Doctor Who

The Bells of St. John – Episode Review & Analysis

And so begins the second half of this season of Doctor Who. 2013 is marked as the 50th anniversary of perhaps the longest running ever TV series in the history of the world… but more on that later because now we have the small matter of a finer look at this episode.

Ah, ah, ah… Spoilers

We are a wifi world and one vlogger is warning us against our always-on connection. He shows us a strange set of symbols that represents a wifi network available across London. If you connect to it, he warns, you might get chosen and within 24 hours you will be dead! This is serious Daily Mail technology paranoia here…

Cue new credit sequence.

After which we are at a monastery in Cumbria, c1207. The Doctor has taken the brown habit in order to figure out “the woman twice dead” and the Abbot has told him about “the Bells of St. John”. Back to modern day and we see Oswin-Not-Dead-and-Not-Dalek asking a young girl if she’s having a problem with her internet. After a brief exchange, the other girl’s brother walks in with a book. The author is Amelia Williams. The whole while, Oswin-Not-Dead-and-Not-Dalek (hereafter referred to as ONDAND) is on the telephone. She goes upstairs, sits on her laptop and notices the strange wifi signal…

Meanwhile back in 1207 The Doctor is taken to a crypt where a bell is ringing. It is the telephone on the TARDIS! That shouldn’t happen!!!!! It is ONDAND and she is asking questions about the internet. The phone number came from “the woman in the shop who recommended it as the best helpline available”. Some strange coincidences here already! He tells her to connect to the internet – she asks the girl for the password RYCBAR123 which ONDAND decides is an acronym for Run You Clever Boy And Remember…. hmm, another coincidence here. But she types it in wrong and the Second time around connects to the odd alien symbols and we next see her on a screen. The Doctor races to the modern day. He insists to ONDAND that she should remember him which, of course, she doesn’t.

To a mysterious control room next and Celia Imrie instructs an apparent underling to give Clara Oswald a “full IT skills package”. Another underling is expressing concern about the speed of progress so she reduces his conscience and fiddles with a few more of his emotions. So it seems whoever they are they can control our thoughts and brain patterns.

Back to The Doctor and he is still pestering ONDAND. She won’t let him in the house and refuses to talk to this odd man with his strange large blue mobile phone. Next, a young girl comes down the stairs. Apparently a friend of Angie – the girl we saw earlier. But when she is recognised as the girl from the front of the book, her heard turns backwards and she zaps ONDAND. The Doctor gets changed, returns to the house and the conversation with ONDAND becomes decidedly weird. Using the sonic screwdriver, The Doctor gets into the house, sees ONDAND collapsed and the girl with the half-head on the stairs. The Doctor uses the sonic screwdriver and reveals her as a robot. Celia Imrie’s open plan office with men in suits see that they have been rumbled as The Doctor goes about the house scanning electronic objects, realising that the laptop was the cause he uses it to reverse the effects of whatever has been done to ONDAND.

Celia Imrie contacts the client and it seems the client is familiar with The Doctor…

After ONDAND wakes up, typical new-companion introductions take place and she says that she is a friend of the family (a governess? The Doctor asks). He explains the dodgy nature of the wifi. In the course of this exchange, they realise that they are being watched and he tries to entice her into the TARDIS. For once, the new companion is suspicious. Amusingly, she chalks him up as a bit of a perv (first time for everything!) and promises of it being safe are met with incredulity. When they spot an aircraft flying toward them, finally she gets into the TARDIS. The Doctor takes them onto the plane, wakes up the pilots and save this particular corner of London. Aww, gee. It’s like RTD never went away! After parking the TARDIS on the riverbank and asking tourists and commuters for donations, The Doctor takes ONDAND on a bike ride and to breakfast at a rooftop cafe near St. Paul’s.

Celia Imrie wants the box and has used the CCTV to track it down, sending out her minions to find it and take it.

The Doctor goes off to get coffee while ONDAND attempts to hack the alien wifi network. Celia Imrie knows where The Doctor is and is using the local people around him to warn him off trying to save ONDAND. He races back to see ONDAND is ok… she needs a login name and chooses… Oswin. The Doctor goes back for the coffees and is confronted by a cafe full of people taken over by the wifi network. The Doctor is defiant – declaring once more that the planet is under his protection. The response is that they are not in danger – because the person in charge likes humans… a bit like a shepherd cares for his flock.

The open plan office has been rumbled again – ONDAND has discovered them at The Shard and when The Doctor returns she tells him the good news. But it isn’t The Doctor, it’s one of the wifi drones and they turn the tables by draining her mind again! The real Doctor returns and confronts his metallic doppelganger. After zapping it, he’s back on the motorbike and making his way to The Shard… and up the side of it and into Celia’s office – literally. The Doctor demands that ONDAND be re-downloaded. Celia Imrie says she can’t because she is now fully integrated into the Cloud.

But it’s not our Doctor, he’s hijacked the doppelganger and he uses it to upload Celia Imrie into the Cloud… the only solution is to eject all of the personalities stored within and return them to their bodies. Soon, UNIT arrive and seize the building. Celia Imrie is seen admitting defeat to her client… The Great Intelligence and he’s all jazzed up with the voice of Richard E. Grant, discarding the giant snowglobe and with it, the voice of Gandalf.

When the personalities are restored, it turns out the guy with the glasses was a plumber and Celia Imrie it seems has been in the clutches of The Great Intelligence since she was a small child and wants to know where her mummy and daddy are… awwww.

Then the obligatory “can I convince you to come with me” scene to fade us out into the credits and the teaser for next week when Doctor Who visits Farscape!


Perhaps not a surprise that The Great Intelligence has appeared in what is clearly a direct follow on from the xmas special. Richard E. Grant is now the face and voice of the entity and his technology has been upgraded since the days of the Gandalf the Giant Talking Snowglobe era. No doubt we are leading into something big for the 50th anniversary edition in the summer and the speculated regeneration of Matt Smith into incarnation 12. One does not necessarily mean the other and the inclusion of David Tennant (and maybe other incarnations) means nothing at this stage.

What we have here is a companion that is going to be central to a very big plot. Though this was the case with Amy Pond’s first year, once we got through this she became – though still important to the running story – perhaps less important than the overall meshing of the plot thread. In this case, the focus seems to be about Clara and the wider questions about who and what she is.

The Doctor remarks that ONDAND is a modern day governess – just like… and he stops short of saying whom. It is revealed in the end that the mother has died. ONDAND was intending to go travelling and stayed with the family for a week but ended up staying after the death of the mother. But what of the relationship there? What ties did she have to the family before, if any? And what now? Why did she feel the need to stay in the first place?

We have a lot of coincidences to ponder here too. The importance of Amy Pond’s book, the role of the impossible girl who has died twice, the role of the Great Intelligence in what is to follow and how this thread is going to continue toward and beyond the anniversary celebrations. What is clear is that for the first time, the xmas special was the beginning of something, not a stand alone episode that the others clearly were. This is going to be big, so keep an eye out.

So many questions… I’m looking forward to having them answered.


2 thoughts on “The Bells of St. John – Episode Review & Analysis

  1. I’m thinking the woman in the IT shop might be River, although that might be too obvious. I assume the Rani would be too much to ask for. Also – I was a bit hazy about the IT upgrade thing, the Doctor was incredulous that Clara could have superior hax0r skillz – am I right in supposing that the IT upgrade unlocked latent Dalek-Oswin talents which had somehow bee squirrelled away in her noggin?

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