Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"Cold War"

"One push and all Classic Who fans will be eliminated..."
Given that RTD was in charge first to reintroduce the biggest Classic-era villains, but only resurrected the Sontarans and the Nestene and Autons from the remaining stock of recurring villains, it's been left to Moff to bring back the leftovers of the somewhat-known opponents of the Doctor, first with the Silurians in their rather bizarrely mammalian offshoot in Series 5 and now with another race of reptile rapscallions, the Ice Warriors, last seen in 1974's dreary Third Doctor shameless rehash serial "The Monster of Peladon". This was a laboured plodder which was a sequel to an excellent earlier Third Doctor adventure, "The Curse of Peladon". One of the many things which made this serial interesting was that the Ice Warriors, who had appeared as enemies to the Second Doctor in two serials, "The Ice Warriors" and "The Seeds of Death", were revealed in a twist to actually be on the same side as the Doctor in the original Peladon story, despite his mistrust of them. "The Monster of Peladon" undid this clever character development by reverting them back to being the villains, although this was explained in a bit of cop-out dialogue as being only a rogue element of the Martian military with most of the Ice Warriors, off-screen, still firmly on the side of good. It's a mediocre story and the last we see of the Ice Warriors until now, where apparently after much pleading by Mark Gatiss they're finally returned to our television screens. Let me give you an episode pitch for an Ice Warrior story we could have had but which the New Series would never bother to do in a million years: Clara wonders if humans ever colonise Mars; the Doctor endeavours to show her, but arrives either too early or too late during a period of Ice Warrior supremacy. The Ice Warriors are under attack by some enemy whom the Doctor has to help them defeat. We get an alien but not too unfamiliar location, some action and some discourse because the big green guys are now the friendly locals in need of help. Too easy. Shame we got this instead.
"I have ssslept for thirty-nine yearsss.
Where is Missster Pertwee?"
We find ourself on a Soviet submarine where everyone speaks the Queen's English in pleasant regionless accents; the Captain announces that they're about to destroy the world when he's interrupted by an old man loudly singing Ultravox's "Vienna" along with his casette player. It's the Eighties! It's the Eighties, everyone! There were nuclear tensions and cheesy synth pop in the Eighties! I can't hate Gatiss for some reason, possibly because he still feels like he's somewhat trying even though he rarely succeeds, but he writes with all the subtlety of a kick to the crotch. Turns out this apocalyptic moment was just a drill, which the lieutenant demands be repeated so that the crew can be as prepared as possible; lots of very ham-fisted dialogue gets tossed about between him and the captain about NATO "sabre-rattling" and "American aggression". The captain has the big beard so that you know he's the sensible one; the lieutenant has the stupid pointy sailor hat and smug bastard face so that you know he's the smug bastard one. He does remind me of a Classic Series obstructive secondary antagonist, but after voicing his opinion he flounces off in a huff. The captain asks the old man, a professor, about a block of ice on board, speculating that it's a mammoth. Cut to another room containing a man-sized block of ice with a visibly anthropomorphic shadow inside. How could anyone think that was a mammoth? The nearby sailor decides to not wait until the return to Moscow; he's just going to disobey orders with no motivation and unfreeze whatever this is now. Predictably enough, it reaches out and grabs him. Serves him bloody right. What if the episode had begun in Moscow with an Ice Warrior freshly defrosted and at risk of causing an international incident? I suppose that wouldn't be enough of a boring base-under-siege story, for which the politically correct term is "homage to the Troughton era."
When this sub's a rockin.
After the title sequence the Ice Warrior starts wreaking havoc, as they do. It's a reasonably conservative costume update as they go, rather sleek and suggestive of reptilian armour as opposed to the hairy green coconuts with arms and legs of yesteryear. It also lacks the classic LEGO man hands, now having a couple of big chunky fingers and a thumb like a Sontaran. While it's true that the classic Ice Warrior design would, sadly, be too 'rough' for modern audience consumption, this is a more genuine visual update than that which was afforded to the Silurians (with breasts and human faces), the Sontarans (baby-blue action figure armour and, again, human faces) and the Cybermen (don't get me started), still being evocative of the original design in regards to the segmentation and especially the helmet; it's largely the texture which is different. Put simply, it could be a lot worse, and sells the idea of a big green Martian soldier with red eyes as something impressive. Hopefully kids like it; it does look like a bit of a big toy. It's also voiced by Nick Briggs. Does he have to do all of them? In a shocking coincidence, just as this Ice Warrior's gone on the loose the TARDIS materialises exactly on the bridge of the submarine. Why couldn't it have landed on polar ice where the sub was resting or something? It's a particularly implausible entry for the Doctor and Clara, who burst out expecting Vegas. The Doctor swiftly earns the Captain's trust because the sonic screwdriver somehow magically tells him that the sub can still be steered laterally despite its sinking, and so the little model submarine in Gatiss' bathtub can be awkwardly brought to rest on a nearby rock formation like it's being dangled on a fishing line.
"You refuse to talk? The periscope colonoscopy it is!"
The Doctor needlessly gives Clara a brief run down of the period, with nuclear tensions, tacky fashion and so forth, remarking that "it's the Eighties, everything's bigger." Someone needs to print the words 'show don't tell' on a billboard and hang it outside these writers' houses. The Doctor gets searched and in the vein of Tom Baker et al has a load of random crap in his pocket like a Barbie doll and some toffee apples. Then the TARDIS pisses off for no particular reason and Clara rather arbitrarily passes out as the submarine chucks a wobbly. When she comes to she's in the corridor, but apparently no time has passed because they still haven't figured out that there's a rampaging Ice Warrior on board until he comes into view during a corny sequence where the Doctor has his back turned. Prior to this, however, he abandons all pretense due some waffle about not having the stupid psychic paper or whatever and blatantly tells the Captain "me and Clara, time travellers." Plot expediency is the order of the day, apparently, and the Captain swallows this without excess fuss. Now the Ice Warrior's in view. "It never rains, but it pours," the Doctor remarks, which inadvertently lampshades how absurdly contrived this whole scenario is. Forty-five minutes feeling a bit tight? The Professor reiterates that he thought he'd found a mammoth. Doesn't say much for Soviet qualifications. The Doctor replies that it's not a mammoth, but an Ice Warrior. Isn't 'Ice Warrior' technically an old standby term for them? Shouldn't they just be referred to as Martians?
"Tell your parentsss that I only cossst sssix
poundsss ninety-nine on the BBC online ssstore..."
