Things I can safely say without spoiling the finale of Doctor Who series 9 for you? Plot-wise, not too much.
The episode picks up from where last week’s “Heaven Sent” left off, which sees the Doctor having escaped his Confession Dial, and back on the surface of Gallifrey. It’s still an angry Doctor, it’s still a Doctor showing his rough edges, and it’s still a masterclass of controlled acting from Peter Capaldi.
It’s also a skilled and strong class in storytelling from Steven Moffat. Having gambled hard by making Capaldi’s Doctor the sole character for much of last week, “Hell Bent” feels just a little more conventional, in part just by having a much larger cast. But that doesn’t mean Moffat isn’t working hard to keep us on our toes. He varies his pacing, demonstrating for the latest and last time this series the benefit of a two-part story.
What’s more, he has an extended running time to play with too, and in the midst of it, he shows a continued willingness to take risks, not least with the character of the Doctor himself. I can’t see everything that happens in “Hell Bent” earning universal praise, but I couldn’t help but sit back at the end of it and warmly applaud. It’s not my job to tell the story, it’s my job to have it told to me. I felt I was in the hands of experts here.
Credit too to Rachel Talalay, returning to direct, who also enjoys and maximizes the broader canvas and scope that a series finale tends to offer. She certainly gets to explore Gallifrey more than virtually anyone before her.
It seems right to end with the usual warning: stay as spoiler-free as you can, and try to watch this episode live. There’s a lot in it that could be spoiled, and there’s no better way to find out what the Who team have been up to than watching the episode as it airs. Appreciating that’s sometimes far easier said than done.
“Hell Bent,” then, rounds off Doctor Who series 9 – well, at least until Christmas – with a coherent, nerdy, often brilliant, sometimes a little frustrating, but always watchable piece of television. This series, more than any other in his tenure for me, Steven Moffat has really clicked everything into place. “Hell Bent” suggests he’s got many more interesting Doctor Who stories to tell, and hopefully, Peter Capaldi will be there every step of the way to help tell them.