Danger! Warning! Doctor Who is back with new episodes, and it will nom up your soul with the mystery of Clara and the Doctor’s obsessions and — oh, no, wait. It’s that WiFi is everywhere, and if you click on a funky-lettered connection, you’re going to get sucked in by aliens! That too!
Poor Nabile sells the episode’s opening with his admonition about people foolish enough to steal someone else’s WiFi and pay their souls for it.
But then it’s off to cyber-limbo for him as he, like the other pilfered folk, appears as a talking-head image on a giant wall, saying, “I don’t know where I am.” It’s a bit Idiot’s Lantern, true, sucking in people’s essences through a screen, but I think we were due another Fear of Technology ep, yes?
Nabile, it’s not just you who doesn’t know where you are! Because we might as well be in an episode of Sherlock for all the scrolling words and symbols onscreen at the start, am I right?
But wait! Flipping to Cumbria, 1207, takes us definitively back to Doctor Who territory. When the Bells of Saint John ring (in a fun reference to the TARDIS’s sign, “St. John’s Ambulance”, and perhaps also to the Doctor’s favorite pseudonym, John Smith), nearby monks scurry to alert the “mad monk” that the future has finally phoned.
Apparently, rather than making excellent cheese or creating gorgeous illuminated manuscripts, this order’s based on wake-up calls for the Doctor. Eleven spends his time wrapped up in a cowl and painting Clara, the “woman twice dead”: he’s “drawn to a place of peace and solitude that he might divine her meaning.” Well. Those are some awfully understanding monks, because that sounds hella-blasphemous.
Back to the present, not-dead!Clara nannies on a day-to-day basis for the Maitlands and cannot figure out how to internet! Were her parents Luddites? Has she been kept in a crate? One of the kids reads Summer Falls by Amelia Williams (hai there Amy Pond, apparently a YA author in your post-Doctor life!). Clara, learning he’s on chapter ten, enthuses “Eleven is the best. You’ll cry your eyes out!” *rolls around in the lovely meta*
Back in 1207 Cumbria, picking up the ringing TARDIS phone, the Doctor’s connected to present-day Clara who “can’t find the internet” (seriously, she went to a special screen-less school or something) and who got the “best help line in the universe[‘s]” number from a woman in a shop. After grumping, the Doctor starts help-desking and advises Clara to click WiFi networks. Oh noes, the funky otherworldly letters! Clara immediately clicks them like crazy, because she’s drawn to alien trouble, baby.
The Maitland’s network password is RYCBAR123 — Run, You Clever Boy, and Remember is their mnemonic (and of course quotes from past-life Claras). Realizing just who’s on the horn, the Doctor rushes to her as Clara’s image appears on that big ol’ screen of internet-captured lost souls.
Meanwhile, at malevolent soul-scooping headquarters, Alexei has a positive lock on Clara and splices in a “computer skills package”. He next activates a “spoonhead” to get Clara while the operation’s second-in-command, Mahler, objects they’re uploading too many people too quickly. Hey, “preserving living minds in permanent form in the datacard” is like immortality, their boss Miss Kizlet corrects Mahler, adjusting poor Mahler’s “paranoia” level on her worker-hacking tablet (and deciding she’ll have Alexei killed when he’s back from his holiday, because “let’s not be unreasonable”). Man, I totally want to adjust everyone’s Conscience, Paranoia, Obedience, and IQ levels like Miss K. can remotely! I mean, I don’t, because that would be wrong!
After knocking up Clara, the Doctor fails to impress her in his monk garb and goofy Doctorliness. Banished outside, he tries to convince her he’s the help-desk guy who happened to be in the neighborhood “on my mobile phone”, a “surprisingly accurate description!” of the TARDIS. But too late, because a little girl from the cover of Summer Falls arrives, echoing Clara’s questions as answers in a very Great Intelligence-like way before turning her shiny spoon-like back of her head to suck up Clara’s soul-data.
