Dear Steven Moffat: Heaven Sent/Hell Bent


Dear Steven,

A year ago I sat naked in my Doctor Who themed den and typed out a long lament for a series that had lost its way. The Doctor had become a stranger in his own show, his companion, sweet though she was, had taken centre stage – perhaps because she was young and flippant, so an easier character for you to write, and your high-concept finale was wan and confused. In fact, one might liken the experience of watching the 2014 series to punching through TARDIS-strength crystalline cum for four billion years. It hurt, it was exhausting, and by the time it was over we’d half forgotten why we were doing it.

Steven, I’m pleased to say that this year’s batch of adventures have shown a marked improvement. Doctor Who’s a little like baking – forty minutes is fine for the base but the memorable stuff, the decoration, takes at least another forty. Sometimes an hour. In 2015 stories had a chance to breathe. The ingredients were all in the correct proportions. A judicious measure of a more comfortable, more confident Capaldi, a little less Clara but enough to add a curious, bittersweet flavour to the mix, plenty of time travelling, non-linear lunacy – the show’s trump card, which you alone have fully exploited – and just the right amount of recurring guest star. Here of course I refer to Maisie Williams’ Ashildr, a character we saw develop over the course of billions of years – something you couldn’t say on any other show. And at the end, once we’d digested this strange, oddly satisfying confection, we were left in a stupefied state, wondering how you’d managed to do all the shit we hate and have criticised you for, while leaving us exhilarated and looking forward to the next series.

Sure, turning Clara into Schrödinger’s companion, a woman both dead and alive while she remained in her space box, reversing her death while keeping it as a fixed and irreversible moment in time, was both ingenious and irritating, a cheat and an opportunity to fulfil your ultimate desire, namely to turn her into the Doctor, which you did by providing her with a Type 40 TARDIS, an existence outside of time and, fuck me hard, a companion of her own. Did “Face the Raven” writer Sarah Dollard approve of this development, Steven? Or did she submit her script on the understanding you’d honour the death, only for you to send her home with a thank you note and a determination that Clara would end her time on the show as the Doctor in all but name, even if it killed you? I suppose we’ll never know but we have our suspicions.

We can argue about how effective a climax this was and whether Clara deserves this kind of conditional immortality, as well as an improvement on the Doctor’s situation, namely a companion that will never age or die (like herself, provided she stays away from Gallifrey and is never recalled by space lasso), and we can legitimately ask whether the Doctor would risk the safety of the universe and endure a four billion year cycle of death and imprisonment to extend Oswald’s mayfly existence – the Time Lord equivalent of you or I agreeing to a life sentence to give our cat a few more years, but none of that really matters.

For one thing the answer is no she doesn’t and no he wouldn’t. For another, it means we’re shining our torch in the wrong place. “Heaven Sent” and “Hell Bent” worked as a mind-bending celebration of the Doctor and Clara’s friendship, with our hero prepared to endure a transdimensional Gallifreyan torture chamber and the horror of his own people, who let’s face it have always been obnoxious, just so he could have another few days in extremis with the English teacher all teenagers would like to have an inappropriate relationship with.

Truthfully, no one on Earth cared about the hybrid question or any idiotic Gallifreyian prophesy, but the conversation at the end of the universe and the re-opened question of the Doctor’s half-human existence (Doctor Who’s answer to midichlorians, buried since the 1996 TV movie) did, in a way that was curiously affecting, remind us of the Doctor’s special emotional connection to Earth – in effect his adopted home – and consequently the contrast between him and his Gallifreyian brethren. Ultimately the story showcased the Doctor’s innate humanity, literal or no, and how his modest background and compassion for those less fortunate, set him apart from the imperious, caste-minded Time Lords who, thanks to the gift of regeneration and their dominion over time, had learned to devalue life and races different from their own.

Did it matter if the rules of the Time Lord prison were shaky, or if the Doctor was a hypocrite for caring this much about extending Clara’s life when he was nonchalant about the end of others, namely bores like Danny Pink? No, not really. One could believe in the Doctor’s decency and his sense of duty toward a woman he’d groomed for high adventure, only to see the policy lead to the death of his best friend. You’d have to have two hearts made of the same stuff as that prison wall not to feel something when Clara learned of the Doctor’s sacrifice or his modest explanation for the same. Steven, conceptually you don’t always join the dots – in truth I think you often confuse yourself – but you got the human portion of this story, the part that didn’t rely on time-babble and grandstanding, so very right.

