Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Doctor Who: The Bells of Saint John (Episode Review)

So Doctor Who is back after a less than stellar first half of a series. Combined with an exceptionally bad Christmas special which turned Yog-Sothoth into a joke, by retconning him into psychic snow, things did not look promising. Especially with Steven Moffat’s declining quality in writing and growing flaws in many scripts and overarching plots of late. Surprisingly though, The Bells of Saint John is actually fairly decent.

Following up on the events of The Snowmen, the episode opens up with the Doctor trying to find out the mystery on how he has seen someone die twice. Both semi-companions Oswin and Clara were humans the Doctor witnessed die in completely different eras, thousands of years apart, but were exactly the same person. Combined with certain repeated sentences there is some hint of something going on in her past. Even as the Doctor tracks down another incarnation of Clara, this time in modern day England after she somehow contacts the TARDIS directly, he is forced to put his questions on hold.

People have been disappearing. People who have had their souls dragged from their bodies and downloaded into a data system. All replaced by an artificial control of sorts. Why is unknown, but with billions at risk and the number growing higher with every passing hour, the Doctor must move fast to avert the loss of millions.
Perhaps the most notable thing of the episode is that it actually makes Clara into her own character. Previous episodes The Snowmen and Asylum of the Daleks both drew criticism from her portrayal. Not so much from actress Jenna-Louise Coleman but for the way she was written by Moffat. Nearly all of her lines and attitude made her feel indistinguishable from Amy or River and events simply happened without reason for her benefit. In this episode while she retains traces of the attitudes the characters displayed she is far more of an individual. This time with a more distinguishable background and severely toned down arrogance, supreme self-confidence and cockiness. While she still has some way to go as a character she feels like more than just a rehash of someone we’ve seen before.

The action and villains of the episode are also a huge improvement over The Snowmen. For starters they actually have henchmen who are a genuine threat. Appearing in the form of mobile robotic transmitters, the individuals who have been abducted and their minds replaced. The latter are mostly used to prove a point but they feel like they have some actual power to back up their words. Furthermore Miss Kizlet, played by Celia Imire, proves to be a much more effective villain than the mono-expressioned Richard E. Grant. For starters displaying some actual emotion and being core to the plot despite mostly acting as a number two for someone else.

The action within the script itself also feels fairly well paced. Unlike a lot of Moffat scripts which try to rush through everything, the episode never feels like it’s dragging but nor does it move at ludicrous speed. Furthermore there are some well-placed quiet moments which help to balance out the action. Most of which are important as they help to make the audience actually give a damn about Clara. Also to clearly introduce things to be used later on, not have them pulled out of backsides. Okay, except for one occasion but it’s so insanely awesome it’s forgivable.

For all this though the episode does have problems, but minor ones. The standout example is what the Doctor was actually doing in the opening. Despite supposedly looking for Clara again, he’s in 1207 sitting in a chapel painting pictures. Being a very less than active person despite the whole setup we were given previously. Furthermore the actual title of the episode feels fairly out of place. Like something thought up at the last second. It’s barely relevant to the plot and doesn’t represent the story very well.

Furthermore the elements shown are very inconsistent at times. For example the villain is shown to be very smart, powerful and have dominance over electronics and even people’s minds. Yet at the same time it needs to cause a blackout to show a plane where to crash rather than radio guidance or similar less noticeable methods.

Also people keep asking “Doctor who?” It wasn’t funny or meaningful the first time, let the damn joke die.

Overall this was very much a return to form after what we’ve had over the last dozen or so episodes and is much stronger than most of the series up to now. To anyone who has become jaded with the series, take a look at this one at least to know what Doctor Who is still capable of.


Doctor Who and all related characters and media are owned by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

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