The Bells of St John

When popular TV tries to talk about computers, and the internet, and other things that it doesn’t particularly understand, it can get really awkward and cringe-worthy.

The second half of new Doctor Who’s seventh season, ‘The Bells of Saint John’, runs into a few howlers as it tries to navigate that territory… but I’m willing to forgive it for its philosophical accuracies. If nothing else, the whole story is a cautionary tale about joining public wireless networks, and that’s a valuable lesson for those who weren’t paying attention when the whole Firesheep thing happened (or, indeed, before that).

This may not be what Moffat had in mind when writing, but frankly, I’m so desperate for Who to be about something these days, that I’ll take it.

It’s also got more of the delightful Jenna Louise-Coleman, playing a character who it may actually be safe to get attached to, for once. No, really. Yet again, she demonstrates an easy comraderie with Smith, and while Clara is still relegated to damsel status for a large chunk of the story, she still makes a decent impression.

I can forgive the slightly dismal role for the companion though, in an episode where they manage to give the Doctor something genuinely clever and unexpected to do. I’m often surprised by just how rarely the series lets the Doctor get one step ahead of the audience; it seems a ripe way both to keep the audience guessing and show the cleverness of the character without reducing him to just being a surprisingly mobile encyclopædia.

In the end, the story is a three-hander between the Doctor, Clara and the excellently-played Miss Kizlet: almost a half-decent villain in a story by Moffat![1] Her final fate is the kind of brutal, sad and tragic twist that reminds me of how much more effective Who is when it’s allowed to get a little bit dark and creepy on the edges. This is perhaps one of Moffat’s simpler stories, but I think it’s better for it: after a year and a half of vague disappointment, I find myself actually, properly optimistic.

  1. I say almost, because she turns out not to be in control of her faculties. There’s not many Moffat scripts with genuinely horrible people in them: the only truly nasty character I remember of his recently is Madame Kovarian… but I never really got why she was such a dick. I’d say my favourite Moffat villain remains Angel Bob, who was pretty marvellous in a disembodied sort of way. ↩︎

Tom Charman Mastodon