Doctor Who: The Bells of Saint John

Series 7 Part 2, #1 of 8:

The search for Clara brings the Doctor to London, where something deadly is in the Wi-Fi. FIRST BROADCAST: 30 Mar 2013

So here we are, a new season kicks off and a new Companion is ready to jump in the TARDIS. I previously gave a introduction to Doctor Who here so this begins my ongoing reviews of newly released episodes. I will catch up with the first few episodes so far aired and we’ll be on track with new episodes and reviews weekly. These will be spoiler-free reviews, but I will have a ‘reveal box’ full of spoiler information and speculation about aspects of the episode.

The Bells of Saint John launches another phase of the show with the Doctor again encountering the mysterious girl Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman). A character unexpectedly introduced in last years Asylum of the Daleks and again in the 2012 Christmas special The Snowmen, a third “incarnation” is introduced to us here in the season opener. It seems the mystery of this girl popping up throughout time is to be the ongoing arc throughout this season, and possibly beyond.

This new episode sees the Doctor finding Clara in present day London where a sinister force is using WiFi to target and snatch people’s consciousness to create some kind of processing datacloud (for reasons unknown). Clara has been chosen, and while initially the Doctor has to save her, eventually a new partnership forms together to uncover what’s going on.

Steven Moffat (showrunner and writer of this episode) has again taken something commonplace in our lives (here WiFi) and turned it into something to be scared of. He previously demonstrated this with statues (Blink) and shadows (Silence in the Library) amongst others in his previous scripts. Moffat has been criticised for making the storylines too complex for younger viewers but his response is that he doesn’t believe children want to be patronised. It is a noble idea and I praise him for it. The current incarnation certainly has more depth and ongoing storylines than ever before. I think Who currently has an approach similar to the Pixar movies, they are clever, well put together, and appeal to multiple age groups. You can follow the story easily but if you look deeper there are subtle and clever things that can really add depth. Another aspect of his approach is adding a touch more darkness to the proceedings, which I personally love, but again with children in mind it may be pushing the boundaries. The opening scene of this episode shows and speaks of death in a rather blunt fashion that I was a little taken aback by. I will add the “spoonheads” (network server robots) used to harvest people are disturbingly well done too.

“It’s a time machine, you never have to wait for breakfast”

The episode features Celia Imrie (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Bridget Jone’s Diary) as Miss Kizlet, the woman managing the datacloud operation that is behind the people harvesting (although she does indeed have a “Boss”).

She is a great addition and the scenes of her managing her workers, through instruction or ‘hacking’ them by modifying their paranoia, IQ or obedience are marvellous to watch. But it is her dynamic with the Doctor himself that provides some real fireworks. Even when the pair are interacting via a remote-controlled-person (in a cafe for instance), the director intercuts nicely to swap between the two actors. She has a real chilling malice to her delivery and the interplay builds well, and when they finally meet face to face the episode does not disappoint. In fact the final lines spoken by Miss Kizlet and what leads up to it are another example of how chilling Moffat can be and what may be to come later this season.

With a new companion on board the most important relationship really is that of the Doctor and Clara. There are hints of the flirtation and rapport seen previously, but Clara seems not quite as sure of herself or as feisty as her previous appearances — hopefully that will come in time — although, there is a funny exchange where she refers to the TARDIS as a “snogging booth.”
 “Is this actually what you do? Do you just crook your finger and people just jump in your snog box and fly away?”

Matt Smith continues to own the role, a scene in which he tells Clara what she missed out on while asleep is just a beautiful demonstration of the magic Smith brings to the show. The delivery in hushed wondrous tones of “I invented the quadracycle” is guaranteed to bring a huge grin to any Whovian.

A special mention needs to go out to how action-packed this episode was. It was said by Steven Moffat that the episode drew inspiration from the recent Bond outing Skyfall and it certainly shows. From the Doctor and Clara racing through the streets of London on a motorcycle, intercut with scenes of him being tracked on computer monitors is very Bond-esque. The “scaling of the Shard” with use of a antigrav is very impressive and even when time is taken for a coffee break, the use of St. Paul’s Cathedral as a backdrop all give the episode an impressive sense of scale. It is hard to remember a more action-packed outing and the scene of a plane crash being averted by a TARDIS “short-hop” leaves you breathless and is expertly directed by Colm McCarthy, who indeed does a great job with the entire episode.


Ok, so, the big reveal of the episode is that the Great Intelligence, this time played by Richard E Grant (Withnail and I, Gosford Park) returns from the Christmas special and is behind this WiFi/datacloud scheme. Not only that but he also escapes and his involvement is unbeknownst to the Doctor entirely. This is not a new enemy for the Doctor, having been battled previously by the Time Lord back during his second incarnation (The Abominable Snowmen), although these episodes seem to be setting up more of an origin story as well as a return for the entity. His reappearance with Clara in that episode as well as this possibly hints at a relationship between the two. I’m sure we will see him again

One critique or possible plot issue I have is that the last time the Doctor encountered a mysterious girl under odd circumstances (Amy Pond) and took her on as a companion, it turned out to be an elaborate scheme by a group of Aliens previously thwarted by the Doctor (Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Autons etc) to capture and trap him within the Pandorica where he could do no more harm to them (The Pandorica Opens). Why isn’t he more wary of Clara after this?

I also noticed the book the children were reading, Summer Falls, was written by one Amelia Williams…née Amy Pond. The influence of the Doctors old companions is still being felt it seems.

Also, who was the girl in the shop who gave Clara the Doctor’s number? With the recent news that Billie Piper (Rose) and the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) would be returning for the 50th Anniversary special later this year, there are grounds to speculate. There are signs already, In Asylum, Clara had a Rose behind her ear, the pub she worked at in The Snowmen was the “Rose and Crown” (a lingering camera shot of the sign really stood out) and roses again popped up in her bedroom in this new episode. Steven Moffat is far too clever to not have things layered down already to build up to something.

Overall, it was a thrilling opener to the season. Great performances all round, and a very fun and action-packed episode. It was peppered with enough hints that Moffat may have come up again with an intriguing plot arc for the season, and I for one can’t wait to see what he has in store for us.

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