Maybe it’s because we’ve come to expect mindbendingly complex (cough, wanky) episodes from Steven Moffat, but ‘The Bells of St. John’ just didn’t do it for me.
The beginning is reminiscent of ‘Blink’, with a man on a screen explaining our concept for the week – killer Wi-Fi. This introduction is really interesting. Whatever’s happening in Doctor Who, there’s always that feeling of Doctor Who-ness. I don’t know how to explain it, but the introduction felt more like a sinister crime/supernatural show than our good old Doctor Who.
Never fear though, because after the catchphrase for this episode – “I don’t know where I am” – the opening titles are shown, and they are classic Who. The faces in the titles, which also appeared in the Christmas special, were a nice touch, calling back memories of old Doctor Who.
This is the third time we’ve seen the mysterious and constantly-dying Clara (sometimes Oswin) Oswald, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman. The way Amy and Rory went was rough, but Clara’s cheeky smile is infectious, and it’s hard not to love her. I dare you to try. Clara also has that sense of fun that Amy didn’t quite have.
Even with Clara being curious and playful and clever and a little bit flirty, this episode doesn’t hit it out of the park.
The notion of the internet snatching up humans is an interesting concept (cue Moffat’s little dig at Twitter), but the idea of “the Wi-Fi” was a bit confusing. I chalk it up to cultural differences, but I use my own Wi-Fi, or mobile data if I’m out. Does one need to specifically try to access the evil Wi-Fi to get pinged, or is it enough to see it on your screen? What about people that have been gone from their bodies more than 24 hours? Would they be dead and gone, or does everyone just wake up in their bodies, yay happy ending?
But this is Steven Moffat. He laughs at us feeble mortals who require things like closure and logic and explanation. HERE, HAVE ANOTHER EXPLOSION OKAY. (I may or may not have a slight problem with Moffat’s style.)
In any case, there are many little clues throughout the episode – some just amusing, and some that may have significance later on. Examples include the appearance of an Amelia Williams book (just wait for chapter 11), the question: “Doctor Who?”, and of course, that recurring phrase from Clara: “Run, you clever boy, and remember…”
Anyway, after the Doctor saves Clara from being uploaded, she’s rightly curious. Filled with new hacking knowledge courtesy of the slightly creepy suits working at the Shard, she manages to figure out where they are…just before she gets uploaded. Luckily, the Doctor is equipped with a anti-gravity quadracycle (which he invents in this episode), and with some clever thinking, manages to save everyone.
The question is, of course, who is behind it all? Old Who fans rejoice – “The Great Intelligence”, is back. Portrayed here by Richard E. Grant (and previously voiced by Ian McKellen in ‘The Snowmen’, they have had run-ins with the Doctor more than once. Miss Kizlet is its link to the world, but not entirely by choice – she, like all of her minions, was “hacked”. Possibly the creepiest moments in this episode is her reverting back to “factory setting” after telling the Great Intelligence, “I’m not sure I remember what I was before.”
While the rest of the workers in the Shard go back a few months, she goes all the way back to childhood:
Where are my mummy and daddy? They said they wouldn’t be long. Are they coming back?
All in all, a good concept, a decent try, but more of a miss than a hit.