TV REVIEW: Doctor Who Series 7 Episode 6: The Bells of Saint John

Doctor Who Logo 2013
Doctor Who returns for it’s first episode in this 50th anniversary year. Here’s the official synopsis:

The search for Clara brings the Doctor to London, 2013, where something deadly is waiting in the Wi-Fi.

So how was this opener for “Series 7 part two”? Click more to see my thoughts!

I’m still not convinced about splitting the series into two components, though it does mean we get a suite of eight episodes in this auspicious year. Following his Christmas misadventure with the Great Intelligence, the Time Lord has been searching for Clara Oswald in an effort to determine who and what this “twice-dead” girl is. If you watched the prequel on the Doctor Who site, you’ll be aware that his search has been a bit fruitless so far but that advice from a young girl leads him to seek out a quiet place to think about where to find his missing friend. Which is why we find him in a thirteenth century monastary. Clara meanwhile, back in present day London is having computer issues – so she rings a Help line she was given by “a woman in the shop”. This gets her (amusingly) in touch with the Doctor. From here it’s a whirlwind ride (with a few quiet moments) to discover a plot to harvest human minds via the wi-fi technology. Clever. And weird. So a classic normal-life twisted Doctor Who plot for us to enjoy, then.

There were moments I thought were pure genius in this episode. One was a scene where the TARDIS arrives in London and the Doctor and Clara pretend it’s a magic act … and manage to get some cash from the bewildered London-ites in order to buy breakfast! It’s not often we see our hero acquiring funds and this is far more Doctorish than the theft carried out by Doctor Nine in The Long Game! Shortly after this, another scene appealed to me as a programmer (I’m a .net developer of desktop and web applications). The Doctor and one of his opponents are basically trying to out-hack each other to gain control over the upload / download of a human mind. The scene is sufficiently tense, grabbing the viewer’s attention and also it showed that in computing, size isn’t always king. Which I think is an important message in Doctor Who any way. One person can make a difference to the world if applied correctly.

There were elements I wasn’t so keen on though – pop-culture references never really sit well with me as they will tend to date a show. Having said that, this is Doctor Who and I imagine that things like Twitter and Facebook will be recognisable to future Earthlings, even if they appear primitive. Other references (like the Blue Box in Earl’s Court) may be missed. In fact I missed that one as I’m oblivious to a lot of current events. I also thought that the Doctor’s change of outfit wasn’t necessary. It would have been enough to see him enter the TARDIS in his monk’s habit, then leave in his new Purple attire with a quick twirl on exit. The extended scene really threw me out of the episode’s flow, although it did give Matt Smith the chance to be particularly “Eleventh Doctorish”. I do love this new look though.

The episode gives us a bit of a link between Clara and Oswin. At the start of the episode, the new girl is completely computer-illeterate but over the course of events she becomes a computer genius. Not only that, but it’s alien computer genius. Which links to Oswin’s computational-prowess in Asylum of the Daleks. I really liked the chemistry between the two regular leads, although once again we seem back to a flirty-banter from the Companion which I’m not sure is necessary. Although I liked Clara and thought the character really shone in this episode, showing an initiative and feistiness that will see her in good stead moving forward, I sort of wish that Victorian Governess Clara was the companion as I think that would have given the opportunity for a fresher companion in the new series.

As has been the case with many episodes recently, I really thought the music was over-played throughout and I repeatedly found myself distracted by it. Which is the sign of a bad sound-track to me. It does seem to be the style of the show right now, though so I can’t imagine it changing any time soon. Visually, the episode was gorgeous. The effect of the “Spoon-heads” and indeed their inherent creepy intent was marvellous and (as mentioned above) the data-computer elements of the story were well realised on the screen. A scene with Matt-Smith on a motorbike doing what a normal bike should not does not look ridiculous as it easily could have and the episode’s villain’s lair is superbly modern-business efficient.

Some of my favourite moments came at the end of the episode: The reveal of the actual villain and the handling of the minions (chilling – especially Celia Imrie as main-villain Miss Kizlet. This final scene with her in was a standout performance for me). Clara’s refusing to just jump in the TARDIS with the Doctor (but she might tomorrow) and so on.

Overall, this was a nice lead into the story of Clara (and presumably the “Doctor Who?” thread that’s running through) though I think any new viewers jumping in to “see what all the fuss is about this year” would have been left floundering a bit as there was no real explanation of the Time Lord’s interest and concern with this pretty girl in the episode itself. I’m also left wondering … if Clara is “protected” as stated by the Doctor to his enemy … why is he taking her on wild, wacky and dangerous adventures? Bit selfish isn’t it?

Rating:  3 / 5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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  1. i took it to not be that Clara was particularly protected but like in the 11th hour when he said that earth was under his protection. might be wrong though

    • That’s a good point. Though by keeping her close he’s also putting her in danger as well as keeping her close to keep an eye on her.