“The Bells of St. John” – Review: Redux

Doctor “Right then, Clara Oswald. Time to find out who you are.”

The Bells of Saint John

So the first review of an episode, the original airing of which was this year, which can only mean that the end is in sight. Quite how I’m managing to concentrate on “The Bells of St.John” after today’s revelations is beyond me though. Expect some rambling below. TBOSJ, while ostensibly the beginning of the second half of Series Seven, felt for all the world like the beginning of a new Series. The splitting of this series across two years effectively delivered a slow-down in the number of Doctor Who episodes produced, from the heady days of fourteen a year (plus all the extra stuff we used to get like Confidential, Totally Doctor Who, Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures) to a rather miserly-sounding, eight. Of course 2013 is a year quite unlike any other before it in the universe of Doctor Who given its Golden Celebration happening in ten day’s time, but this reduction still sticks in the craw somewhat.

The episode began with a lovely little premise: that there was something living in the wi-fi and the opening scene gave us a sort of Sherlock-inspired sequence with the text from the screens of various interconnected devices appearing on our our screen as well. I was channel hopping earlier in the week and saw this effect used in the episode of Hollyoaks, which is essentially an indicator that the idea has jumped the shark, but it was still intriguing enough to watch unfold. A lovely juxtaposition took place as the very twenty-first century stylings of Clara’s home/work life were compared to the monastery where the Doctor had locked himself up to ponder the mysteries of the universe in general and the mystery of Clara in particular. Of course, no-one would have expected that the answer was simply that the Clara would call the Doctor.

This part of the mystery remains unexplained to this day: How did the new companion manage to call the TARDIS phone, and who was the referenced “woman in the shop” who gave Clara the number in the first place? Knowing the Moff and his form when it comes to this programme, the answer will be coming at some point and probably staring us all in the face all along. However, this was not dwelt upon and we were soon drawn in to the tale. To be honest though, it didn’t feel all that cohesive as a story. First of all we get the Spoonheads, a.k.a. the mobile base stations, which wander around (or materialise upstairs in houses or by roadsides) with the back of their head’s missing. Quite why no-one notices them, unless they’re all their in hats or with their backs to walls, I have no idea.

No sooner have we begun to think about that for a while then we see the wifi begin to completely take over members of the public, specifically those chaps on a plane who are all put to sleep, while the locals on the ground create a landing strip of lights as a target for using a jet-plane as a missile. While this is actually a fun scene, given the extreme pace of it and the banter between Doctor and companion, it serves a purpose to demonstrate the powers of the ancient time machine to the newcomer, but doesn’t really advance the plot much. Without so much as a pause for breath we suddenly find ourselves at breakfast in which the fact that the mysterious Miss Kizlet creepily takes over the voices of actions of random members of the public, is seemingly not much of an issue for those affected. I don’t know about you, but if I suddenly found small chunks of time disappearing from my memory and finding myself randomly moving to different locales, it’d scare the bejeezus out of me.

All this aside, the Doctor, who just like previously turns out not to be the Doctor at all (not a Tessalector this time, but a Spoonhead), simply drives his antigrav bike right into Miss Kizlet’s office and sorts the problems out in the blink of an eye. A bit of fluff with UNIT troops putting in appearance, and a surprise revelation that the Great Intelligence was also behind this plot, as he had been in the previous episode, “The Snowmen”, could not hide the fact that the story was just a little bit messy. Of course, there were plenty of good bits here to enjoy: Jenna Coleman was a delight; Celia Imrie gave a towering performance capped off beautifully when she was “reverted to factory settings” of being a little girl; and the mystery of this short run of episodes, who is this ‘impossible girl’ was cleverly deepened. Not the best that Steven Moffat has served up though.

Highlight: Celia Imrie controlled villainy

Lowlight: The victory of style over substance that was this episode’s downfall.

Talking Point: The split season… do you feel shortchanged?

Demon’s Run Rating: 11 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 30th March 2013

Marathon Status: So close.

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