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08 December 2015 @ 07:19 pm
Heaven Sent/Hell Bent  
We loved these episodes but I'll happily confess to being mystified about what anyone not steeped not only in the lore of Doctor Who, but also the fandom debates and discussions of the past 20 years, would get from them. They seemed to me to be Moffat in full on commentary mode with the story very much taking second place.

You could probably also more or less treat these as two independent episodes, particularly given the way Face the Raven leads into them.

Heaven Sent is tightly focused, self-contained and claustrophobic with Moffat in full-on "puzzle box" mode. Tame layman spent most of it muttering "Capaldi's really is good, isn't he" (or words to that effect). I think the 12th Doctor era is marked by a sense of doom and melancholy of which I'm not particularly fond, but it is also marked by a supreme confidence that they can ask the lead actor to carry a monologue - or even an entire episode - and that he will do so with aplomb. Having felt somewhat at sea with the 12th Doctor last season I've been very much converted, if not to the 12th Doctor himself, at least to Capaldi as an actor. Tame layman also figured out all the business with hitting the diamond more or less between the second and third iteration which impressed the rest of us no end. However the story works beautifully as a puzzle and nicely showcases Capaldi's talents. I'm not sure it's equivalent to Blink: something that is worth rewatching even when the solution is known, but I suspect it is. It needs the set-up of the confession dial, that has been sign-posted all season, which makes it less standalone than Blink and it doesn't have the latter's sense of fun. On the other hand it has Capaldi: tricky one to call.

Hell Bent on the other hand is a rambling mishmash of a story which relies heavily on fan familiarity for an understanding of its themes. The most obvious is Clara's rejection of the treatment meted out to Donna. Ostensibly the Doctor is "punished" for breaking all his rules by having his memory wiped, but this is also pay-back for Donna's memory wipe. It's not entirely clear, even here, that the Doctor accepts he can not take these kinds of decisions on other people's behalves, or a recognition that, in Clara, he has met his match in determination and desperate ingenuity.

I'm not sure the show has entirely earned this resolution either. Clara's character development has been distinctly patchy, though more consistent over the past two seasons. Even so the idea that the Doctor and Clara have developed a platonic co-dependency that exacerbates both their tendencies to the extreme and the reckless is, well, stretching what we've actually seen a little. It will be very interesting to rewatch with this ending in mind. I think, in fact, that Clara's development after the shaky start of her first half season has been better, we've seen the disaster that was her relationship with Danny Pink, and understood that after that she has been mostly marking time, doing fun stuff with the Doctor, until death ultimately catches up with her. The extent to which the Doctor has become dependent upon her, especially given twelve's more abrasive personality in season eight, has been less well shown, though his paternalistic attitude has been highlighted on several occasions. I'm not convinced the story adequately underlined his disintegration following her death, either. There has been some discussion on Simon Forward's Facebook page (I hope he doesn't mind me mentioning) of the gravity (or lack thereof) attached to the Doctor's murder (or at least forced regeneration) of the General. The intention was surely to shock us with both the Doctor's action and his attitude to it, but the focus of the episode rapidly re-centres itself on the debate over how much control the Doctor is entitled to assume over Clara's life and memory and even though he is "punished" for that, it isn't clear that this punishment is also for his actions leading to that point.

As an aside, [personal profile] sir_guinglain also draws a parallel between Ken Jones's General and the Brigadier. This immediately led me to think of the abortive late 80s attempt to replace Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart with the black female Brigadier Bambera. One hopes T'nia Miller's character has more longevity, especially since Bambera had considerable promise.

And all this, of course, without getting into the numerous throwaway hints to fan lore and discussion. The linkage of the eight Doctor's "half-human" remark; not to mention the suggestion that he is more (or perhaps less) than "just" a Time Lord; the Shobogan (which, it transpires, I have been mis-pronouncing my whole life); Rassilon (we spent a while debating whether it was Rassilon and were somewhat surprised that it was indeed him. Arguably the show moved past his overthrow a bit quickly); the suggestion that the Doctor did not leave Gallifrey because he was bored ("I always thought he was running away from something" NLSS child said in confusion. I think the only classic Who episode she has seen is The Unearthly Child which, of course, also hints that the Doctor is on the run from something); and finally Clara's departure to have her own adventures in Time and Space is not far removed from some of the plans for Ace just before the show was cancelled. In fact, I have thought all this season that the only possible exits for Clara were death or in a Tardis of her own, I just never thought the latter was particularly likely. Having grown out of the belief that a show needs to kill its protagonists off regularly in order to demonstrate "realism" or "grit", I was actually pleased they chose this latter option. I also really hope that this heralds an era when leaving the Doctor is not considered a metaphor for abandoning an interest in the show itself, but as a metaphor for outgrowing one's teacher and finding adventures of one's own. Because, seriously, there are only so many tragic forced separations I can take (though I note that this particular parting contrived to combine the two).

I thought this was Maisie Williams' best performance so far in the show, having been mostly disappointed previously. I'm not sure she completely won me over (though she was competing against Capaldi) but she seemed more confident in playing a character who unequivocally had a correct point to make in debate with the Doctor than one who's position was debatable and possibly wrong.

Still without a background in the debate over the Doctor's paternalistic attitude to his companions, the details of Time Lord culture, the speculation about the Doctor's nature and motives, and the metaphors and problems in framing travelling with the Doctor as the ultimate goal in anyone's life, I would worry that the richness of this episode would be lost and, instead, it becomes a sequence of trivial and/or incomprehensible set pieces.

I loved it to bits, but I'm a somewhat specialised audience.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/181428.html.
bunnbunn on December 8th, 2015 08:35 pm (UTC)
Heaven Sent was brilliant. My Mum, who is certainly not a diehard fan with a lot of context, concurs. I started watching it with one eye, had to put the computer down and focus, it was that good.

Hell Bent... not so sure. I'm not a diehard fan, and I found myself groping for context a bit, with a feeling of not quite having the background to join all the dots together. The switch, where you think it's her that's lost her memory, and turns out it's him, clever idea though.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on December 10th, 2015 10:17 am (UTC)
Yeah, with Hell Bent, I think you need to read between the lines a lot and part of that is knowing where the wider fan conversations have been going and so what the production team were intending because I'm not sure they really spelled out what was going on, on screen.

I'm glad Heaven Sent works in isolation though.
wellinghallwellinghall on December 8th, 2015 08:36 pm (UTC)
Irreverent comment: NLSS Child seems a particularly appropriate title, l now, given her landmark achievement of a few weeks ago.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on December 10th, 2015 10:17 am (UTC)
*g* absolutely. Small Child wouldn't work at all any more.
wellinghallwellinghall on December 8th, 2015 08:37 pm (UTC)
In your first sentence, should there be a "not" added between anyone and steeped?
louisedennislouisedennis on December 10th, 2015 10:18 am (UTC)
Ooh yes! Fixed!
parrot_knightparrot_knight on December 8th, 2015 10:08 pm (UTC)
I appreciated what was being done, like you; but am increasingly wary of some of the creative decisions made and regret avenues which were closed off.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on December 10th, 2015 10:19 am (UTC)
I think the abrupt dismissal of Rassilon was the decision that seems most suspect. I think more work was needed there. Though, of course, he's merely in exile and the Doctor has gone and left a power vacuum at the top of Time Lord society, so we may well see him back in future.
a_cubeda_cubed on December 9th, 2015 06:23 am (UTC)
Thanks for not posting spoilers without a cut. I was away this weekend and haven't caught up with Heaven Sent yet.
cynthia2015cynthia2015 on December 9th, 2015 12:15 pm (UTC)
Moffat certainly made sure Clara got everything in her favour despite the fact she is dead, just delying it because she won't age. Will she visit her family?.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on December 10th, 2015 10:20 am (UTC)
Clara hasn't seemed all that close to her family. Unlike previous companions we've only really seen them once when she had the Doctor pretending to be her boyfriend at Christmas and the whole thing seemed rather strange - so my guess would be that she doesn't.
cynthia2015cynthia2015 on December 10th, 2015 11:30 am (UTC)
We barely saw Amy's parents as well.

I can't remember the actor that played her father in the Christmas special but her grandmother seem nice or was she there so Clara had someone to talk to about Danny?. I guess it doesn't matter since we don't get to see the aftermath of her death.

Moffat is not that big on domestic like RTD did. He focuses on mainly single father with eldest daughter and younger son dynamics. At least its a change from RTD's nagging mother trope.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on December 9th, 2015 06:59 pm (UTC)
I've noticed various 'fridge logic' problems with Heaven Sent, but I don't think it alters my fondness for it (I similarly like Inside the Spaceship even though it makes no sense).

Hell Bent was also good, although as you indicate it felt a bit like one for the fans, from Rassilon and Gallifrey to gender-bending Time Lords and the traditional new Who tears before bedtime, although I think on the whole I'm glad Clara survived, albeit as a zombie. I think overall it was a strong end to a strong season, what might be the best new Who season, although as I said to parrot_knight, I would distinguish 'best' from 'favourite' - it was too dark to really be my favourite season.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on December 10th, 2015 10:23 am (UTC)
I'm not sure I'd characterise it as the best season of Doctor Who. Even its better stories have had some major flaws and while nothing has been terrible, some of it has been fairly weak. It ended on a high note though and I think revealed Moffat to be a more thoughtful writer than he's given credit for, even if I think he struggles to portray some of his more complex ideas clearly on screen.