Well, Whovians: Do you have your theories at the ready? Go ahead, tell me about the Hybrid! This is our last episode of Series 9, and we'll be left to wait a goodly 20 days before our next fix. (It feels more like having a week off than waiting for a holiday special.) Without further ado, hold your breath for "Hell Bent".
We start in the desert in Nevada. The Doctor drives up in an old truck with a BEAUTIFUL guitar. He enters a diner and sees Clara (Clara-splinter?) as the waitress. He begins to play Clara's song to her, and she asks if it's a sad song. "Nothing's sad until it's over," he answers. He says it's called 'Clara', and she replies with "Tell me about her." Is this past or present or future? She doesn't seem to know him.
Ah, golden Gallifrey. As The Doctor is walking through the desert, he sees his barn (the one where he took The Moment) and turns his attention toward it.
Time Lord danger! The Cloister Wraiths are unhappy, and the bells are ringing. The Sisterhood of Karn is there in the chamber with the Time Lords, despite not being invited or wanted. The Doctor is climbing to the top bunk of the barn, and we see his bed where Clara visited him as a child. A woman walks in, fussing about the bells, and, when she recognises him, she tells him they'll kill him.
She offers him soup, and people gather around. A warship approaches, threatening him and warning all non-military personnel to step aside. The Doctor is told to lay down any weapons and accompany the ship to the capital. He uses his boot to draw a line in the sand and turns away. The people applaud.
He's back in his bed, as the Time Lords say, "Words are his weapons. When did they stop being ours?" -- a long time ago, I'd say! The barn is approached by military, the General welcoming him this time. As he dresses in his funeral-like best, they are reminded that he is the man who won the Time War. He is now greeted by the High Council. He still refuses to interact, holding his confession dial, and the President has finally appeared at the barn. It's fascinating to note that, except for the cold open with Clara, he hasn't spoken in this episode except to say, now: "Get off my planet," dropping the confessional dial in the sand. The President says that there are no witnesses out there in the Dry Lands, and The Doctor replies that there aren't any witnesses for him, either.
The President tells the military to take aim at The Doctor, but he is reminded by the General that The Doctor is a military hero and many of the men served alongside him. They fire, and we see diner-Doctor and Clara again. He tells her that he went back home ("Kind of Glasgow. Space Glasgow."), and she guesses that there was a gang boss who wanted him dead. All of the weapons of the soldiers have been fired to miss. One of the soldiers faces off to the President, lays down his weapon, and joins The Doctor's side; the rest follow. More ships arrive, and The Doctor says it's his backup. The General repeats The Doctor's command to the President: "Get off his planet".
The Doctor is now in Gallifrey proper. He decrees that the President is no longer the President, even if he was once a good person. The Doctor is the President! He wanders down to the dungeons, and Ohila of the Sisterhood finds him there. He begins talking about the Matrix and Rassilon -- flashes of the Valeyard! -- and says that the confession dials are forms of purification.
The Doctor is in the High Council chamber and starts talking about the Hybrid. Time for answers? He doesn't want "some" or "most" prophesies from the Matrix; the General finally admits that ALL of the prophesies talk about the destruction of Gallifrey at the hands of the Hybrid. The Doctor requires an extraction chamber to talk to an old friend. He appears the moment before the raven enters Clara. He begs her to walk through the door with him. After brief updates (billions of years and whatnot), they ask her about the Hybrid. She interrupts to say that everything sounds wrong to her. Since she's frozen in time, her heartbeat and breathing are just habit; her heartbeat has stopped and her breathing is unnecessary. They only need her help, but she still has to die.
The Doctor attacks the General and steals his weapon. He won't let Clara die, but the General reminds him that his actions could shatter the universe itself. Clara doesn't want him to do what he's doing -- weapons aren't his thing, nor threatening good people with death -- but he asks which regeneration the General is on, and, when he's answered with 'tenth', he tells him good luck and shoots him. The Doctor and Clara run away, and the General regenerates into a black woman -- Moffat is trolling all of us asking for a female/minority Doctor now!
He's back to the banter with diner-Clara. She says he doesn't seem the sort to kill a man. Clara and The Doctor are in the Cloisters. Cloister Wraiths (also called Sliders) are patrolling. The General and Ohila are discussing that no one -- almost no one -- has ever made it out of there. Daleks, Weeping Angels, Cybermen, etc. are also in the Cloisters and attacking; the Cloisters are the Matrix database, and they all are attacking to protect the secret passageway out. Clara is standing on a Gallifreyan symbol, and The Doctor assumes it is the main service hatch. Once upon a time, a student was in the Cloisters for four days and appeared somewhere else, saying he got the code out from the Sliders. Clara figures out it was him, and he keeps working on unlocking the hatch, telling her the story of his confession dial.
