The New Who Review – The Bells of Saint John
How many times have you been told not to use wifi you don’t recognize? This week’s episode takes the threat of identity theft to an all new degree. And the only reason The Doctor found out about it at all is cause he got a call from a lady who said she couldn’t find the Internet. Spoiler shields up, watch for falling planes, and listen for…
THE BELLS OF SAINT JOHN
By Steven Moffat
Directed by Colm McCarthy
The Doctor is in the early 13th century, meditating over the living (well, living somewhere) mystery that is Clara Oswin Oswald. So when he’s told “The Bells of St. John are ringing”, he races back to his hidden TARDIS, (with its “St. John’s Ambulance” label) where the phone in the door is ringing. He’s getting an impossible call from modern day, from the impossible Clara Oswald, who thinks she’s calling tech support. In London, people are mysteriously dropping dead shortly after using a rogue wifi feed. Clara is having trouble with her wifi, and even after The Doctor comes to help, the troubles only get worse.
A great start to the series, with another trademark move of Moffat; take something common place, and make it terrifying. He’s done it with shadows and statues, and now he’s made wifi something to be feared. Jenna-Louise Coleman makes her (official) debut as the new companion Clara
THE MONSTER FILES – The Spoonheads are another example of a new monster that don’t actually get to do much. Like the antibodies of Let’s Kill Hitler, they’re a physical effect that doesn’t even get to move. The CGI head-spin thing is wonderfully unnerving, and it’s a great visual cue that something creepy is about to happen. We’ve had any number of robots masquerading as humans, including the Teselecta from the aforementioned episode, the titular creations from The Android Invasion, not to mention The Androids of Tara.
The episode has clear similarities and parallels to Mark Gatiss’ episode The Idiot’s Lantern – an unseen force stealing people’s minds via new technology, faces trapped on TV screens, even The Doctor and his companion tooling about on a motorbike. Many (myself included) expected to see a return of The Wire, the energy-based being from that episode, only to be happily swerved by the actual baddie.
GUEST STAR REPORT
Celia Imrie (Miss Kizlet) worked with Jenna on the recent Ttianic mini-series, appeared as the matron in both recent St. Trinian’s movies (films which have reached Kevin Bacon levels for Doctor Who connections), and was Lady Gertrude in the Gormenghast adaptation. She brings a quiet menace to her role, and the final twist was quite tragic.
Geff Francis (George Maitland) actually does spell it like that. He was a regular in the Life on Mars spinoff Ashes to Ashes, as well as on the The Singing Detective. Doctor Who is not afraid to get very good actors for even the smallest parts, but I’m rather hoping that the Maitland family appears again before the end of Clara’s story. There’s a lot of story going on here, and each of the three actors had clear emotions built into their portrayals. Eve De Leon Allen (Angie), star of Nuzzle and Scratch, did particularly well at playing a young girl who has lost her mum, even in the brief moments she had on screen. Eve is the actor whose copy of the Neil Gaiman script was lost in a cab, which suggests that she, and hopefully the rest of the family will indeed be back, at least in that episode.
BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS – Trivia and production details
CREDITS WHERE CREDITS ARE DUE – The credit sequence is largely unchanged from the Christmas episode, but the theme has undergone another slight tweak. the strings are pushed to the background, possibly gone altogether, and the four-beat theme has been pulled more to the front. The song is a lot deeper, more in the bass range. Some of the sound effects have been edited – the electric twinkly bits have been softened as the Doctor Who logo disintegrates. It’s been shortened slightly – a couple of the motifs are missing as the sequence races to the episode title and the opening of the TARDIS doors, which I must say I love.
SET PIECES – We get a longer look at the new TARDIS in this episode, including the space under the main control floor, which has a wooden storage chest that resembles the design of the short-lived wooden TARDIS set first seen in The Masque of Mandragora. We’re supposed to see a great deal more of the ship’s interior in an episode later in this series.
“He’s definitely not a monk” – The Meddling Monk was the first Time Lord other than The Doctor seen in the series, way back in the Hartnell days, even before the term “Time Lord” had been coined. The Doctor also disguised himself as a monk, a headless one, during the Battle of Demon’s Run in A Good Man Goes To War, and briefly at the end of The Wedding of River Song.
“Eleven’s the best – you’ll cry your eyes out” – The book Summer Falls is written by Amelia Williams, AKA Amy Pond. This is a further clue into her life in New York after the events of The Angels Take Manhattan – she clearly got into both writing, and later publishing, as she was also responsible for publishing the Melody Malone adventures.
Summer Falls will be made available as an e-book tie-in as the Melody Malone adventure was, via BBC E-books on April 2nd.
“That is NOT supposed to happen!” – The Doctor does get calls in his TARDIS, but usually on the phone on the console. The phone on the outside door is not supposed to ring. The last time it did was in The Empty Child, when the mysterious young boy was able to communicate through it. I hasten to add that the young Melody Pond had the same ability to communicate through any phone, as seen in The Impossible Astronaut. I also love the fact that the handset’s cord is comically long.
