Recap | Doctor Who: ‘The Bells of St. John’

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Why are we watching an AT&T commercial circa 1993? Oh, wait, it’s just the opening scene of “The Bells of St. John,” the midseason premiere of Doctor Who. You know, the new episode we’ve been waiting for since Christmas. So naturally Steven Moffat thought, “I could send this Doctor anywhere in time and space: He could meet Sir Francis Drake or go to an alien world full of telepathic crustaceans. But no, instead, the Doctor is going to fight evil Wi-Fi, because we’ve already established that mirrors and statues and television are scary — and it’s time to kick it up a notch.”

Interspersed with the AT&T commercial is a young man making what looks like a YouTube video. He shows us a card with some symbols on it and says if you’re looking for Wi-Fi, don’t click. If you click the link, your soul will get sucked up into the Internet, and then you’ll die. I’ll admit that’s worse than getting a bunch of pop-ups for penis pills, but who really clicks a strange and unidentified message nowadays? He begs us, “Please, I don’t know where I am.” Cue the shot of hundreds of angsty YouTubers also saying, “I don’t know where I am.” Haven’t we kind of seen this already? Possibly in “The Idiot’s Lantern,” the episode in which televisions steal people’s faces? Anyway, ignore that for now, we’ve got a new credits sequence to roll, complete with Matt Smith’s face.

So where the heck is our illustrious Doctor? He’s in Cambria, 1207, chillin’ with monks and painting pictures of Clara Oswin Oswald. Before we can get any further in 1207, we find the woman herself, on the phone in the present day and asking if she can use the internet when her young friend Angie “is finished.” Angie and her brother Artie are temporarily in Clara’s care while their father is away. Artie is reading Summer Falls by Amelia Williams (a-HA!), and Clara is a big fan of the book.

Meanwhile, in the 13th century, the Doctor is led to a cave where the TARDIS is … ringing. These are the Bells of St. John; because the police box says “St. John” on the front, the monks appear to have interpreted it as a religious icon. Awesome. Who’s on the other end of the phone? It’s Clara! She got the Doctor’s direct line from “a woman in the shop” (a mystery that won’t get solved this episode). The Doctor proceeds to do a little bit of IT help. It turns out that Clara’s Internet password is “rycbar123″ or, as she says, “Run You Clever Boy And Remember 1 … 2 … 3.” Apparently, the Doctor can’t tell voices very well, because this is the first time he notices he’s talking to Clara. For her part, Clara can’t seem to follow instructions very well, because next thing you know, she’s clicked on the mysterious symbols in the Wi-Fi menu that spell her certain doom.

doctor who-bells4Cue the re-meet. The Doctor shows up all monk-ified, Clara has no idea who he is. “Doctor, who?” “I never realized how much I enjoy hearing that said out loud.” She’s going to need his help very soon, as back in the Evil Lair, a brusque woman in a suit (Miss Kizlet) is cooking up evil schemes, uploading people to the Internet and hacking her employees’ brains. A creepy robot base-station version of the little girl from Summer Falls starts uploading Clara while the Doctor plays dress-up in the Tardis.

One new coat and bowtie later, the Doctor saves Clara and sends a message to the evil corporate types: “Under My Protection.” He also puts Clara to bed and snoops around her room in the creepiest way possible, licking her leaf and eating half her jammy dodger. Not a euphemism, I assure you. He also hangs out outside her bedroom window to explain the next bits of the plot. The evil Wi-Fi people are now sending a commercial jet directly into Clara and the Doctor, so the two jump into the (newly refurbished) TARDIS. They hop off the TARDIS and onto the plane in flight. Mysteriously, despite flying a TARDIS, and God knows how many other alien spacecraft, the Doctor doesn’t know how to operate a 747, but they nose up in the nick of time. Back in the TARDIS, where “You never have to wait for breakfast,” Clara and the Doctor decide to hop on a motorbike and grab some snacks.

Clara is now good at the Internet, and tries to hack into the evil Wi-Fi network. The Doctor gets harassed by Miss Kizlet as she speaks through waiters and patrons at the cafe. Clara comes up with the nickname “Oswin” for herself, because she’s “Oswald for the win!” Clara figures out that all the evil people are hanging out at the Shard building in London. Unfortunately, she also finds a Doctor-shaped base-station poised to kill her.

The Doctor uses his anti-gravity motorbike to drive up the side of the Shard, straight into Miss Kizlet’s office. However, it turns out it’s not the Doctor at all, but rather the Doctor-base-station, and he’s about to upload Miss Kizlet herself. You can probably guess what’s next. The Doctor hacks the employees to manipulate them into releasing everyone from the wifi. The AT&T logo goes back to normal, Clara wakes up, and UNIT comes to apprehend Miss Kizlet’s compatriots. We learn that Miss Kizlet’s “client” is none other than the Great Intelligence, an old foe of the Doctor’s and the star of the last Christmas episode. In the most effective scene of the episode, Miss Kizlet removes the Great Intelligence’s link from everyone’s brains, including her own. We see her crouched on the floor begging, in a high voice, for mummy and daddy.

Now Clara has to make the big choice: Will she go off in the police box or stay home to care for those cute kids? Considering Angie and Artie both appear to do all their homework without prompting, Clara has the flimsiest possible excuse to stay behind. “Does this work, you just crook your finger and people jump in your snog box and fly away?” To her credit, Clara leaves the Doctor waiting.

The good

  • Clara is awesome. Jenna-Louise Coleman sparkles. She talks faster than Matt Smith, and actually makes the Doctor work for her attention.
  • I now refuse to call the TARDIS anything except a “snog box.”
  • We know that Amy got to write kids’ books after being thrown back in time by the Weeping Angels. That’s a nice thought, and a cute little Easter egg for fans.

The bad

  • I watched the episode with a bunch of actual programmers who were groaning from minute one until the credits rolled. It’s almost impossible to do an episode about Internet hacking without making it look like Hackers. The Sherlock-like graphics to represent code didn’t do the Doctor any favors.
  • “Run You Clever Boy and Remember” has come up over and over again, a particularly awkward way to introduce a character whom the Doctor should be able to identify by her voice, her face, and her soufflé-making skills.
  • So many elements from this episode felt ripped from past episodes, particularly “The Idiot’s Lantern,” that it was hard to get excited for the inevitable downfall of Miss Kizlet.

The wibbly-wobbly

  • The new TARIDS interior is not as playful as the old one. I loved the Eleventh Doctor’s madcap collection of bells and buttons and levers. The new interior has a bunch of Gallifreyan symbols, which look pretty OK.
  • Why is Clara still, essentially, a governess? The Doctor does tend to pick up companions who are in caring professions, but it would be nice to see one who had a few more real-world skills (like Martha and Rory) or who came from another time or place other than London, Present Day.
  • The Great Intelligence’s motivation for evil-doing is very, very unclear to me. Does it want souls, or brains? Does it want to come into the world in corporeal form, or just control humans from a distance?

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Comments

  • Ian Thal

    How many episodes do we need introducing Clara and convincing us that she’s a likable character? Why not give us an actual story with dramatic stakes?

  • Raymond Adamson

    Actually, the Great Intelligences motivations were and are, always unclear which is why i feel it’s an exciting choice for an antagonist in a continuing story.Everything we know about it is;It’s a vast, ageless,intelligence with no corporeal form,it has a particular interest in controlling Earth or interfering with its’ future development.It’s aware of the Doctor and he really annoys it because he’s stopped it before.All it’s plans tend to be facilitated by adopting a host body for it’s purposes.