Doctor Who #908: The Bells of Saint John

"This whole world is swimming in wi-fi. We're living in a wi-fi soup. Suppose something got inside it. Suppose there was something living in the wi-fi, harvesting human minds. Extracting them. Imagine that. Human souls trapped like flies in the World Wide Web."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.30 2013.

IN THIS ONE... First appearance of the actual Clara Oswald, and the Great Intelligence steals your soul with wi-fi.

REVIEW: What a strange title. It's part of a nursery rhyme, which fits Moffat's aesthetic, but it's a convoluted way to describe the TARDIS phone, and while Clara's call is important to the story and series, it doesn't really describe the episode, of which there are two basic components - the actual introduction of Clara as companion, and the plot of the week, which has to do with the Great Intelligence and wi-fi. In that order then. The Doctor has been unsuccessful in finding another version of Clara Oswald (but see Additional Material) and has become a bit obsessive about it. He can't ever find her, she always finds him. That's been the template, and makes sense given her true nature. And while the real (original) Clara doesn't have to follow these rules, that's still what happens. She calls IT for her computer problems and gets the TARDIS. How? See Theories because that's still a loose end at this point. But because this is the Clara that will become a part of the Doctor's time stream, not an "echo" of her, we have to look at all the recurring memes as getting their origins here. "Run you clever boy" is a password on the computer and would inspire the phrase's re-used by echoes to give the Doctor a special signal (or perhaps are just details from original Clara's life that are remixed in her other lives, like taking care of children or the name "Oswin" ("Oswald for the win").

But that's all intellectual stuff. Do we connect to her emotionally? I have to say Clara's always been a bit of a generic companion in my eyes, and that's probably because she was designed to be a prototypical one. And there isn't anything necessarily wrong with that. Aside from the mystery of her reappearance in different eras, she's what you want a modern companion to be - clever, brave, pretty, with a wandering spirit and a sharp wit that equalizes the playing field between human and Time Lord. Clara's a lot of fun, and Jenna Coleman is great in the role, so I wish I wasn't distracted by the one thing advertized as making her different, i.e. Moffat's latest crazy plot point. But putting that out of my mind, her first official adventure with the Doctor IS a lot of fun. How she tracks down the Great Intelligence's minions, the reference to Amy having written a children's book (Chapter 11 is the best), the quick TARDIS hop aboard a crashing plane over and done with before she even puts down her tea, using the TARDIS as a magic trick to collect money for coffee, the hoverbike, and lots of sparkling banter.

The plot IS a little familiar though. People being sucked into a media device, trapped in a bank of screens? That's The Idiot's Lantern right down to the motorcycle action. Instead of TV, it's the Internet. But the similarities end there, thankfully. I'm not particularly keen on the walking wi-fi hubs walking around London, though the Doctor making a point of hacking technology is a cool moment, but I've always liked Celia Imrie as an actress and her Miss Kizlet is far less campy than previous evil businesswomen in Who have been (notably RTD's near-clones Wormwood and Foster). There's a lot of fun to be had with people's paranoia, loyalty and IQ being on sliders, and most shockingly, the restore function sends everyone back to before they were taken over by the Great Intelligence, turning Kizlet into a child. Like Simeon, she was "approached" at a young age, and has lost her entire life to him. I like what Moffat is doing with the G.I. generally, taking some pretty disparate elements from its original two stories and tying them into a more coherent mythos. It would seem this entity likes networks, whether mystical or technological - the Tibetan faith, the London underground, and now the Internet. It uses people, usually with one controlling figure, and also employs artificial golem figures - the Yeti, the Snowmen, the wi-fi robots. It's still a rather random collection of tropes, but there's at least a consistent pattern there.

THEORIES: Who gave Clara the TARDIS' impossible number? We never find out. Just the lady at the shop. Presumably, it can't be an echo of Clara herself, or Clara would have recognized herself. Unless there's a huge age difference, then it's possible she wouldn't have. Or another Clara could have given the number to that store clerk from behind the scenes. Or could it be River Song, still in the picture and making the Doctor's life happen? Or is the Doctor himself playing with predestination as he so often has in this incarnation? After all, he'd have his own number and could slip it to... I really wanna say Sally Sparrow, but I can't imagine her selling laptops. Why is this necessary and how is it possible? Well, in a universe where time can be rewritten, the Doctor could have eventually found her, perhaps too late, and decided to force a meeting earlier by going back in time and leaving his number. Or it could all be Fate again. After all, he MUST meet her because if he doesn't he can't have met her echoes, so the TARDIS may be solving paradoxes and rerouting calls from across time. In which case, the shop clerk isn't important and the number, used by anyone else, would actually reach some IT guy.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: In a prequel scene included on the DVD, the Doctor meets a young girl on a swing set and tells her how he's not finding the woman he's looking for. Obviously, this is young Clara, he just doesn't realize it. Moffat continues his streak of having the Doctor meet people when they are children (Amy, Melody/River, Reinette, Kazdan, Lorna Bucket, etc.).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Like a lot of companion introductions, the plot is almost secondary, and in this case, it's actually Clara's third episode. So while it's a lot of fun, it doesn't strike me as a must-see piece of the canon.


Bill Doughty said...

Fluff to be sure, but my favorite episode of the entire half-season. Though I wonder how much of that is due to the scene where Clara and the Doctor run from the house to the TARDIS, which jumps up to the plane, and then they go from the back of the plane to the cockpit, and in all of this Clara never once spills her tea. That was a fun sequence.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Clara's mysterious shop number-giver (and a hearty eye roll to the people who insist it MUST be Rose, because it's a female working in a shop. Ironclad logic, fellows.) remains a nagging mystery. I was kind of surprised we didn't get that in the massive infodump that was Time of the Doctor... but I suspect, like little Amelia sitting on the suitcase in Eleventh Hour, it is a loose end that probably won't be tied up until her departure episode.

I did love the plane bit, and the general fun of the overall episode. As you said, not a must-see, but very fun.

Wish the crossfade between TARDIS exterior and interior as the go through the archway in the plane scene was smoothed better, though- it could've been a seamless transition with a little mrophing or bette rmatching, but instead it's noticeably crude and unfinished.


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