It's believed that this particular Martian has been frozen for five thousand years; quite a rest. The Doctor makes a valiant effort to negotiate, which I don't object to, until the Ice Warrior reveals himself as a certain Grand Marshal Skaldak. Why does he look like an ordinary Ice Warrior soldier, then, rather than one of the 'Ice Lord' type characters with the bigger helmet, cape and what not? Anyway Skaldak gets zapped by the generically evil second in command, Stepashin, with a cattle prod. "You idiot," the Doctor complains. Smashing dialogue. The Smith reveals that Skaldak is a warrior of fearsome reputation, attributing loads of lame pseudo-medieval-sounding titles to him like "Sovereign of the Tharseesian Caste" and "Vanquisher of the Phobos Heresy", honorifics which could be held by any character in a pulp fantasy novel, and yes, I know Phobos is a moon of Mars. The Doctor demands that Skaldak be locked up. Why couldn't he be a nice Ice Warrior? Why couldn't he be "Grand Marshal Skaldak, Defender of Innocents and Founder of the Martian Institute for War Orphans"? But no, you need a nasty monster or else you can't have fight scenes. Skaldak regains consciousness chained up in the torpedo room I believe, complaining about his five thousand year nap. I wonder if he thinks it's five thousand Mars years, which is somewhere along the lines of nine thousand four hundred Earth years, Mars taking not quite twice the time to orbit the sun; he could have an even worse impression of the time scale. These are the kind of questions with which my mind occupies itself while watching boring New Who.
"Episssodesss two and three ressstored with animation?!?"
So the Doctor explains that the Ice Warriors are a bit cybernetic, their armour keeping them nice and cosy on their cold homeworld, which I believe is a new idea of Gatiss' invention which may explain why Skaldak's less of a large tropical drupe than we're used to. The Doctor makes a point of Skaldak being particularly dangerous. We keep hearing about the nuanced, complex culture of the Ice Warriors but we never see enough of it, just being teased by it during the episode's many meandering conversations. This one includes Clara wondering about being able to understand the Russians. Isn't she surprised that she can understand Skaldak, who's presumably speaking a Martian language? Incidentally, how can the Russians understand Skaldak? Did the TARDIS get them in on the translation circuits too? Does it just translate for any Johnny who's been near it recently or who's involved in the plot? Stepashin's having none of this waffle; he wants to act, believing it all to be a Western conspiracy. "The Cold War won't stay cold forever," he remarks. That's a serious piece of dialogue. He really comes across as unnecessarily, arbitrarily sinister, before once again flouncing out of another of these awfully roomy submarine chambers. The Doctor claims that the attack on Skaldak was a declaration of war, and that since he's sending a distress call to his Martian chums they need to talk to him, but everyone around are soldiers with whom any self-respecting Martian would not converse. The Doctor suggests going in himself, to which the Captain suggests that Skaldak would recognise him as a soldier too. Oop, suggestion that the Doctor's got a bit of a dark side! How confronting!
"Doctor, all this ham is giving me a heart attack."
We get a terribly cliché 'bicycle joke' as the Doctor flatly refuses to send Clara, the only "innocent" in the vicinity, to communicate with Skaldak, and guess what happens? We smash cut to her entering his chamber to do just that. It's very reminiscent of the plot of "Dalek", although as I recall Rose's encounter with the Dalek in that episode was largely accidental. I can't remember, to be honest, and I'm not going to look it up because I'd rather drink acid than rewatch parts of an RTD episode to try to figure out plot flow. A lot of people have complained that "Cold War" is a rip-off of "Dalek" but to be honest I think it's only in terms of a few set pieces rather than details. Clara has to recite a lot more pulp fantasy bollocks to Skaldak, like "by the moons I honour thee" where Skaldak complains that he shouldn't be chained up if he's not their enemy, which is a fair point, and only further emphasises how stock and unambitious this plot is. I do, however, think it's a wee bit cute when Clara does the Martian salute. Then Skaldak gets to have a Swords 'n' Sorcery rant about being "Fleet Commander of the Nix-Thassis" and how he "Sang songs of the old times, songs of the red snow." Um, okay? Do people realise that having characters reminisce about made up stuff usually sounds really cheesy, and especially cheesy if it's dressed up with some really generic poetic imagery? Starting to turn into little more than a scaly green Klingon, he gets himself really worked up, having a big cry about his long-dead action girl daughter, while the Doctor hastily reassures him about how "Your people live on" all over the galaxy and how "Mars will rise again." That sounds cool. Why couldn't we have seen it? Why are we stuck in a Soviet submarine with a bunch of two dimensional supporting characters?
"Is it not true that you feel nothing but the deepest,
blackest rancor for that walking vomit stain the world
calls Arnold Rimmer?"
 In a surprise twist that's about as shocking as someone rubbing their socks on the carpet and zapping you Clara discovers that Skaldak's vacated his armour, swearing revenge on the belligerent earth folk: "By the moons, this I swear." He sounds like an Asterix character, by Toutatis! He sweeps by Clara and the others unseen, their horrified expressions meant to fill our minds with wonder at what nightmarish creature might inhabit an Ice Warrior's scaly carapace. The Doctor deduces that, receiving no reply to his distress signal, Skaldak has assumed that his race is dead and, very originally, he has "nothing left to lose", suspecting that he's going to use the sub's missiles to start a nuclear war on the dance floor to wipe out all life on Earth. Bit of an overreaction isn't it? Meanwhile, Stepashin's sulking when his head and shoulders get groped by the big rubber hands of doom. Obviously it's meant to be scary as we're teased by the unseen presence of Skaldak, but it just looks ridiculous. I hope there was a guy squatting behind him with those two things on sticks. They remind me of the claws of Rimmer's self-loathing monster from the Red Dwarf episode "Terrorform", but that was an intelligent comedy. This just makes all the jabs about 'wobbly props and tin foil' look hypocritical. On the bridge, the Captain helpfully tells the crew that given the sub's damage they're probably all going to die, but nonetheless they need to help him avert a nuclear war, the prevention of which they now have no stake in due to the apparent inevitability of their watery demise. Frankly, I would have saved that part for later. Stepashin, like all good nasty second in commands, suggests an alliance to get war started on earth again, claiming that "we're both warriors." I always hate this kind of characterisation. He then goes on to explain the concept of the Cold War and Mutually Assured Destruction for Skaldak and the thickies in the audience.
"Massage the shampoo into the scalp..."
