Doctor Who: Series 7
“The Bells of Saint John”
Aired: March 30, 2013
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Colm McCarthy
“You don’t run out on the people you care about. I wish I was more like that.”
– The Doctor
As those of you who read the article I posted on Friday already know, Steven Moffat recently gave some insight into Clara and The Doctor’s dynamic.
“The Doctor is always the remote, inaccessible, mysterious one and the companion is always the fluffy, friendly one – well, Amy tested that theory from time to time,” Moffat said, “where at this time Clara is the slightly difficult to get to know one that is probably going to be slightly difficult to hug and because The Doctor is haunted by her and met her twice before, he is slightly the needy one. So I like throwing in that around, she’s the unsolvable mystery in the enigma and he’s the one chasing after her. It’s a reversal of the normal Doctor-companion dynamic, which I’ve been rather enjoying.”
The last companion we’ve seen who wasn’t head over heels for The Doctor was Donna Noble, who was played brilliantly by Catherine Tate during the Russel T. Davies era of the show. But the difference between The Doctor’s relationship with Donna and The Doctor’s relationship with Clara is that The Doctor needs to win Clara over to convince her to go with him. With Donna, he had a playful sibling-like adversarial dynamic. With Clara, he’s drawn to her because fate keeps putting her in his path and he keeps watching her die, but to this version of Clara, he is a stranger who seems a little too infatuated with her. She’s too skeptical and confused to want to step inside his “snog box” and travel the universe with him. So he ends up overcompensating, which comes across like a desperate kid shouting “Look at this” to his mom.
I really enjoyed the dynamic, though I imagine it won’t last long. While I think Clara will continue to challenge The Doctor and throw witty banter his way, I imagine she will eventually let her guard down and become as infatuated with him as most companions seem to. But I will certainly enjoy this dynamic while it lasts, especially if it results in more things like The Doctor leaving plates of cookies out for her (with a bite taken out of one) and accidentally inventing the quadracycle.
The episode itself was enjoyable, but not spectacular. The idea of a group of people using Wi-Fi to abduct unsuspecting citizens was a clever one. And I like a lot of the individual pieces – like the slide bars Ms. Kizlet had to control her underlings and pretty much everything involving the Spoonheads. But this episode didn’t quite have the same excitement of something like the episode the kicked off the first half of this season – “Asylum of the Daleks.” I was entertained by “The Bells of Saint John,” but I feel like I’m unlikely to remember most of it a few weeks from now. Also, a lot of it (The Doctor having a stand-in of himself, creepy repetition from characters, technology turning on people) felt like retreads of things we’ve already seen Moffat do before.
Still, I’m excited to have Doctor Who back in my life and I’m definitely exited to see what Steven Moffat has up his sleeve to explain the “twice dead” Clara Oswald.
Speaking of that …
Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff
It’s still too early to try and figure out where Moffat is headed with Clara’s backstory, but this episode does clear up a few things about the way this works. There seem to be similarities between the Claras, both personality-wise and in the way their lives turned out (for example: the Victorian Clara and the modern-day one both ended up looking after children in households where the mother died). But even with their shared personality quirks, shared histories and shared catchphrase (“Run you clever boy and remember”), they don’t seem to have a shared consciousness. This Clara has no clue that she has met The Doctor before and has no awareness of her other lives.
It’s also beginning to look like all of this may have something to do with the Great Intelligence. The Great Intelligence is a disembodied version of H.P. Lovecraft’s Yog-Sothoth, who previously had had the corporeal form of a mass of tentacles and mouths. Because it has no physical form, the Great Intelligence looks to inhabit other lifeforms. The character first appeared in the episode “The Abominable Snowmen” back in 1967. It hadn’t been seen on Doctor Who in 44 years, but Steven Moffat brought the Great Intelligence back in the 2012 Christmas special “The Snowmen.” It was the thing that was being held in the giant snow globe in Dr. Simeon’s house.
So the Great Intelligence was there for the second appearance of Clara Oswald and it had a hand in her death. We see the Great Intelligence return this week as the unseen force that is using Miss Kizlet and everyone else working at The Shard to suck people’s consciousness into the cloud. The Great Intelligence even uses Dr. Simeon’s face as its own when appearing on the TV screen to talk to Miss Kizlet.
So what does the Great Intelligence have to do with Clara? Right now, I have no clue. But it is a disembodied god-like creature that can take over humans and snowmen and other beings. So it could easily have a hand in Clara’s repeated existence – somehow creating her physical body over and over again and inhabiting it with the same consciousness each time (even though that consciousness has no recollection of the previous Claras). Or, if the Great Intelligence isn’t responsible for the reincarnated Claras, it could still become fascinated with her as it looks for a way to get itself a physical form.
There’s another wrinkle to this story that may be important as well. When the Bells of Saint John ring and The Doctor gets the tech support call from Clara, she says she got his number from a woman in a shop. Who was this woman and how does she have The Doctor’s number? The smart money would be on it being River Song, but who knows? I’m guessing whoever it is will be revealed somewhere down the line and may turn out to be important.
And another thing …
- The Great Intelligence wasn’t the only piece of the Doctor Who mythos we saw pop up this week. We also saw the return of UNIT (UNified Intelligence Taskforce), a United Nations-backed group first introduced in 1968.
- The book that Clara was so fond of that the Spoonheads pulled the image of the little girl from the cover to trick her was Summer Falls by Amelia Williams. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because that is Amelia Pond’s married name (even though we all know that, unofficially, Rory took her name). So Amy is spending her time displaced in New York writing popular fiction.
- Steven Moffat love of having characters say “Doctor who?” continues this week as The Doctor gets Clara to repeat it several times upon their first face-to-face chat.
- Speaking of Moffat, unlike Davies, he has never seemed very interested in letting us get to know the people in the companions’ lives outside of The Doctor. Amy’s parents were brought back into existence at the end of season five and we briefly spent some time with Rory’s dad last season, but we never got to know them the way we did Rose’s mom or Donna Noble’s father during the Davies era. So I wonder if the Maitland family, with whom Clara is staying and serving as “governess,” will get much screen time going forward or if they will be forgotten too.
- Finally, I already snuck in a plug for it at the top of the page, but if you haven’t read my article about Steven Moffat yet, make sure to check it out.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his recaps, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.