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9 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 829: The Bells of Saint John

Dear diary,

I mused the other day that the arrival of Kate Stewart in the programme was sort of the first ring of the Cloister Bell as far as The 50 Year Diary was concerned - a character being introduced to the programme who is still an active part of it now. Today’s episode brings that realisation even closer to home, because not only do we have the first appearance of the ‘prime’ Clara - who’s still the main companion in the programme at the time of writing - but The Bells of Saint John was the first ‘new’ episode of Doctor Who to air once I’d embarked on this project.

Specifically, it was broadcast on March 30th 2013, making that the first day that I watched more than one episode of the programme on the same day during the course of this marathon - watching The Bells of Saint John simply because it was brand new Doctor Who on the telly, having already watched Trap of Steel, the second episode of Galaxy 4. I gave it a 5/10. Trap of Steel, that is, not this one. (Actually, I watched three episodes that day, because I followed the broadcast of Bells with the preview tape for The Rings of Akhaten, making something of a ‘new Doctor Who double bill’ that evening). It meant it was also the first time that I realised this marathon could and would be affected by what was happening in the continuing world of the programme, and it meant a few weeks later that I spent much of my write up for The War Machines comparing that story to this one.

Why do I bring it up again here? Well, because, while I was watching this one I made a note that the story bore several similarities to The War Machines, and it was only when I mentioned that to a friend that he pointed out to me that I’d already made that connection, two years ago. To be fair, that was around Day 130, so I’ve been through a fair bit of Doctor Who since then…

Specifically, I noted that The War Machines felt like a real breath of fresh air to a programme that had started feeling increasingly stale, despite one or two recent gems, and that the fresh air is provided by new companions (Ben and Polly / Clara) being introduced in a story that’s set firmly in ‘present day’ London, utilising ‘modern’ technology that’s being controlled from the city’s newest landmark (The Post Office Tower / The Shard).

After all this time, I’m somewhat pleased to see that The Bells of Saint John can still feel like such a fresh start for the programme. As I seem to have said a lot over the last few weeks, I’ve been enjoying this era far more than I did first time around, but several of the faults that irked me in the past are still present - and this story really does feel like it’s casting off the shadow of the last few years and striding towards the anniversary with a renewed spring in its step.

I don’t know if I really appreciated before just how much the Doctor’s new purple costume helps to define the change - it’s such a different look to the tweed that matt Smith has sported up until now, and really does carve his era into two distinct phases - the ‘Pond’ Era, and the ‘Clara’ era. Everything feels new and exciting again, and that’s always the best thing that Doctor Who can be.

(I should note, I’ve not touched in the last couple of days on the return of the Great Intelligence and how it impacts the timeline for the character that I’ve been drawing up in the Diary since The Abominable Snowmen - I’m saving that for The Name of the Doctor next week…)


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