Back on the bridge the Doctor tells Clara that "history's in flux, it can be changed," to explain how a nuclear war could occur. Apart from those bloody fixed points in time, huh? They split up to hunt down Skaldak, the Doctor gets the god damn sonic screwdriver back, and the Professor suggests they all sing a song: "Do you know 'Hungry Like the Wolf'?" he asks. "Duran Duran." For god's sake Gatiss, we get it! I don't mind Clara's remark that singing would help "If this was Pinocchio," but it comes at a price: this scene is followed by a maddeningly cliché horror set piece where one guy waffles into middle distance obliviously while his buddy is yanked into the ceiling by the big rubber hands of death. Upon discovering their hideously mutilated corpses the Doctor observes that Skaldak is being "forensic", discovering human strengths and weaknesses. Doesn't he just want to blow them up? While the Doctor's arseing about not doing very much as far as I can tell Clara chews the fat some more with the Prof. "Clara, what is it?" he asks her, apparently concerned despite his complete lack of inflection and the fact that Clara doesn't look especially distressed. It's a rare moment of understatement which goes too far in the opposite direction. Clara observes that seeing the corpses of the murdered sailors makes everything seem real. That's because someone actually died in Steven Moffat's New Who!
"You're the one that I want, one that I want,
Ooh hoo hoo!"
Skaldak's not the only one snaking around like a slippery reptile man; Matt Smith reappears and slides down corridors on his soles like he's about to burst into Jerry Seinfeld's apartment, still searching. It's a good thing this sub has really quite large corridors with separate crawl spaces for the alien to scoot around in. There's a bizarrely awkward conversation between Clara and the Prof where he demands to know if Ultravox split up, regurgitating the same joke for the third time, and Clara now gets grasped by the rubber hands of destruction. The Prof, luckily, is a fast-shootin' Tex who gets her out of hot water only to get his own head grasped. The Doctor shows up as Skaldak observes that "Martian law decrees that the people of this planet are forfeit." It's very similar to the Atraxi's whole "the human residence will be incinerated" thing from "The Eleventh Hour". Skaldak has to have a huge nihilistic breakdown because that's what you do when you're a New Who baddie. As he laments that there's nothing left but his revenge it can be observed that he's a big shadowy frog face hanging from the ceiling. The Captain bursts in insisting that "I will do whatever it takes to defend my world." Like with the whole time travel issue, he's unrealistically accepting of the cosmic scale which has suddenly been taken on by events. The Doctor tries to calm everyone down, reminding them that they need "jaw-jaw, not war-war", a quote immediately attributed to Churchill because New Who can't resist passing off explaining how clever it is.
"Don't worry, Chief, I'm always on duty."
Along the theme of people bursting into the room, Skaldak's armour lumbers in for a third dramatic entrance, directed by remote control. "Sonic tech, Clara," the Smith explains. "The song of the Ice Warrior." What? What song? His sonic control? Why does everything always have to be explained with amateurish faux-poeticisms? Every single time! Incidentally, why did they waste this really quite decent Ice Warrior costume on an episode where the Ice Warrior doesn't wear it for half the run time? Skaldak heads for the bridge, declaring that "now there will be a second red planet." Surely as a Martian he'd recall that Mars is really a sort of brown? "Red with the blood of humanity." Oh, really? I thought you were going to paint everything. Skaldak is much more effective in his chunky armour charging down a couple of hapless sailors with AK-47s (in a submarine?) than he is as a pair of big rubber hands and a shadowy frog face in the ceiling. It's a real missed opportunity. Once he's on the bridge, you might find yourself wondering how he'll activate this primitive alien technology, especially with his big chunky fingers. Well fortunately for him he has some telescoping Go-Go-Gadget tendrils which emerge from his fingertips perfectly capable of hijacking an 80s Soviet missile sub's firing system. The Doctor catches up and berates Skaldak for judging the innocents of Earth and suggesting he show the honour of mercy, or he'll use his screwdriver to blow up the ship. "I'm a TIME LOOOORD!" he yells dementedly, putting weird emphasis on those two words. "I know a thing or two about sonic technology." I thought sonic stuff was more a speciality of his, not a general Time Lord trait. They're not... 'Sound Lords'. To show that he means business the sonic screwdriver glows red at the end. How imaginative.
"Now if you'll excussse me, I need to appear
in a generic video game cutssscene..."
The Doctor demands that Skaldak look him in the eye, and so the Ice Warrior turns and confronts him, his big toothy frog face plopping out of his tight fitting helmet for pure shock value I suppose. The design's neither here nor there, although I think it spoils the illusion, but at least he doesn't have a human face. I kind of never distinguished between the helmet and what might be underneath; it's still reminiscent of how the Silurian snake faces were just masks. Clara questions why Skaldak didn't kill the Prof at her suggestion, implying that she reminds him of his daughter. Just when it's deeply unclear whether Skaldak's going to kill everybody or the Doctor is a magic beam of light lifts the sub all too rapidly to the surface, where it now sits despite the fact that it was sinking before, having smashed through the ice unscathed. The Martian ship has a rather eccentric design, with lots of silver and purple. I was expecting green. Skaldak teleports away, Clara sings a snatch of "Hungry Like the Wolf" for some reason and, in a display of mercy, our resident Ice Warrior deactivates the missile system. Clara gives the Doctor a hug and they all go up to the conning tower to stare at the ship. The TARDIS has relocated to Antarctica apparently, as a result of the HADS, or 'Hostile Action Displacement System', a concept not mentioned on TV since 1968 in "The Krotons"; just a pointless Classic reference. The Doctor asks for a lift, the Captain cracks up like it's the end of an Eighties cartoon, the Smith salutes the Martian ship and it pisses off. That's it.
This should have been a giant flying Ice Warrior head.
I barely even know how to describe "Cold War". It's a pointless episode where nothing happens, serving only to resurrect the Ice Warriors in a form presumably intended to sell action figures. The submarine crew are all complete cyphers with no character beyond some incredibly simplistic traits: Stepashin's a bastard who gets killed off halfway through, the Captain's mostly reasonable and the Prof's an eccentric who likes stereotypical Eighties music; that's all there is to them. I don't object to Skaldak being talked out of his plan because it's nice to see an antagonist with something approaching a conscience, who doesn't get blown up or kill himself by the end of the story, but there's a severe dramatic imbalance in the fact that he's never taken to account for the many lives he takes over the course of his unarmoured escapades; the Doctor even salutes him at the end. If he hadn't killed anyone it'd be fine, but it seems like the Doctor takes an uncharacteristically utilitarian approach, implying that individual lives don't matter in the face of nuclear catastrophe. That might almost be justified if it was suggested in any way through dialogue, but the Doctor pays almost no attention, in contrast to, say, the incident in "The Beast Below" where he thought that making the Space Whale into a vegetable was the most vaguely acceptable option, if still a bad one. Here, the Doctor calls Skaldak's bluff about wanting to annihilate humanity, but he never suffers any retribution for the actual murders he committed. No one seems to care about Skaldak's victims apart from a brief, awkward moment with Clara which is focused on her shock, and to me that's the episode's greatest flaw. That's on top of the fact that it's quite simply boring and unimaginative, a base-under-siege tale we've all seen a million times before, and it feels dull, stale and needless. I daresay the budget would not stretch to more than one costume, and so they made a weak compromise leading to a mediocre story. They could have done so many interesting things to bring back the Ice Warriors. This generic piece of cliché, which no writer should have been able to compose without realising its utter imaginative and dramatic bankruptcy, binning it and starting again, was not one of them.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

"The Rings of Akhaten"

"I thought this was the one with Desperate Dan."
