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‘Doctor Who’ – The Bells Of Saint John

The next installment in the mystery of Clara ‘Oswin’ Oswald


This review may contain spoilers.

As Amy once said: This is where it gets complicated. To keep communication clear, let us define some terms:

Jenna-Louise Coleman (JLC) — the actress playing the current companion.

Oswin — Oswin Oswald, JLC in “Asylum of the Daleks.”

Montague — Clara Oswin Oswald, JLC in “The Snowmen,” called “Miss Montague” in her governess alter-ego.

Clara — Clara Oswald, JLC in “The Bells of Saint John.” Presumably ongoing, but no guarantees!

Echoes — When Montague, unconscious and dying, says, “Run you clever boy and remember,” this is a direct echo of Oswin because she said that out of the blue. When Clara says, “Run you clever boy and remember 123,” this is an indirect echo as she was creating a mnemonic for “random” characters in a password.

11 — Matt Smith’s Doctor.

The long-awaited second half of Season 7 is great fun. The new companion played by Jenna-Louise Coleman is Clara Oswald, a young woman who had intended to go traveling, but became a nanny for a year after a family friend died.

The Great Intelligence (Richard E. Grant played by Ian McKellen) has infected the wi-fi of the world, uploading the minds of those who select the wrong source. A group of living, embodied hackers work in The Shard, monitoring and maintaining the system that also uses uploaded, disembodied people. The uploaded people either have or are given computer skills. Superfluous uploaded minds are consumed by the Great Intelligence.

After Clara calls the Doctor (Matt Smith) for help with the Internet, due to the recommendation by the woman in the shop, he arrives just in time to rescue her from upload. Fending off repeated attempts to harvest Clara, results in the destruction of the Great Intelligence’s predatory wi-fi scheme. All his embodied minions are wiped of memories of their time in his service, including Miss Kizlet (Celia Imrie), who is regressed to childhood.

POINTS OF INTEREST
1. The “Bells of Saint John” referred to in the title is the phone on the front door of the TARDIS (as opposed to the interior console phone). The Saint John part comes from the St. John Ambulance medallion next to it on the other door.

2. The book that Clara and Artie (Kassius Carey Johnson) discuss is “Summer Falls” by Amelia Williams, Amy’s retro married name. When Clara asks what chapter Artie is on, he says 10. She replies that 11 is the best, “You’ll cry your eyes out.” A clear reference to Matt Smith’s Doctor and perhaps a foreshadowing of …

3. When the Doctor calls Clara “Clara Oswin Oswald” she corrects him, just “Clara Oswald,” no middle name.

4. In the foyer of Clara’s house hangs what looks very much like a Four scarf.

5. Clara, at the beginning of the episode, has the computer skills of a technology resistant octogenarian. After modification while uploaded, she becomes a hacker goddess. Perhaps on par with Oswin?

6. When making up a username for hacking purposes, Clara says: “Clara Oswald for the win! Oswin!!”

7. Miss Kizlet had a tablet computer that allowed her to modify the personality of the other minions through sliders for paranoia, creativity and the like.

8. The Doctor repurposing a Spoonhead for the Shard attack marks the third time Eleven has used a technological duplicate. The others being a flesh ganger and a teselecta.

9. UNIT cleans up the situation after the crisis is over.

10. The Doctor mentions the leaf in the front of Clara’s “101 Places to See” book and she responds it’s the “first page.” It’s a maple leaf, so clearly the first place Clara wants to go is Canada!

WHAT WORKED
The title joke and most of the bits with the monks were excellent comedy. It also serves to highlight how often this particular Doctor has retreated from the world for extended periods of time to sulk or meditate.

Clara continues feisty and impertinent, as we like her. She’s been given magic hacker skills, which is good because there is as yet no evidence of other skills or ambition beyond travel.

The Doctor shows an unprecidented amount of care and consideration with respect to Clara. Even camping outside her house to stand guard and really slowing down and paying attention to this new and most intruiging enigma.

Clara, clearly yearning for the travel and adventure the Doctor offers, nevertheless turns him down for the nonce. She asks him to return tomorrow at 7 to ask her again, where she might say yes. Previously, this type of thing might result in his return 7-years later, but I have a feeling he will be on time for her.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK
I know that magic computer hacker skills is a Hollywood shorthand for smart science-y people, but that’s still not how it works. Computers are hacked by familiarity with finicky and often arcane small details of each operating system, program, etc. It’s one thing to swan in and stop an acid leak with a chocolate bar, but quite another to hack into a Debian Linux server (5.11.3). The amount of detailed study for that kind of activity seems quite beneath a cosmic entity like the Doctor.

When the Doctor is forcing the Intelligence’s minions to download Clara by uploading Miss Kizlet, he spends a moment’s thought for the other minds currently living complete virtual lives. Their bodies are dead and gone, so downloading them will kill them. The Doctor decides they will be better off, which immediately brings to mind River Song’s fate, living a virtual life in The Library. Really, he should make her a new ganger body, stabilized by the TARDIS, and download her mind. While he’s at it, he should use the chameleon arch to make Donna timelord enough to survive all her memories …

Apparently, the publicity machine was spreading pre-broadcast buzz, comparing the episode to “The Bourne Identity” or James Bond. I am very glad I didn’t hear that beforehand, because I would have been expecting something completely different.

GIVING CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
“Doctor Who” stars Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman, Celia Imrie, Dan Li, Robert Whitlock, Manpreet Bachu, Jade Anouka, Fred Pearson, Eve De Leon Allen, Kassius Carey Johnson, James Greene, Sean Knopp, Richard E Grant, Ian McKellen. “The Bells of Saint John” was written by Steven Moffat and directed by Colm McCarthy.

“Doctor Who” airs Saturdays at 8 p.m. ET on BBC America.

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Could they be a gh...gh...gh...ghost? Rut-ro! Shaggy
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