Friday, January 1, 2016

Hybrid Moments: An Overanalysis of "Hell Bent"

If you want to scream, scream with me!
At this point, I'm starting my damn blog post so late that, by the time it's finished and published, we'll be welcoming Rupert Grint as the 16th Doctor (that sounds like a Mark Gatiss casting choice if I've ever heard one), but I guess better late than never, so here we go...

Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine had an amazing episode in the fourth season in which a freak accident causes Captain Sisko to wander lost through time, never able to decide where or how long he will appear, and his son, Jake, spends his entire life trying to figure out how to save him. Executive producer Ira Steven Behr said about the episode: "A love stronger than death. Usually that's romantic love, but for this show, this series, we chose the love between a father and son. And it worked like gangbusters. Everyone could relate to it."  It's true that when people think of great love stories, they think of romantic love.  But for most of us, our significant other isn't the only person we love so much that we're willing to go to any lengths to save them.  For many of us, that's also a parent, a sibling, a child, or even a friend.  "Hell Bent" is the great story of one man's love for a friend.  Not a romantic love--well, there was a little flirting towards the beginning of their relationship--but the slightly paternal, always challenging, strong friendship between two people, and a non-romantic love between them so strong that one was willing to literally break the Universe in half to save the other.  And that makes for a beautiful story.

I watched this episode at a viewing party at a bar with my friends from Mile High Who, with a bunch of new members there to join us, so I was trying my hardest not to start bawling openly during this episode, but at the moment when the Twelfth General told Clara that the Doctor spent 4.5 billion years trapped in the confession dial, I lost it and couldn't stop myself from crying.

Mostly the Doctor was just trying to one-up Rory.

A lot of people, since this episode have aired, have claimed that this revelation now means that the Doctor is even older, clocking in at a whopping 4,500,002,000 years old.  However we need to remember that, while "Heaven Sent" takes place over the course of 4.5 billion years, it only occurred to the Doctor as 3 days.  He may have experienced it over and over again, but he was essentially reborn each time and never retained the memories of his previous times through the confession dial, so from his perspective only added 3 days to his lifetime.  I think we can still say that the Doctor is about 2,000 years old.  He didn't really live and feel the 4.5 billion years, so I don't think that can count as his age.

I predicted that the Doctor's statement at the end of "Heaven Sent" meant that he was the Hybrid because he's half human and half Time Lord according to an often ignored line from the 1996 movie where the Eighth Doctor says that he is "half human on [his] mother's side." My Mile High Who cohost Shelley said that she thought his statement meant that Ashildr was the Hybrid.  As Shelley and I were both in the same room together as we watched this episode, we both shouted "No!" at the screen when Ashildr asked if the Doctor truly was half human.  We were both quite pleased at where Moffat went with that bit of the script, managing to quite deftly avoid a huge civil war within the fandom, or a straight up Han-Shot-First style revolt, by refusing to either confirm or deny the "half human" line.  The Doctor's simple response of "Does it matter?" doesn't force Moffat to do any major rewrites of cannon, but also makes it quite clear that we are not going to explore the possibility, even if it is true, and I'm fine with leaving it there.

The episode never specifically names who exactly the Hybrid is, but I actually like Ashildr's suggestion that the Hybrid doesn't actually refer to a single person, but the combination of two people, who together become the most dangerous creature in the Universe.  I was originally skeptical of the part about the Doctor and Clara playing Russian roulette with a mind eraser, but in hindsight, it makes perfect sense.  It wasn't just because the Doctor wanted to keep Clara safe, but to destroy the Hybrid, one of them had to stop remembering the other, or else the Universe would be at risk of fracturing as the Doctor tried to save Clara.  Many people at the event I went to called this the "Donna Noble thing," but I had to correct them and remind them that, in fact, in the series as a whole, Donna was the third companion to have her memory of the Doctor erased upon departing the TARDIS.  It happened to Jamie and Zoe before her (although, admittedly, that was retconned in a weird combination of fan theories and external Universe material called "Season 6b" that the BBC has inexplicably declared to be cannon).  Still, I feel very bad for the Doctor in losing his best friend.  He'll probably need some cheering up (from River, of course!).

Fear the hybrid!

