What To Expect: The Bells of Saint John

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Guest contributor Gustaff on what can we expect from the “Urban Thriller” episode The Bells of Saint John.

Thriller and horror are not synonymous. The idea that thrillers and horrors are the same thing is a common misconception that people have had since the two genres first overlapped. While horror is all blood and guts and scary, thrillers are suspense driven, tension grabbing and fast-paced. But what is ‘Urban Thriller’ exactly and what can we expect from The Bells of Saint John?

The Key Ingredients

Urban Thriller is not a new format in Doctor Who, quite the opposite. It has produced some prodigious stories. Both The Eleventh Hour and Let’s Kill Hitler relied heavily on this genre. The key to a good thriller is manipulating the moods of the viewers. What does Steven need to do to make it look and feel like an Urban Thriller? Well he needs to get our anticipation heightened. No! He wants it hyper-heightened! We have to be anxious, uncertain and filled with terror – all at the same time! We have to be biting our nails over what’s going to happen next. Think 12 Rounds or Die Hard… but British.

Thrillers need to be fast-paced. You can expect a Let’s Kill Hitler feel to the story as it’s supposed to start off with a bang and like the Juggernaut, isn’t going to slow down and if it does, it won’t last long enough for you to even go and get a glass of water. Thrillers tend to get the adrenaline pumping. Left! Right! Left! Up! Down! Sideways if you’re not looking! You can expect red herrings, nerve racking twists and if we’re lucky, there might even be a cliffhanger into the next episode.

Usually in thrillers, the heroes are faced with a mission, an escape, a quest or a mystery. Mystery of the Spoonheads? That’s the one. You can expect the Spoonheads to present all sorts of obstacles. It won’t just be an airplane crashing! At least I hope not!


You can expect the Spoonheads to be initially more clever and stronger than the Doctor and Clara. The main plot is mystery and that needs to be solved first. Also common, but not surprisingly is the final face-off with the Big Bad. The battle will be mental, not physical, but as this is Doctor Who, that would’ve been obvious. You can also expect Clara to be dragged into trouble by the Doctor, unlike their previous meeting where she followed him into danger. She will not be prepared for the Spoonheads, but then again… Doctor Who.



Urban should’ve provided you with a hint. If it didn’t, the story will be set in modern day London. Typical in thrillers, the world will be portrayed as dark and menacing in some aspect. The Bells of Saint John isn’t Moffat’s first thriller. The Eleventh Hour was also a great mystery thriller set in suburbia. In that story, Amy’s perception of the world was painted with people who constantly thought she was crazy or overly-imaginative, so it isn’t a stretch to suppose that Clara might already be aware of the Wi-Fi threat, but no one can be bothered to support or listen to her.


Every thriller needs one and I’m not talking about Clara. You can expect a Moffat puzzle, something hidden in plain sight and impossibly easy to solve, yet we won’t catch on until after the Doctor does. There are three types of mystery available: Fair Play Whodunit, Clueless Mystery and the Reverse Whodunit. Given the plot of the story and Moffat’s writing style, you can expect a Fair Play Whodunit, where we know just as much as the Doctor and can beat him to The Reveal or a Reverse Whodunit, where we know everything in even more detail than the Doctor, but we don’t know how he’s going to save the day. In the case of thrillers, the viewer is supposed to be able to find the solution roughly at the same time as the Doctor, so keep your eyes open for a Fair Play Whodunit. This is going to be the easiest Moffat is going to make it for us. Of course it will still rely on the trope that Viewers are Geniuses and be incredibly clever and hard, yet stupid and easy all at once. This is Moffat we’re talking about.

The People

First off, we have The Hero in the Doctor. He will meet Clara – the Amateur Sleuth…unless she’s not onto the WI-FI thing yet, then she becomes Mrs. Clueless. And together they will embark on a Cozy Mystery. Unfortunately, thrillers don’t exactly have a lot of stereotypical people we can identity, so…that’s what you outta know about what to expect in The Bells of Saint John…unless of course Moffat is messing with us and he decides to turn the Urban Thriller genre on its head.