Doctor Who begins the back half of its seventh season on BBC American with “The Bells of Saint John.” The Doctor (Matt Smith), hiding away as a monk in the early 13th Century, gets a phone call from Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), who thinks he’s tech support. But when he rushes to her side in modern day England, he discovers her Wi-Fi problems are only just beginning.
It’s interesting that The Doctor is living in seclusion among monks. Recently, we see he’s spent a long time alone before he encounters Clara for the second time, and when she dies again, he sets off to find her. One would think that he would still be out looking for her, not locking himself away.
The web-released prequel, in which the Doctor talks to a child in a park, explains this. He has been looking, but unable to locate her, decides to see if she’ll bump into him, as she has in the past. This idea makes sense, and perhaps the Doctor isolates himself because that is how she found him before. It’s a bit of a stretch, but given the eccentric way his mind works, this makes sense.
It also makes for a great opening, to see monks confused by a ringing police box in an era well before phones are invented. The Doctor is often in odd locales, and while this isn’t the first scene of “The Bells of Saint John,” it is certainly the first that makes me sit up and pay attention.
Clara doesn’t remember the Doctor, but why should she? They knew each other in a different lifetime. She is hesitant around the Doctor at first, but quickly warms up. This demonstrates the instant and deep connection they have with one another, as the Doctor does with every companion, and proves she belongs traveling by his side.
That’s not the only thing interesting about her, though. We still don’t know how she can exist in different places and times, definitely with different memories, not just the same person traveling from place to place. Whether it is souffles or minding children, there are connecting threads, and while “The Bells of Saint John” doesn’t get around to exploring who Clara is yet, that surely will be part of the story going forward.
At first, I was disappointed that this arc is mostly set aside this week, having been waiting since Christmas for some piece of the Clara puzzle. However, though we’ve seen her with the Doctor before, this is the first time this Clara meets him. As such, they need time to get acquainted, at least on her end, before the mystery of what she is can be explored.
There are plenty of magical moments between the Doctor and Clara, which set up a wonderful pairing of the two. We see the Doctor tenderly set up flowers and cookies by her beside, she jokingly refers to the TARDIS as a “snogging booth,” and they seem to have fun both on a crashing plane and while sitting around drinking coffee. Right away, Clara is established as a worthy character, and she jumps into the series, immediately establishing her role better than some have before her.
I do wonder if there is some connection between Clara and Amy, the Doctor’s previous fellow journeyer. In “The Snowmen,” Clara somehow knows that the word ‘Pond,’ Amy’s last name, will get the Doctor’s attention. In this episode, Clara’s charge is reading a book by Amelia Williams, Amy’s full first name and her husband’s last name. Have we not seen the last of Amy and Rory, lost in New York City after being touched by an Angel? Are they using Clara to call out for help? Because that would be really cool!
The foe that Clara and the Doctor go up against is Miss Kizlet (Celia Imrie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), who is enslaving mankind through their Wi-Fi networks and capturing souls. She tries for Clara’s, but, in the end, the Doctor traps Miss Kizlet, as well, and convinces her to release her prisoners.
This is a sort-of interesting villain, playing on something so prevalent in modern society. The best of the recent Doctor Who monsters are things that seem real and could attack us now. From the Angel status to this internet-based group, these are creepy because they’re all around us.
However, “The Bells of Saint John” kicks it up a notch by showing viewers, but not the Doctor or Clara, that the Great Intelligence (Richard E. Grant) is actually behind this latest invasion. We just saw him in the Christmas special, and Who aficionados will know that the powerful mind attacked Earth in the interim, as portrayed back in the 1960s’ fifth season. So apparently we have a new Big Bad, who will plague our hero throughout this year, at minimum.
“The Bells of Saint John” may not be a huge, splashy episode of Doctor Who, as at least half of this season’s entries so far have been, but it’s a nice, solid adventure that showcases well the chemistry between our two new leads. I look forward to the next installment.
Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 8 p.m. ET on BBC America.