Doctor Who: The Bells of St. John (2013)

It’s that time of year again! With the turkey-filled memories of a Christmas long gone fading from my mind, and the pitter patter of Easter bunny footsteps upon the grass outside my apartment, there can only be one explanation – New episodes of Doctor Who to watch! I have been pretty excited for this half-season as the previous two episodes starring Jenna-Louise Coleman have been spot on. Asylum of the Daleks was easily my favorite episode in the first half of this season, and the last Christmas special, The Snowmen, was easily my favorite Christmas special of the lot.  I’m not sure if it can be chalked up to Steven Moffat’s writing or the fact that something just “clicks” with Jenna as Clara.

The Bells of St. John is an episode that really breaks no new ground. At its heart, one could honestly chalk it up as being a retread of an earlier Russell T. Davies penned episode Partners in Crime. Both featured the Doctor meeting a companion that he had met once before, both had a somewhat ineffectual villain, and both were set in contemporary London. The difference is that, unlike “Bells”, Partners in Time suffered from being seen as a “romp” episode, a sometimes pejorative term applied to fluffy one-off episodes that have no real substance. I think the main difference here is that this episode is more of a character piece, a slow burn if you will. There isn’t just a ton of running around and shouting, but the foundation to the unraveling mystery of Clara. Who is she? Why has she shown up in different time periods? Why doesn’t she remember the Doctor if her timeline is linear?

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When we last saw the Doctor in The Snowmen, he was a broken man. He had just lost the two most important people in his life and he wanted be alone and unbothered. With his heart hardening in a similar manner to how he appeared in the very first episode nearly 50 years ago, it took Clara’s appearance to give him new purpose. The task of unraveling her mystery and protecting her. This episode opens with the Doctor in quiet contemplation in a Cumbrian monastery. It seems that he has spent a Loooong time (Long enough that legends have built up around him, wait I thought he didn’t want that!) pondering those very same aforementioned questions. We are alerted to the fact that the “Bells of Saint John” are ringing, a clever way to describe the phone on his Tardis ringing, you know the same Tardis that has a “St. John’s ambulance” sticker on it. On the other end is coincidentally Clara asking for tech support to log onto the internet.  It seems that “some lady” gave Clara his number if she ever needed help. Curiouser, and Curiouser….

Long story short: The Doctor finds Clara and they fight off a threat by a group housed in a newer London landmark called “The Shard”. This villain is only heard in voice for the majority of the episode, and is known simply as “The Client” by the group of renegade IT professionals it employs.  They send out their robotic “Spoonheads” as walking Wi-Fi waypoints and wreak havoc. Their plan has a very Idiot Lantern vibe to it, but instead of feeding on TV viewers, the client wants to digitize human souls and use them as slaves and presumably food. In a shocking twist we find out that the villain is actually none other than The Great Intelligence, a classic villain that we last saw at Christmas time as played by Richard E. Grant.

While I know I will be crucified by all the David Tennant fans out there, but I think Matt Smith is slowly becoming my favorite Doctor. To me, he is on the verge of almost “perfecting” the role of the Doctor; just the right amount of darkness, wit, curiosity and even intelligence. He honestly reminds me of a weird conglomeration of the traits found in the Tom Baker and Patrick Troughton Doctors – both favorites of mine.

Doctor Who: The Bells of St. John was a solid, if not somewhat low-key episode. Both Smith and Coleman have done a great job with their respective characters carrying an episode that was not hinged on spectacle like most season openers. If this episode, and the trailer for the other upcoming episodes, is any indication of the season’s quality; I feel that this season will be great.

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7 thoughts on “Doctor Who: The Bells of St. John (2013)

  1. I was bitterly disappointed by BOSJ. As you mentioned, there was no new ground broken, there was little story, in fact, the much-hyped Spoonheads were quickly dismissed, and Celia Imrie was wasted in her role. I wanted to love it, but as a mate mentioned, it was almost the second episode of a series, rather than an all-out-explosive front runner. I have high hopes for the remainder of the series (particularly Cold War), but with the news filtering through daily about filming for the 50th, I am a little worried the next seven episodes are going to be filler…

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    • Hey thanks for the comment! The Neil Gaiman Cybermen episode and of course cold war have me pumped! I’m just hoping we don’t get a retread of “Night Terrors” with that ghost episode.

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  2. Good comparison to “Partners in Crime” up there. I am also starting to think of Matt Smith as my favorite Doctor or at least just as liked as David Tennant. For me, that has as much to do with preferring Steven Moffatt to Russell T. Davies as it does with Matt Smith or David Tennant.

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    • Thanks for the comment! Same here, I know some fans hate the guy for some reason,but Moffat has yet to really let me down. That is definitely not something I can say about some later Davies scripts.

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  3. This is an excellent review. Excellent! It’s almost like someone was reading my mind. I LOVE Asylum & Snowmen. I have watched and re-watched them…they may turn out to be two of my favorite DW episodes ever! I WAS disappointed by BOSJ, but I do think you hit the nail exactly on the head in regards to it being a character/slow burn piece instead of a romp. Matt Smith is also becoming one of my favorite Docs as well. I wanted to see him with someone besides The Ponds (who I always thought were likable but BORING), and Smith is excellent with Jenna. and matured in the role, after a too-manic, too-Tennant-lite start in series 5. Anyway, good job Mr. Reviewer!!!

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