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 television programme Doctor Who. It premiered in the United Kingdom on 30 March 2013 on BBC One; the episode was the first of the second half of the series. 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 whom 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 Bells of Saint John" was designed to be an "urban thriller", in that it is taking "something omnipresent in your life and making it sinister". It was watched by 8.44 million viewers in the UK. The episode received generally positive reviews, although several critics felt that the plot and threat were lacking.
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, it is revealed that she 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 in to a certain Wi-Fi network. The man reveals he has been uploaded and is lost.
The Doctor (Matt Smith) has retreated to a monastery in Cumbria in the year 1207 to contemplate the mystery of Clara Oswin Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman), a woman he has met twice previously but who died both times. The monks disturb him one day to tell him that "the bells of Saint John" are ringing. The Doctor goes to his TARDIS and finds its exterior phone ringing. On the other end is Clara, whom the Doctor initially does not recognise. Clara, having been given the TARDIS' number by "a woman in the shop" and believing it is a computer help line, asks for help to connect to the Internet. When Clara uses the phrase "Run, you clever boy, and remember" as a mnemonic for her password, the Doctor realises who she is. He sets off to meet her in person.
When he arrives, Clara refuses to talk to him due to his bizarre appearance and erratic behaviour, so the Doctor changes out of his monk's clothing into a variation of his usual clothing. When he returns, he finds Clara being "uploaded" via a mobile robotic server disguised as a young girl. The Doctor 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. The Doctor and Clara are outside when the uploaders cause an airplane to descend at them. The Doctor and Clara board the TARDIS and land on the plane, and the Doctor saves it from crashing.
The Doctor takes Clara to the next morning in the TARDIS, and they go to a cafe to try to understand the happenings. Clara uses computer skills that she picked up from her uploading experience to track the uploaders 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, but Miss Kizlet refuses. The Doctor then reveals that he is still at the café and she was talking to the server he had hacked which he then uses to upload Miss Kizlet to the network. Trapped in the network, she orders her subordinates to release her. By doing this, everyone else including Clara, is restored.
The restored Miss Kizlet contacts her client 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 refuses. 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[nb 1] before being permanently sent back to the early 20th century, and becoming the editor of her daughter's detective novel/guidebook.[nb 2]
The episode was the official beginning for Clara Oswald, but Coleman had appeared twice before, as two different characters.
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.[nb 3] In the intervening time, the Great Intelligence has encountered the Doctor's second incarnation twice, once in the Himalayan mountains during the 1930s and once in the London Underground in the 1970s.
The woman in the shop who gave Clara the Doctor's number is brought up in "Deep Breath". The Twelfth Doctor remarks it seems as if someone is trying to bring the Doctor and Clara together. The episode "Death in Heaven" reveals it was the Master, in a female incarnation, who gave the number to Clara.
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!'"
However, 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. Producer Marus Wilson 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", and 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 occurring in London, at the Westminster Bridge and alongside the River Thames, with motorbike scenes at the London locations shot 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 both the United States on BBC America and in Canada on Space. It aired on 31 March in both Australia on ABC1, and in South Africa on BBC Entertainment. The episode aired on 11 April in New Zealand on Prime.
The episode received an overnight rating of 6.18 million viewers in the UK, peaking at 6.68 million, a 29.8% audience share; which put it 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. In 2013 the episode received 2.61 million iPlayer views.
"The Bells of Saint John" received generally positive reviews, but several critics felt 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. A Radio Times reviewer 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 was "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 Alasdair 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, 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".
- In "The Power of Three"
- In "The Angels Take Manhattan"
- "The Snowmen" was set at Christmas 1892; "The Bells of Saint John"'s modern-day scenes are approximately contemporaneous with their airing, making extensive use of, and references to, WiFi, a term coined in 1989 and which did not enter the lexicon of lay users until the 21st century; the Shard was constructed in 2009–12.
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