Who Review: The Bells of Saint John


by Kevin Rigdon (@pralix1138)


Just how connected do you want to be? Do you want to be part of the wifi soup all mingled together with something dark, and sinister, sneaking about? Doctor Who is back with a new opening sequence, a newly redesigned TARDIS, new jacket, new motorcycle, and new/not-so-new companion. Steven Moffat writes the newest episode entitled “The Bells of Saint John,” as we are, once again, introduced to Clara Oswald. I say this is an introduction. Technically it’s not, but it sort of is as this is the third time we’ve met Clara/Oswin and the third incarnation if you will, this one in modern London so we know it’s the proper introduction to the new companion.

In an ever increasingly connected world, someone is taking advantage of our love of wifi. Our phones are wifi, our computers, tablets, televisions, gaming consoles, and on and on. So much of our lives are connected to the internet that there was bound to be a company there in modern London that is tracking people who attempt to connect to a particular wifi network the company has set up. When people log into this network, within twenty-four hours they are tracked down, and somehow uploaded to a cloud data storage facility. I know this hearkens back to the idea first posited in “Silence in the Library,” but it feels a bit flimsy here. It’s never really satisfactorily explained. There’s a walking wifi hub with half a head. It turns around, shines a blue light and your soul is somehow separated from your body, and uploaded. But I can get past that. It’s Doctor Who. It’s timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly, and all that.

So, initially Clara is a computer illiterate nanny who can’t find the internet and calls a help line, a number which was given her by a mysterious woman in a shop. The call reaches the Doctor who’s hanging out in a 13th century Cumbrian monastery as he’s pining over the identity, and nature, of Clara/Oswin, and what else is a Time Lord supposed to do when he’s stuck on a problem and can’t figure it out, but go to a 13th century monastery in North West England? So, he answers, figures out that it’s Oswin and runs to get her, but he’s too late, as she’s already logged in to the evil wifi, been tracked, and is being uploaded as the Doctor tries to introduce himself.

Well, that just puts the Doctor out a bit, doesn’t it? He’s got to get her back now, hasn’t he? He proceeds to reverse the upload (we’ll call this “downloading”), and is able to have his conversation with Oswin, finally, though it doesn’t go as well as he’d hoped. So, the episode isn’t very complex: evil people uploading souls, Doctor finds them, uploads one of their own, hacks another one. Oh, didn’t mention that, did I? Sorry. So, all the people that aren’t uploaded can still be hacked, possessed as it were, because they’re still connected, and controlled. I’m starting to think Moffat may have some deep-seated fears of technology.

Through the Doctor’s assault on the company’s headquarters we discover the client of this organization, and thus the real bad guy of the episode, is the Great Intelligence. You remember it from the Christmas episode, right? Originally thought his inclusion here was random. Now I’m beginning to think that he and Oswin may be connected somehow. We’ll have to wait and see on that. At any rate, all of the employees of the soul-gathering company are reset to factory default settings. Roughly, this means all of the “programming” was removed, and they remember who they actually are. Turns out none of them remember working for the Great Intelligence.

So, like I said, it’s the third introduction of Oswin. Out of the three, this one is by far the weakest. Jenna-Louise Coleman certainly holds her own as the cheeky Clara/Oswin, but something about the episode just seemed flat. I mean it’s a solid story idea…kinda. If one is going for “dangers of technology” sorta vibe, I get it. It’s solid writing. Moffat always brings it, but less so in this one. Great acting. Great chemistry. The Smith and Coleman timing, and rapport, is infectious and just plain fun. But something was off.

Perhaps it was the amount of buildup to the start of the second part of this season. The amount of hype may have been too much. Too many expectations. Maybe it was a lull episode. All shows have them at times. Whatever the reason, there was a secret ingredient that seemed to be lacking in this episode. But as we charge headlong into the coming half season, lots of possibilities lay before us. Lots of the Doctor and Oswin wittily bantering back and forth. Lots of cool monsters. Lots of amazing stories (I’m particularly looking forward to the Neil Gaiman one). Lots of TARDIS. I have to say about the TARDIS though, I like the old one. If the old one was good enough for the 10th Doctor, it’s good enough for me. I’m old; I can say I don’t like new stuff. I do, however, think Oswin is a worthy companion-successor, and I’m looking forward to what’s coming.

What did you guys think of “The Bells of St John?”

Rating 3.5 out of 5 Stars


  1. darth martyApril 1st, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    I missed the first half but the whole time i was watching the rest i kept thinking bring back amy pond also thought the writers have been a bit lazy they seem to have just written clara oswald as a younger river song.

  2. TroulaApril 1st, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    I mostly agree with what is said. Reminded too much “Silence in the Library” with all the head turning and stuff. It could have been much better if it gave to it more time. I believe they didn’t explain and expand the story enough but I kind of enjoyed the reference at the beging of Amy with the book written by Amelia Wiiliams and the convertation about chapters 10 and 11…!!! (Although I have to disagree and say that 10 will always be better!!! )

    What I want to say and correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Smith already had a new TARDIS interior at his begining? They explained it cause the TARDIS was crashing and then it fixed itself. Now I don’t understand why they changed it. Also it feels kind of more childish to me.

    Oh, and something tells me that the mysterious women that gave Clara the Doctor’s number is River. It has to be. Who else could know his phone?

  3. vixincaliApril 1st, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    I liked the episode. I was just glad to see the Doctor back on my tv after waiting…foreverrrr! I too loved the 10/11 references along with the Amelia Pond book. Love the little details on this show. i just now realized after reading Troula’s comment…It must be Riversong, you’re right. Gah. I can’t wait to see River, Clara and the Doctor all together. Should be a good one!

  4. TNM and DW fanApril 1st, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    HOLD ON A MINUTE. Reviewers and previous commenters. I don’t think something missing. I think something’s being withheld. It builds anticipation. It keeps us guessing. And an episode that could be written off as a “lull” (though full on fun quirps, chemistry between characters, homeage to classic Doctor Who, which all make it still fun and worthwhile to watch) leave us the capacity to slow down and PAY MORE ATTENTION.

    There are some subtle but I bet important details that will play out this season:
    – Clara’s 101 Places to See Diary skipped ages 16 and 23.
    – The leaf was described by Clara as not a leaf, but “Page One”
    – Kizbit/Woman in charge became a young child reset to “Factory Default Settings”. Who could this child be?
    – I’m forgetting what else I was thinking of as I hit the bottom of Mr. Johnnie Walker Black Label… eHERM.

    Doctor Who has ALWAYS had cheesy villains…. but don’t we love them? Give the spoonheads (excuse me, SERVERS) a break. 🙂

    …. that is all. Go Whovians. Woot.

  5. Kevin RigdonApril 2nd, 2013 at 9:26 am

    You’re right. There was a makeover of the TARDIS at the advent of the 11th Doctor. It just wasn’t as drastic a change as the new one.

    Oh, I quite agree that there were lots of little hints and clues given throughout the episode that will be fleshed out over the coming episodes, but that doesn’t explain the flatness to my mind. But I’m not bashing the episode or anything. To me, it just didn’t seem to meet the buildup.

    I did like the easter eggs with Amy’s book and whatnot.

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