It's episode two if we consider this half of the series to be its own beast, and therefore in slavish adherence to the orthodoxy established by RTD it's time for our arbitrary trip to the future/an alien planet. But before that can begin the Doctor needs to get his creep on. We see him observing Clara's mother rescue her father from a car after a leaf blew in his face, watching them from behind a copy of the Beano because of how eccentric he is. "Oh my stars!" Clara's mother exclaims with zero conviction. We see the Doctor scowling in the rain as they get together, Clara's dad returning the leaf. He gives Clara's mum a big speech about how the leaf is the "most important leaf in human history", which feels like a horrific Moff insertion given that this is a concession to the plot arc. Next the Doctor spies on Clara as a tiny child and at the cemetery after Clara's mother has been buried, her father standing next to her and looking about as convincing a father as Matt Smith himself; next to Jenna-Louise Coleman he looks like he could be her brother, but not her father. The Doctor is apparently trying to assess Clara's legitimacy as a person. I'm surprised we never saw him perched in a tree with binoculars observing her conception. He bursts into the TARDIS ranting that she's "not possible", like we need to hear that with it having been made so explicit in two prior episodes.
Legends persist that a complete copy of
"The Power of the Daleks" is held within...
So Clara turns up for her first adventure, the Doctor asking her where she wants to go. "I dunno," she replies, and fair enough I say, because it'd be hard to pick one thing first, but she settles on "Something awesome." Whoa there nelly, it's New Who, let's not expect too much. The Doctor clambers around the TARDIS like a hyperactive monkey flicking switches, pulling levers and what not before they arrive in the "light of an alien sun." But we need to be aware that the big glowing orange thing in the distance is not this sun, it's just a planet. This confused a lot of people, and it's not amazingly clear here, but the asteroids are meant to be rings around the planet Akhaten, hence the name. The pyramid and asteroid city look quite nice, but I don't want to get false hope, and upon hearing it's a holy site I just know that we're going to get some magic thinking soon. I do like the Doctor's remark about the local religion: "It's what they believe, it's a nice story." If only the rest of the dialogue in this episode was as reserved. The Doctor and Clara emerge in the marketplace, which is very Star Wars, full of gibbering aliens which the Doctor can understand but we can't. What happened to the TARDIS translation circuits? In fact to say it's like something from Star Wars is a bit of an understatement. The show never does nice set-based alien worlds these days except for brief filler sequences like in the Series 6 finale and honestly it's a relief to have one; I believe it was portrayed rather disingenuously by the production team as a novel concept, as if the show didn't do this all the time back in its Classic heyday.
Jokes aside, it legitimately looks like she grabs this
guy's knob when she turns around in this bit.
We get some very mixed bag dialogue from the Doctor where he mentions a lot of ridiculous-sounding alien races along with remarking that he visited Akhaten before with his granddaughter. Wahey, Susan reference. He also compares the current festival to popular religious events "like Pancake Tuesday" which I thought was an amusing comparison. This is how you do eccentric; you don't just have the character waving his arms around and rambling. They pass a space moped which is a prop as Eighties as can be, and the Doctor arbitrarily vanishes so that Clara can pursue a little girl being chased by guys in red robes. Took a while to get to some kind of plot, didn't it? Clara follows her behind the set, apparently, because she catches up with her in a room full of random, not-very-futuristic-looking junk like corrugated tubing and boxes where she is pursued by some unmistakably threatening black-suited gas-mask-head nasties before dragging the girl off to the TARDIS, which won't permit her access. As a subsitute Clara and the little girl make full use of the elaborate sets by hiding behind the TARDIS, in which the girl reveals herself as 'Merry Gejehl, the Queen of Years', a living vessel of history who's scared because she has to sing a song to the local grumpy deity. You can't help but feel a bit sorry for the poor dear, so Clara responds with her own boring anecdote about being scared, 'pluck' apparently being her main attitude. It's swiftly hug time with the Queen cheered up and reunited with the red robed monks before Clara reunites with the Doctor. Across the way, in the pyramid asteroid, another monk who looks a bit like Mark Gatiss is singing in an amusingly warbling voice in a rather simplistic 'inner temple' set that has a nice old school vibe to it. The centrepiece is a rather unimpressive 'generic New Who villain' mummy with big pointy head sitting on a throne in a glass box.
"Release the bull!"
We return to a rather silly looking arena where all the aliens are sitting around with popcorn and coke to watch Merry, and it's time for a nice long sing song. I honestly don't mind a bit of singing at this point; it's twee, but it's a nice contrast to the usual frantic nonsense with which these episodes are routinely imbued, somewhat reminiscent of Abigail's song from "A Christmas Carol". The Doctor reveals that Merry has to sing to the mummy to keep it asleep, the insinuation being that if it wakes up evil will transpire. I'm not sure this needed to be the plot's main threat; in a classic story with more time there'd probably be some ruthless corporate interest trying to disrupt the ceremony or someone who wanted to control the Old God for their own ends or what have you. The aliens all whip out mementoes with which to feed the Old God, which rather disappointingly dissolve into magic fairy dust as things so often do in New Who, and shaking myself out of my reverie I'm forced to concede that this is, at the end of the day, largely just meaningless fantasy. The Doctor still feels Doctorly in some of his remarks here and there's a nice alien atmosphere, but I just wish it wasn't so overtly fantastical. However! Something goes wrong (I can't tell what) and Merry falters, the mummy in the tomb starting to wake up. The chorister across the way in front of his glass box looks startled as Murray Gold's boring, stock "bad stuff happening" music gets whipped into gear, and he resumes his song more urgently. He starts with a long "Oh" and I honestly thought there was a chance he was about to sing "Ohhhh shiiiittt!" in a choral voice.
