Doctor Who Review: The Bells of Saint John

New series, new companion, new big bad? We know the ingredients, but what flavour are they this year?

Cast and Crew

Matt Smith as The Doctor
Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara
Manpreet Bachu as Nabile
Sean Knopp as Paul
James Greene as The Abbott
Eve De Leon Allen as Angie
Kassius Carey Johnson as Artie
Geff Francis as George
Celia Imrie as Miss Kizlet
Robert Whitelock as Mahler
Dan Li as Alexei
Daniella Eames as Little Girl
Antony Edridge as Pilot
Fred Pearson as Barista
Jade Anouka as Waitress
Matthew Earley as Man with Chips
Isabella Blake-Thomas as Child Reading Comic
Richard E Grant as The Great Intelligence

Written by Steven Moffatt

Produced by Denise Paul

Directed by Colm McCarthy

Series Produced by Marcus Wilson

Originally shown on the 30th of March 2013


In London, a mysterious organisation are abducting consciousnesses via their wifi networks, while in the year 1207 the Doctor is freaking out some monks and looking for Clara.

High Points

  • “A few hours ago you knew nothing about the Internet, and you just made a joke about Twitter.”
  • “Is it a snogging booth?”
  • “No one loves cattle more than Burger King.”

Low Points

  • Why do the sinister organisations always set up shop in the most famous building around? It did let him show off the motorbike though.


Originality: It was a bit reminiscent of The Idiot’s Lantern with the alien that lived in the TV signals, but an early twenty-first century twist on it, and the reasons behind everything were rather different. Four out of six.

Effects: There are some lovely graphics over the opening, and some excellent bits of nonsense code floating around elsewhere. Oh, and people without the backs of their heads on. A bit more effort on the plane would’ve been nice. Four out six.

Story: This is going to lead to more stories I’m sure, but it’s satisfactorily self-contained. There were a couple of nice little twists on the way, and the ending was, well, you should watch it and find out. It didn’t always go as one might have anticipated. Five out of six.

Acting: We know that Coleman and Smith can both handle these parts, and they do with a certain amount of relish. Special mention for Celia Imrie as an excellent evil executive. Five out of six.

Emotional Response: A good fun game of cats and mice in physical and online worlds with about the right amount of sinister scary bits thrown in. It is a family show after all. Five out of six.

Production: A story like this inevitably shows many shots of computer screens. The imaginary UI for this episode is actually marginally plausible although rather heavy on the transparent backgrounds. I also rather liked the blueish ambiance in the evil HQ, and the latest iteration of the theme music deserves a mention. This time they’ve ditched the strings and given us the iconic Doctor Who rhythm in a wonderful synth bass. Five out of six.

Overall: I wonder how many wifi passwords are rycbr123 after this. I enjoyed it, despite its technical implausibility. This is not our world, after all. Five out of six.

In total, The Bells of Saint John receives thirty-three out of forty-two.

12 replies on “Doctor Who Review: The Bells of Saint John”

  1. A fun episode, though I thought there was a lot of missed potential.

    I liked the rather dark implications when the Doctor restored the Intelligence’s crew to factory settings.

    And yeah, I still miss the days when romance (or hints thereof) only occurred between companions. I like my Doctors alien.

    • Really?
      As a teen watching Tom Baker and Sarah Jane Smith and Leela, my imagination took me where the show never did.. but there were always hints.. :)

      I was thrilled when “romance” blossomed and was teased at by Sarah Jane when she met Rose.

      • I’m certain that certain fans have always done this, and the show now has more of those fans, so, who am I to argue? Still, I never got that sense. Leela ends up with someone else, and the Sarah Jane thing is a retcon of the current show. Oh, I think she was drawn to him; I just never felt he responded in a sexual way to, what is after all, a member of a different species, a “terrestrial monkey,” to borrow a phrase Larry Niven used in a similar context.

        Of course, The Doctor has a granddaughter (though the show reveals nothing of Time Lord sexuality or reproduction) and she ends up falling for a human, so I suppose it has always been implied.

  2. I’m still freaking out over the book.

    It’s called “Summer Falls,” when “the fall of the eleventh” was something foreshadowed at the end of series six. It’s written by Amelia Williams! Chapter 10 is great, but chapter 11 is terribly sad and makes you cry. I don’t believe any of this is coincidence.

  3. Also, it seems odd the Intelligence’s spoonheads could be hacked without anyone knowing. I suppose we go with (1) it wasn’t expecting anyone to be able to hack them so didn’t bother with security and (2) it’s the Doctor.

  4. My high-point was the whole “I invented the quadracycle!” bit.

    There is one thing they got dead right on this, and if you’ve read my complaints about the tech bit on Arrow you’ll understand why I liked it – when Clara is ‘hacking’ into the bad guys’ network, she says “It’s never the security, it’s the people” (or something like that). That is 100% correct.

    Course if you’re already at a level where you can gain access to webcams (which WHY ARE THERE WEBCAMS ANYWAY) you pretty much don’t NEED social engineering, but that’s besides the point (:

    • The Doctor was into the lower level security (lets say “guest account”) but not into any data that might have helped him (no server access). Clara just used that to activate the web cam (Which you probably could do if you signed into a guest account) on the PCs she’d remotely connected to, and took a picture, then used those pictures with the facial recognition software we all have on our laptops to connect to the very public profiles everyone has listing where people work…

      • I really don’t think you can get access to the webcams on every single machine using a guest account… let alone that if the IT people actually left a guest account enabled they deserve to be eaten by Daleks. I don’t care that Daleks don’t have mouths, that just makes it hurt more.

        It’s not a big deal, I mean it’s a TV show, and her initial statement was totally accurate. In fact barring the whole webcam thing, her method was plausible, too.

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