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'Doctor Who' Midseason Premiere Recap: The Bells of Saint John

Christine Bancroft |
March 30, 2013 | 10:58 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

New-ish companion Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) and the Doctor (Matt Smith) have sparkling chemistry but the episode leaves viewers a bit wanting. (BBC)
New-ish companion Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) and the Doctor (Matt Smith) have sparkling chemistry but the episode leaves viewers a bit wanting. (BBC)
As far as I can tell, "Doctor Who" exists solely to make its audience terrified of ordinary objects. Including angel statues, and ticking noises and snow and the wi-fi. Naturally. 

All systems online

"Suppose there is something living in the wi-fi harvesting human minds."

In this episode, a sinister corporation has, for some unknown purpose, been collecting consciousnesses from the wi-fi and loading minds onto a database, a sort of data "cloud", trapping humans within the net and leaving their bodies to die. If you see unusual symbols on your wi-fi listing, do not click on it. It will end poorly, as it does for Jenna-Louise Coleman as her third appearance on the show as a variation of Clara Oswald, who, while calling what the lady in the shop had sad was the "best helpline in the universe" (which sounds suspiciously like River Song, doesn't it?), mistakenly clicks on symbols and becomes downloaded into the cloud. 

The Doctor (Matt Smith), with all his tech skills and futuristic knowledge abound, stops the download before it can be completed, and brings Clara back to life (although whether or not she was actually, fully dead is up for debate, so I give it a half-death for now.) Through use of disk-headed robots that can take on any shape (save for the bowl-indent on the back of the head, like a satellite dish), this corporation can upload anyone who interacts long enough into their system.

Control of the wi-fi can stop people, clear rooms, control anyone—so long as there's a walking wi-fi base station, a so-called Spoonhead, there to control the signal, anyone can be commanded. 

Even the Doctor can be captured with the wi-fi, so long as he exposed long enough. As Clara successfully hacks the corporation behind the wi-fi uplinks and the Spoonhead army, the Doctor appears—or rather, the projection form of the Doctor, who then successfully uploads Clara successfully to the company. 

Definitely a little more action-oriented than other episodes, the episode features James Bond-like stunts, especially with that motorbike. (BBC)
Definitely a little more action-oriented than other episodes, the episode features James Bond-like stunts, especially with that motorbike. (BBC)
At the risk of losing Clara once more, the Doctor rides into the fray on what looks like the motorbike from the series six episode "Let's Kill Hitler", the one major difference being that the bike is outfitted with an anti-gravity feature that allows the Doctor to drive up the side of the London skyscraper the Shard, crashing into the office complex where the corporation is held. 

After some battlefield banter with the head of the company, the episode's villain Miss Kizlet, the Doctor reveals that he has taken control of one of the Spoonheads and downloads the woman into the data cloud, full of all the human consciousnesses that were downloaded previously.  

At the end of the episode, a guest appearance by Richard E. Grant (who played Doctor Simeon in "The Snowmen", the 2012 Christmas special) reveals that the client ordering the Spoonheads, the data transfers and the corporation's wrongdoing was commissioned by the Great Intelligence Institute. The Great Intelligence Institute, an old nemesis from the Second Doctor's (Patrick Troughton) era, seems likely to be the overarching enemy for at least this half of series seven.

The woman twice (and a half) dead

But first, we have Clara Oswin Oswald, a 24-year-old graduate (who, apparently, is quite terrible at using computers and doesn't know how to use the wi-fi, which is, to me, bizarre). Clara lives with a family as a live-in nanny, and expresses a desire to travel that was put off after the death of her mother. 

 She has a book of "101 Places to See", already setting the character up as having a bit of wanderlust, and what better than all of time and space to satisfy a thirst for adventure and new places? 

Clara is refreshingly skeptical of the Doctor, and unwilling to leave with him at first notice, asking him to "come back in the morning".

In spite of the (terrifying) premise, the episode falls a little short in some areas, with seemingly unnecessary features (such as the Doctor flying an unpiloted plane diving towards suburban London) or aspects left hanging (just what was the purpose of the human mind data cloud, and did all those people survive the de-downloading). While some of the mystery of the cloud's purpose may be followed up on later in the season, the episode's main draw was Clara's story, not the villain's plot. 

Clara's not hesitant to argue with the Doctor, bold and witty, and she can keep up fairly well. And the main draw of her character isn't so much that she needs to convince the Doctor to take her on as companion, but for the Doctor to convince her that she needs to accompany him. After all, she's still unaware that this version of her is central to the mystery of the Soufflé Girl and the Victorian Governess.

The Christmas special already showed some of the reversal of the Doctor/Companion relationship between the Doctor and Clara, and it's rather welcome to see a companion with so much independence. She doesn't need the Doctor, but he needs her. It's adorable, in a word, to watch the Doctor's attempts to "woo" Clara—sitting outside her window "guarding" her, taking her for a spin on his fancy motorbike, charming her with jammy dodgers and cappuccinos. He's awkward and fidgety around her, and as much as I (personally) really don't want a romantic subplot between them, it's pretty cute the way they flirt a bit. 

I was hesitant at first about Clara, but I'm looking forward to see what Coleman and Smith will bring to the table with the rest of the season. (BBC)
I was hesitant at first about Clara, but I'm looking forward to see what Coleman and Smith will bring to the table with the rest of the season. (BBC)
And for the observant viewers, notice there were a few clues and references scattered throughout the episode, especially in the beginning. The novel that Angie, the girl Clara is in charge of watching, is reading is by one Amelia Williams. The Doctor's new wardrobe is rather reminiscent of some of the Classic Doctors' costumes, and, although this may have been my imagination running away on me, there seems to be a scarf hanging on the coatrack in the front room of Clara's house that is very similarly colored to the Fourth Doctor's iconic long scarf. (It's probably nothing. But maybe it's something. You never know with "Who".) 

Also, in Clara's book "101 Places to See", she lists her ages, from four to 24, likely the age she currently is. But in the book, 16 and 23 are not included, which could be vital to the mystery. Additionally, even if you don't count her "half-death" in this episode, she still has a 2/3 death rate per episode, so she's still beating out Rory Williams for "most killed character" in "Who". 

The episode itself did not reveal much about Clara's mystery, although her character was more apparent. She retains the same headstrong, gutsy attitude as her predecessors in "Asylum of the Daleks" and "The Snowmen". While the episode on its own may have not given a satisfactory start, hopefully it will work in well with the rest of the series as it builds to the big reveal of the Great Intelligence Institute, everything about Clara, how she'll fit in with the current cast (including the Doctor's wife, River Song, played by Alex Kingston) and the continuing series. As it stands, we'll have to wait until next week's "The Rings of Akhaten", written by Neil Cross ("Luther") and will take place on a new alien planet, introducing new species. 

Contact Staff Reporter Christine Bancroft here or find her on Twitter here.


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