"I need to get her back to my dressing
room before she wakes up!"
So Merry gets carried off in a rather pants-looking orange energy bubble and the Doctor and Clara rush into pursuit, Clara using one of her mum's rings to provide payment for the Eighties space moped because the Doctor's too much of a stingy bastard to give up the sonic screwdriver which he overuses anyway. Then we get some silliness of the Doctor and Clara on hot pursuit after Merry against a CGI backdrop of some stars which could look worse but still seems absurd - no need for air or anything - with Merry desperately trying to reach for help before getting yanked through a door at the last minute, which the Smith complains has a really elaborate locking mechanism which is then unlocked with one swish of the sonic screwdriver. Why bother having a door? Why not just have had the moped arrive later than Merry? While the Doctor is stuffing around the evil mummy opens its generically red eyes, but he manages to open the door which he now, for some reason, has to hold up with the sonic screwdriver, spending ages standing there as if keeping it vertical puts a great weight upon him. This is the point at which the episode gets completely flushed and turns to nonsense. Clara tries to be reassuring but appropriately enough Merry shuts her down: "You don't know anything!" It's kind of nice to see the main characters' bravado get questioned occasionally. What I don't understand is why Merry psychically shackles Clara to the glass box when she admits that the mummy is interested in her and not Clara.
The Snozzberries taste like Snozzberries.
Apparently we've wasted enough time with the Doctor holding up the door because he rolls inside and grabs the sonic screwdriver just in time; I would have dearly loved for it to have been crushed. The chorister stops singing and teleports away while the Doctor waves the sonic screwdriver around like a numpty, revealing that the mummy feeds on stories and souls because souls are "made of stories". What? This is basically just pure fantasy now; the aliens may as well just be wizards. The Doctor waffles on and on in an unnecessarily long and elaborate speech to Merry about how she is "unique in the universe" and pontificating at the vampire mummy about how wasteful it is of living people's potential. It's just pointless grandiosity, time wasting which makes the Doctor look like he's full of hot air. At last the black-suited guys return for their only other scene; apparently they are 'The Vigil' who must deliver the Queen of Years to her sacrifice. What's the point of these villains? Couldn't the monks have filled this role? The Doctor's efforts to resist are met by them spewing blue light out of their mouths while Murray Gold's ridiculously bombastic music crashes and frets in the background. All is not lost, however, because apparently the sonic screwdriver is now basically a magic wand that spits green light against the Vigil's blue light like the "priori incantatem" sequence in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It looks absolutely ridiculous, the Doctor thrusting his arm out like Daniel Radcliffe's slightly older and even less cool brother, and Merry sings a secret magic song to open a door so they can escape. This somehow leads them back out the front to the bike while the mummy screams and emits a beam of light into the nearby planet (not a sun). The Vigil piss off because they apparently now serve no purpose because the mummy was just an "alarm clock" for the real Old God, which is revealed to be: the planet Akhaten, with a big 'scary' face on it like a Jack-o'-lantern.
It turns out everything's going to hell with this revelation, as the Smith admits. "You promised!" Merry complains. Shut up Merry. The Doctor says "On yer bike," to Clara and suddenly she's back at the arena where Merry reveals that she wants to help, so they have another big sing song where all the aliens join in for a chorus. It's typical Murray Gold over-the-top feel good stuff and I'm surprised the various aliens don't all start waving lighters. Corny, but kind of touching in a way. The Doctor demands that the space pumpkin listen to the singing and recognise the value of all the people who have lived in fear of it. This should have been where the plot ended, with the Doctor changing Akhaten's mind and him learning to be a responsible "god" to his believers. It would have been bad, but not as bad as it ends up being. This isn't good enough, the Doctor revealing that Akhaten is actually "just a parasite", and announcing that it should take his story rather than feeding on the local innocents. This gives the Doctor the opportunity to launch into a massive, generic New Who speech along the lines of "I am the Doctor and this is me", as purple as a nasty bruise, where he rants about the Time War, the Time Lords, the beginning and end of the universe, laws of physics concocted by the insane (a reference to either Omega or "The Mind Robber", presumably), and legitimately include the Smith declaring that he's "seen things you wouldn't believe", a horrifically overt reference to Roy Batty's final speech from Blade Runner with none of its pathos. It all goes completely over the top, Matt Smith gurning like a maniac and looking visibly pained by the appallingly overwritten dialogue he is being expected to convey, ending on his insistence that Akhaten "take it all, baby!" Really? Makes him sound like a bloody idiot.
Deleted scene: the fourth climax where Smith has
to do a little dance to placate Akhaten.
But this still isn't enough. The tension is completely deflated after two climaxes, and now we have a third one where Clara returns. Now it's her turn to give a big, ridiculous speech, holding up the leaf which hit her father's head and announcing as it dissolves that it holds a "future that never got lived." What? It's very reminiscent of the "days you should have had" concept in "Blink" regarding the Weeping Angels, which makes me wonder how much this script was diddled by Moffat, and apparently it all makes sense because it gives Akhaten a meal of infinite stories which are too much for it, causing it to collapse in on itself and implode like it's the Seventh of November. With absolutely no goodbye to Merry or the other inhabitants of the Rings we're abruptly back on Earth outside Clara's house: "Home again, home again, jiggity jig," intones the Doctor. What's with these Blade Runner references right at the end? Clara informs the Doctor that she's not going to "compete with a ghost", presumably one of her past selves rather than Amy but still better than the characterisation Doormat Martha got in Series 3, and she gets her ring back, which apparently the alien wanted to happen. Couldn't we have seen that? Clara pisses off out of the TARDIS and we're done.
"Have to relax... it's all over at Christmas..."
"The Rings of Akhaten" is almost a good episode, particularly due to a nicely watchable but sadly brief early performance by Matt Smith, until about halfway through at which point it completely falls apart. The sonic screwdriver is especially overused, it's just fantasy with asteroids and the interesting setting becomes nothing more than set dressing for unnecessary explicit focus on the Doctor and Clara, which is maddeningly repetitive of what the show does all the time. The lack of any level of plot complexity and the utterly childish depiction of the 'villain', such as it is, along with the typical Moff "sentiment saves the day" resolution cause the episode to descend into the same tedium as all other New Who of the period, lazy self-aggrandising farce which takes all the wrong things too seriously; in this regard it bears all the hallmarks of its second half being heavily edited by Moffat prior to production, and I'd be curious to know if that's the case. It's probably the biggest disappointment of the series, as I originally went into it expecting a fun alien adventure, not a lot of magic and oratory, but I guess that was never very likely. It's worth remembering for its message: singing a song won't save you, but an old dry leaf will. A complete bungle.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

"The Bells of Saint John"

Moff's early warning 'hater detection' system.
