“The Bells of St Johns” Review

I’ve fallen behind with my Doctor Who reviews, but I’m about to make amends with a quick catch-up…. This mini-season opens with an episode that had loads of spectacle and was solidly entertaining, but after re-watching both Asylum of the Daleks and, in particular, the exquisitely constructed Christmas Special, it felt to me like a bit of a middle-of-the-road opener to this mini-season.

As a present day story, it doesn’t feel as complete or as satisfying as Chris Chibnall’s The Power of Three from last September. In fact it’s got quite an odd Russell T. Davies vibe, even though there are a number of Moffatisms in it, some of which seem to have been recycled directly from previous episodes. The spoon heads and uploading people reminded me of Silence in the Library and the Doctor and his TARDIS in Clara’s garden reminded me of The Eleventh Hour. The telephone ringing, the Bells of St John, was something Moffat had also done (if I remember correctly) in The Empty Child.

But I wonder if Moffat was being too  clever trying to make the wifi scary. I can see what he’s doing here.  This is the man who made us check for mosters under the bed,  made us afraid of the cracks in our bedroom wall, he even made shadows seem sinister. But while it’s obvious that this weeks villain can control people’s souls and can control them, it’s not clear what rôle wifi has plays in this. It’s as if concept of wifi, a contemporary concern, had just been bolted onto the story at the last minute. The precise mechanism by which the population can be controlled doesn’t really matter, but picking a technology that fits so poorly just leaves a lot of gaping plot holes. (And that info dump at the beginning makes and incredibly weak pre-title sequence, which is a shame when the mad monk sequence after the titles is clever, and the mad monk gag is very funny.)

On a more positive note, I did think Celia Imrie was terrific throughout, and having the Great Intelligence reappear was a thrilling surprise (no complaints about Richard E. Grant this time). I wonder how this recurring villain will fit into the 50th year…? Best of all, was Imrie’s final regression (spoilers) when she ‘reset’ everyone and regressed to the little girl she’d been when she’d been taken. Shocking, poignant, this was the strongest moment in the whole episode and Imrie was superb.

The set pieces on the plane, and cycling up the shard are thrilling, and the whole thing with the locations and the costumes and the props and the music is very atmosopheric. So it is enjoyable. But the best scenes are those that feature Oswald and the Doctor together and unfortunately Clara’s out of it for just too much of this episode. Also, this Clara isn’t quite as impulsive or eccentric as the Oswalds we’ve met before. Previously she’d been driven by her own agenda into which the Doctor had become embroiled. But now she is the subject of the Doctor’s pursuit, and while I admire her ability to hold on to a cup of tea I do hope that some of the more interesting traits of the previous Oswalds re-emerge in the Clara we’re seeing in this run.

You can hear me say most of this with my voice on Fusion Patrol (though it was recorded too late, so got added to to the Rings of Akhenaten review) at 2’33”

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And you can hear the actual Fusion Patrol relating to this episode, with Ben & Eugene’s take, here (though I haven’t yet, as before I listened to them I wanted to write my own thoughts here first!)

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Image: Shard, from London Bridge by EEPaul CC-BY 2.0 Generic

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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