Stuffed with chocolate bunnies and marshmallow bunnies, several types of barbecues and all washed down with some sweet tea I sat to watch the Easter return of The Doctor in “The Bells of Saint John.” Maybe it was the increased blood flow to my stomach and not to my brain, but I wasn’t wowed by this episode. I enjoyed it, but it kind of lacked a certain “pow.”
Thinking it was the over-stuffing of my American-style holiday celebrations I watched the episode again. Nope, nothing. And just to be sure I watched it a third time. Still wasn’t wowed. At the same time, however, I wasn’t disappointed.
This episode is rather straight forward and totally agreeable. You won’t find many parts of it that upset or insult you. It really does a decent job at whetting your appetite for more. There you go! It’s an appetizer, not the entrÃ©e.
As an introduction episode “The Bells of Saint John” isn’t going to be that strong in the plot department because it’s all setup. Boiled down the plot is as follows: There is some strange Wi-Fi signal that, if you click it, downloads your mind and leaves your body to die. The current era Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), who, despite being thoroughly modern has no computer sense about her, calls customer service and winds up getting The Doctor (Matt Smith). Now The Doctor isn’t just hanging out down the street and gets a call on his mobile, no, The Doctor is in 1207 AD Cumbria, England when the exterior phone of the TARDIS starts to ring. Hence the ringing of bells from the box that says “St. John’s Ambulance” on the door. When the scene happened I smacked my forehead on the obviousness of the title being a reference to the Police Box design of the TARDIS.
So The Doctor gets called by Clara for Wi-Fi help and accidentally connects to the alien-like Wi-Fi, and now Clara’s marked for mind download. The Doctor rushes to the present to save Clara when he’s confronted by a “Spoonhead,” a walking Wi-Fi base that downloads people. It also conveniently has active camouflage that makes it look like a person you know but is missing the back of its head. The Doctor is not deterred, and manages to save Clara from being downloaded and shuts down the Spoonhead.
Upset that The Doctor has prevented a download, the people behind the Spoonheads, the evil executive Miss Kizlet (Celia Imrie) and her team of technicians, namely Alexi (Dan Li) and Mahler (Robert Whitlock), send a commercial airliner to crash land into Clara’s home and neighborhood. This is, of course, taken care of by The Doctor in a bit of bravado.
To get to the bottom of things The Doctor takes Clara to a coffee shop so they can use normal Wi-Fi to hack into the source of the evil Wi-Fi. There The Doctor is confronted by Miss Kizlet via all the people in the cafÃ©. Turns out that as long as anyone has been exposed to the right Wi-Fi signal they can be “hacked,” as it were, and Miss Kizlet can manipulate them. While this is happening a Spoonhead that looks like The Doctor gets to Clara on the patio and successfully downloads her.
Enraged by his failure, The Doctor discovers the source of the Wi-Fi is an office inside The Shard, a 95-story skyscraper in London. Not bothering with the security detail, The Doctor rides his anti-grav Triumph motorcycle up along the side of the building until he reaches the office floor and crashes in through a window. Confronted by Miss Kizlet The Doctor reveals that what is before her isn’t The Doctor at all, but the Spoonhead they sent to download Clara (“The Wedding of River Song,” anybody?). The Doctor activates the Spoonhead to download Miss Kizlet, and then hacks her workers into purging the mainframe of all downloads to their original bodies, thus saving Clara. UNIT shows up to take control, and it is revealed that the client behind all the downloading is none other than the Great Intelligence, now using Dr Simeon’s (Richard E. Grant) face. Queue dramatic music!
All in all the episode felt like this redubbed G.I. Joe PSA:
As the promised “action roller coaster” in the vein of James Bond and Jason Bourne, it fails. But it does have a pretty creepy underlining message of “don’t leech off of other people’s Wi-Fi or you’ll be trapped in a living hell.” Note to people who do not lock their Wi-Fi: you probably should.
For you Moffat scholars out there: compare the prequel and the first couple of minutes with the episodes he wrote under RTD and you’ll find most of his go-to tropes watered down. In the prequel you’ve got The Doctor meeting the child version of the person he’s saving, a la “The Girl in the Fireplace.” The video message opening combined with “don’t click” replacing “Don’t Blink” is from “Blink.” The repeated “I don’t know where I am!” revisits “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead” and their “Who turned out the lights?” And, of course, you have the phone ringing and creepy children, which Moffat last used in “The Empty Child.”