“Tomorrow is promised to no-one, Doctor, but I insist upon my past. I am entitled to that. It’s mine.”
So I have several objections to Hell Bent, the series finale of this year’s Doctor Who extravaganza.
The first, and in many ways the least important, of these is that it is a waste.
It’s a waste of Gallifrey, a vast and fascinating planet with some impressive CGI and a large population of Time Lords, where the Doctor, of course, finds himself after escaping torture in the confession dial. (He also becomes President of the Time Lords. What the hell are you doing throwing that away, Moffat?) It’s a waste of the haunted Matrix, repository of the memories of the Time Lords, although I think that the Wachowski Brothers should probably be contacting their copyright lawyers at this point. It’s a waste of the beautifully-lit and -animated scene in which Me sits at the end of the universe watching the stars die and for once not being oppressed by the Doctor. It’s a waste of the all-too-brief dialogue in which a TARDIS is helmed by two women, without a Doctor in sight. It’s a waste of the inspired, Adamsian shot of an American diner wheeling against the innumerable stars.
Once again what Moffat has done is throw a whole load of really brilliant ideas at the wall and done justice to none of them.
Because what the episode is really interested in is the Doctor’s relationship with Clara, which has gone past the wearisomely irritating and into actually abusive territory. (Some would argue it did that a long time ago.)
I noted a couple of weeks ago, after the whitewashing fiasco that was Face the Raven, that the show can’t even give Clara a death that is her own.
Well, this week I can go further: the show can’t even give Clara a death. It literally takes her humanity away from her in order to give Mr Controlling Doctor over here a Tragic Storyline.
Would you like to know what the Doctor’s problem is this series? The Doctor’s problem is that he Just Loves Clara Too Much.
Alarm bells should start ringing at this point.
The Doctor needs Clara with him, adventuring across time and space. He needs to know where she is, what she’s doing, needs to know that she’s safe. He needs, in other words, control. And he goes to literally extreme lengths to get it. Four and a half billion years pining after a woman is not healthy in anyone’s book, and not very believable either. (Incidentally, it also completely eradicates the symbolism of the Doctor punching through that diamond wall, out of the circular despair of grief and into the light of hope and home.) As Me points out, Clara’s death is hers, is part of her character and part of the story she chooses to tell about herself, and it was utterly free of the Doctor’s influence. Moffat and the Doctor, naturally, can’t stand that a woman should have control of her own life, and so go to ridiculous lengths to take it away from her.
Of course, Clara is quite aware that the Doctor is being stupid and reckless, and says so. This might – just – be enough to redeem the episode, if the Doctor managed to Learn a Valuable Lesson and Clara were returned to her death, to stop THE WHOLE OF TIME unravelling. But then everyone proceeds to blame Clara for the Doctor’s stupidity (risking THE WHOLE OF TIME because he Just Loves Clara Too Much). “This is too much,” says the Doctor, not bothering to add “I’m sorry” or, indeed, take any of the blame; instead, he and Clara decide to embark upon a twisted kind of suicide pact – one of them, they don’t know which, will lose their memories of the other, because Time Lord technology works however Steven Moffat wants it to work. Notice how they both take equal risk in this enterprise. Notice, as a corollary to this, how they both take equal blame. The Doctor, by his reckless and stupid actions, is putting Clara in a position where she will lose either a vital part of her self (her memories of the Doctor) or her best friend. And he’s treating her like it’s her fault that these things are happening.
Notice, too, that the Doctor gets to forget Clara. By the Doctor’s actions, she’s put in another terrible position: her best friend has forgotten that she ever existed. The episode effectively treats all of this behaviour as OK: the Doctor’s overreaction to her death, the manipulative and controlling aspects of his personality, aren’t actually solved, merely whitewashed, forgotten, waved away. He takes none of the consequences for his treatment of her: he’s allowed simply to forget. It’s Clara on whom the burden of memory must fall – because it’s Clara’s fault, you see, for thinking that she could make her own decisions and tell her own story.
And it’s on this note that another series of Doctor Who ends. It’s been a series full of bold female characters telling their own stories – Clara, Missy and Me as well as O’Donnell from Before the Flood, 474 from Sleep No More, the Osgoods in The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion – who are punished, killed, sent running, imprisoned, steamrolled, destroyed or undermined for choosing a way which is not the Doctor’s way; a series which has misrepresented POCs at least twice (The Zygon Invasion, a story about racism in which the Indian couple are evil child-stealing monsters, and Face the Raven, which glosses blithely over the issue of racially-motivated arrests); a series which has, in fact, consistently ignored and whitewashed every single possible viewpoint except for that of Moffat’s white Doctor-god. Moffat’s Doctor will never be a woman. Moffat’s Doctor will never be black, or Asian, or Middle Eastern, or Aboriginal. Moffat’s Doctor will never be gay, or bisexual, or trans, or genderfluid. Because Moffat doesn’t think that these people are important, or that their stories are worth telling, or even that they deserve to have stories – despite the fact that this of all genres should be the one which asks us to expand our horizons, to give us new perspectives, new tales, new ways of seeing.
And if mainstream science fiction can’t manage these things, what hope can we have for anything else?