Sunday, 31 March 2013

Review - "The Bells of Saint John"


Well...it's back - and managed to take over twitter and score a more than respectable 6.2million in overnight viewing figures.  The return of the show is always hyped beyond belief but this time we also had the third and final "aspect" of Clara Oswald involved - and it could have been a complete mess.  Thankfully, the Moff rather nailed it with this one and "The Bells of Saint John" turned out to be a good, solid and very entertaining romp.

Of course, it wouldn't be the Moff if he didn't take something from everyday life, twist it obscenely and scare the living daylights out of us.  This time - to put another speedbump into the life of Who fans - he chose WiFi.  We rely on WiFi an extraordinary amount - if you just look at the Who fandom for instance, the prequels, trailers and behind the scenes videos all hit the internet first not to mention the sheer amount of Who traffic on social network sites.  In "The Bells of Saint John", the WiFi became some kind of creepy little recruiting device where souls are uploaded and then consumed by the Great Intelligence.  The pre-credits sequence of the episode reinforced our reliance on WiFi with the variety of locations used and Nabile's plea culminating in that very creepy camera pullback on the multitude of trapped souls in the monitor screens.


Another strength of "Doctor Who" - apart from making aspects of everyday life scary in the extreme - is it's ability to merge concepts and places that simply don't seem to belong together.  In a lovely follow up to the prequel, the Doctor has gone off to a "quiet place to think" which, in this case is a monastery in 1207AD (and with Matt's teaser of "paintings" as a clue to the 50th Anniversary special, you have to wonder if there will be any significance to the Doctor's painting of Clara).  The Bells of Saint John of the title are ringing - and I admit to groaning that I hadn't actually worked this out previously.  The Bells of Saint John are, of course, the ringing telephone of the Tardis which is next to the St John Ambulance sticker.  And this is where you get that wonderful merging that only "Doctor Who" can do.  The Doctor answering a telephone in 1207AD and speaking to Clara Oswald in the present day - the juxtaposition of the two shouldn't have worked but, of course it did.



I would say honestly that practically everything worked in this episode - from being stalked by Spoonheads to the fabulous motorcycle jaunt across London.  It was edge of the seat stuff when the Doctor was trying to download Clara (and if the odd "come on, Doctor" escaped my lips then that was fine), the cafe scene where the extent of the takeover became clear was fantastic and the confrontation between the Doctor and Miss Kizlet was just dripping with malice.  My one and only complaint is that, following that epic and quite wonderful scene with the Doctor riding up the side of the Shard on his anti-grav bike, I would have liked to have actually SEEN him crash into Miss Kizlet's office as opposed to just hearing breaking glass.  Budget constraints probably put the mockers on that, however.


Epic characters you want to see again is another staple of "Doctor Who" and Celia Imrie's Miss Kizlet is definitely one.  Celia Imrie was given the opportunity to show off her acting chops and gave us a very chilling character who has been described as a kind of "despicable M".  Very cold, very calculating and it therefore made much more of an impact when she reverted to childhood at the end.  Kudos to Celia Imrie for proving she is so much more than a comic actor from "Victoria Wood".

Jenna-Louise Coleman gave us a third version of Clara in "The Bells of Saint John" - not quite as confident as Oswin Oswald in "Asylum of the Daleks" but definitely more than capable of wrong-footing the Doctor.  I think Clara is just what we need actually.  With the Ponds the relationships between the characters was definitely that of "family" and the Doctor was, at different points, father, brother and even child at times.  With Clara, you don't get that impression at all.  She's flirty, she reacts unexpectedly - she's managed not only to grab his attention but give him a mystery to get his teeth into.  It's wonderful - and has bought out a new aspect of Matt's Doctor.  He's suddenly a bit bewildered - especially by Clara's flirtiness and he's not sure how to react.  Clara has, however, given him back his joy, delight and wonder and, whilst the darker Doctor of last year was good, I do so love seeing him like this instead.  Major kudos then to both Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman - and we got the opportunity to see more Matt dancing...even if it did somewhat resemble a granddad dancing at a wedding.


It didn't take long for various very cool touches, such as the book "Summer Falls" by Amelia Williams (and when discussing chapters, Clara's comment of "11 is the best...you'll cry your eyes out" did make me giggle) and the helpline number being given to Clara by a woman in a shop, to get twitter buzzing with possibilities.  And that was the joy of this episode: the plot was fine - it wasn't deep or meaningful but not every episode has to be like that - it was funny, clever, fast paced, full of action and, most importantly, very enjoyable.  "The Bells of Saint John" is quotable to the extreme (the "snogbox" and "no-one loves cattle more than Burger King" being my favourites) - has there been an episode with more memorable dialogue and one-liners?


The audience can sometimes remind you of the Gods of Ragnarok from "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" with the demands to "entertain us" and that is always the main question.  Did "The Bells of Saint John" entertain?  Yes...oh, yes. It definitely did.  Nicely done, Mr Moffat - and rather perfect timing for it to air on the same day we learned that the Moff has three episodes up for a Hugo Award.  Roll on "The Rings of Akhaten" - I really want to see more of the Doctor and Clara.

Notes:

Clara's book - ages 16 and 23 were missed out.  23 being of particular note as in "The Snowmen" her gravestone revealed her birthday as 23 November (the significance of that date doesn't need pointing out!)

The woman in the shop - River Song?  It makes sense - and the Moff does love his timey wimey.

Clara showing true British spirit by hanging onto her mug of tea for grim death - you go, girl!

If you want to hack a Who fan's computer, then you may want to try a password of rycbar123 - or if they're really being sneaky then try Clara's intial mistype of rycbar124.

The Great Intelligence returns - for an Anniversary year villain...great choice (and it's always a delight when Richard E Grant graces our screens).


Episode Rating - 9/10 - almost there but a cracking opener.