Doctor Who: The Bells of Saint John

Bob Stanley looks at the first episode of the second half of the seventh season!!

It took me until June 2012 to watch the 2011 Christmas Special: it's thanks to John and his request for me to write a review that I watched `The Bells of St. John` reasonably close to original transmission. I must say I was underwhelmed by the thought of a new series of Doctor Who, even in this 50th anniversary year. That's heresy for a fan of 30 years' standing! Maybe I'm too old and cynical to enjoy the show in its hip, modern clothes? Maybe I've finally outgrown it?

BBC cuts forced the cast to collect cash for the next episode
 Beware of spoilers past this point...

As it turned out I was surprisingly entertained by a fast-paced modern production with a traditional story at its heart. None of your timey-wimey nonsense: humanity is threatened by an everyday technology, which the Doctor manages to turn against the enemy to defeat it. Billy would have been proud. You could argue that the story is deliberately simplistic so as not to distract from the main event: the third and actual introduction of Clara Oswald. Once again, Jenna-Louise Coleman impresses. Clara is clever, wise-cracking and (cliche alert) feisty; she's quietly impressed by the Doctor, but isn't going to let him know that.

Although we know there's a backstory, Clara doesn't come with any of the relationship and family baggage which dogged recent companions, meaning we can take her at face value. Coleman has calmed down a lot from her earlier appearances, and we hope this will rub off on Matt Smith, who is as hyperactive as ever here. For somebody who cites the Second Doctor as an inspiration, Smith should really watch a bit more of Troughton in action: Trout showed that puckishness could be balanced with quiet contemplation. Otherwise it's business as usual for the 11th Doctor.

Being an anniversary year it was natural for an old adversary to reappear, but who'd have guessed Moffat would take a shine to the Great Intelligence? From a production point of view, its ethereal nature makes it relatively easy and cheap to realise, and only the situation changes to keep things fresh, in this case using the modern-day phenomena of wifi and cloud storage. Just like the snowmen and the tube map at Christmas, we have a monastery to hark back to the Intelligence's earlier outings. Nice touch to bring back Richard E. Grant as the face of the Intelligence, and also nice to have it return its servants to (relatively) normal once defeated.

To help with the cuts, Matt Smith built some of the sets too


Nothing's perfect. Murray Gold still needs to turn the volume down (I find myself having to watch nu-Who with subtitles on, as some of the dialogue is low down in the mix), and the Doctor riding the motorbike up the side of the Shard was unnecessary and only there to show off to overseas audiences. But what really didn't ring true was Clara's distinct lack of computer skills, even regarding social networking. Clara is of the generation which grew up with the Internet as a way of life, and we are asked to believe she doesn't even know about Twitter? Mind you, I have a theroy about this which may count as spoilers if I expand any further. And on the subject of "spoilers", I think we can guess who the "woman in the shop" is going to be!

Dammit Moff, you've done it again. You've got this wizened old fan looking forward to next week's story. "The Bells of St John" is the first nu-Who I've enjoyed for some time, although the title could have been improved on. "The Cloud of Fear" perhaps? "Web of Fear 2"?

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