Retconning the Doctor
"Am I supposed to understand anything you're saying?" -- Clara in the Matrix on Gallifrey
Take all the cool and interesting things that a multitude of writers have created for Doctor Who since its inception--the Time Lords, Gallifrey, the TARDIS, time travel, the Matrix, the cloister bells, those odd cardinal-like robes and funky head/shoulder gear the bigwigs wear--toss into a big pot, forget all about series canon, and stir. Upturn pot and pour out onto the page. Ta-da! You have the season finale, Hell Bent.
Of course, since this is Moffat's Who script you have to add in his creations--Clara and Ashildr (Me)--and plenty of creepy bits of his Blinking Angels and a Dalek stuck in a haunted-house-like data collection device known as the Matrix. (Google the Tom Baker episode The Deadly Assassin to see how different the original Matrix on Gallifrey is from this new incarnation. Yeah, it's that different!) There are some funny bits tossed in as well, such as Time Lords now regenerate without much of a hangover, changing gender/age/race simultaneously. Tack on a relatively satisfactory ending after a lot of head scratching and feet dragging. Ta-da!
This time it's the Doctor who gets the mind wipe and not the companion (see Donna Noble) so he can move on. The undead Clara gets to have some "girlfriend time" with Ashildr in their own fifties diner-shaped TARDIS with a pure-white classic interior. How either of these young ladies know how to pilot a TARDIS isn't explained. Neither is the previous "rule" given that only a Time Lord could manage a TARDIS because of their psychic link.
Is it good to violate the TV series canon? Nah, who cares! Nobody will notice.
Even for new Whovians who haven't a clue that Leela lives somewhere on Gallifrey, this "word salad" of a script seems to be missing something vital: emotional connection. Even with a script jumping all over the place like a hyperactive kid on a Christmas candy rush, you'd think it would be able to settle down long enough for the characters to connect with their audience. But therein lies its weakness: the emotions are telegraphed for you.
You don't have to think or feel for yourself when you're told pretty much what is going to happen up front, similar to what happened in an earlier episode this season. (See my review for Before the Flood.) You know that Clara is going to "live" again, and the Doctor is going to forget all about her since we start out in a scene at the diner where this is made painfully obvious. I suspect the current show runner feels he has to spell everything out because he believes Doctor Who's viewers have IQs to match their shoe sizes, and we all have tiny feet.
I think my husband, a long time Whovian, said it best: "The show has gone from good scripts and wobbly sets to good sets and wobbly scripts."
All the lovely photography, location shoots, costuming, special effects, musical score, etc., do not a strong story make. (Just ask George Lucas.) Not even a classic character like the Doctor can withstand all the retconning that's happened to him in the Moffat era and come out for the better. He's been diminished somehow, made into a permanent fool, a pale shadow of the strong action character he used to be.
Peter Capaldi reminds me of Pierce Brosnan when he finally got the part of James Bond after many years. Pierce made a great Bond, but unfortunately he got stuck with the weak scripts of that period and left early. If only the great writer Robert Holmes was around to give Peter's Doctor the shot in the arm he so badly needs after this season. A great actor like Peter Capaldi deserves the best!
We have the Christmas special with River Song to look forward to in a couple of weeks, and it appears to be a comical tale. That's good. After all the forced drama and tears of the Clara years, it'll be nice to see the Doctor relax and enjoy himself a bit with a mad romp. Fingers crossed!
What do you think? Please leave your comments below, and check out my reviews of earlier episodes of this season of Doctor Who:
Face the Raven
Sleep No More
The Zygon Inversion (or Inversion of the Zygons)
The Zygon Invasion
Classic Who on Retro TV