Doctor Who: Tin Dog Podcast
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TDP 306: The Bells of St. John

"The Bells of Saint John" is the seventh episode of the seventh series of the British science-fiction drama Doctor Who. It premiered in the United Kingdom on 30 March 2013 as the first episode of the second half of the season. The episode starsMatt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor and Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald. The plot line sees the Doctor finding Clara in present day London and fighting an enemy via the city's "Wi-Fi soup".





On 23 March 2013, BBC released a short prequel video to the episode, written bySteven Moffat.[1] In the prequel, the Doctor is sitting at the swings of a children's playground when he meets a little girl. They talk about losing things, and the Doctor states that he has lost someone twice and he hopes he might be able to find her again. The girl tells him that, when she loses something, she goes to a quiet place for a think, and then can remember where she put it. As the girl leaves, the audience learns that her name is Clara Oswald.[2]


Following recent events, the Doctor has begun contemplating the mystery surrounding Clara Oswin Oswald, who is referred to as "the woman who died twice", at a Cumbrian monastery in 1207. The monks soon bring forth news, telling him the "Bells of Saint John" are ringing. The Doctor quickly returns to his TARDIS(on which is the emblem of St John Ambulance) and realises the external phone is ringing, which it should not do. He answers and finds that on the other end is a young woman from 2013 in Ealing, London,[3] who believes she has been put through to Wi-Fi tech support. Whilst helping her, she begins using the phrase "run you clever boy and remember" as a mnemonic for her Wi-Fi password. Recognising the same phrase from previous versions of Clara in "Asylum of the Daleks" and "The Snowmen", the Doctor realises who she is and departs for the future in his TARDIS.

Unbeknown to him, Clara has connected to a different Wi-Fi network labelled by alien-like symbols. The connection alerts a technician working under Miss Kizlet (Celia Imrie), who instructs him to send a "mobile server" to her address - a humanoid robot that can take the appearance of anyone taken from a person's memories. These are nicknamed 'Spoonheads' by the technicians because of a spoon-like antenna dish on the back of their head that they use to upload their victims to Kizlet's cloud storage. By the time the Doctor arrives, the Spoonhead has gained access to her house and begins downloading Clara's consciousness. The Doctor interrupts the operation and restores Clara, but his interference is noted by Miss Kizlet. He sends her a message and, after informing her 'client', she orders her agents to track down the Doctor and Clara.

When Clara recovers, the Doctor explains that someone is using the Wi-Fi networks to download and use human consciousnesses all over London for some unknown purpose; he also proves this by demonstrating that Clara has gained new-found computer skills due to her encounter. When Miss Kizlet's agents discover the pair, she orders the Wi-Fi network to be activated, causing the crew of a passenger jet to fall asleep and the lights of London to be put out. The plane descends towards the pair on a collision course and the Doctor drags Clara to the TARDIS. They park it in the rear of the aircraft and help to prevent the plane from crashing, while protecting the crew and passengers from the Wi-Fi - which allows them to awake - before departing.

Much of the episode takes place around The Shard, inside which Miss Kizlet's organization is stated to be working.

The Doctor and Clara land the next morning and take a motorbike to a a café adjacent to St Paul's Cathedral. The Doctor is unable to find the base of operations for the Wi-Fi network from Clara's computer, but she offers to use her new skills to do so. The Doctor enters the café to get coffee when Miss Kizlet, using the various patrons in the café, taunts the Doctor and shows her abilities to control the London population. Meanwhile, Clara hacks the webcams used by the technicians and, using social media, discovers that the technicians work at The Shard. She tells this to the Doctor without realising that it is actually a Spoonhead, and her consciousness is uploaded before the real Doctor can stop it.

The Doctor, not wishing to lose her again, rides to the Shard on his motorbike, and uses its anti-gravity feature to scale the Shard, crashing into Miss Kizlet's office. She calmly explains she is doing the work of her client who needs the human consciousness for 'its' purposes and refuses to release the stored consciousnesses. The Doctor reveals that he is really the Spoonhead she sent to the cafe, being controlled by the real Doctor, who is still there. The Doctor downloads Miss Kizlet into the array of other consciousnesses, and then alters the obedience of her second-in-command to release all of them. Clara is restored to normal.

As UNIT forces rush in to secure the facility, Miss Kizlet explains to her client, the Great Intelligence, that she has failed him, and proceeds to do a "system reset"; she and all the other technicians are reverted to a mental state before they were part of the Great Intelligence's plan - with all considerably confused, though Miss Kizlet reverts back to her childhood.

The Doctor introduces himself properly to Clara in the TARDIS and offers to take her with him to any place in space or time. She rebuffs his request, though tells him to come back the next day as she may change her mind. He gladly agrees, and as she leaves, he decides it's time to unravel the mystery behind her.


Summer Falls, the book that Clara spots Artie reading, is written by "Amelia Williams", the married name of the Doctor's previous companion and mother-in-law Amy Pond;[4][5] she had been a travel writer in the 21st century[6] before being permanently sent back to the early 20th century, and becoming the editor of her daughter's detective novel/guidebook.[7] The Doctor pulls out a fez, which was previously a plot point in "The Big Bang", and referenced several times thereafter. The Doctor at one point gives Clara a plate of Jammie Dodgers, in which he had shown an interest in the episode "Victory of the Daleks". The Doctor refers to a motorcycle that he rode in the "Anti-Gravity Olympics 2074"; the Anti-Gravity Olympics were also referenced in the opening moments of the 2006 episode "Tooth and Claw". The TARDIS' exterior public-use emergency telephone rang previously only in the Ninth Doctor episode, "The Empty Child", also written by Steven Moffat.[8]

The "Doctor who?" line, having been used continually since the première episode, "An Unearthly Child", has had in-universe significance since "The Wedding of River Song". Each of Clara's three incarnations thus far have uttered it upon meeting the Doctor. The Great Intelligence makes its second appearance in a row after appearing in the preceding episode, "The Snowmen". From the Intelligence's perspective, more than a century has elapsed.[9] During this time, the Intelligence has encountered the Second Doctor twice; once in 1935 (The Abominable Snowmen) and again 40 years later (The Web of Fear). It uses Dr Simeon's appearance to communicate.