"The Bellend of Saint John." No, I shouldn't say that, but I'm going to anyway. For whatever financial reason which was spun as some apologist PR nonsense, we only received the second half of The Smith's third series at the beginning of 2013, and I'm afraid to say that it did not return with aplomb. As a companion introduction you expect something reasonably significant, but I fear that by virtue of having foreshadowed her character in both "Asylum of the Daleks" and "The Snowmen" Moff was content to pen whatever came to mind, because regrettably "The Bells of Saint John" is, put simply, bland, forgettable and utterly mediocre filler which does absolutely nothing which has not been put forward by New Who previously. It's the greyest and most inconsequential opener I think the New Series has ever witnessed, and even taken as a 'middle of the series' piece it reeks of laziness and the reluctance to gamble upon or even bother to produce new ideas. It's infinitely regrettable, because the episode has a few quite decent moments, but a few good bits do not a good episode make. The thing that strikes me is the notion that this show can still call itself Doctor Who, because at the end of the day, since 2005 in fact, it never has been, and it's no more clear than now. Doctor Who, as a series, lived and died in the twentieth century for a reason, and what we're being force-fed here is nothing more than a soulless resurrection with no purpose or relevance. I'm not entirely convinced that Doctor Who could not exist today whatsoever - the Big Finish audios, limited as they are, suggest otherwise - but that doesn't change the fact that, sadly, what we're afforded today is not Doctor Who, and never has been.
Thanks, but its quite unnecessary.
We know it's going to suck.
So where to begin? I can barely begin to face how unutterably awful and sad the introduction to this episode is, not with a voice-over this time but rather with a flat out explanation of the episode's premise on the part of some twat in a Youtube video who is giving a warning, and apparently needs a sign with 'WARNING' written on it to really drive the point home to the "geeks" (ie soap-opera-but-with-wizards-and-robots-buffs) who are too busy waiting for Matt Smith to appear on the screen so they can start gratifying themselves according to whichever manner best suits them into a state of delirium. We are being warned to not join a particular wireless network indicated by weird symbols, because people are likely to do that, apparently, and it's all served up with a healthy dose of (direct quote) "they're in your computer" technophobia to ensure that we're all thoroughly afraid of our household objects. It's all coupled with some very broad-strokes safe, generic internet terminology to avoid alienating anyone terrified of the show going all 'spod boy' on them. Forget being scared of gasmasks, masquerade, statues or shadows, let's all be afraid of the wireless network! "People's souls are being uploaded to the internet." The word 'souls' gets used a lot - more magic thinking. Don't make me do it. Is this honestly dialogue in anything? It turns out that this guy is just like all these other people: a face ranting on a screen while their bodies are catatonic and comatose elsewhere. Some kind of metaphor for the forum-arguing generation, voices unheard in an anonymous mass? I can only assume. "I don't know where I am," they all meaninglessly drone. I think we're meant to be terrified. I'm bored out of my ever-loving skull.
"A starring role in Ryan Gosling's directorial debut? Can I get
out of doing the Christmas special? Paul will sub for me."
Bam, titles. The Doctor has become a recluse in a monastery in thirteenth-century Cumbria, because it's not like he hadn't just become a recluse really recently, say, in the episode immediately prior to this one. A monk rocks up at the doors of the monastery declaring that "The Bells of Saint John are ringing." Well that's meaningful. The Abbott and Thelonious Monk go to see the 'mad monk', also known as 'the misused Smith' who is squatting in a cellar painting pictures of Clara, trying to "divine her meaning". 'Cool factor' trumps any concession to reality, apparently, but upon hearing for whom the bell tolls he ups shop and declares that "I'm going to need a horse." A reference to Marvel's Thor, perchance? I wouldn't put it past New Who and its superhero Doctor. Smash bang wallop to Clara Oswald, resident cutie du jour, who lives with some family to whom she is definitely not the mother, despite having a pretty darn cushy top floor guest room all to herself. She identifies a book being read by local small male child Artie, written by Amelia J. Williams esquire in a pointless backwards glance, as having a particularly good Eleventh chapter. Don't try too hard, Moff. I'm willing to bet that the first and fourth chapters are the true stunners, with a side line in second and third with a dashing of sixth and eighth. Regardless, we see an evil map of London in blue electric lines being invaded by red bits for some unexplained reason and it's revealed to us via some kind of primitive medieval tomb in which the Doctor's TARDIS is concealed that the 'Bells of Saint John' is in fact the TARDIS phone. My word, how clever. Moff deserves the Nobel Prize.
"Can you repeat that, Steven? You're
breathing very heavily."
Apparently Clara's internet hotline is the TARDIS phone. She was given this number by "the woman in the shop." For posterity's sake let it be known that this never gets resolved, it's just pointless throwaway dialogue. I will consume my own trousers with brown sauce if it ever is. Just kidding, I won't do that, I'll just complain about whatever godawful stupid resolution with which we are provided - River "Please go away" Song being the most likely candidate. The family's young female child, Angie, wants to go to the house of 'Nina'. Wasn't Oswin's lesbian lover in "Asylum of the Daleks" called Nina? What have these Claras been up to? Anyway the Doctor informs one of the monks that the voice on the other end of the phone is not an evil spirit but in fact a woman, to which the monk crosses himself. Thighs are slapped all around at the hilarity of this, although to be fair back in those days monks were probably just as afraid of women as Moff thinks the average Doctor Who fan is. Clara, apparently as thick as about five planks, needs the Doctor's help to access the wireless, but having been interrupted she clicks the other, evil alien, wireless network for no reason. She can't be that stupid, but she is. The Doctor jumps into the TARDIS and comes to her house, introducing himself. "Doctor who?" Clara asks. "I never realise how much I enjoy hearing that," the Doctor responds. Urgh. Why?
"I've got a fresh basket of baby seals in your office
and your club's just come back from the cleaner's."
