2nd Opinion: The Bells of Saint John

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John Hussey and Adam James Cuthbert each give their own verdict on the 2013 opener.

John’s verdict

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Doctor Who is back with another explosive opener, and what a way to get the 50th Anniversary party started. Steven Moffat as ever is on fine form with ideas which seem to be leading into quite a few little mysteries.

Let’s start with Clara Oswin Oswald; the girl twice dead. We finally get to see the version of Clara who will be accompanying the Doctor on his travels in the TARDIS. Like a lot of stereotypical companions, she started off quite curious, vulnerable and without any ideas about the Doctor’s world as they stumble upon it. The interesting thing that changes with Clara is due to her partial download into the Wi-Fi’s web of evil by the dreaded Spoonheads. She then becomes the opposite and less vulnerable as her computer skills prove to be more than a match for Miss Kislet. It’s always nice to see the companion become as brave and intelligent as the Doctor (to a certain degree at least) as this makes them more than your average companion. They develop into someone the Doctor can bounce off of. Obviously the real interesting thing about Clara is her mystery. Why has she encountered the Doctor twice in two different timelines/lifetimes and died both times? What does it all mean? This is what we have to look forward to within the next seven episodes.

The Doctor’s curiosity has always been his downfall. The last time we saw him in ‘The Snowmen’ he was willing to give up everything so he could live a life of exile away from pain and loss, but his curiosity brought him back into existence. As seen within the ‘The Bells of Saint John Prequel’ the Doctor has been searching far and wide for Clara, even bumping into a younger version of present-day Clara who encourages him to go to a quiet place in order to help clear his head and find what he has lost. Following her advice, he secludes himself within 1207 Cumbria where the Doctor is living as a monk. He then re-encounters Clara via a phone call of all things, due to Clara being given a phone number for a helpline by some woman in a shop (leaving the question open as to whom this person is – my personal bet is on River Song, but time will tell). These two events are very intriguing and clever of Moffat, put together to help push along the mysteries behind the character and further enhance the Doctor’s curiosity over her.

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Eleven is on fine form as always, showcasing a balance between his wacky and childlike-self, while demonstrating his harsh and manipulative side. His first encounter with present-day Clara is priceless – turning up at her house dressed as a monk. Who wouldn’t slam the door in his face and claim him to be some kind of lunatic? Also we finally get to see him say something is un-cool, in this case monks. I really love his new outfit. I think it really captures his ancient alien side and showcases a feeling of wisdom about his presence. Also I can’t go without complimenting the new TARDIS. Its vast new nature really gives it more depth and it also, once again, looks old and full of mystery and alien nature. I really can’t wait to see it explored in ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’.

As for Eleven’s manipulative side, I point to the brilliant resolution of him tricking Miss Kislet into thinking the Spoonhead duplicate was himself and using the dreaded robot to trap her within the web, thereby forcing her subordinates (through further manipulation) into freeing those trapped, including Clara. It’s scenes like this that just showcase his true nature and helps us to get a better understanding of who he is. He is more than what is perceived and I think deep down he isn’t the hero that he’s made out to be. Perhaps all will be revealed in the final when his biggest secret is revealed?

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There were some very exciting scenes within the story, most notably the plane scene. It was a dark idea including a plane crashing but at the end of the day, this is what would happen and it makes the Wi-Fi threat all the more serious. It actually placed the Doctor and Clara in a dangerous situation which feels very real and harsh. Certainly a great action-packed and fast paced way of introducing the new girl to the Doctor’s world and the dangers surrounding it. I think the tone and style of the episode was very interesting. It felt very different from we’ve seen before in Moffat’s era, a clear indication of the new era before us. The tone, look and style of the show has made a dramatic change for the arrival of Clara and I must say I’m very impressed with it and can’t wait to see it progress.

The Spoonheads are a nice addition to Moffat’s monster collection. Again he has picked something that is the norm and placed a nasty twist around its ideas and meanings. Sure, they might not have been as scary as the likes of the Weeping Angels, Silence, Vashta Nerada or the Clockwork Droids but they certainly kept an eerie nature which left you feeling a little uneasy. Wi-Fi, as everyone will know, is a global thing and this story just demonstrates just how lethal it could be within the wrong hands. Everyone’s souls trapped within cyberspace, locked away within the unknown forever while your knowledge and memories are absorbed for the purposes of evil. So yes, the Spoonheads are a clever invention which worked to serve their purpose.

Miss Kislet was another fine addition to the episode and played a brilliant villain for the Doctor to go up against. She was cruel and almost without emotion, rivalling that of the Rani and Madame Kovarian within quality. The way Miss Kislet freely controlled her subordinates’ emotions via her controls was very disturbing. The idea of someone controlling your thoughts and actions is one that leaves you with a shiver of fear. Plus the cruel part of the story was she herself was also a puppet being used for the benefits of someone more powerful.

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I will admit though I was a little disappointed to see Miss Kislet’s client was in fact the Great Intelligence. I thought its purpose within this series was over, but I was mistaken. I’m confused as to why Moffat has brought it back and for what end. I suppose we will find out and I look forward to seeing what conclusion he comes to, but I will admit I’m wary. Out of all the reoccurring villains of the last 50 years, I find it hard to understand why he picked the Great Intelligence, but I’m sure once I get a better understanding of its intentions my worries will be swayed aside and I’ll be happy with the results.

Overall, this was a great opening episode to the second half of Series 7 and I’m extremely looking forward to seeing what’s to come within the next seven episodes and how it all leads into Doctor Who’s big celebrations in November.

Adam’s verdict

The Bells of Saint John, as with this series thus far, was less than the sum of its parts. A rushed resolution, inconsistent characterisation of the Doctor (is he even trying to be inconspicuous?), and flawed integration of Moffat’s new mystery within the series mythos, are amongst the story’s greater disappointments. It’s a recurrent symptom of Moffat’s stories that they emphasise style over substance. While the story’s elements of horror were effective, its endeavours to re-instil the series with realistic drama only met with contention.

[You can Adam’s full verdict here.]

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