Oblivious to this humanity-scooping, the Doctor heads to the TARDIS because “monks are not cool” (poor monks, after working so hard on his wake-up call). Dressed with new jacket, fez, and specially-preserved bow-tie, he returns de-monked to find Clara dead and her voice echoing “I don’t know where I am!” But screw you, office of sponsored spirit-stealing! With quick-witted coding, the Doctor reverses Kizlet’s download of Clara and reveals the spoonhead as a base station android, “hoovering up data, hovering up people.”
“Under my protection,” reads the Doctor’s hacker-message to Kizlet & Co. — Kizlet rushes to speak alone to “the client” to tell him “the one you told me about,” the Doctor, is here. At the Maitlands’, the Doctor sets up unconscious Clara with some jammy dodgers (he’s practically a spokesperson for that biscuit), flowers, and water, before discovering her childhood book 101 Places to See, marked with Clara’s ages from 10-24 and marked at the start with a maple leaf.
When Clara wakes, the Doctor’s outside keeping watch, taking messages, and handling chores, including inventing “the quadracycle!” in the garage. It’s a bit magical-children’s-adventure, a bit Romeo and Juliet, as she talks to our Peter-Pan-like Doctor from her attic window stroke balcony before joining him for a cup of tea and an explanation of how humanity is in serious peril.
People are “living in a WiFi soup,” the Doctor explains, vulnerable to something extracting souls, making them trapped like flies, crying out for help. “Isn’t that basically Twitter?” Clara asks (aww, refs to Steven Moffat’s Twitter-deletion!). Say, if brought-up-in-a-box Clara’s making Twitter jokes, she probably “brought something extra back” from her time in the GI-datacard (thank you for finally explaining how Oswin/Clara was so freaking tech-savvy in her first appearance).
When the Doctor and Clara spot lurking spoonheads and see lights turned on and off by WiFi controlled neighbors, he orders her in the TARDIS. She refuses to hop inside his “snogging booth” and sniffs “there’s such a thing as too keen,” but when a WiFi-less unlit commercial plane nosedives at them, Clara hustles inside, somehow never spilling her mug of tea throughout. They dock/open into the plane (much like attaching to Captain Jack’s craft), finding the passengers and pilots “switched off” by the WiFi before saving all and sundry with a bit of Doctorly chutzpah.
While Kizlet and her minions work to “find that box!” the Doctor and Clara skip straight to breakfast (the benefits of a time machine “you never have to wait for breakfast!” Okay, who now needs a TARDIS more than ever? *raises hand then orders waffles*). After pretending the TARDIS appearance is a magic trick and taking a collection by (a lucky kid gets the fez after), the Doctor and Clara hop on a motorbike the Doctor nabbed from the TARDIS’s garage.
Wow, this is SO like The Idiot’s Lantern with mod!Ten and mod!Rose and their motorbike! Quick, give the Doctor a tower to climb and disable!
Asked why they don’t just zip-over with the TARDIS, the Doctor explains he never takes the TARDIS into battle (yay, the TARDIS has a garage! yay, Nine reference!). Alas, Kizlet spots them (“I do love London. So many cameras,” she sighs as Alexei hacks camera screens), first cruising through London whilst wearing awesome goggles, next as they head to a rooftop café where Clara has sensibly swapped her un-spill-able mug of tea for a milkshake with breakfast (I love a beverage-focused character, truly).
“I can’t tell the future, I just work there,” the Doctor says irritably when he can’t get past Kizlet’s security on his laptop. But tech-enhanced Clara brushes past his petulance and his questions about why she’s wasting her time as a nanny (Doctor, children are the future), commandeering the laptop herself. She lectures him it’s “never about security, it’s about people”, starting her humanizing-the-Doctor role with a ha-cha-cha wit and a sassy Google-fu that would do any Tumblr-dwelling Netizen proud.
The Doctor keeps slipping, almost referencing Clara’s previous nanny-ing experience in Victorian times; he covers by telling her she should be doing “young things” instead of caring for children (his segue from a modified Twist to a Stayin’ Alive gesture is perfectly what-your-grandpa-thinks-is-young stuff). “Pop off and get us a coffee,” Clara dismisses him. The Doctor’s delight in sniffing at the various pastries is disrupted when it seems Kizlet can possess humans with her WiFi tech, “using whatever is to hand.”