So it turns out that this whole evil wireless operation is being run by a cadre of generic black-suited villains in an evil office of doom straight out of the most generic and unambitious RTD-style script imaginable, and they're granting the people of the world a very unpleasant brand of immortality by 'uploading' them to a 'data cloud'. Their boss, whose name is, I believe, Miss Kizlet, has a sort of iPad type thing which lets her alter people's behaviour in weirdly specific ways, with only traits like 'Conscience', 'Paranoia', 'Obedience' etc being alterable, like the most messed up Dungeon Master of all time. She complains to her lackeys who need to capture Clara, and they send a 'spoonhead', a robotic server hub with the appearance of the creepy little girl from the cover of Artie's novel. It's a classic magic thinking 'fantasy science' machine that sucks people's brains out using a beam of light after the head has rotated to reveal a hollow glowing cavity, and the robot repeats everything said to it turned into statements, so it's a sort of hybrid of the stupid monster from "The Idiot's Lantern" and the equally stupid monster from "Midnight". It's got RTD's fingerprints all over it. Due to the fact that she just stands there like a plum and lemon pie they are able to suck Clara's brain for a bit, discovering that she's intelligent but lacks computer skills, so they give her some (for some reason: according to later plot revelations these minds are being fed to the true villain, so I'm unclear as to the purpose of improving these harvested minds). The idea of a 'walking server' seems moronic to me; with the whole story being about how proliferate internet access is in the west in the modern day the idea that a physical object would need to walk into Clara's house to slurp her brain seems woefully outdated, and in his desperate and painfully transparent quest for relevance Moff makes himself look as technologically illiterate as Clara is meant to have been.
"If you want to view Paradise (Towers),
Just stop watching this and view it..."
The Doctor now needs to have a "change of clothes" sequence, the second one for the Eleventh Doctor - they usually happen just once, in the first story - but despite the self-referential bow tie moment I have to admit that his new Willy Wonka outfit with the purple overcoat and tie is a bit more palatable than the short-lived green overcoat of yesteryear, even if it still seems to miss the point of his original rather professorial appearance, and we get some horrific Murray Gold comedy music in the background to really spoil the mood. Clara's now in the back of the spoonhead's head somehow, being downloaded to the villains' systems, but the Doctor reverses it by hitting lots of random buttons very quickly against a guy in the office also hitting buttons very quickly. Moff doesn't seem to realise that when you upload or download something you make a copy of it and the original is still there - you don't literally move it from place to place, so the idea of 'reversing' an upload or download is just nonsense. The Doctor complains about the spoonhead (I can't believe I'm writing that) being a "Walking wi-fi waystation hoovering up data," but once the disguise is dropped it's just a pathetic looking robot prop which is less convincing than Kamelion. We get a lot of arbitrary technobabble about how Clara is not "fully integrated", a meaningless phrase which is desperately overused in the episode, and at last she's rescued. The bad guy's computer even makes a little 'short circuit' noise when the download is reversed, and Clara's mind is 'beamed' back into her body like someone just cast a spell. At the evil office of blackness Miss Kizlet complains that she has to contact her client in response to a threatening message from the Doctor which makes him look like an arrogant grandstanding fool with a death wish and we're left to ponder who it could possibly be.
"He just thinks we need a 'pull my finger moment'.
He's the showrunner; he must have his reasons."
Meanwhile it's sleepy time for Clara as the Doctor looks after her in a somewhat sweet but ultimately time-wasting sequence involving water, flowers, Jammie Dodger-sniffery and the Doctor intruding into Clara's privacy by examining her diary. It has a leaf in the front cover, which he licks. Was that really necessary? Why doesn't he just smell her hair while she sleeps? Clara wakes up and has a nice background-establishing conversation with the Doctor out the window, although I find the line about him inventing the 'quadricycle' to be unnecessarily corny, and the Doctor comes across as a bit of a creep, admitting to guarding Clara outside her house. Nonetheless, Jenna-Louise Coleman and Matt Smith have a nice, friendly rapport which eases through some pretty mediocre dialogue, such as when the Doctor talks about how the world is "swimming in wi-fi" and how the enemy is "harvesting minds". If it's everywhere, why do they need robots? Clara compares the entrapment of the users to Twitter - possibly a dig by Moff after he was driven from Twitter by hostility from certain vocal fan elements, not that he probably should have had a Twitter account anyway, and it feels like another forced 'relevant' joke which is sure to date the episode in time. I don't mind the Doctor's suggestion that a living computer could "hack people" but when Clara realises that "I know all about computers now" it seems awfully convenient and rather facile: how would she know that she knows? And 'all about computers' is classic writer fakery.
"Out of my way! I need to be in Los Angeles in ten
hours or I'll be stuck doing Big Finish forever!"
After noticing all the lights coming on, a weird bystander across the street and what appears to be a crashing plane, the Doctor demands that Clara join him inside the TARDIS, which to her seems awfully forward, and isn't it hilarious. We get some more god awful 'relevant' humour where a "London-wide activation" of wi-fi possessed people has been passed off as a riot previously, and the spoonhead is unnecessarily described as featuring "active camouflage". Thanks. I don't mind the Doctor sticking the TARDIS on the crashing plane so that he can pull it up, however he does, although I swear another Doctor recently claimed in something I watched or listened to that short trips were easier, but the idea that suddenly anyone and everyone can be arbitrarily "switched off" or on by the wi-fi makes me question further why they need robots walking around sucking people up and so on. The Doctor admits to not being able to fly a plane but still somehow manages to do it, "blocks" their wi-fi, whatever that means, and yanks Clara out of the cockpit in a timeless comedy pull. The Doctor wants breakfast so they head for the following morning: "It's a time machine. You never have to wait for breakfast." Probably because you see it again after having watched this episode.
"I don't remember eating this tree!"
I don't mind the bit where the Doctor nabs some dosh by pretending that the TARDIS materialisation is a busker trick but the bit where he comes out on the motorcycle is completely pointless. I'd suggest it was a reference to the 1996 TV Movie if it wasn't another shameless parallel with "The Idiot's Lantern". Back at Evil Villains Inc. the second in command complains about how "Earl's Court was an embarrassment," referencing the last police box in London for those paying attention, and the Doctor is identified by people uploading tourist type photos. "I do love London," Kizlet drawls. "So many cameras." Thanks for spelling it out for us; I hadn't figured that out from all the shots of the Doctor being identified by people taking photographs. This bit, much like the random bits of made-up code appearing in thin air in the opening sequence, remind me painfully of Moff and Gatiss' massively overrated Sherlock, and to be honest this almost could be a rubbishy Sherlock episode. Once the Doctor gets Clara to breakfast he claims that his plan was to make everyone more tired, assuming none of the enemies slept the night before, and we have the Shard looming up in the background to foreshadow as heavily as possible. Now it's Clara's turn to frantically tap buttons due to her newfound computer knowledge, while refusing to fess up about why she's a nanny to the little kids despite being okay with the Doctor being an alien. It's hardly riveting character development, and I can't help but feel that Moff thought that the presence of future Oswin and past Clara in two other episodes negated the need for it.  The Doctor thinks that Clara should be doing "young things" and does a little dance which is spoiled by some over the top "Stayin' alive" disco moves and telling Clara to "shut up" after she has an unnecessary flirt. Every time something nice happens in this episode, something else ruins it. We get some cloying music as accompaniment to the mystery of Clara's life as well, and it's all about as subtle as an unanaesthetised appendectomy.