The General approaches, and Clara yells at her to stay back. The Doctor says he's there to save her. She asks the others how long he was in the confession dial, and Ohila says that they think it was 4.5 billion years. He could have gotten out at any time if he had just confessed what he knew. Clara is upset by this revelation, and she tells him that her time is up. She thinks that people like them should say things to one another, and she's going to say them now. We're not privy to these things -- just pretty views of Gallifrey -- and she returns to have sass at Karn and the General. The only thing she'll share with them is that she said, "Don't worry, Doctor. They'll all be looking at me."
He has opened the hatch and stolen a TARDIS! It materalises around her with the lovely white interior of early days. The Doctor says she has a pulse again now that they've left Gallifrey, but she can't find it. She still has the countdown on her neck, and she starts to wonder about the warnings that time would shatter if he saved her.
They are traveling nowhere in space but forward in time to the end of the universe. He just needs to adjust the neural block he took from the extraction chamber when he took her from the raven. The TARDIS stops moving, and there are four knocks. He walks out and finds Ashildr/Me in an armchair watching the stars die. She says the other immortals have died (no special guest appearance for Captain Jack?). She says that Clara died for what she was and how she loved, and no one should take that away from her. She's been dead for billions of years, anyway.
Clara uses the sonic shades to turn on the camera on the outside and watches their conversation. The Doctor says that Me is the Hybrid, but she says that the prophesies tell of a half-Time Lord, half-Dalek. He rebuts that it only mentions two warrior races, so it could be her as half-human and half-Mire. She argues that he could, perhaps, be half-Time Lord and half-human (they're not going there, are they?!). Then, Me suggests that the Hybrid could be the combination of two people -- him and a young human woman much like him. After all, it was Missy who made sure they met.
He's going to let Clara live, but he's going to wipe her memory and tell her his plan now. She quickly turns off the screen, and The Doctor and Ashildr enter the TARDIS. She's not surprised to see Ashildr, so she admits she was watching. She also says that she used the shades and reversed the polarity (hey-o!) of the neural block to ensure that he can't save her; she's entitled to her past. He's not sure what she actually did to it -- it's possible she couldn't reverse the polarity. It's a coin toss what'll happen and to which one, but they'll toss it together.
They push the button. He begins to slump and pass on his lessons, and he accepts that he has gone too far. He asks her to smile for him one last time, and he falls back, eyes closed.
A flash of light, and a man is asking if he's all right. He's in the desert in Nevada again. Clara asked the man to look after him until he woke. When he's in the diner, he says that he can't recreate her by the hole she left. He knows they traveled together, he knows her name, but he doesn't know much else. Diner-Clara says she could be anyone -- even her. He says he knows he'd know her if he saw her. Was he in this very diner with her once? No, that was Amy and Rory. Diner-Clara asks after the TARDIS, and he says he hasn't found it yet. He starts playing Clara's song again, and she takes a moment to say that memories and stories sometimes become songs.
He continues playing, and she opens the door to the bathroom, which leads into the white TARDIS console room. Ashildr is waiting for her and says the chameleon circuits aren't working. The diner begins to disappear with the sound of the TARDIS, and The Doctor finds himself standing outside his graffiti-decorated TARDIS. Clara still doesn't have a pulse and knows her death is a fixed event, but she has 'wiggle room' because she isn't dead quite yet. They are going back to Gallifrey. The diner takes off through space.
The Doctor enters his TARDIS and sees the blackboard. "Run you clever boy ... and be a Doctor" is written across it, and his velvety coat is hanging, waiting for him. The TARDIS creates a new (and brilliant!) sonic screwdriver. As the TARDIS begins to dematerialise, the paint peels away. A refreshed-looking TARDIS spins away across the diner in space and time.
I suppose it's nice to see The Doctor with a sense of loss but not in serious grief. I think it's cheap that they have gone back on -- even temporarily -- Clara's death; it was one of THE most emotional things to happen on DW, and they have basically erased it. I'm not sold on that aspect, but I must say that this was a pretty solid fan-service-but-well-written episode, and I did very much enjoy it. I particularly liked that we start thinking that The Doctor is talking to Clara who doesn't remember him, when it gradually becomes clear that she knows exactly who he is, and he's trying to put the pieces of her together.
Are you pleased to see Clara escape death, for a while anyway? What about all the nods to the Valeyard and the older tales of The Doctor? Was this extra-long episode enough to hold you over until Christmas? And is Clara now a time traveler in her own right?!