Doctor Who: The Bells of Saint John (7.2.1)

The Bells of Saint John

The Bells of St. John

Gay go up and gay go down
To Ring the Bells of London Town
“Oranges and Lemons” say the Bells of St. Clements
“Bullseyes and Targets” say the Bells of St. Margaret’s
“Brickbats and Tiles” say the Bells of St. Giles
“Halfpence and Farthings” say the Bells of St. Martin’s
“Pancakes and Fritters” say the Bells of St. Peter’s
“Two Sticks and an Apple” say the Bells of Whitechapel
“Maids in white aprons”say the Bells at St. Katherine’s
“Pokers and Tongs” say the Bells of St. John’s
“Kettles and Pans” say the Bells of St. Anne’s
“Old Father Baldpate” say the slow Bells of Aldgate
“You owe me Ten Shillings” say the Bells of St. Helen’s
“When will you Pay me?” say the Bells of Old Bailey
“When I grow Rich” say the Bells of Shoreditch
“Pray when will that be?” say the Bells of Stepney
“I do not know” say the Great Bell of Bow
Gay go up and gay go down
To Ring the Bells of London Town

– Nursery Rhyme

First you should see the prequel to Clara’s proper introduction to the series.

It sets the scene for the main episode. The Doctor is holed up in a 13th century monastery, apparently prompted by young Clara’s suggestion that he go off somewhere quiet for a think, to help him find his lost friend. It all ties in with the image of the bells, which directly link the episode to London through the old nursery rhyme. The conceit is also effectively used as the windows of the houses chime alight to represent the captured minds being activated later in the episode.

I’m a little disappointed and not quite sure why. It has the wonderful Clara, who I have been waiting for since The Snowmen, her previous, inconclusive encounter with the Doctor. And it’s stuffed to the gills with brilliant Moffat inventions and allusions.

We have London in general, and the Shard in particular, showcased in a piece of mega product placement, along with a classic Triumph motorbike. The action sequences have a Bondian feeling, with the Doctor riding up the sheer face of the Shard to confront the soul-stealers in their office. There’s a nod to Amy in her novel, Summer Falls, and a spoonface is created out of the creepy little girl on the cover. Clara even refers to the Doctor’s regenerations in her comment on the chapters – “Eleven’s  the best. You’ll cry your eyes out.”

The idea of the Great Intelligence hoovering up the minds of internet users through their wifi connection is utterly contemporary, and not so far from the truth. I particularly liked Clara’s take on it – “Isn’t that basically Twitter?” This reflects Moffat’s animus against Twitter in real life. There’s also an ironic appreciation by Celia Imrie’s boss lady of the Great Intelligence’s love for his stolen minds, ending in “No-one loves cattle more than Burger King.”

Entertaining as all this is, the threat-of-world-domination plot is slight and the Great Intelligence easily vanquished. The real business of the episode is the bonding of the Doctor with Clara. No smooth sailing here, what with Clara being a little skittish about this strange man who so obviously wants her to run away with him. Quite rightly, she won’t get into a cramped police box, even in the face of danger. Nor will she fly off in the Doctor’s “snog box” when all is explained. But she’s attracted, and the flirting is very enjoyable. You can’t blame her, really, given that the Doctor comes across as a bit of a stalker. He even changes his clothes for a smoother image, which I don’t entirely approve of. That tweed jacket was a classic look.

So we’re left with the Doctor essentially told that Clara’s washing her hair that night, but he’s welcome to try again tomorrow. And off he goes to ponder her mystery: “Right then, Clara Oswald, time to find out who you are.”

I think my reservations spring from there being so much good stuff jammed together in this episode that it was hard to get a handle on it. I can understand why Moffat wanted to knock our socks off, including a revamped opening sequence and music, plus a Tardis that looks like Changing Rooms was given a free hand in the make-over. But it comes across as an extremely entertaining dog’s breakfast.

Presumably things will settle down and get a bit deeper as the relationship between the Doctor and Clara develops.