I had this inkling in the back of my head that I never quite expressed out loud that Steven Moffat might just put some sort of twist on Clara's death.  I find that Moffat, whenever he kills off a character, likes to find a way to allow them to sort of keep living but not really.  River got saved in The Library.  Amy and Rory got to live out the rest of their lives, just not in their own time period.  It only makes sense that he would have found a way to kind of save Clara while still killing her off.  As some of the people around me at the viewing party suggested, a spin-off about Clara and Ashildr traveling through time together in a TARDIS disguised as a 50's themed diner would be pretty amazing.

And I loved Clara's take on her death, because it really put a weirdly positive spin on it.  Her insistence on not having her memory erased spoke so much about who Clara is now and who she has become.  She never asked the Doctor for safety, that's true.  She wanted to live the life she could with the Doctor, regardless of the consequences.  There were episodes this season that hinted that Clara was getting to be too much of a daredevil, a thrill seeker, an adrenaline junkie, that she was starting to act like she was immortal.  Quite the contrary, she simply didn't care because the risk of death was always worth it to experience life with the Doctor in the TARDIS.  It's a different take on being a companion than I've ever seen before, and certainly gave her a dignity in death that the only other dead companion, Adric, never achieved.  The little trick of this episode bringing her back only temporarily, trapped in a moment in time, also gives her the chance to say everything that's important for her to say to the Doctor before she leaves him.  He needed more than just her warning at the end of "Face the Raven" to keep him from turning cruel and hateful from the death of his companion.  He needed a partial memory wipe combined with a big cathartic sense of closure with Clara, followed by a reminder that what made him special to her in the first place was that he was never cruel nor cowardly.  I'm not saying it will erase the pain of losing Clara completely, but it's probably just what he needed to keep him from spinning completely out of control in Clara's absence.

I have to say, from watching "The Day of the Doctor," I somewhat wondered if Moffat had forgotten about the events of "The End of Time."  I know many people are going to respond to that by saying that "I wish I could forget that episode, too," and they're not wrong.  It's not a very good episode, but it has excellent parts to it.  To be more precise, I really think there's a very good 42 minute episode in there that got excruciatingly dragged out into 2 1/2 hours.  The revelation of why the Doctor had to destroy the Time Lords was mind-blowing and perfectly dark, and I really wanted to see that followed up on, yet "The Day of the Doctor" seems to go out of its way to avoid talking about the evils that the Time Lords have committed, namely wanting to destroy the Universe.  Yet Moffat didn't forget about these atrocities, but was perhaps just keeping them out of "The Day of the Doctor" to avoid turning such a celebratory anniversary episode into a humungous bummer.  But "Hell Bent" makes it quite clear that Moffat has forgotten nothing about what happened in "The End of Time," and the Doctor's showdown with Rassilon makes that quite clear.  Rassilon has now regenerated into Donald Sumpter, as Timothy Dalton was busy, but it gave them an opportunity to make him probably the only actor to ever appear alongside both the 3rd and 12th Doctors in an episode.  That the Doctor begins by banishing Rassilon and the High Council from Gallifrey works perfectly and lines up very neatly with cannon, allowing us now to reestablish Gallifrey in the Doctor Who Universe without the complications brought into it from "The End of Time."  Gallifrey will be a rebuilding planet, certainly, and the Doctor is, again, the Lord President for the umpteen millionth time in his life, but I'm pretty sure he handed that duty off to someone else shortly after the events of this episode, most likely The General.

I do have to comment on the brand new Sonic Screwdriver.  I know a lot of crybabies complained about the temporary retirement of the screwdriver at the beginning of this season, but I liked it, as it forced the writers to find some other ways to get around things.  Plus, the Sonic Sunglasses look really good on Peter Capaldi.  Since I'm writing this after "The Husbands of River Song"aired, I know that the Sonic Sunglasses have not been retired now that the Sonic Screwdriver is back, and I'm fine with that.  The Screwdriver got a much deserved short rest.  But I do have to say that the new one, while a nice pretty blue color, is the most phallic design they've ever done for a Sonic.

It looks like a Transformer's robot penis.

One thing I'm not entirely sure about, and this is something that many of the Mile High Whovians also brought up, is where Gallifrey stands now.  Is it back in the Universe?  Or is it still hiding in a corner somewhere, terrified to reestablish its presence.  I guess that's for us to see next season.  But first, it's time to revisit our old friend, River Song, for Christmas!

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