Doctor Who: The Bells of Saint John Review (Spoilers)
On Saturday, an international sensation swept across my social media streams. Why? Not because of Easter. Not because of some sporting event. No, the reason that everyone was excited was that a new Doctor Who episode would be airing that night. And after that wonderful Christmas special, Whovians all across the world were rejoicing at the return of their favorite television series.
The following contains spoilers.
“The Bells of Saint John” begins with a display of just how dependent our world has grown on wi-fi. Wi-fi truly is everywhere, signals all around us – so what might happen if someone were to hack into those signals and use those signals to download people’s souls? Well, in “The Bells of Saint John,” someone is doing just that. And that someone wants Clara.
The Doctor has spent all of this time in a medieval monastery meditating upon life and trying to figure out how to find Clara. The phone on his TARDIS police box begins to ring. He is fetched by the monks, who have no idea what the heck is going on. He answers the phone and it’s Clara, who thinks that she is dialing internet technical support.
Something is obviously continuing to bring those two together. But we don’t find out much about that in the episode. The question is only asked – who?
The Doctor shows up just in time to save Clara from being downloaded via the Wi-Fi into what is obviously The Great Intelligence’s database. The two have a great London adventure that results in The Doctor asking Clara to tag along with him in the TARDIS.
And so begins a new chapter in Doctor Who.
Matt Smith has proven himself to be a fine Doctor in the past two episodes of the series. He was so completely over-shadowed by the Ponds that he never had a chance to fully go all out, but now, it’s as if he’s been born again (or regenerated, as the case may be). He shows us a Doctor that is manic and moody and bouncy and clever, all in the same breath. He pulls off silliness at the same time as cleverness and when he says he’s going to save the world, you believe him. I always knew Smith had it in him.
Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara lights up the television screen. I fell in love with her when we first saw her back in “Asylum of the Daleks,” and she is just as delightful as she was then. She pulls off smart and headstrong and has no problem running dialogue marathons against Smith. The banter between the two is a great example of the chemistry the actors possess.
Celia Imrie is this episode’s villain. She comes across as a sort of evil Dame Judi Dench (I mean that in an entirely good way). At the end of the episode, too, is also a fine piece of acting where we realize that her character has been with The Great Intelligence for much longer than we had presumed. When she reverts to her childhood as UNIT is closing in on her, we get a scene that is both chilling and heartbreaking.
This is also one of the better stories written in the past few seasons for Doctor Who. It feels like true science fiction and, at times, even reminded me of Torchwood. The idea of wi-fi stealing people’s souls is also utterly believable in a way that is often creepy. The little twists in the story were very clever, including The Doctor sending his doppleganger in to “motivate” the bad guys to release the souls that they had taken. A telling scene at the end about Clara involves her turning him down only to tell him to turn up the next day when she might change her mind.
Finally, this episode of Doctor Who was fun – something that was in short supply before Clara got on-board. Some great moments worthy of laughs and thrills include The Doctor going through his TARDIS looking for clothes (and we see a few familiar items in the things he pulls out), The Doctor driving up the side of The Shard on an anti-gravity motorbike and the scene where the TARDIS lands in the middle of London and The Doctor walks out with his fez in hand to collect coins and cash from impressed tourists.
So what’s up next week for Doctor Who? Well, obviously, Clara will be joining The Doctor for their first official adventure. And, I, personally cannot wait.
Sidenote: Who noticed the name of the author on the book in this episode?