SPOILERS AHEAD. SPOILERS, I SAY! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Doctor Who Series 7 returned to televisions worldwide on March 30th with the invigoratingly flashy midseries premiere “The Bells of Saint John.” With all the hype leading up to it, however, some disappointment was inevitable. This episode was tasked with introducing Clara Oswald yet again, this time as the Doctor’s 21st century to-be companion. (For those who are unfamiliar with the mythos surrounding Clara, the Doctor has met different versions of her across different times.) “The Bells of Saint John” also promised a riveting adventure and strong story to boot.
The central plot itself foundered somewhat when it was asked to support the forgettable monsters known as the “Spoonheads” as well as fail to explain why “The Great Intelligence” (played by Richard E. Grant) wanted people’s souls all of a sudden when snowmen seemed to entertain it just fine only a few hundred years prior. Viewers never learn how the soul-snatching actually works – there isn’t even a pseudo-science explanation delivered hastily by the Doctor. Plus, the plot and story structure both seem like reiterations of “The Idiot’s Lantern,” and why on earth did Miss Kizlet want Clara to have computer skills if her sudden awesome hacking prowess ended up being the mysterious corporation’s downfall? (By the way, Celia Imrie was wonderful as Miss Kizlet. When UNIT is cleaning up the scene after all of the Spoonhead controllers have been wiped, and she looks up and asks for her parents…I wanted to cry and laugh at the same time.)
Despite the plot holes, the episode was a fun romp around London with the Doctor, and included several action scenes that make Mission: Impossible look positively retro (namely, landing the TARDIS on a plane and driving an anti-gravity motorbike up the Shard). Viewers got a taste of the chemistry between Jenna Louise-Coleman and Matt Smith – the two play off each other very well. I’m looking forward to learning more about how Clara reacts to problems presented to her, because in this episode she spent a lot of her time following the Doctor around and drinking tea in this strange new world…though I liked the fact that she took charge hacking the people controlling the Spoonheads, unbelievable as it was. She didn’t spend the entire episode going “Aliens? What? How? Why?” She rolled with the punches, exchanged witty banter with the Doctor (I do hope that she takes on some of her previous feistiness), and stayed ahead of the game. Though that may have been the time travel.
Brief interlude for moment of clarity: at the beginning of the episode, once the date has been established as 1207 and the location as Cumbria, a monk goes up to the Doctor as he ponders a painting of Clara and informs him that “the bells of Saint John are ringing,” after which we see the Doctor picking up the TARDIS phone. I pondered this for a while – what on earth were the bells of Saint John? – and finally realized: the sticker on the TARDIS door reads “St. John Ambulance,” and the TARDIS phone was ringing. The bells of Saint John. There you have it, for those of you who, like me, were at first puzzled by this.
I appreciated the nod to Sherlock – computer code superimposed over the picture – enjoyed Clara’s invention of an Internet username far too much (“Clara Oswald for the win…Oswin!”), and was once again amazed by Matt Smith’s ability to jump between silly and serious in a heartbeat. The new intro sequence is phantasmagorical, with the obligatory cheeseball effect of the TARDIS doors opening onto the scene immediately afterwards. There were some easter eggs revealed
(appropriate, given the time of year) and some questions raised: the book Summer Falls was written by Amelia Williams; the years 16 and 23 that were missing in Clara’s “101 Places” book; the return of “run you clever boy…and remember” which may just be the new “hello, sweetie;” the mysterious woman from the shop who gave Clara the Doctor’s number, telling her it was “the best help line in the Universe” (and if this woman is not River Song, I’ll eat my fez).
All in all, “The Bells of Saint John” is a good, solid episode with a few gaps in reasoning that were quickly overshadowed by the Clara-Doctor dynamic and the spectacular imagery.
Below is a teaser trailer for the next episode, “The Rings of Akhaten,” which will air on April 6th. Plus, here is the link to my previous post regarding BBC’s trailer-happy approach to the return of Series 7.