Doctor Who's 50th years kicks off with the concluding half of series 7 (which was frustratingly put on hiatus since late-September, not including the excellent Christmas Special). Unusually, "The Bells of Saint John" was an introductory episode for a new companion, who's already been seen in two incarnations beforehand--as futuristic omelette-maker Oswin in "Asylum of the Daleks" and Victorian governess Clara in "The Snowmen".
Here, Clara's (Jenna-Louise Coleman) properly introduced in her present-day form, given another of showrunner Steven Moffat's Harry Potter-style nicknames ('The Girl Twice Dead'), but oblivious to her former adventures with The Doctor (Matt Smith). She's essentially another River Song-style intellectual puzzle for The Doctor to solve, which will most likely have a convoluted and only half-satisfying explanation come the finale. Still, at least Clara's a spirited and smart-talking companion--similar to Amy, but far less reverential of The Doctor, and more intelligent (although her computer skills come courtesy of a plot contortion, not through education). Moffat does seem to have some boneheaded ideas about women's roles--so Amy the kissogram and would-be perfume model has been replaced by a sexy nanny? I suppose that's progress, of sorts...
"The Bells of St John" was typically fast-paced and full of Moffat's sparkling dialogue and vivid action sequences. It was also a rather thin remake of Mark Gatiss's awful third series episode "The Idiot's Lantern", only with WiFi replacing television. Moffat even recycled the visual of The Doctor and his companion on an old-fashioned motorcycle.
But it was enjoyable, which is the main thing, even if the story was difficult to get a grasp of. Logic tends to take a back-seat with Moffat episodes, or else he uses the excuse that only children are mentally equipped to follow along (which makes little sense to me). This episode concerned a Russell T. Davies-era villainess called Miss Kislet (Celia Imrie), operating out of The Shard with a team of IT techies she can emotionally manipulate via a tablet computer. Together they were working for an alien intelligence harvesting human minds via the planet's WiFi. If you were unlucky enough to access a cryptic WiFi domain, a "Spoonhead" would be dispatched to your location (a robot able to camouflage itself using something from your subconscious), which would then upload you to Kislet's data cloud.
While the story was a little hard to follow at times, like many episodes the performances kept you engaged. Smith's just fantastic in the role these days, and in Coleman it seems like they've found someone who's his equal in many ways. They already have excellent chemistry together and it should be a pleasure watching them have adventures, but I hope Moffat remembers to avoid the traps he fell into with River Song--who started off as a similarly mesmerising character, but slowly became pretty tedious once her core mystery started to overshadow her personality. I can understand why Moffat (a terrifically imaginative writer) enjoys knitting mysteries together, but there are times when I find myself pining for the simplicity of an everyday human companion whose selling point is their personality.
As with most Moffat episodes, "The Bells of Saint John" was overflowing with material to distract you from most shortcomings--although I had to question the weirdness of The Doctor living as a monk in 1207 A.D to think over the Clara Oswald mystery from Christmas. But there were also some excellent moments here; such as a surprisingly well-staged action sequence with The Doctor tearing up the side of The Shard building in an anti-gravity motorbike. For such an ambitious idea, it was remarkably well put together and didn't look at all silly. I also enjoyed the clever twist when the identity of Miss Kislet's boss was revealed to be The Great Intelligence from the Christmas Special (now wearing Richard E. Grant's face), which suggests this will be series 7's recurring villain.
Overall, "The Bells of Saint John" was a very entertaining episode with lots to savour, but there are definite signs Moffat's bag of tricks are running out. The basic idea was a rehash of a previous adventure, and I'm not sure Clara is sufficiently different to previous nu-Who companions (being almost an amalgam of Rose, Amy and River). Fortunately, Moffat's writing is so beautifully acrobatic and irresistibly joyous that you can let many complaints rest, because who wants to be a killjoy when you've got Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman trading quips and cheeky banter about "snog boxes"?
Roll on the next episode!
- What do you make of that book, Summer Falls by Amelia Williams? Just a cute nod that Amy Pond became a successful author in the past, or will it contain some vital information for The Doctor or Clara to read?
- And what about the leaf in Clara's book, 101 Places to See? She mentioned it was "page 1", but what did she mean exactly? Is a dead leaf a clue to her nature as someone who's seemingly being reborn throughout time? The aforementioned Amy Williams book Summer Falls perhaps alludes to autumn, which is when leaves fall from deciduous trees. A clue?