed to break the chameleon circuit so it’s stuck as a diner. The Doctor flies off in his own TARDIS and the graffiti breaks off it in flakes, as if this were really the last of Clara we’ll ever see. Clara still has no pulse, which means her death has become a fixed point in time, so she decides to go back to Gallifrey and die. “The long way round.” i.e. in a few years when time really is visibly cracking around her and she has no other choice.

That’s really my problem with this episode: Clara had such a good death, like Me said, she died as she lived and it was sad but beautiful. And then Steven Moffat decided he couldn’t deal with Clara’s death. The really silly thing is that the memory wiping thing is so unnecessary! It didn’t save Clara, she still has to go back and die, and the Doctor can’t remember her. What was the point? It was such a useless sacrifice, the only things we have left of people who die are our memories and the Doctor just gave them up. I don’t understand the logic behind that hole plot point to be honest: Donna had to have her memory of the Doctor wiped because otherwise her brain would have burnt up. That I get, but Clara was still going to die, it was a physical thing that really happened, and whether you remember it or not really makes no difference. I think this could have been a really good episode if they hadn’t kept Clara alive. Her statement at the end that “we all face the raven in the end, that’s the deal.” feels off-point and wrong, because apparently you can cheat death, or at least time-travel away from it for a while. The diner TARDIS at the end also felt kind of meh, as if the series were trying to imitate itself. “Let’s have two TARDISes with broken chameleon circuits flying around, one for the Doctor and one for Clara pretending to be the Doctor, companion and all!” It just felt a bit silly and completely nullified Clara’s death two weeks ago.

There, I’m done with ranting, sorry about that. The christmas special will feature River and that’s going to be great, and after that there’ll be a new companion who hopefully will be quite different from Clara. I think they need a very different character, the way Peter Capaldi’s Doctor contrasted so strongly with Matt Smith’s Doctor. Because apart from this last episode season 9 has been really good, so hopefully it will continue that way 🙂

Right, that’s all from me for now (I bet you’re glad about that 😛 )

see you



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