Doctor Who "The Bells of Saint John" Review: The Most Outsourced Technical Support

By Emily V. Gordon

Mar 31, 2013

Doctor Who S07E06: "The Bells of Saint John"

Doctor Who often presents the viewer with villains in the form of lizard people, soulless robots, creepy toy-like creatures, or hideous monsters. It's can be somewhat childlike or horror movie-ish, sure, but it's part of the fun of Doctor Who. But in this first episode of the second half of Series 7, showrunner Steven Moffat instead evoked a different kind of horror: the fear of what we're giving up by being online all the time. It was a good, disturbing idea for an episode because it taps into our current, adult fears, and not just our childlike ones.

You see, there's something in the Wi-Fi.

You know how when you're in a public space and check to see what Wi-Fi networks are available, you just pick the one that doesn't have a lock on it? Well, this episode warned that whatever you do, don't ever try to connect to a network whose name is just gibberish symbols. Once you've clicked it, they're in your computer and can see you. And if they can see you, they might choose you. And if they choose you, you're dead.

Okay, maybe not actually dead—it seemed that, instead of being killed, the hacked Wi-Fi users were rendered comatose, and their souls/minds/personalities were uploaded to the Cloud. And there was no getting out of the Cloud. The Cloud, with the aid of some sinister henchmen whose personalities were controlled by their even more sinister boss, Miss Kizlet, was being loaded with personalities that functioned as emotional food for "the Client." And we wouldn't know who the Client was until later in the episode.


We were re-re-introduced to our new companion, Clara, on the phone at the home of the family she nannies for in 2013, as she struggled to access the internet. A woman at a shop gaver her a number to call, with the promise that it was "the best helpline in the universe." Where did that number ring? You guessed it: the Doctor's TARDIS. Or, more specifically, the St. John Ambulance sticker on the side of the TARDIS that's been there forever. It turned out to be an emergency phone, and Clara's call reached the Doctor there, even in Cumbria in 1207, where he was hiding out as a monk, tortured by the loss of his twice-dead would-be companion, the aforementioned Clara. This led to an amusing little exchange about tech support always being overseas. When Clara used a mnemonic device that sounded incredibly familiar to the Doctor, he realized who she actually was and rushed to her, banging on her door.

Clara was, understandably, a bit confused. She didn't remember the Doctor in the slightest, and certainly didn't know this weird monk who was acting all familiar. The Doctor went off to change back into his regular Doctor clothes… and now, I will pause for a slightly cynical comment, which you may skip if you so choose.

I am starting to become less entranced with this Doctor's affinity for bowties and fezzes. In the beginning of a series, the Christmas special, the first episode after a series break—I feel like the dapper accoutrements are a bit of a shortcut to having the Doctor charm us. They're supposed to seem inside and adorable, but because they're so expected at this point, I just felt a bit like Moffat and crew were going through the motions here.


But I digress. Clara was almost completely taken by the Cloud, via a Wi-Fi mainstation that looked like a person but with a creepy, swiveling half-head. The Doctor stopped it just in time and sent it a message, which was relayed back to the shadowy Client, who'd been expecting the Doctor to show up all along.

Some flirty scenes between the Doctor and Clara were interrupted when we realized the bad guys (I know it's a clumsy, childish term, but it's all we've got right now) had access, via Wi-Fi, to a large percent of the population, and could bend their will. You'd think that'd be the goal in itself, but it's not—the goal was to provide a steady diet of human minds to the Client. Does it seem inhumane? Not to the staff harvesting the minds. "The abattoir is not a contradiction—no one loves cattle like Burger King."

