[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 7 Episode 7, "The Bells of St. John"

I think now is very clear that at some point in his youth, Steven Moffat was terrorised by an owl.

I say this because the return of Doctor Who has also brought us yet another villain invented by Mr. Moffat whose distinguishing feature is the ability to turn their head all way round. It also gave us another fast paced, 'rousing' adventure in which time is of the essence and the whole of humanity lies in the balance. And yet again from Mr. Moffat, hardly a moment was taken to pause and breathe, which was a shame, because is was in the quieter moments that the episode really shone.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that also cannot fly planes.

Think back to Moffat's more successful episodes of Who. Empty Child, Blink, the Library, even the Time of Angels. And what do they have in common, compared to his more recent offerings? The pace of them is about at half what it is now. They were exciting episodes, yes. But they were given the opportunity to unfold at their own leisure. Those episodes were more talking then running. And they gave the big, interesting ideas time to come into their own. Or, at least, time for the audience to understand what the ideas were all about. Episodes like The Wedding of River Song, Angels Take Manhattan and the Asylum of the Daleks are so focused on keeping things moving, and making them move so damned quick, that the ideas get lost in the rush. And I feel that Bells falls into the latter category.

The Great Intelligence returns, played by Richard E. Grant, which makes Ian McKellen's six lines of dialogue in the Christmas Special even more pointless. So we've got a foundation in the history of the show, and a baddie to last the year. And he's sucking people up through the wi-fi and eating their minds. It's a great set up, but that is also pretty much all there is. So the episode is forced, because it is also moving so damned fast, to pad out with little bits of eccentricities that while exciting and odd, which are also obviously filler. The airplane sequence, framed as a oner, but with clear edits, and the Doctor driving up the side of the Shard are the obvious examples. Moffat more and more has been seeking a refuge in audacity, testing the viewers suspension of disbelief. We can and do and have for some time accepted a near immortal travelling through space and time in a big blue box, but what is the limit to our acceptance? Driving up the side of the tallest building in London on a motor bike? It seems that he will keep testing us until we crack. And I'm afraid when we do, it will be too late to salvage things.

The episode also was distracting, for its overuse of elements from 'recent' episodes. Normally, I wouldn't have a problem with this, if they were specific call backs, a pattern emerging that draws a connected thread. But I didn't sense that here. Elsewhere much is being made that the brain sucking plot is a retool of The Idiot's Lantern, one of the weakest episodes of the shows return. But the cold open borrowed the video diary from Blink, and the disembodied electronic repeated voice of the dead from the Library. The Spoonheads were less menacing then the Smilers, who at least looked scary in the Beast Below, and disguised themselves in much the same way the broken TARDIS did in The Lodger

We got less of an introduction episode to the companion then just another episode, which was good, because she's already had two introduction episodes and third might have felt forced. However, since we already knew (enough about) Clara to get going, the expectation was she would do more in the episode. But she didn't. She was a MacGuffin, getting the Doctor to the time and place, but not really participating. In the episode she accomplishes two legitimate things: she discovers the location of the baddies in the Shard, and she dies. Twice. So worse then being a MacGuffin, she's just another damsel for the Doctor to save. Twice. She might be feisty and quick with the wit, but is being fodder for the Doctor's messiah complex really the best origin story for a companion? We've had worse, but have we had more insulting?

The episode was at it's best, and it's most alive, when it was savouring the moments. The opening sequence in the monastery, and the clever title origin (Moffat still excels at picking out little details like that), was excellent and fun. As was the Doctor's insistent protection of Clara, whilst also inventing the quadracycle. His tending to her was touching, and shows just how much the Doctor really does care for everyone on the planet. The sequence in the coffee shop was probably the best, ranging from the Doctor trying to figure this impossible girl out, straight through to the menace of a villain with a thousand faces. Matt Smith seems at his best when he's either manic or defencive, and the show down with the waitress and the TV was definitely the latter, and Smith was in fine form.

I like Clara, and I think she'll be an interesting addition to the show, so long as she doesn't suffer the fate of so many companions over the years, as being the one that seems feisty and up to it all, but ends up just getting grabbed every week and waits for the Doctor to come rescue her (I'm thinking of the Romana I's, the Peri's, the Susan's). If someone is going to share the TARDIS, they have to be damned well worthy of it. And the same is true behind the camera. 
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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