The Bells of Saint John – review

Hack the mainframe! Twitter the wi-fi! Hit the keyboard VERY LOUDLY!

My hopes weren’t high for tonight’s episode of Doctor Who. I was incredibly disappointed by the last two and a half seasons and the less said about The Snowmen the better. In forty-five minutes, Steven Moffat was going to launch the 50th anniversary season of the show, reintroduce us to the Doctor’s newest companion and, hopefully, tell a half-decent story. Did he succeed? Well…

On the face of it, an episode about “people’s souls being uploaded to the Internet” sounds like it was ripped straight from the direct-to-DVD catalogue of 2003. For all of Moffat’s boasts about making Wi-Fi scary, there were precious few frights throughout the episode, and the Spoonheads didn’t quite work as a concept.

It’s a shame, too, that Moffat seems to have lost the originality evident in episodes like The Empty Child or The Girl in the Fireplace and is now showing a disappointing reliance on either schlocky tropes (like creepy little girls in old-fashioned clothing) or a relentless plundering of his own back-catalogue (like people’s faces turning around to reveal A SPOOKY MONSTER FACE!!!).  And in the absence of some drama, why not chuck in an arbitrary set piece involving a crashing plane?

But even if the plot was pedestrian, we were granted some fairly good performances from the actors. Celia Imrie is always a delight, and managed to turn a run-of-the-mill ice-queen character into something a shade more interesting. Matt Smith is beginning to tone down the wackiness and slowly starting to resemble the Doctor, rather than a twenty-something year old acting kooky in order to look interesting.

And what about Jenna-Louise Coleman, our new(ish) companion? Well, Clara seems to have developed from Moffat’s standard Spunky Girl template with some nice backstory, and the exchanges between her and the Doctor actually had some warmth to them in a way that his relationship with Amy Pond never did. All we need now is for her to kick her. Annoying habit of. Talking in fragments. Instead of. Full. Sentences, and we might have a companion to rival Rose.

So was the episode a complete failure? Not at all. It was surprisingly watchable, as long as you didn’t stop to think too hard about it, and Colm McCarthy’s direction was a cut above the average. The major problem with the last few episodes is that they’re just not as epic as they think they are, but with the weight of the anniversary coming up we might all be able to overlook that. As someone who’s long had an axe to grind with Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who, I found myself enjoying tonight’s episode in a way I thought was no longer possible. Things might be looking up.

FINAL RATING: 2.5/5

ODDS & ENDS:

  • Clara’s Facebook stalking of the bad guys was a way more realistic depiction of how modern hackers work than the Doctor’s VERY FAST typing.
  • The Twitter gag was pretty great.
  • The riots gag wasn’t.
  • Oh look, the Great Intelligence is back. And instead of being played by Ian McKellen, we get Richard E Grant. A man who has had three chances to be in Doctor Who and stuffed it up every. Single. Time.
  • Bebo? Really?
  • The new purple coat is gorgeous, by the way. Kick anyone who says otherwise.
  • Next week: the Doctor and Clara visit Farscape!

When not reviewing Doctor Who, Patrick Magee is an a’a lava flow in the Sunda Strait. More of his ramblings can be found here, and you can buy his novel As Baile: A Story here.

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One thought on “The Bells of Saint John – review

  1. Pingback: The Name of the Doctor – review | Patrick DoubleThreat Magee

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