A load of waffle and the bakery counter.
The Doctor goes inside to get more coffee and all the stiffs start talking to him due to this ubiquitous wireless control the villains apparently have. "Just let me show you what control of the wi-fi can do," Kizlet announces through a mouthpiece, which mostly involves people standing around like plums, spontaneously manifesting blue Matrix-style columns of digits across their persons. We are told that the server robots "home in on the wi-fi like rats sniffing cheese," a horrendously cliché simile which any professional writer should be ashamed of, and no one seems to notice that the bad guys can talk through a news reporter. It's okay, though, because we have a bunch more relevance thrust down our throats, with the true villain needing "healthy, free range human minds", which is not evil because "no one loves cattle more than Burger King." I can't believe someone actually wrote this stuff. Meanwhile, Clara Os-For-The-Win Oswin is using webcams and Facebook to identify who works at the evil office of death, and they are reprimanded for their en masse use of social media identifying their workplace: they of course all work at the Shard, an eyesore on the face of London which somewhat resembles Orthanc, abode of Saruman from The Lord of the Rings. What I want to know is why these evil office drones all have old-fashioned detachable webcams on their computers if they're so ridiculously technologically advanced. Also, how can the mind-controlled news reporter hear what the Doctor is saying to her?
"Tell Ryan I'll be there in fifteen minutes!"
Anyway a Spoonhead Doctor comes out to slurp on Clara something proper. These spoonheads have got to be some of the worst monsters yet, reminiscent of the revolving faces in Moffat's "Silence in the Library" to add another title to the 'lack of imagination' pile. Speaking of which, the office people, the Doctor and everyone else all sound a bit naff to me. Why does no one speak BBC English anymore? Clara gets uploaded, uploaded hard, and it's revealed that "she's fully integrated now, she can't be downloaded again." I despise this dialogue. There can be two schools of thought on technobabble. I think technobabble is fine when it just adds background dressing. I don't approve of technobabble when it's required to carry the plot and hinges on limited information or the misrepresentation of some real world process. In the same way the Doctor has an anti-gravity device on the motorbike which he is now once again riding which at the push of a huge red button allows him to, absurdly, drive up the side of a building. Kizlet's fine with it because it "might be quite funny." Her constant concessions required to keep the plot moving forward make her look hopelessly inept as we see a little black blob on some photography of the Shard to show us the Doctor's progress. "Seriously? He can do that? He can really, actually do that?" asks our number three evil stooge. Who talks like that? It's also just more "in awe of the Doctor" stuff which is tiresome.
"Your office? I'm just following in Tom's footsteps..."
The Doctor, smashing into Kizlet's office, demands the release of the imprisoned minds, even the now bodiless ones, because death would for them be escape from a "living hell." A bit like River then, huh? Predictably the Doctor himself is still at the café, coordinating business through the spoonhead, and when he concedes that "I'm old fashioned, I have technology" I can't help but feel like my approval of this notion would seem more real if the whole episode and revived series as a whole wasn't rife with magic thinking. By the same token, why do I have to hear this meaningless term "fully integrated" so many times? The actors must have been embarrassed as hell. I at least enjoyed the Doctor's solution, that to free the uploaded Kizlet all the innocents must be released too, but it's achieved by him manipulating the second in command, whose iPad entry now simply reads 'Obedience' with all the other variables eliminated. No one bothers trying to enter the office and deactivating the spoonhead even though they know their boss has been uploaded; the villains in this episode have to suck to compensate for how badly paced it is.
"Well yes, money is a bit tight if you must know."
Once everyone's freed from the "data cloud" (pass the sick bags) all the nasty evil red lights on the earth turn blue in a classic condescending colour scheme to the sound of ridiculous triumphant music while UNIT shows up right on time and Kizlet has a chin wag with her client, the Great Intelligence. Clearly Ian McKellen was too expensive for more than a once-off because now he's Richard E. Grant's face floating in a mass of Matrix digits, and as he escapes all of his minions have their personalities restored. The second in command was a plumber, how hilarious. Kizlet was a little child! I'm so confronted, I may wet myself! The third banana guy asks the UNIT troopers "Are you soldiers?" For god's sake. How did this script get to production stage? Was there no editor? As far as I can tell from some limited research, no, Series 7 in fact had no script editor. It shows. Back in the TARDIS it turns out Clara is hanging out with this dull family due to the mother of the house dying while she was staying there. "You don't run out on the people you care about," the Doctor muses. "Wish I was more like that." How many times do I have to say 'show don't tell'? Despite inviting Clara to come with him, she sees it as some kind of pick up, referring to the TARDIS cringeingly as a 'snog box'. Who says 'snog' these days, especially after their teenage years? She tells the Doctor to pick her up tomorrow for whatever reason, informs him that the leaf in her diary was its 'first page' and leaves him determined to discover who she is.
"Just stop me when I've held up enough."
"The Bells of Saint John" is nothing more than a forty-four minute waste of time in which no one really does anything and nothing really happens. The story faffs around for a good twenty minutes at least, virtually half its running time, while failing to reintroduce a character we've already seen in any kind of particularly interesting way, relying on the ongoing mystery, much like River's previous situation, to replace character development. Afterwards the plot has to scramble towards something approaching an actual narrative, relying on ridiculous incompetence on the part of the villains, technobabble and meaningless set pieces to drive the episode home towards something which only a desperately naïve person would dare to describe as a 'conclusion'. Matt Smith is decent, albeit still a little overplayed and needlessly eccentric, and Jenna-Louise Coleman's modern-day Clara is nice enough, better than her first appearance but not, perhaps, as endearing as the Christmas manifestation of the character which was originally intended as the actual companion. The two of them are fairly watchable together but it's very far away from being riveting stuff and the other performances are utterly negligible, mostly as a consequence of the severely limited, second-hand plot. It's not especially terrible, but it's dull, flavourless and extremely derivative of other New Who episodes. As what is effectively a series premiere it's unengaging, unambitious and uninspired, and mostly just leaves Moff looking utterly exhausted, trying to ignore the very telling tolling of the bells.