The Bells of Saint John
|232 – "The Bells of Saint John"|
|Doctor Who episode|
Official Poster from the BBC Website.
Marcus Wilson (Series Producer)
|Incidental music composer||Murray Gold|
|Originally broadcast||30 March 2013|
"The Bells of Saint John" is the sixth 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. It was written by Steven Moffat and directed by Colm McCarthy.
In the episode, alien time traveller the Doctor (Matt Smith) is looking for Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman), a woman who he has met by chance on two previous occasions only for her to die both times. He manages to find a third version of her in the present day London, where Miss Kizlet (Celia Imrie) is helping The Great Intelligence use the world's Wi-Fi to upload people to a datacloud via robots known as Servers, casually referred to as Spoonheads. The Doctor and Clara thwart the scheme, but it is revealed that the Great Intelligence (Richard E Grant) was behind it and lives on.
On 23 March 2013, BBC released a short prequel video to the episode, written by Steven Moffat. 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.
A man on a computer screen describes how human souls are uploaded to the Internet when people use their computers to log into a certain Wi-Fi network. The man reveals he has been uploaded and is lost.
The Doctor has retreated to a monastery in Cumbria in the year 1207 to contemplate the mystery of Clara. The monks disturb him one day to tell him that "The bells of Saint John" are ringing. The Doctor requests a horse and rides it to a nearby cave where he has left his TARDIS. He is surprised to find the TARDIS exterior phone ringing, and answers it. On the other end is Clara, whom the Doctor initially doesn't recognize. She is calling for help with her computer, as she cannot connect to the internet, and the Doctor is bewildered as to how she is phoning through time. When Clara uses the phrase "Run you clever boy, and remember" as a mnemonic for her password, the Doctor realizes who she is. The Doctor immediately sets off to meet her in person.
When he arrives, Clara refuses to let him in or talk to him due to his bizarre appearance and erratic behaviour. The Doctor decides to change out of his monk's clothing into a new, purple variation of his usual clothing and when he returns he finds Clara being "uploaded" via a mobile robotic server disguised as a young girl. The Doctor takes Clara's laptop and halts the upload, sending the uploaders a message that Clara is under his protection. The head of the uploaders, Miss Kizlet (Celia Imrie), informs her client that the Doctor has intervened as feared. Another mobile server, this time disguised as a man, is dispatched to Clara's house to retrieve her again. The Doctor and Clara are outside when the uploaders cause an airplane to begin descending directly at them. The Doctor and Clara board the TARDIS and land on the plane where the Doctor revives the crew and saves the plane from crashing.
The Doctor takes Clara via TARDIS to the next morning, and they go to a café to try and work out what's happening. Clara uses computer skills that she picked up from her uploading experience to track the uploaders back to their base at the Shard. The Doctor encounters people inside the café under the control of Miss Kizlet who distract him long enough for a server disguised as the Doctor to upload Clara completely. An angered Doctor sets out to the Shard on an anti-gravity motorbike and crashes it into Miss Kizlet's office. He demands that she release all the minds that have been uploaded, including Clara's, but Miss Kizlet refuses. The Doctor then reveals that he is still back at the café and that she was actually talking to the server that he had hacked which he then uses to upload Miss Kizlet to the network. Trapped in the network, she orders her subordinates to release everyone and Clara is restored.
Miss Kizlet, now restored, contacts her client via a large wall-mounted video screen to report her failure to him. The client is shown to be the Great Intelligence, who orders her to reset all people working there, including herself, clearing their memories in the process. As UNIT storms in to shut them down, the uploaders all lose their memories. Miss Kizlet is reduced to the mentality of a small child. Meanwhile, the Doctor takes Clara home and offers her a chance to travel with him, which she rebuffs. She tells him to come back the next morning, as she may change her mind by then.
Summer Falls, the book that Clara spots Artie, one of her charges, reading is written by "Amelia Williams", the married name of the Doctor's previous companion Amy Pond; she had been a travel writer in the 21st century before being permanently sent back to the early 20th century, and becoming the editor of her daughter's detective novel/guidebook. The Doctor pulls out a fez, which was previously a plot point in "The Big Bang", and referred to 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 mentioned 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. On that occasion, the TARDIS' exterior phone was not connected to a phone line.
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 (except Oswin Oswald) 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. During this time, the Intelligence has encountered the Second Doctor twice; once in 1930's Tibet (The Abominable Snowmen, 1967) and again in late 1960's London (The Web of Fear, 1968). 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!'". 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. 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. Moffat compared the style to James Bond and The Bourne Identity. Moffat said that the episode was "an action roller coaster" rather than a story intended to be scary.
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. Coleman played each version of the character as individuals with "trust that there would be a payoff" to her mystery. Moffat described this version of Clara as "more real-world". Smith stated that Clara "reignites [the Doctor's] curiosity in the universe and gives him his mojo back".
The read-through for "The Bells of Saint John" took place on 19 September 2012 at Roath Lock. It is the first Doctor Who episode to be directed by Colm McCarthy. Filming began on 8 October. Some filming took place in London, at the Westminster Bridge and alongside the River Thames, with motorbike scenes at the London locations were filmed around 16 October 2012. The rooftop scenes were filmed at Grange St Paul's Hotel. The location was intended to be in Covent Garden, but was changed to a location with a better view of The Shard.
Broadcast and reception
"The Bells of Saint John" first aired in the United Kingdom on BBC One on 30 March 2013, and on the same date in the United States on BBC America and in Canada on Space. It aired a day later on 31 March in Australia on ABC1 and in South Africa on BBC Entertainment, and on 11 April 2013 on Prime in New Zealand.
The episode received an overnight rating of 6.18 million viewers in the UK, peaking at 6.68 million, a 29.8% audience share. It was in third place for the night. When time-shifted viewers were accounted for, the figure rose to 8.44 million viewers, placing second for the week on BBC One. "The Bells of Saint John" also received 0.96 million requests on BBC iPlayer for March, and 1.3 million requests for April. The episode received an Appreciation Index of 87.
"The Bells of Saint John" received generally positive reviews, but with several critics feeling underwhelmed by the story. Nick Setchfield of SFX gave 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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).
In Doctor Who Magazine issue 459, Graham Kibble-White gave it a positive review, describing it as "zestful and exciting Doctor Who." He complimented the fact that "the action sequences are played at a fury and the current anything's-possible flourishes continue unabated." He noted that "there's something pointless but pleasing in having Clara's charge, Artie, reading Summer Falls - a book written by Amelia Williams." Additionally, he described the Spoonheads as "a very effective threat, albeit written as one of the foot soldiers of the Doctor Who world, with only the verbal facility to paraphrase back what's been said," and stated that "the revelation of the concave absence at the back of the skull is horrific." However, he complained that to him, Clara's guess that the TARDIS was a "snogging booth" seemed like "something a 13-year-old boy would conjure, not a 24-year-old woman."
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|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Eleventh Doctor|
- "The Bells of Saint John" at the BBC Doctor Who homepage
- The Bells of Saint John on TARDIS Data Core, an external wiki
- "The Bells of Saint John" at Doctor Who: A Brief History Of Time (Travel)
- "The Bells of Saint John" at the Internet Movie Database