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Doctor Who recap: Hell Bent

The Doctor can’t go home again, but he tries.

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Doctor Who

TV Show
Sci-fi and Fantasy
run date:
Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas
BBC America
Current Status:
In Season

What is home to a man who runs away? Not an ends, but a means to an end. Nothing that should be permanent is permanent to the Doctor: not home, and not even death. Earlier this season, when Clara thought that she was staring the Doctor’s ghost in the face, she told her friend to set this right. He had made himself “essential” to her, and he couldn’t do that and then die. Now, once Clara is already dead, it’s time for the Doctor to say the same.

It begins with a story. The Doctor rolls up to a Nevada diner in a pick-up truck and meets Clara behind the counter. The Time Lord and his companion don’t seem to recognize each other, but there’s a familiarity between them anyway; you don’t accept just anyone’s guitar riffs as currency. He plays her a sad song (“I think it’s called Clara”) and starts into the tale of his return to Gallifrey — or, for the uninitiated, Space Glasgow.

Back on his home planet after billions of years in the confession dial, the Doctor makes the usual rounds: childhood barn, lunch (with an audience), staredown with a military spacecraft. The Gallifreyan High Council would like a word with him, but he’s got other plans. (“What’s his plan?” “I think he’s finishing his soup.”) On nothing more than the strength of his Time War reputation, the Doctor wins over his would-be executioners, seizes control of the entire planet, and exiles the president to the end of the universe. He never has been one for second chances. But it is odd to see so many people react to the Doctor as a war hero, especially because even the War Doctor didn’t seem the type to “serve with” the troops so much as go rogue — though he didn’t use a weapon, and that sounds about right.

Even the Time Lords who never liked their black sheep are now forced to admit that his unconventional approach saved their lives. They owe him one. And although absolute power is not usually what the Doctor ordered, he’ll take it this time, if only because he’s got an agenda: Clara. Everything he claimed to know about the Hybrid was a ruse. He just wanted the Time Lords to believe that he and Clara had information so useful, it was worth extracting her from her timeline in the second before her death. The Doctor spent billions of years breaking out of that confession dial by hand because he couldn’t tell the Veil a truth he did not know, and the admission that he knew nothing would forfeit his leverage. He wasn’t just mourning Clara; he was trying to save her.

So far, it’s working. The Time Lords agree to pull Clara out for what they think will be a brief consultation, but the Doctor has other plans. He grabs the general’s gun and shoots him right into a regeneration, then takes Clara’s hand and runs, just like old times. They take refuge in the Cloisters, otherwise known as a kind of Gallifreyan hell, where Time Lords’ minds are uploaded to a computer when they die. The computer uses their consciousness to predict when trouble is coming, ringing Cloister bells to sound the alarm. Anyway, what do we care about the technicalities? Clara is here.

The Doctor and Clara slip past the computer’s guard system — dead Time Lords, Weeping Angels, Cybermen, and Daleks — and get to work trying to hack their way out, or at least the Doctor does. Clara is more interested in what it means that she’s here. How long has it been for the Doctor? He won’t say. When a handful of Time Lords and the Sisterhood of Karn surround them in the Cloisters, she demands that they tell her how much time the Doctor spent in his confession dial, and the answer she gets is more than double what the Doctor presumed: 4.5 billion years.

NEXT: It does need saying