Watching The Doctor

dr-who-the-bells-of-st-john-posterOn Saturday, March 30, Doctor Who returned to the airwaves for the second half of Series Seven.  Let me start off by saying that for all intents and purposes this REALLY should be the eighth series, but whatever.  The first episode of the spring set, “The Bells of Saint John”, was everything that I’ve come to expect from a Steven Moffat-penned episode.  Unfortunately, that’s not saying very much positive.

I have nothing against Mr. Moffat personally, but I have found his run on Doctor Who to be mildly confusing, extremely ambitious and yet unable to deliver on its rather lofty goals.  “The Bells of Saint John” is a prime example.

The premise of the episode (that someone is using the Wi-Fi to do harm to the human race) follows in the best traditions of monsters like the Autons (living plastic creatures who use shop-window dummies to try to take over the world) or the Weeping Angels (statues that are actually alive and zap you back in time when you’re not looking): the monsters take everyday objects and make them very frightening, though they don’t really hold up under intense scrutiny.  On its own, the idea of “something” being in the Wi-Fi, out to get you, is actually quite original and disturbing.  Unfortunately, this idea is being implemented by morons and the good guys are chock full of insanely good fortune.

00305-710x400The episode begins with the Doctor in the 1200s as a monk, contemplating the mystery of Clara Oswin Oswald, who he met and watched die for the second time in “The Snowmen”.  I’ve got to say that having spent so much time alone before “The Snowmen” and vowing to put his solitude to an end, the idea that he then put himself back into solitude seemed rather bizarre.  The TARDIS phone rings.  On the other end: Clara Oswald having trouble with the Internet.

Evidently she got the Doctor’s number from a woman in the shop who said he was the best help line around.  This could mean that River is involved somewhere, which would be interesting to be sure.  On the other hand, how would River know that this particular set of events would transpire and that Clara would just so happen to call the Doctor at this particular moment, before she gets sucked into the Wi-Fi?  Pretty clever or just incredibly lucky?

250px-Spoonhead-as-girlEither way, the Doctor goes to meet Clara in his monk’s robes and is instantly rebuffed as a quack (and why wouldn’t he be?).  So off he goes to change, leaving Clara to get sucked into the Wi-Fi by this week’s “monster”… the “spoonhead”.  The “spoonhead” is a portable Wi-Fi station that can suck a person’s consciousness into a master network of souls (if you will) and control people using Wi-Fi.  Again, this is the scary bit.  The rest is just odd.

In the TARDIS, we learn that the Doctor wears a clip-on bow tie, which is actually disappointing, though not a major plot point, so I will continue.  He saves Clara from being completely absorbed and vows to keep her safe.  As she sleeps, the Doctor (who at this point is almost acting like a stalker) goes through her things and discovers her book of 101 places to visit.  It’s a diary that she seems to have kept for many years, chronicling all the places she wants to visit.  In the first page there is a leaf which, given the Doctor’s strange reaction to its taste (yes he licked it), I am sure will come back again in the future.

doctor-who-the-bells-of-saint-john-ratingsClara awakens to find the Doctor sitting guard, playing around with the now defunct spoonhead.  And here we are given another extremely convenient plot device.  Because Clara seemingly knew nothing about computers before (she called the Doctor to ask how to sign onto the Wi-Fi) and now she happens to make a frankly lame joke about Twitter, she must be a computer genius now!  This is the leap of logic that the Doctor makes!  I know a whole bunch of people who can’t configure their Wi-Fi but who tweet all the time.  This is hardly a rational connection on his part, but as it turns out, he’s right.  When Clara was uploading, she was given some extra computer knowledge.

Doctor Who - Series 7BTo get back at the Doctor, our evil masterminds decide to throw an airplane at the Doctor and Clara.  Literally.  Is this overkill?  Meh.  The Doctor and Clara board the TARDIS and materialize aboard the plane, running through the quickest “it’s bigger on the inside” banter that Doctor Who has ever had in its 50 years.  Saving the plane from crashing, the two carry out one of the more clever gambits that the Doctor has pulled lately.  The idea?  Skip to the next morning.  The villains have been searching for them all night whereas the Doctor gets a fresh start on a new day.  Not bad.  In addition, the Doctor spouts one of his more clever lines: in answer to one of Clara’s myriad questions, he responds with, “I can’t tell the future, I just work there.”  Cute.

Clara uses her new computer skills to discover where the bad guys are by hacking their webcams and using facial recognition software to find their Facebook/Twitter pages, where they all listed where they work.  As asinine as it is for a nefarious organization to be listed as people’s place of employment on social networks, a later development will make this even more strange.

