Sunday, March 31, 2013

Doctor Who - The Bells of Saint John - A Review

Steven Moffat, take a bow. One only needs to read other reviews I've written on here to discover that I am no fan of the Moff, and that his episodes are so far from being up my street that they're in a different post code. Yet, perhaps because of my low expectations, or perhaps because it genuinely was pretty damn good, I really, really enjoyed The Bells of Saint John.

The Doctor and Clara do milkshakes in the shadow of... the bells of St Paul?
The episode is significant not only because it kickstarted the second half of Series 7 of Doctor Who but also because it introduced us to the version of Clara that we'll be getting to know over the next few weeks (ie. this isn't Oswin Oswald Clara or Victorian Nanny Clara), and with that in mind it makes sense to focus first on the character herself. Now, I'll be honest, I was a bit apprehensive before the episode started. I hadn't liked her at all in Asylum of the Daleks and I'd liked her even less in The Snowmen. She was the same kind of stock-female character that Moffat almost always writes, and I was dreading the prospect of enduring weeks of her as the companion. But how wrong I was. Don't get me wrong, there are still aspects about the way she's written that remind us that she's a Moffat Female Character, but she was much more independent, and a lot warmer actually, than I'd been expecting. I loved how, at the end of the episode, instead of instantly taking the Doctor up on his offer to travel with him, she told him to come back the next day ("because I might say yes"); in fact, it reminded me rather a lot of Martha's departure and River's attitude to travelling in the TARDIS ("whenever and wherever you want - but not all the time"). The ability to say no to the Doctor and to not be overawed by all the things he can offer demonstrates a lot of autonomy and even maturity, and I very much liked that about Clara. And the fact that she has a family of sorts grounds her and makes her much more emotionally identifiable than Amy ever was. It was the lack of a family to come back to that proved to be a massive (though, sadly, one of many) flaw in the Amy's character, so I'm just glad that Clara has people at home that she cares about and who she will one day want to come back to. Furthermore, I like Jenna Louise Coleman's portrayal of Clara. I don't love it, but I like it. And actually, that rather sums up my attitude to Clara as a whole. At the moment, I like her but I don't love her. Thankfully, though, she's got plenty more time to impress.

Welcome to the TARDIS, Clara Oswald.
One thing that nobody could have missed is how stunningly beautiful the episode looked. Of course, that is due in part to the direction of Colm McCarthy (why is he not directing more episodes this series? That's what I want to know!) but I do believe that the real reason for the episode's beauty is its choice of setting: the city of London. I've said it before and I'll say it again, London is one of the - if not the most - beautiful cities in the world, and its landmarks were the star of every scene they were in. I honestly can't tell you how much I loved the Doctor racing through Westminster and under Admiralty Arch, or how much I adored the scene in which Clara and the Doctor have coffee (well, milkshakes) in the shadow of St. Paul's Cathedral and the Shard. London gave the episode a truly epic feel, and Colm McCarthy did the city justice in such a way that he managed to make an episode of a sci-fi show look as majestic as Skyfall. However, speaking of the Shard... How FANTASTIC was the way it was used in this episode?! The scene in which the Doctor rides his antigrav motorbike up the building and into the office on floor 65 was the most fun Doctor Who scene Steven Moffat has ever written. It was like something out of a Russell T Davies script. Fun-wise, it was right up there with the flying bus sequence in Planet of the Dead. And the 'fun-ness' of that scene reflects how fun the rest of the episode was. I loved the TARDIS becoming one of the many performance acts you find on the South Bank! (Did it remind anyone else of the John Cleese/Eleanor Bron scene from City of Death? "Exquisite! Absolutely exquisite!") And I loved the whole plane flying sequence, too! Fun has been something that has been distinctly lacking in Steven Moffat's Who, which is why I'm so relieved that this episode actually was fun. It certainly bodes well for the future.

The Doctor riding his antigrav motorbike up the Shard. What could be more fun?!
The Bells of Saint John - Doctor Who's answer to Skyfall.
So, we've established that London was the star of the show. But do you know who was the other star? I'll tell you - Murray Gold. Words cannot even describe how fantastic that man's music can be at times, and I'm pleased to say that with his score for The Bells of Saint John he outdid even himself. The themes he writes for the companions are always superb and the highlight of the soundtracks in which they feature, and the theme he has written for Clara is no exception. It's beautiful, and at times very Alan Menken-esque, and I can't wait to hear more of it - and maybe even to hear it develop - in future episodes. However, for me, the best musical moment in the episode, without a doubt, came at the end of the episode. The guitar that plays when Clara is about to leave the TARDIS, just as she turns back around to look at the Doctor, is perfect in every single sense of the word. It is very rare to hear guitars (especially acoustic ones) used in soundtracks, so in many ways it was an odd choice to choose a guitar to be the instrument that led into the episode's final rendition of I am the Doctor, but my God did it work. I can't even explain why it worked, it just did. It made an already beautiful scene transcendental, and helped confirmed its status as one of the best ever scenes of New Who. It genuinely gives me chills - it's that good.

The Doctor: Clara? 
Clara: Uh huh?
The Doctor: In your book there was a leaf. Why?
Clara: That wasn't a leaf, that was page one.

"That wasn't a leaf. That was page one."
So, overall, there was a lot right about this episode. Don't get me wrong, it's not quite a classic per se, but it was very solid and extremely enjoyable, with more than its fair share of fantastic moments. For example, the revelation about what the bells of Saint John actually were (the sound of the TARDIS's external phone ringing) was brilliant and very clever, despite having little overall relevance to the rest of the episode. And the scene in which we learn that Miss Kizlet (the episode's main villain, played rather wonderfully by the equally wonderful Celia Imrie) was abducted as a child? Genius! And heartbreaking. That's the kind of depth I wish Moffat would give to all of his minor characters. He proved with Miss Kizlet that he could do it as well as Russell T Davies did it, so let's hope he continues to do so. All in all, The Bells of Saint John was an extremely strong (half) series opener, in fact probably the best one Moffat has written, and if the rest of the series lives up to the promise of this first episode, then I'll be a very happy bunny* indeed.

Happy Easter, everyone!

*(Haha, see what I did there? It's funny because I'm writing this on Easter Sunday.)

No comments:

Post a Comment