Clara portmanteau’s herself, declaring “Clara Oswald for the win — Oswin!” while the Doctor’s forced to watch Kizlet show off as she talks through the café patrons and the news reader on television; the thousands she’s released back to the world are drawn to WiFi “like rats seeking cheese”. Meanwhile, outside Kizlet’s office, the minions’ webcams have gone funny — they’re all on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, and like a bunch of dorks, they’ve all posted where they work: The Shard.
As soon as Clara pinpoints The Shard, the Doctor returns — but it’s spoonhead Doctor, echoing Clara’s questions in that Great Intelligence style before sucking her up. This time she’s fully integrated and can’t be reverse-downloaded, but an unaware Doctor hops on his bike he rode in the Anti-Grav Olympics of 2074 to pish-posh one of Kizlet’s borrowed people on the street and then to ride straight up the outside of the Shard and into Kizlet’s office (which, really, is kinda like climbing a tower). Okay, quick, choose: the ability to skip straight to breakfast, OR an anti-grav motorbike: *dithers*
Because Clara can’t be separated from the datacloud, the Doctor demands Kizlet release everyone. Those with bodies to return to would live, and at least the ones without would be freed from the “I don’t know where I am,” cyber-hell.
The Doctor’s armed with motivation — he’s actually sent his spoonhead version in his place while he sips coffee back at the café, and scoops up Kizlet quick as you like! “Put me back, that is an order!” Kizlet shrieks from her tiny screen in the wall; though Mahler first refuses, the Doctor hacks his “Obedience” level until he complies.
Clara wakes at the café (so she’s died two more times this ep alone? That can’t be good for anybody), while U.N.I.T. takes control at The Shard. “I appear to have failed you, Great Intelligence,” Kizlet apologizes to the image of Walter Simeon. The GI responds with surprising equanimity, saying it is “time to reduce”. Kizlet, overcome, hits “Restore Factory Settings”, reversing all Shard workers to their original personalities and returning to her own former guise as a frightened child.
Back nanny-ing at the Maitlands, Clara spots the TARDIS, saying, “So he comes back, does he?” as she enters to find the Doctor reading. Even though it turns out she delayed her plans to travel the world when the Maitland children lost their mother, Clara can still pursue those 101 Places to See — the Doctor reminds her with a time machine, “you can run away all you like and still be home in time for tea.”
Okay, Clara skipping through time and space while consistently returning “home” to the Maitlands? Cripes, how much would I love seeing them become regulars/acting as Clara’s family? *hopes* The very brief glimpses we get of them were lovely — they’re not clingy-attached like the kids in The Snowman who find her perfect, but very real kids adjusting to their mom’s death and reacting warily to Clara’s easy affections.
Plus, this particular episode has been pretty good at using chromatic casting — Nabile, the Maitlands, Alexei, as well as a good portion of extras are actors of color. But let’s have actors of color back in regularly recurring roles, please, DW. Sadly, I don’t think most viewers or critics expect that right now — a possible explanation for how impossible it was to find good caps of the Maitlands online.
Offered all of time and space as the Doctor’s companion, Clara, impressively, balks and laughs. “Does this work, what you do?” she asks. He crooks his finger “and people just jump in your snog box?” It’s a nice little spanner in the works of the typical fairy-tale escape from the mundane to the fantastic — Clara isn’t totally convinced she should head off with the magical man just yet. She tells him to “come back tomorrow and ask me again; I might say yes.”
Before Clara departs, there’s one last question — what was the leaf in her childhood book doing there? “That wasn’t a leaf; that was page one,” she tells the Doctor before leaving the TARDIS. “Right then, Clara Oswald,” the Doctor murmurs as he starts the TARDIS console, intrigued more than ever. “Time to find out who you are.”
Whoo-wee-ahooo-aphthoooh! Hooray to be back on the new DW train again! I like Clara much more in this guise than in her inexplicable tech-savant version or her practically-perfect Mary Poppins-ish Victorian governess-cum-barmaid adaptation. But seeing as how she has a proclivity for dropping like a fly, and how we’re told that Eleven will make you cry your eyes out, I think there’s angst up ahead. Join me next time, won’t you, for more of our Doctor getting to know his sassy new companion?