One thing that Mr. Moffat is trying to impress upon us, though, is that Clara is clever.  Between her ability come up with this admittedly complex plan to track down the bad guys and her ability to keep up with some incredible Tracey/Hepburn-like banter with the Doctor, you can tell that she will be a truly fun companion to watch.  It should also make her hopefully eventual meeting with River a lot of fun as that Clara is definitely as flirtatious as River is.

Doctor_Who_The_Bells_of_Saint_John_review___Steven_Moffat_at_his_confident__playful_best_As Clara exercises her hacking skills, the Doctor goes out for coffee and meets head villainess Miss Kizlet in one of the creepier scenes played in a while.  Kizlet controls everyone in the coffee shop, using them as puppets to communicate with the Doctor via Wi-Fi.  Of all the aspects of how Wi-Fi is used for villainy in this episode, this is probably the most frightening to me.  Imagine that you could control anyone in range of Wi-Fi… at this point is there anyone in the civilized world who would not be controlled?

The Doctor checks in on Clara to make sure she is OK and Clara comes up with her own nickname in one of the lamer ways you could imagine.  Earlier in the episode, Clara made it clear to the Doctor that her name (unlike her previous incarnation) is Clara Oswald.  No Oswin.  Now that she’s a rockin’ hacker, she makes a brilliant hacking move and declares “Clara Oswald for the win!  Os-win!”  Are you kidding?  This is beginning to seem rather forced to me and not as amusing as one would believe if they wrote a line like that.

As the Doctor goes back to talk to Kizlet, Clara’s mind is taken properly now by a spoonhead disguised as the Doctor.  It’s around this point that I find myself asking if Kizlet is galactically stupid.  She saw the Doctor and Clara get into the TARDIS and save the plane.  She saw the Doctor save Clara the first time, which should have been impossible.  At what point would you think that perhaps messing with this guy is a bad idea?  Again, she’s either galactically stupid or waaay too confident.  As it turns out, she is the latter which, in my humble opinion, makes her the former.

bells-of-saint-john-celia-imrie-2-570x320The Doctor, using Clara’s hacked info, races to bad guy HQ to confront Kizlet.  As the two square off, Kizlet says that she can’t free Clara without releasing everyone she’s taken and she won’t do that.  The Doctor says he’s going to motivate her and reveals his admittedly brilliant plan!  As it turns out, it wasn’t the Doctor at all who went to Kizlet’s office but, in fact, the spoonhead disguised as the Doctor!  The Doctor has been controlling it and uses it to download Kizlet.  Hoist on her own petard, Kizlet orders her lackeys to free everyone, thus freeing Clara in the process.  The Doctor has won!  But I have a question… wasn’t it incredibly convenient that the good folks at Evil HQ didn’t realize that they no longer had control of the Doctor spoonhead?  At this point, it’s getting  hard to keep up with our plot holes, so let’s move on.

the-bells-of-saint-john-review-8As UNIT shows up to clean up the mess, Kizlet communicates her apologies to her boss.  In a “thank God” moment (for me, anyway) her “client” is revealed to be the Great Intelligence (hinted at in “The Snowmen”) played by Richard E. Grant.  I only say “thank God” because I wasn’t particularly pleased with Mr. Grant’s turn in “The Snowmen” and thought he deserved so much more.  I’m glad he’ll be getting the chance to flex his muscle on the show.

To keep things under wraps, the Great Intelligence orders a factory reset at Evil HQ which essentially erases everyone’s memories of their work with the organization.  Unfortunately, this is where I have another problem.  It’s revealed that the personalities of the minions (since being controlled) are actually quite different from where they originally were.  So all this control and yet these people could still do social networking on Twitter and Facebook?  Did their friends and family not notice serious changes in their personalities over time?

And so the episode, mercifully, comes to an end with Clara saying she’s not going to travel with the Doctor, but to ask again tomorrow because she might say yes.  I am already in love with Clara, and I have to heap full praise onto Jenna-Louise Coleman, because I am already worried about what Mr. Moffat’s stewardship is going to do to her.  I hope to God that we have heard the last of “run you clever boy and remember,” because its use in this episode was so badly shoehorned in that I can’t even mention it here without wanting to vomit just a little in my mouth.

As we start our slow ramping process towards the 50th anniversary celebration later this year, I have to say we’re off to a rather ominous start.  I hope for better moving forward, but am worried that Mr. Moffat’s track record speaks woefully for itself.  On the plus side, this week’s casting news for the 50th anniversary special had me grinning from ear-to-ear, so I guess there is still some hope after all!