“Doctor Who” is back and Clara Oswald is finally here to stay (at least as long as any companion is ever here to stay on “Doctor Who”).
The midseason premiere episode “The Bells of Saint John” faced the tricky task of introducing Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara a third time — following her debut as Oswin in “Asylum of the Daleks” and return as Clara in “The Snowmen.” And Coleman still seems like a perfect fit for the role, but the hour couldn’t help but suffer in comparison to those two more engaging, bigger canvas stories.
The central plot of “The Bells of Saint John” was a bit of a misfire despite an intriguing premise (“Suppose there was something living in the wi-fi harvesting human minds”) and a couple of reliably delightful action set pieces (the Doctor landing the TARDIS aboard a crashing plane and waking up the pilots; and riding the motorcycle up the side of London skyscraper The Shard — the kind of stunt Tom Cruise would kill for).
It was never quite clear how this wi-fi body snatching worked or what the purpose was, and the “Spoonhead” monsters were rather forgettable. Fortunately, the hour worked a lot better as an excuse to send the Doctor and Clara on an adventure, convince Clara that hanging out with this guy might be fun, and drop a few clues (or maybe red herrings) about what exactly is going on with “the woman twice dead.”
Matt Smith has terrific chemistry with Coleman, and it’s a fun change of pace to see a character who is a bit skeptical of the Doctor. I think it’s easy for many Whovians to imagine jumping at the chance to take a trip in the TARDIS, but those without any previous knowledge of the Doctor might not be so easily seduced. And that’s the fun of the Doctor/Clara relationship — at least for now. He’s desperate to uncover the mystery of who she is, and why he keeps running into her. He’s the one who needs to convince her to come along, instead of the typical companion eager to convince the Doctor she’s up to the task.
And then there were the tantalizing clues (Clara telling the Doctor she got his number from a woman in a shop and not recognizing the name “Oswin”; the numbers 16 and 23 missing from the ages the Doctor sees in Clara’s book of 101 Places to See) and wink-wink references (the author of the book Clara’s charge was reading? Amelia Williams — that’s Amy Pond, if you forgot her formal married name) that provided enough subtle pleasures to make up for the faulty main story.
Also, the final reveal of guest star Richard E. Grant as The Great Intelligence (the faceless terror behind the events of “The Snowmen,” in which Grant played Dr. Simeon) suggested we may have found our Big Bad for the Doctor and Clara to defeat.
What did you think of “The Bells of Saint John” and — with all due respect to the Ponds — are you already sold on Coleman as the new companion?