Clara, with the help of newly uploaded computer genius, ended up figuring out where the bad guys were by hacking into their webcams and then searching Facebook for their pictures—turning the tables and using the same "always connected" qualities that allowed humans to be harvested against the harvesters themselves. They were in the Shard (a massive, 95-story glass skyscraper in London, FYI). Before they could get to the Shard, Clara was taken by the bad guys, in the form of the Doctor as a Wi-Fi mainstation, and uploaded to the Cloud. The only way to save her was to reunite everyone in the Cloud with their bodies. And the Doctor had to make that happen, which he did by uploading Miss Kizlet to the Cloud and then manipulating her henchmen to send the trapped personalities back to their corresponding bodies.


UNIT showed up to shut down the bad guys, but not before Miss Kizlet had one more conversation with the Client, none other than Dr. Simeon (Richard E. Grant) of Great Intelligence, from "The Snowmen" (and beyond). "Don't worry," he assured her—he'd feasted on many minds and grown. She didn't know who she'd be when Dr. Simeon left her side. Sadly, she ended up returning to herself with a small child's mind, wondering where her mom and dad were.

We were treated to a couple more scenes of Clara and the Doctor's flirtation—he asked her to come away with him to see all of time and space, and she called him out on what I agree is getting to be a pretty tired line for a time/space playboy to pick up on a pretty companion. She wants to travel and she clearly likes the Doctor, but she's not that easy. She asked him to come back the next day, and he agreed. Smart girl. If he really likes you, he'll wait.

I really liked this episode when I first finished watching it, but after giving it some time to ricochet around in my head, it started to fall apart a bit for me as a fully executed story. At the beginning, I was literally rubbing my hands together at the idea of a monster living in Wi-Fi and feasting on people's minds, but the plot didn't play out as inventively as it could have, or as darkly. This episode was clearly just setting up larger battles over humanity with Great Intelligence, but I would have liked a bit more teeth in my resolution.


That being said, I think the chemistry between the Doctor and Clara is fantastic. I like the idea of a companion whom the Doctor is clearly smitten with, and any scene with the two of them crackles with electricity. I found myself less interested in the main storyline and more interested in their burgeoning, weird, timey-wimey relationship. Moffat, who isn't always my favorite storyteller, is amazing at writing witty, biting dialogue. 

What will happen in future episodes? Will we find out why Great Intelligence needs all those minds for cattle? What does he get out of them? What's the master plan? Will the Doctor and Clara make out? I'm looking for complex, creepy episodes that see their initial ideas all the way to the end, and I'm looking for more flirtation between the Doctor and Clara.

How about you?



NOTES

– The opening scene was a clear reference to "Blink," and a ballsy reference at that, given that it's one of the best standalone episodes in Doctor Who history. This episode didn't satisfy as a standalone for me, but could be a great foundation for the rest of the series. 

– It seems Great Intelligence should have hired a company that would have known to name its Wi-Fi networks something more innocuous, like "Brad's Wi-Fi!" 

– Did you check out who wrote the book Summer Falls

– I kinda wish that this Clara had been good at computers on her own, without having the skills downloaded into her head, Matrix-style (I know Kung Fu!). It added absolutely nothing to the plot to have her suddenly gain all that knowledge—yes, she used it, but she could have used it just the same if she'd been technically apt all on her own, thank you very much. It didn't tell us anything about Great Intelligence's plan, or reveal that she'd been taken into the Wi-Fi, or anything. Also, I thought her Twitter joke was very clever.

– Things we learned about Clara in this episode:

1. She's clever but not great at computers (until now, that is)

2. She really wanted to travel but ended up nannying after she felt the need to help out when a family lost their mom. 

3. Her dad is very anti-government

– I'm glad some Sherlocky "typing on screen" made its way to Doctor Who!

– I still love the running gag of the Doctor doing a million things while he's waiting around for humans on Earth. The Doctor invented the quadracycle!

– "Do we need another Londonwide activation? We can't keep passing them off as a riot." Very sly, Moffat!

– Favorite line from the episode: "I'm the Doctor, I am an alien from outer space, I'm 1,000 years old, I have two hearts, and I can't fly a plane. Can you?"