Likewise, the decision to let the Doctor and Clara roll the dice and share the risk of one forgetting the other together, in contrast to the tenth Doctor’s unilateral choice in wiping Donna’s memory, was a nice touch. “Tomorrow’s promised to no one Doctor, but I’m entitled to my past,” Clara argued, and right she was. Her time in the TARDIS was as good as it gets for a bereaved educator with no realistic chance of a decent relationship thanks to her exposure to an impossible to beat male archetype, but the Doctor had a fantastic life to fall back on, not to mention memories of accidentally-on-purpose stumbling upon Amy in the bath. Clara, we felt, had earned her right to remember and it was reassuring to think the Doctor might recall something of her one day…though hopefully not her first series, when she was a bit annoying.

I Confess, Steven, is a great Hitchcock movie and I suggest you check it out, but also I confess I was touched when the TARDIS, thankfully Sonic Sunglasses free, left Nevada and Clara’s face, graffitied thereon at the end of “Face the Raven”, peeled off and blew away on the wind. That was poignant, symbolic – pick your word and nail it up. It was good to know Clara’s time had counted for something, if only with Clara, and that the Doctor wouldn’t spend the next series moping, because thank God his loss would be an abstraction – just a half-remembered story he told himself and the occasional diner employee. It gave us hope that Capaldi’s next chapter would be as different as this one was from his first, that there was better to come, and more importantly, he’d be doing it all with a sonic device that didn’t make you angry every time you saw it. Yes, God help us Steven, we ended this series with a sense of optimism…a sense that lasted thirty seconds until we saw the trailer for the Christmas special. Still, it wouldn’t be your show without a closing fuck you to the audience, right old fruit?

Yours in time and cyberspace,


P.S: When did we British start asking, as the Doctor did in “Heaven Sent”, ‘what is this place?’ And can we stop saying it? Surely we mean, ‘where am I?’

P.P.S: How did all those skulls get into the water in “Heaven Sent”? Did the Doctor take thousands of attempts before he got the angle of descent into the water correct, and if so where was the rest of the skeleton, or did the prison just rotate and the skulls somehow fall from the teleport room and into the water, say through an open window or floor cavity? What occurred?

P.P.P.S: Would the Doctor really be able to punch through a substance as hard as TARDIS alloy, even if he had four billion years? Wouldn’t he just break his hand…for four billion years?

P.P.P.P.S: “Hell Bent” allowed Murray Gold’s Clara theme to officially enter the Whoniverse. I don’t like the idea he and his orchestra exist there.

P.P.P.P.P.S: Gallifrey is ‘Space Glasgow’? If you mean it’s rough, I agree, if you mean it’s the centre of universal high civilization…

P.P.P.P.P.P.S: I wondered if the Doctor’s undemocratic takeover of Gallifrey was a good example to set to émigrés thinking of returning to Britain after a long absence. We have to be careful in these difficult times, Steven.

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S: I’ve never liked the Doctor growing up in a barn. He’s not Jesus, you know.

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S: Was that a TIE Fighter I heard in the Matrix? Does this mean the TARDIS is going to feature in The Force Awakens? Or are you about to be sued by Lucasfilm?

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S: The old Type 40 TARDIS is a thing of beauty. It saddens me to think I’ll lose this erection one day.

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Published in: on December 6, 2015 at 00:26  Comments (9)  
Tags: , , , ,


  1. I like what you have to say, butfor the next chapter to have an even remote chance of working it needs to be without Moffat and it won’t be.
    I mourn for Doctor Who now. It has gone, like that beautiful Hartnell control room.
    Time to move on.

  2. Told you she wouldn’t really die! Moffat you chicken!!!

    And the white man changing into a black woman? What is this, some left wing pressure group?? Gallifrey is now as multi culti as London in 2015! Hooray!
    F*** you Moffat!

  3. P.P.S:- The skull falls into the water towards the end of a loop- you see it tumble from the battlements in slow motion during several repeat-throughs. So the order of operations is- he finds the skull, sticks it on the battlement, it falls off, then he creates the skull.

    There’s some nice foreshadowing here in one scene, when a closeup of Capaldi’s face fades out into a close up of his skulls’, when it’s up there. Making it clear it’s his skull.

    Another question- if the interior of the tower resets, wouldn’t also the diamond wall reset too? Yeah, eat it, Moffat!