Writer Steven Moffat described the premise as "the traditional 'Doctor Who' thing of taking something omnipresent in your life and making it sinister, if something did get in the Wi-Fi, we'd be kind of screwed. Nobody had really done it before, so I thought, 'It's time to get kids frightened of Wi-Fi!'".[10] He denied that his intention was to give a warning about technology, but rather tell an adventure story about a "new way [for aliens] to invade" based on something viewers were familiar with.[11] It was producer Marus Wilson who suggested that the episode be an "urban thriller", as the story would already be set in contemporary London to introduce Clara and the Wi-Fi monsters.[12] Moffat compared the style to James Bond and The Bourne Identity.[13] Moffat said that the episode was "an action roller coaster" rather than a story intended to be scary.[11]

Despite being announced as the actress to portray the new companion, Jenna-Louise Coleman had first appeared as two different characters, called Oswin and Clara respectively, in "Asylum of the Daleks" and "The Snowmen", but "The Bells of Saint John" introduces the character who will be the Doctor's travelling companion.[14][15] Coleman played each version of the character as individuals with "trust that there would be a payoff" to her mystery.[16] Moffat described this version of Clara as "more real-world".[17]Smith stated that Clara "reignites [the Doctor's] curiosity in the universe and gives him his mojo back".[18]

The read-through for "The Bells of Saint John" took place on 19 September 2012 at Roath Lock.[4] Filming began on 8 October.[4] Some filming took place in London, at the Westminster Bridge and alongside the River Thames,[19] with motorbike scenes at the London locations were filmed around 16 October 2012.[20][21] "The Bells of Saint John" is the first Doctor Who episode to be directed by Colm McCarthy.[4]

[edit]Broadcast and reception

"The Bells of Saint John" first aired in the United Kingdom on BBC One on 30 March 2013,[22][23] and on the same date in the United States on BBC America[24] and in Canada on Space.[25] It aired a day later on 31 March in Australia on ABC1[26] and in South Africaon BBC Entertainment,[27] and is due to air on 11 April 2013 on Prime in New Zealand.[28]

The episode received an overnight rating of 6.18 million viewers in the UK, peaking at 6.68 million. It was in third place for the night.[29]The episode received an Appreciation Index of 87.[30]

[edit]Critical reception

"The Bells of Saint John" received positive reviews, but with several critics feeling underwhelmed by the story. Nick Setchfield of SFXgave the episode four and a half out of five stars. He was positive towards the visual style and the plot, as well as the performances of Smith, Coleman, and Imrie.[5] Radio Times reviewer Patrick Mulkern was pleased that Coleman was playing Clara as a straightforward companion, and highlighted her chemistry with Smith. He described it as "a hugely enjoyable episode that revels in its modern London setting", praising the way its ideas were realised visually on-screen.[8] MSN's Hilary Wardle gave "The Bells of Saint John" episode four out of five stars, noting that it moved at a fast pace and the plot was similar to "The Idiot's Lantern" (2006) but "very well done". She especially praised the chemistry between Smith and Coleman.[31]

Ben Lawrence, writing in The Daily Telegraph, gave the episode four out of five stars, saying that it had much to "enthral" a present-day viewer and showed how Doctor Who was constantly reinventing itself.[32] A similar statement was made by Euan Ferguson of The Observer, who also wrote that the episode was "splendid" with good villains, though he felt that the plot was "insanely complicated" and hard to understand.[33] Digital Spy's Morgan Jeffery also rated "The Bells of Saint John" four stars, feeling that the threat "leaves a little to be desired" and the Spoonheads' physical appearance was not memorable. However, he said that "practically everything else here is wonderful", especially Clara's new characterisation.[34] IGN reviewer Mark Snow rated the episode 8.2 out of 10. He praised the Wi-Fi concept but was underwhelmed by the Spoonheads, and felt that it was more low-key than it was promoted.[35]

The A.V. Club's Aladair Wilkins gave "The Bells of Saint John" a grade of B, explaining that the plot suffered just as previous companion introductions had because the threat was secondary to establishing Clara. He also wrote that the episode "struggles to make all its chosen genre elements compelling" and was not positive towards the menace of the Wi-Fi and questioned how realistic the technology seen was. Despite this, he said that it was still "fun" with good performances.[36] Dan Martin of The Guardian was disappointed, writing that it "makes a hearty meal of its iconic London locations ... But after the tour de force that was "The Snowmen", it feels as though this handsome episode constantly just misses the mark". He found the monsters and plot familiar to past episodes, but noted that a "generic" opening episode had been common for the show when it was introducing a new companion, which was done successfully with Clara.[37] Neela Debnath in The Independent echoed similar sentiments, feeling that it did not live up to the hype and reused several elements from previous episodes.[38] Jon Cooper of the Daily Mirror wrote that "The Bells of Saint John" "had its moments" but "as a whole it didn't reach the heights of previous episodes". While he welcomed the departure in tone, he felt that the set-pieces were shoehorned in, and also expressed concern that Clara, despite Coleman's success, was too similar to previous companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan).[39]


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