The Bells of Saint John Spoiler-Free Review
It seems like Steven Moffat has been trying to channel a bit of Russell T Davies in his era of late. If you took Rose or Partners in Crime and added in a dash of Sherlock you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from The Bells of Saint John. Your opinions on the quality of those will vary, but this episode evokes strong memories of the aforementioned. If you liked them, it’s pretty safe to say you’ll like this.
This episodes has the tricky task of introducing Jenna-Louise Coleman for the third time. As with The Snowmen this episode basically serves as another entry point not just for the character, but for the newer viewer. Coleman’s latest variation on Clara is probably the best yet. She’s another contemporary companion and feels more grounded. Obviously there are similarities with the other companions, but Coleman does enough to make Clara stand out.
The central mystery behind Clara is still the most intriguing part about the character, although it’s not really the main focus here once the plot really gets going. Coleman should be praised for playing what is essentially three different characters (or is it?) with enough nuances to make them feel different. This Clara is a less feisty one than before and more vulnerable at times.
Despite the fact the Doctor and Clara have to get reacquainted with each other once again, the all important chemistry between the pair doesn’t take long to get established once more. This is partly because everything moves along at such a brisk speed. There’s little time for the Doctor to stop and explain everything to her. Matt Smith is great as always, and a bit more of an action-man Doctor than usual, though with the usual quirks to make him feel distinctly alien.
Moffat has said that that the episode is a bit like Doctor Who’s take on the Bond or Bourne films. It’s a half truth. Obviously the Doctor isn’t gun toting and killing/beating up hundreds of goons, but it’s definitely a fast-paced and pretty action-packed episode. The most hyped up of the set pieces – the motorcycle ride on the London Shard – is well done.
Director Colm McCarthy, new to Doctor Who, takes full advantage of the London scenery where the episode is predominately set. Unlike Russell T Davies’ era which was regularly back in the British capital, Moffat’s era has been the polar opposite. The location feels so much fresher as a result and really works in the episode’s favour. The earlier Sherlock comparison comes from some of the visuals McCarthy employs in the episode, such as the fancy on-screen text.
The episode isn’t your typical Moffat scare-fest. There’s a few creepy moments but it’s not the focus. The main monsters, the “Spoonheads” are another of those enemies that feel a little peripheral at times. The real villain of the piece comes in the form of Celia Emrie. She puts in a scene stealing performance as the evil Miss Kizlet and gets some killer lines.
It’s an exciting, funny and fast-paced start to the 2013 run overall. A couple of the tricks that Moffat pulls out of the hat are feeling well-worn, but it’s not enough to distract from the enjoyment as a whole.