Review of Doctor Who ‘The Bells of Saint John’
SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen ‘Doctor Who’ episode 7 of series 7/33
After all the hype Doctor Who finally returned to our screens with an adventure of epic proportions that promised to leave jaws on the floor by the end of it. However, this was not the case with The Bells of Saint John and when the credits rolled a voice inside of me kept saying ‘Was that it?’
The problem was that this episode was hyped up to the point where a fall was inevitable. We were promised amazement and wonderment but I was left with disappointment. If anything the story felt half-baked much like one of Oswin’s soufflés – I’m sure she must have undercooked them as well as burning them to a cinder in her Dalek-escaping hallucination.
While Asylum of the Daleks was a fully-formed story that left viewers satisfied, the same cannot be said for The Bells of Saint John which felt like a rehash of other things Steven Moffat has done. I kept seeing parallels and I am sure I am not alone in this. The text on the screen was pure Sherlock while the young man at the beginning of the episode talking to a screen was just like the Tenth Doctor’s chilling DVD Easter egg warning in Blink.
The other obvious similarity was the phrase repeated endlessly by the people trapped inside the Wifi which mirrored Oswin’s own words when she was captured by the Daleks: ‘Where am I?’ The sound of a thousand voices ceaselessly repeating that sentence over and over again was creepy and made me wonder if there might be Dalek involvement here. Surely, in the 50th of year of the show the Time Lord’s ultimate foe is destined to make an appearance? Perhaps the Daleks have formed an alliance with the Great Intelligence?
However, I digress, The Bells of Saint John felt unfulfilling as a standalone episode but perhaps I’m wrong to judge it so harshly. Perhaps this is only the beginning of the Doctor’s battle with the Great Intelligence yet as a self-contained episode I ended up feeling empty and cheated. In terms of functionality the story had to reintroduce Clara to the Doctor and create a bond between the pair anew which the audience has already witnessed twice before, so by the third time it felt rather tedious. For those keeping a death count, it appeared that soufflé girl briefly popped her clogs again this week when she was being uploaded.
Yet it wasn’t all doom and gloom, visually it was a great spectacle on a cinematic scale. The shots of London were a sight to behold as were the scenes inside the Shard between the Doctor and Miss Kizlet (Celia Imrie). It was just superb to see the Capital’s skyline in the background with the gherkin et al. on the horizon.
Matt Smith has mentioned that Moffat was influenced by the latest James Bond film Skyfall when he wrote this story and it’s quite evident when watching the episode. In particular there was the Doctor’s ascent up the side of the Shard on a motorbike which would not look out of place in a Bond movie. Then there was the dynamic between Miss Kizlet and the Doctor which played out like the one between M and Bond. Imrie was wonderful as Kizlet, a strong steely woman and her performance felt like it was very much based on Judi Dench’s M but an evil and more ruthless version. Her throwaway remark about HR and dealing with an employee was a delicious little fleck of wit. The combination of two great British institutions such as James Bond and Doctor Who worked a treat.
Smith was on form again. He has defined his incarnation and he knows how to play it. Meanwhile I’m still hoping Clara will become more like Oswin who was feisty, flirty and downright confident. Clara feels like a softer version of Oswin and I’m hoping that the character will be taken up a notch, challenging the Doctor more and bouncing off him like Oswin did. Perhaps I just got too used to Amy Pond and her fierce nature. Saying this, the role of a companion since the days of yore on Who has been to question the Doctor, so Clara should be taking on her clever boy a bit more.
Overall the episode did not live up to the hype and left me feeling quite dismayed. I’m hoping that this is just a blip and that the rest of the series will be better. In fact I’m really looking forward to Hide, the ghost story episode set in a scary house starring Dougray Scott, because the one thing that Moffat does flawlessly is horror. The Weeping Angels, the clockwork droids in The Girl in the Fireplace and the people in gas masks asking ‘Are you my mummy?’ all came from the mind of Moffat. There is also a new villain ‘on par’ with the Weeping Angels that will be making its debut this year which has me intrigued.
Next time on ‘Doctor Who’… Clara and the Doctor take a trip in the ‘snog box’ to a distant planet where they find the queen of years. There are monsters aplenty with some scary-looking mummified creatures, things in brass masks, and something else that looks like it could be a Sycorax.Tagged in: Celia Imrie, doctor who, Doctor Who series 33, Doctor Who series 7, Great Intelligence, Jenna Louise-Coleman, matt smith, steven moffat
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