  • Comments (198)
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  • Sugar2U Apr 05, 2013

    I thought the people died after they were uploaded not just in a coma.. so most of those people who were freed were not just dead...The episode was good. I am not excited about haveing to go the whole season to then get to final episode that will explain how Clara died in the past and future and is now in 2013. Anyways next epi looks good. I am soooo excited to see 50 years episode (but in 3D? How many people have 3D glasses sitting at home?) I cannot wait to see David Tennant as 10.1 and Rose as his wife.. I hope a jealous River shows up as wife number 2(in this series).

  • anngel421 Apr 05, 2013

    ahahahha Im rewatching the prequel again and I just realized the doctor did exactly what the little girl told him to do (go into a quiet place and have a good think about it. )

  • jekyll Apr 02, 2013

    The real question is "who was this unnamed shop girl who gave Clara the Doctor's number?"

  • jackiwhitford Apr 02, 2013

    I really enjoyed this episode. The chemistry between Clara and The Doctor is spot on. It is nice to see a companion go toe to toe with him instead of being in awe. I think the woman in the shop was either River Song or Sally Sparrow (Blink). Rather than nitpicking the plot and The Doctor's wardrobe, I am going to enjoy watching the relationship with the new companion unfold throughout the season.

  • fzlmcq Apr 03, 2013

    I was wondering if the woman was River or Amy. Speaking of River, where is she? Have we moved past their relationship? The flirting between Oswin and the Doctor feels awkward to me since things have not been resolved between the Doctor and River. Is he cheating on his wife? We know where their relationship started and where it ends, but all the crisscrossing of time streams in the middle is very open ended.

  • scapegraces Apr 08, 2013

    I don't think it was Amy since she and Rory were sent to an earlier time. But perhaps River. But thank you for mentioning the awkward flirting. It's been bugging me... in my head I keep thinking what about River?

  • fzlmcq Apr 11, 2013

    I thought maybe a very old Amy, but you're right. We saw her grave so she must be dead of old age in the present.

  • kanniballl Apr 02, 2013

    I still maintain that Victorian Oswin's "stories" she told the children were true. That she invented fish because she wanted someone to swim with and such.

    That those were perhaps memories buried in her subconscious, perhaps as some ancient galactic avatar or something. That she's "been around" for a while (perhaps since the beginning) and just ressurects or something.

  • bluemorphotat Apr 02, 2013

    Well according to the BBC:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-21980892

    David Tennant and Billie Piper will appear in the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who! So YAY! This is probably the story about the alternate timeline when the "human" Doctor gets to "grow old" with Rose!!! Can't wait!

    Anyway this ep... some clever jokes and excellent chemistry between Smith & Coleman. The joke about twitter is I am afraid a bit more like The Moff taking a jab. I guess he is still sore about what happened that made him close his twitter account...

    I liked the episode but felt that for a Moffat episode, it was not quite there... On the other hand I found Matt Smith very endearing this time round...

  • joeca1234 Apr 02, 2013

    The show cam back with a whimper and not the Bang we were all waiting for! hmph!

  • kanniballl Apr 02, 2013

    Well it was just a mid-season premiere. Sure, it was supposed to be quite big since it was the official intro of Oswin the companion... but even that was almost like a slow-burn since this was actually her 3rd intro episode.

  • cuculhain Apr 02, 2013

    I think we all just need to acknowledge that we loved the companion(s) we had, and are willing to accept the new companions because we trust the writers to make them memorable.

  • Big_Pecks Apr 02, 2013

    I enjoyed this episode and I already like the Doctor and Clara together. I have a crush for Jenna-Louise Coleman now.

  • JessicaDoty1 Apr 02, 2013

    What happened to the depth and maturity of David Tennant's Doctor Who? This show seems so...eh. Its like a twinkie, satisfying in the moment but shortly after it is done you wonder why you ate it and crave something more substantial. Its fluff, childish fluff, and I miss the beginning of the reboot when it was all emotionally twisty and evocative.

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