7.6 – “The Bells Of Saint John”

DW Series 7 - The Bells Of Saint John

I don’t know where I am!” say lots of people who have been trapped in the wi-fi. The Doctor, however, is pretending to be a monk in 1207 Cumbria, but gets a call on the TARDIS phone from a terribly familiar young lady who needs helpdesk support. The Doctor arrives in the present day, rescues his impossible girl Clara and, together, they set out to find out what’s going on and put a stop to it.

At last! The proper roll-out of the impossibly pretty and perky Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald, the OFFICIAL new companion. All quite exciting really. We’ve already been teased with her in two superb episodes – as saucy, brilliant yet tragic Oswin in “Asylum Of The Daleks” and as cute, dynamic yet tragic Clara in “The Snowmen”. What a pity then that “The Bells Of Saint John” doesn’t really come close in quality to those two corkers.

It doesn’t help that it’s got a ticklist of Moffatisms that always get my goat. Anachronistic overly calm child being spooky; faceless, voiceless sinister “monster” that walks slowly; innocuous words as ominous repeated catchphrase – “I don’t know where I am”. Well I know where I am, Steve – stuck with a bunch of clichés that I’ve seen too many times before.

The story, or at least the situation that our heroes must deal with, is not so strong either. Again, people being spirited away to a virtual place is hardly original in the New Who era. Celia Imrie is great as our lead villain, but Miss Kizlet joins a growing list of strong, posh women in dark suits. And it’s never really clear what the point of the exercise is – why are people being uploaded to the “wifi”? I’m sure the Great Intelligence has a great plan behind it all, but who knows what it is – we’re never told. It’s quite cool how Miss Kizlet hacks her staff’s minds to get them to act just how she wants but so much else makes no sense.

The spoonheads are just plain daft. So they’re actually portable servers who disguise themselves as people that their targets know, except their heads twist around so that the downloading “beam” can be used? WHY?! Since Miss Kizlet seems to have no trouble controlling a whole café full of people from afar, why does she need to have the spoonheads wandering around? After all, aren’t people being uploaded to the wifi?!

All that stuff isn’t so important though – this story is really about Clara and turning her into THE companion. However, the Clara here is nowhere near as good as the Clara in “Asylum…” and “The Snowmen”. In her previous stories, Clara was smart and dynamic and very much driving events along. Here, Clara is really just someone that stuff happens to. I suppose that’s the point; she is The Impossible Girl of mystery and it’s up to The Doctor to pull her into his adventures. I’ve got no issues with Coleman as an actress as she more than proved her worth in her first couple of outings. When there’s a chance to show it, she’s strong here, showing how a raised eyebrow and subtle smile can go a long, long way. It’s just unfortunate that she doesn’t have the character I was hoping for to put all of that talent into.

Matt Smith, once again, elevates the mediocre to something better; he twirls and twitches his way through things with ease. The Eleventh Doctor, no longer weighed down by the Ponds, is back to having fun again. He has great chemistry with Coleman; The Doctor and Clara spark nicely over their breakfast, cheerfully rescue planes together and don’t quite flirt, but almost do. The anti-gravity bike up the side of the Shard is good fun, The Doctor’s trick of reprogramming the spoonhead to fool Miss Kizlet and upload her was pretty clever and the Great Intelligence reducing Miss Kizlet back to a scared little girl – that was just plain nasty. The whole thing may not quite hang together, but the episode certainly has its moments.

Episodes like this are frustrating. We know Moffat is a seriously good writer when he turns it on, but sometimes he seems to be just ticking off the boxes. There’s enough sparky stuff to entertain but, after two awesome preludes to this, Clara’s actual proper debut is a little bit of a letdown. Smith, Coleman and Imrie provide enough talent to give this 7/10.

Written and edited by Richard Barnes


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