TV REVIEW: Doctor Who - The Bells of Saint John


Doctor Who returns for the second part of its seventh series run and follows on from the events of the excellent Christmas special The Snowmen (you can read Jen's review of that here). Clara Oswald (Jenna-Lousie Coleman) is now a nanny in London 2013, looking after the children of a family friend. When she runs into some trouble with 'the internet', she calls a helpline and is put straight through to The Doctor (Matt Smith) who just happens to be hiding out in a monastery in 1207. He's a monk now. Monks aren't cool. Meanwhile, the problem with the internet isn't limited to Clara's laptop as people all over London are being uploaded into a mysterious corporation's database, heading by Miss Kislet (Celia Imrie).

Jenna-Louise Coleman continues to delight as new companion Clara, the modern version this time, immediately establishing herself as a great foil to Matt Smith and importantly, she's very different from the Ponds. Though I'm personally still getting over losing Rory, Clara is just too much fun to dislike and I'm looking forward to her future adventures and the discovery of why she keeps dying. Smith remains a magnetic presence as the Doctor and though a couple of his ticks have become a little wearing, he still captures both the light-hearted and darker sides to the Doctor well. His determination to keep Clara alive again was touching whilst the line 'I can't tell the future, I just work there' was a cracker, delivered perfectly.

Whilst the central pair quite rightly command the majority of the attention, there was such a great supporting cast, particularly Celia Imrie's wonderful Miss Kislet. Calm and collected, she was an excellent bad guy and props must also be given to the many extras who had to provide impressions of her as they did well to capture her tone. Kislet may have been restored to her factory settings but can we please have her back again? She was just brilliant. There was also a most welcome return for Richard E. Grant as the Great Intelligence. In fact, I was so pleased to see him back, I may have let out an involuntary squeak. Now that we have an established Big Bad for the series, I'm guessing we're going to see more of him which is a big plus. No one does icy villainy better than Mr Grant (sorry Celia).

Opening with a direct-to-camera warning, the parallels to Moffat's previous triumph, Blink, were clear, as were the narrative connections to the techno-paranoia of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror. Technology in this series can often be the enemy and it was so once again here; this time it was the potential terror of the wifi network. With well-trod themes of lost identity and entrapment, the story was surprisingly fresh. New director Colm McCarthy, managed to keep a tight rein on the packed storyline that, whilst full, did not overstay its welcome. As Jen and I have often observed in our reviews, Doctor Who is often the victim of its runtime, delivering an action-packed build-up but falling spectacularly in the denouement. Here though, The Bells of St John built the story well and provided a satisfactory ending without it feeling rushed or scrambled. 

One of the most joyous things about this episode were all the neat touches that Moffat threw in. There were lots of little jokes, including the source of 'the bells of Saint John' and some wonderful lines thrown in here and there. There were also potential clues hidden in the episode. From the 'eleventh chapter' to the book being written by an Amelia Williams, there were plenty for avid followers to pick up on. Plus, there was a welcome return for the fez. Fezzes are cool. Naturally, there will nevertheless be a dissection of these references, but whether they're signifiers for future events or not, it was a lot of fun for a fan to sit and spot them all.

- Becky

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