Doctor Who – The Bells Of Saint John


Series 7, Episode 7


The new run of Doctor Who episodes has started with The Bells of Saint John. It’s a bit underwhelming if it’s considered as a series opener, but of course it isn’t that really. It’s a midseries episode, and if we’re honest on Doctor Who those have always tended to be a bit on the weak side. As an ordinary episode it’s actually pretty good. But then it isn’t really an ordinary episode either, it’s the first proper introduction to new companion Clara Oswin.

There have been rumours of problems going on behind the scenes and budget cuts being responsible for the way the show is scheduled nowadays, split into two parts rather than one continuous run of 13 episodes. But, from a narrative point of view, this has been used well, so that they are chapters to close certain points in a story. In series 6 A Good Man Goes To War ended on an epic cliffhanger, and in this series the first half of the episodes were a send off to previous companions Amy and Rory. But Asylum Of The Daleks featured Jenna Louise Coleman as futuristic Oswin Oswald, the Christmas Special The Snowmen featured her again as a Victorian Clara Oswald, and it looks like this continuous run of eight episodes will feature a modern day Clara Oswald as the companion.

The antagonists in The Bells Of Saint John were an organisation which have a sinister use for technology. They send an online link which, rather like a computer virus, infects a person’s computer if they click on it. But in this case it is the humans that are more likely to be harmed. Robots known as Spoonheads are sent to download the victims thoughts, leaving behind their physical body, and uploading them into a large data cloud. As the Doctor puts it “Human souls trapped like flies in the World Wide Web”. Clara quips “Isn’t that basically Twitter?”.

The apparent leader of the organisation is Miss Kislet (Celia Imrie), who appears to be a cold, ruthless business woman. She is able to control her staff by manipulating how paranoid or obedient they are via remote control, and can take over the consciousness of people on the outside too and speak through them. The increasing advancement of technology and the Western world’s dependence and obsession with it has been a popular topic for speculative fiction in recent years, notably Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series.

But just as the villains have managed to use people’s own computers against them, The Doctor and Clara both manage to use the organisation’s own technology against them. Clara hacks into the organisations webcams and is able to find the social media sites of the employees (where all have listed the place they work), and the Doctor hacks into a Spoonhead and gets it to upload Miss Kislet herself into the data cloud. She begs to be freed which means that everyone else in the data cloud will be freed too, and the Doctor uses the remote control to make one person more obedient to Miss Kislet’s request. We find out though at the end that the real villain behind all this is The Great Intelligence (Richard E. Grant) who has been manipulating every person in the organisation. Having increased his strength and knowing that the game is up as far as this organisation is concerned he “restores them to factory settings” and they return to their original minds not remembering anything that happened. We get the revelation that Miss Kislet had been controlled by the Great Intelligence since she was a small child. Her mind too is restored to what it was before the Great Intelligence started controlling her. The sight of the now physically middle aged Miss Kislet sat on the floor still with the mental mind of a child asking where her mummy and daddy are is very tragic, particularly as she has basically had most of her life taken from her.

The filming of this episode looks very good and like high production values are in place. We get a lot of actions scenes such as the Doctor and Clara riding on a motorcycle and we have the Doctor teleporting the TARDIS onto a plane that is about to crash so he and Clara can stop it.

The episode features a lot of interesting bits. Some of them are just throwaway jokes and references, like the Doctor saying he found a disassembled “quadrocycle” in Clara’s garage and fixed it, before realising that wasn’t the case and that action means he has just invented the quadrocycle. I say this is just a throwaway joke, but you never really know with this show.

A couple of references that got people’s attention were a book, Summer Falls written by Amelia Williams. (Clara says “Chapter 11 is the best. It’ll break your heart”). It seems Amy Pond became a writer during her new life in 1940s New York after leaving the Doctor. But is this book going to come up again? Clara also mentions a woman in a shop giving her a number which goes to the TARDIS.  Who could that be?

The number is certainly a big plot point for this episode. Clara calls it thinking she is getting technical support for her computer. It rings in the TARDIS where the Doctor is in the 13th century as a monk. The setting and the Doctor’s costume at first implied that the episode title The Bells of Saint John referred to church bells. But it is in fact the ringing of St. John’s ambulance police box, i.e the TARDIS. My highlight of the episode was this conversation between Clara, calling from the present day, and the Doctor in the year 1207.

The Doctor: “It’s 1207”

Clara: “I’ve got half past three. Am I phoning a different time zone?”

The Doctor: “You really sort of are”

Clara: “Will it show up on the phone bill?”

Generally the strongest thing about the episode was the great chemistry between Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman. They work very well together, which is a good sign for how the rest of the series will go.

Oh, and this post is my 50th post on the blog. Appropriate that it’s reviewing a show that’s celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

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