Thoughts on: The Bells of Saint John

Did you see when Clara asked if she could use the internet when Angie was finished with it? That’s me. Or it’s going to be me before long, when technology inevitably outpaces my very limited ability to comprehend it. So, yes, I find even rudimentary digital technology arcane and incomprehensible, which is why I found the concept of this episode so enthralling and chilling and compelling. There’s something in the Wi-Fi. It’s eating people up. People’s souls are being uploaded into the cloud and lost forever. For technological illiterates like me who are supremely bemused by technology and anything with an “i” or an “e” in front of its name, that’s seriously scary stuff. Very Matrix. (I was scared by The Matrix, too). Making a menace of the Wi-Fi is the latest in Doctor Who’s agenda of turning unassuming everyday things into instruments of terror, and what an inspired concept this episode plays with in casting the Wi-Fi as a potential pernicious threat.

That’s the most laudatory thing I’ll say about the plotting and story of this episode. With such a brilliant concept, I’m disappointed to report that it failed to exploit that potential as fully as it could. Once the very intriguing threat had been established, it all became increasingly less compelling as the Doctor, with a little help from Clara and her newfound powers of technological comprehension (I’m jealous), pushed the black-suited masters of the sinister Wi-Fi enigma around like sock puppets. It all just seemed too easy. There was no credible threat. The Doctor barely broke a sweat in undermining the evil, scheming Wi-Fi people in their domineering Shard headquarters, and it made the villains look like inept pushovers in comparison; like a bunch of amateur hackers. The threat failing to convince, it was hard to be genuinely gripped by the story. That said, the mystery of what it was all about, and who was behind it, was properly interesting, and the eventual revelation of the Great Intelligence, featuring for the second time in two episodes, was intriguing (I can’t help it, I love a good arc).

I can’t be too harsh on the episode for its plotting, though. Although this episode was about the Wi-Fi sucking people into the cloud-thingy (or whatever it is), it wasn’t really about that — it was about Clara Oswald. This is the third time we’ve met Clara, and it’s getting seriously puzzling. Clara is much the same girl we’ve met twice before, with a few slight differences, but it’s a credit to the writing, and, of course, the dazzling Jenna Coleman, that the series’ “introduction” of Clara the third time round is still genuinely interesting and wonderful to watch. I think it’s fair to say this Clara is a more understated and “normal” Clara than the ones we met on the Dalek Asylum planet and in Victorian London—less perky and flirty (and less girl genius) than the former, less gutsy and feisty than the latter. Which is probably for the best — the Dalek Oswin and Victorian Clara characters, as good as they were in their episodes, seem like they’d become tiresome and stale after a while. With a more subdued, rounded Clara there’s something to build on.

The Doctor and Clara have instant, wonderful chemistry. It’s good to see that the banter, the teasing, the flirting has carried over from the Doctor’s relationship with Clara’s other versions, as well as Clara’s readiness to be sceptical and cheekily subversive towards the Doctor and his Time Lord pretensions. There was plenty of good humour between the Doctor and Clara in this one, particularly the scene where Clara calls the Doctor in the 13th Century asking after some internets (“…it’s 1207!” the Doctor says in utter bewilderment), and the subsequent scene where the Doctor shows up at Clara’s in his monk’s robes (I loved the Doctor checking in Clara’s mirror to make sure he hadn’t regenerated). You know when you show up at a girl’s door carrying on like a deranged monk, and she seems more amused than freaked out (and especially if she doesn’t even call the police), that she’s quality companion material. Unfortunately, I found Matt Smith’s performance for the remainder of this episode a bit lacking; I just couldn’t help noticing that Matt acted with less conviction than usual, although, conversely, Jenna was splendid. I don’t want to end this post on a negative note, though, so I’ll say that I loved the Doctor’s new togs. His original tweed costume will always be the Eleventh Doctor’s iconic look, but this is a refreshing change. Edwardian chic — I love it.

Rating: 7/10.

1 thought on “Thoughts on: The Bells of Saint John

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who: The Bells Of Saint John (2013) Review | The Cool Kat's Reviews

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