Ten Things About Who: The Bells of Saint John

This post has been edited, tidied up and expanded to form part of my new ebook, TEN THINGS ABOUT WHO, available on Kindle. Buy it now for £1.99More details

For new visitors: rather than episode reviews of Doctor Who, I pick ten points for discussion based on the episode. Enjoy – and if you agree or disagree, leave a comment!

1. The Bells of Saint John are…

…A device to keep the Doctor at arm’s length for a while – and as an episode title, to be engimatic by mentioning something which has nothing to do with the main plot of the episode.

Or does it? The “bells” bring the Doctor and Clara back in contact with each other again, and that is the whole point of the episode, after all.

2. The woman in the shop

Dangling thread alert. Just who was it that gave Clara the Doctor’s phone number? Has Martha dumped Mickey and started working at PC World?

And who gets an internet support number from a shop anyway?

These questions (well, maybe just the first one) may turn out to be important. At least we’re not being belted over the head with these sort of clues this time. It may come to naught, of course, but I think that both this and Strax’s mysterious rescusitator may have further roles to play…

3. Back to the bells…

The last time the phone in the police box – the one that shouldn’t ring – got in contact with the Doctor was in Series One’s The Empty Child, the author one Mister S. Moffat. As in this week’s episode, the Doctor is perplexed when the phone starts ringing.

Which makes you wonder why, when the whole Tardis console room got reconfigured before the Christmas episode, he didn’t notice that there was now a big white box attached to the back of the exterior door, just big enough to hold a telephone…

4. “11’s the best. You’ll cry your eyes out.”

Miaow, Mister Moffat. I’ve seen Sensorites with smaller heads.

Still, nice to see “Amelia Williams” writing children’s books from her home in the past. I guess there weren’t so many opportunities for “pretending to be a model but being quite bad at it” as there were in the present day…

5. The Shard is eeeevil, I tell you

My former work colleague Sophie, who left last year, had something of a phobia about the Shard. She was convinced that it was some form of ultra-tall Dalek hybrid, that would upon completion unleash itself from its London Bridge base and run amok across London.

She moved to Cardiff. To get away from Doctor Who monsters.

Yes, I know.

But back to the Shard, and its inauguration ceremony in July last year saw a laser light show connect the capital’s newest, tallest building with the city’s other skyscrapers. Or at least it ought to have done, had the weather not got in the way.

At the time, I commented that the show sounded like the opening to a Doctor Who episode. In retrospect, having plans defeated by a change in the weather would be a completely Doctor-ish solution, too. Here’s how it was supposed to look:

In one way, it’s disappointing that the Shard ended up being utilised in a manner that any other building in London could have done. Nothing about Miss Kizlet’s base of operations suggested that it needed to be on the 65th floor of London’s tallest building.

6. Real locations FTW

All too often when shooting in familiar locations, you find that filming locations and post-production editing result in characters moving impossible distances in a ridiculous space of time or by impossible routes. In this episode, for example, the motorbike trip from the Southbank to a rooftop café next to Saint Paul’s Cathedral heads in completely the wrong direction, past the Houses of Parliament and under Admiralty Arch. You could be generous and suggest it’s the “scenic route”.

One nice little point, though – the Doctor’s brief pause in his trip to The Shard was actually filmed at the western end of St. Thomas Street, which runs past the base of the building. Not that any traffic can get through at the moment – ongoing construction work related to the redevelopment of London Bridge station means that the road will be closed to through traffic until at least 2018. Unless you have antigrav, of course.

But seriously, that little exchange could have been filmed anywhere. Placing it in a real approach road to the Shard is a nice little touch.

7. Any time after 7?

Actually, the Doctor’s right: a time machine means that you don’t have to conform to rigid times so precisely any more. Doctor Who’s audience has taken to timeshifting with iPlayer far more than many other TV series have. So, while at Christmas its early start time meant that its transmission overnight ratings weren’t as high as the programmes that followed it, by the time recorded repeats were factored into the consolidated reports, it was one of the most watched programmes on Christmas Day.

With The Voice only really getting a second series because BBC1’s original format purchase necessitated one, Doctor Who is likely to get higher ‘live’ ratings than the show that follows it in the BBC1 schedule. But that’s to its benefit, too – because ITV’s 7pm offering, Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, has been amazingly strong this year. How different from the revived series’ first year, when the ITV duo’s competition sunk without trace after a resounding beating from Eccleston & Piper. Mind you, it being “Celebrity Wrestling” might have had something to do with it…

(Since I started writing this, it’s been announced that Doctor Who got a creditable 6.2 million in overnights, The Voice got slightly more but was trounced by Saturday Night Takeaway. For more on this and other ratings-related analysis, it’s always worth following Doctor Who Magazine editor Tom Spilsbury on Twitter, and reading his thoughtful analyses within the pages of DWM.)

8. There’s something in the Wi-Fi

We’re surrounded by all sorts of radio waves all the time, be they natural or artificial. The concept that these could be used to capture a person’s essence was, of course, the conceit behind Mark Gatiss’ The Idiot’s Lantern, with the 1953 explosion in television viewing the focus for Maureen Lipman’s attempt to enslave humanity.

With more and more of us keeping our information synced to the cloud, there’s huge scope for someone – or something – to inveigle themselves into our lives by hijacking Wifi connections. As we now know, some of the means by which Google collected Street View photography was also collecting base station SSIDs to complement GPS positioning for mobile devices – but the tools they were using also captured internet traffic, which may have included emails and passwords.

I’ve no reason to believe that data capture was intentional or malicious – but what if it had been? And think about the next time you’re out and about with your Wifi-capable phone and see a network called “BT Openzone”. How do you know it’s actually owned and operated by BT? How do you know that’s it not a fake base station, with DNS servers set up to present you with authentic-looking log in forms for various services to which you freely surrender your precious passwords?

9. An enemy with intelligence

When Celia Imrie’s Miss Kizlet talks about “the client” in such reverent tones, it was clear that she would have to be working with someone that we would already know had a vested interest in the Doctor. There just wouldn’t be enough time to establish a serious new enemy (not that that has necessarily stopped writers in the past).

And so the Great Intelligence, seen in The Snowmen, is back. And now, for some reason, looking like Professor Simeon and no longer sounding like Gandalf (not that I’m complaining – it’s good to see Richard E Grant back in whatever shape or form). In a way, it’s a shame that his role was accidentally leaked.

Clearly the Intelligence has a larger role to play here. Is he behind Clara’s multiple identities?

10. Clara Who?

We like Jenna-Louise. Jenna-Louise can stay. It’ll be interesting to see if her computer hacking skills stay around – although the Oswin we saw in Asylum of the Daleks had the same lightning fast hacking abilities, so it would suggest so.

I do like the way her relationship with Matt Smith’s Doctor is working out, too. Yes, it’s overly flirty, but at the same time you get the impression that if it ever went further, they would both freak out. I’ve got friends like that. Wouldn’t change them for the world, love them to bits – but while you tease each other with crossing the line, you know that actually doing so would mean the death of the friendship.

That doesn’t stop you wanting to do anything for them. And, if you had a powerful ship that could go anywhere in space and time, you’d want to travel with them.

You could go anywhere. But next Saturday, you’d both be watching BBC1. I mean, where else am I going to be?

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.

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