“You know, I never realized how much I enjoy hering that said out loud” – The Question, “Doctor Who?” has been a recurring theme since the very beginning of the series. It’s become an important plot point since the end of The Wedding of River Song, when it was connected to The Question, asked on the Fields of Trenzilore, at an event know eerily as The Fall of the Eleventh. There have already been teaser ads suggesting that in the anniversary episode, we would learn The Doctor’s true name. Fan rage has risen to high levels over that, and we shall have to wait till November to see how that works out.
“Fine, let’s do it together” Fans of Douglas Adams will recognize that gag from The Hitchhiker’s Guid to the Galaxy as Zaphod and Ford attempt to pilot the Disaster Area sun-dive ship (Or if you’re a REAL fan, the Captain of the Haghunemnon fleet).
“I never take the TARDIS into battle” – The Doctor is driving a Triumph motorcycle, a brand as beloved to the UK as Rolls Royce. The “Trusty Triumph” was the model of choice for soldiers in World War II. Plus, now we know the TARDIS has a garage as well as a swimming pool.
Old friends…very old friends” – UNIT was founded after the second televised appearance of The great Inteligence, thought its leader, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart was instrumental in its defeat in the Underground in The Web of Fear. Presumably it kept tabs on The Doctor and his friends in any way it could.
“You don’t run out on the people you care about…wish I was like that” – I’m starting to get actively annoyed with this idea that The Doctor is such a horror to be with. It’s become a recurring idea since The Stolen Planet, and it flies in the face of the experiences of very nearly all of his friends. Yes, the ends have been tragic for a small few, and the rest leave his company as far better people, who go on with their lives doing all they can to make the world a better place. The level of guilt he feels is out of place. He feekls bad about losing Amy and Rory to the Angels, but he knows for a fact they ended up fine.
BIG BAD WOLF REPORT – This may be the fastest reveal of the Big Bad in the new series’ history. The Great Intelligence, generally suspected to be making a quick return after the Christmas episode The Snowmen, were revealed as the mysterious “Client”. It had been announces that Richard E. Grant would be appearing in the series again, tho the BBC was quite mum as to exactly who he would be playing. We can see why.
“The Girl Twice Dead” – Clara’s story is clearly and obviously going to be the biggest puzzle of the series. The three iterations of her we’ve seen so far have delightful parallels, and surely more will be found as the episodes roll on.
We already have more than a few Clara-parallels…Clarallels, if you will:
She was a governess in The Snowmen, with a penchant for helping others. She’s helping a family cope with the loss of their mother in present day, and while her title was “Junior Entertainment Manager” on the Starship Alaska, that could be read not as an assistant to the manager, but the person in charge of entertaining the “juniors” as in, watching the children on the ship.
“RYCBAR123” – Aside from the fact that Whovians everywhere are updating their wifi network names and passwords, this was modern Clara’s inspiration to repeat the phrase across time “Run you clever boy and remember”, uttered by both past and future Clara at their passing, and get him interested in her.
“I call him Nina” – The pet name Oswin gave Rory, after a past paramour (“I was going through a phase”) pop’s up again, as the name of one of Angie’s friends. Yes, it’s a common name, but this is Doctor Who – there are no coincedences.
Just Clara Oswald, what was that middle one?” – Clara comes up with the name “Oswin” as a username when she starts hacking Miss Kislet’s network, but it’s the same name the other two versions of her has.
“The girl at the shop gave it to me, said it was the best help line in the universe” – With the announcement that David Tennant and Billie Piper are returning to the series for the anniversary, Clever Theories are running amuck that Rose was the aforementioned girl in the shop. It might be, and it might not be, but the point is, SOMEONE gave her the number to the TARDIS, and helped her get found.
“101 Places to see…” Even thought the book is designed to resemble The Daring Book for Girls (a sequel to The Dangerous Book for Boys), the traditional end of that title is “…before you die”. Also, if you look about her room, ALL her books have to do with traveling and foreign lands. Many brain cells have been spent on the significance of both the 16 and 23 being skipped in the years in the book. It could be waved off as simply a brief lack of interest in the book those years; last year would have been the time her friend died, and she may have been distracted, for example. But the 23 is a significant number – it’s popped up as Victorian Claras’s birthday (specifically, Novenmer 23rd, the date of the show’s first broadcast) and she mistypes “123” earlier in the episode. And of course, since by delightful coincidence November 23rd is a Saturday this year, the anniversary episode will screen on the exact right day.
Page One may contain a leaf (Maple, I believe – are there many maples trees in England?), but page two contains a letter appearing to be from something or someone named “Delsa”. No ideas who that is yet, but again, they don’t put things in by mistake.
NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO – The Doctor is SICK of…well, no, he seems quite excited by the idea of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. Lestrade finds his division, Ron Weasley’s did is also Rory’s dad (so…related?) and also Queen Nefertiti. Seven days away…you busy?