  4. Also, my wife recently met Moffat. Apparently he was a right cunt.

  5. I was in the same room as him and his son once. They have the same hair. I think that tells the story.

  6. I must have had a microsleep during the moment the skull fell, so thanks for putting that one to bed (but I caught the foreshadowing).

    The reason the wall doesn’t reset (I think) is because it’s not one of the designated “puzzle” rooms, just the destination for the poor bastards trapped inside the dial prison. I suppose when you get to room 12 it’s a Gallifreyian fuck you. You think you’re getting out but in fact you hit a wall. How’s that compatible with a scenario where you can free yourself at any time just by saying what you know about a legend that a civilisation, thousands of years ahead of human kind are worried about, even though you might expect them to be less superstitious with the benefit of all that development? Beats me. But they obviously didn’t think anyone would have the patience to punch through the wall for 4 billion years. Obviously Shawshank Redemption isn’t in the Time Lord archives.

  7. Another question: does this mean he’s forgotten half his adventures for the past half of his life? Clara was the longest running companion in his lifetime. Not counting his time spent in the confession dial (but including his time spent in Trenzalore), over 1000 years.

    He’s also forgotten how she helped him save Gallifrey in the 50th.

    I’d have wiped Clara’s memory, actually, thinking about it. Fuck her. She cropped up at key moments in his past, and so any lessons learned (which have been a big driving force behind his development in the past two / three seasons) might now be lost.

  8. Well when you put it like that – you know, logically – it does seem like an idiotic decision. But the Doctor’s controlled by a force greater than logic, even his own internal variety, and that’s the God-like design of Steven Moffat, a man who realised two objectives with this climatic episode:

    1) Turning Clara into the Doctor in all but name – she’s a renegade, running from Gallifrey with her own TARDIS and companion and, assuming she’s careful, time to enjoy it and,
    2) Removing the accrued experience of the Doctor that has turned him into a jaded being reliant on the sprightly, youthful stylings of others (say, someone like Clara) for joyousness. So now the Doctor can be carefree and infantile again, just the way Steven’s comfortable writing him.

    Perhaps the Doctor’s next companion will be a real cynic for contrast; a nihilistic sort who thinks the universe should burn until he means the Willy Wonka-like man with his police box.

    So yeah, maybe Clara’s memory should have been wiped, but I suppose Moffat thought that would be repeating the conclusion to the Donna story. He sort of made it work, in the sense that it was appropriate for the character’s friendship, if not the bigger picture the Doctor used to consider when he was written by people who didn’t attach disproportionate and absurd levels of significance to the companion, who should be there to add quirk and variety, as well as being a walking exposition receptacle.

  9. I’m from the dreaded younger demographic that you refer to in many of your posts. Surprisingly, I find myself agreeing with a lot of what you say here. The only person I feel really sorry for here is Capaldi who absolutely knocks it out of the park when he is given a chance to do so. Unfortunately for Capaldi, Moffat didn’t seem comfortable putting him front and center( esp in series 8) for a very long time. I think the problem is Moffat’s unwillingness to commit which shows up everywhere from his story arcs to the way he chose to use Capaldi in series 8. If you are going to cast an older Doctor, then commit to it and go all the way. Instead he hedges his bets and pushes Clara front and centre knowing full well that the character isn’t fleshed out enough to fill the void he created by marginalizing the Doctor.

    I wonder if the problem is that Moffat listens too much to the fickle fanboy/fangirl section of the viewing audience who were complaining that the Doctor wasn’t cool enough or young enough to cater to their fantasies (As an aside, I don’t get this at all since Capaldi is seriously foxy). The problem with the Matt Smith / David Tennant era was that they made the Doctor into this gimmicky character with catchphrases,magic wands (sonic screwdrivers) and strange clothing choices. We can agree that Matt Smith’s Doctor was a lot deeper than that but lets acknowledge that a lot of his popularity stemmed from pandering to this section of the audience. Maybe Moffat wanted to course correct from this beast he had a hand in creating but just didn’t commit to it.

    Having said that, I still love series 8 and 9 in spite of all its faults. I only mourn for what it could have been given that they had Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. However, 9 gives me hope that Moffat has done some soul-searching and in series 10 will give Peter the series that he deserves. And also that he bows out in style. I would love for Peter to stay on but I’m terrified as to what Chibnall will do to him. So I would rather he leaves. I’m not very optimistic about Chibnall as you can gather.

    Apologies for the extra long post.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: