Doctor Who: The Bells of St. John Review

Rating: After four months of waiting, speculating, and baited breath; Doctor Who has returned to screens worldwide. With a New...

Mike Reyes

Contributor

Bells of St John Header

Rating: ★★★★★

After four months of waiting, speculating, and baited breath; Doctor Who has returned to screens worldwide. With a New TARDIS console, a new suit, and a new companion, there was plenty for fans to possibly go off about before things even got started. However, as with any good Doctor Who episode, it deflates nit picky criticism and elevates itself into a really fun time. The Bells of St. John is a return to classic Moffat fun and fear, complete with action, adventure, and wit to spare.

So we start out with a rundown on the WiFi threat that’s central to this episode. People are clicking on Wi-Fi connections with what looks like a name spelled out in the Aurebesh from Star Wars. Obviously, this is a bad idea, as it gives unprotected Wi-Fi signal that locks onto the user and can be used to download said user into a Data Cloud. The evil corporation of The Shard, aptly named for the famous London office it’s housed in and lead by Ms. Kislet,  is behind all of the nefarious digital soul theft. Why and to what end is revealed later, but this initial threat is what kickstarts the episode, as one of these dispossessed souls lays down the rules of the land for us in the opening prologue.

Bells of St John 3

Exposition aside, we (yet again) meet Clara Oswald (the “Oswin” doesn’t come until later, during one of several references dropped in the episode), currently a nanny (again) for a family of friends. Having her own WiFi troubles, she calls for Customer Support and gets our favorite mad man in a blue box. Having retreated to a monastery in 1207, The Doctor has been trying to figure out Clara’s existence, even going as far as painting a likeness of her with her immortal (and recurring) last words: “Run you clever boy, and remember”. Sure enough, once she utters the phrase as a mnemonic device to remember her WiFi password, The Doctor does just that and whisks himself away to the present day.

And not a moment too soon, as Ms. Kislet has sent one of her robotic servants, known colloquially as “Spoonheads”, to download Ms. Oswald into the cloud. Not before Clara and The Doctor share an awkward moment of misplaced foreknowledge and unintentional creepiness. The Doctor saves her from being downloaded, and brings her back with some gained knowledge in advanced computer technology. With said knowledge, she becomes an invaluable asset to The Doctor’s quest to get to the bottom of whatever menace has set its sights on the minds of the world, as well as a natural target for Kislet’s forces. A second attempt to download Clara is made, but not before The Doctor grabs her and flys off in the TARDIS, during another mass upload in London. The aforementioned upload causes a passenger jet to almost crash into the City, but is averted in one of the episode’s showstopping action beats.

Bells of St John 2

We finally are clued into who and what is behind this attack as Clara is finally uploaded and The Doctor sets off in hot pursuit to rescue her, culminating in the second big action beat of the episode: The Doctor riding a Quadricycle (a souped up Motorcycle of his inventing) up the side of The Shard itself. Just as The Doctor has secured victory through intimidation (which was won by downloading Ms. Kislet into The Cloud and forcing her to order a mass release of all of the uploaded minds), The Great Intelligence rears his head as the Big Bad for Series 7.2.

He tells Ms. Kislet that it’s time for her and the rest of the employees to be restored back to their factory settings. After she literally hits the “Restore Factory Settings” button, everyone reverts back to their forms previous to the moment The Great Intelligence took them over. (Which reduces Ms. Kislet to the personality of her former child self.) Now safe and sound, The Doctor offers Clara the chance to travel like she’s always wanted and not have to give up her nannying days for good. Too good of an offer to resist, Clara “Oswin” Oswald accepts what could be her greatest journey…as well as her last.

Bells of St John 4

Right at the beginning of the season, Moffat crushes it yet again. Say what you will about his consistency as a show-runner, but he definitely knows how to start and finish a season’s arc. Clara continues to be intriguing, as well as beautiful, while at the same time remaining an equal partner to The Doctor. She almost has Rose’s youth and River’s intelligence/libido, with a dash of Donna’s sass. A potent combination if there ever were one. As for The Doctor, he’s gone back to being the sweet, adorably dorky guy we’ve come to know and love; which is great considering how dour he was after losing The Ponds. Whether it’s the time span between episodes or a sentiment to just how good of an adventure The Snowmen was, their absence isn’t crushingly felt. (Though one has to wonder if the presence of an Amelia Williams penned novel has any sort of foreshadowing in mind. To be fair, that same book cover does have Watson and Sherlock as young boys, so it could be just a cute little Easter Egg.)

The Great Intelligence continues to plague The Doctor, and is obviously the main threat for Series 7.2. One can only imagine what sort of connection it has to Clara’s “impossible” existence, but for die hard Whovians, this doesn’t bode well. While it’s one of the thinner entries of the season, considering that it has to set up the rest of the season’s arc, it’s still full of the trademark fun and adventure that Moffat frequently uses in his work. It’s light, it’s fun, it’s everything we need to soothe the tragedy that was “The Angels Take Manhattan”. For a beginning to the 50th Anniversary season, it’s a reminder of how the show has endured for so long, and how it will endure for at least another 50.

Next Week: The Doctor and Clara play caretakers to a little girl, as they visit The Rings Of Akhaten!

Rings of Akhaten

What say you, What Culture Republic? Is this a good start, or an awful beginning? Do we like Clara, or should she be assimilated as quickly as she came? Does Richard E. Grant laugh in his dressing room about how he was once the Ninth Doctor? The answers to these questions, and more, might be found /provided in the Comments section below!