Doctor Who Series 7 Episode 7 Review: The Bells of Saint John

The Bells of St John Doctor Who

Directed by Colm McCarthy 

Written by Steven Moffat

Starring Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman 

New year, new companion, new TARDIS. The Doctor is back yet again for the second half of Doctor Who Series 7. Matt Smith returns as the eleventh incarnation of the Time Lord, and this time he’s got a brand new companion in the form of Clara Oswald, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman.

We’ve been given signs of their chemistry onscreen together in a couple of episodes already, including the most recent Christmas special, but this is the first “real” Doctor/Companion storyline, The Bells of Saint John.

The episode serves as the introduction of Clara Oswald, a person in the universe the Doctor deems “impossible”, having come across her in some way, shape, or form a couple of times before across time and space. With the most recent threat to humanity in motion, the nomadic Doctor finally pinpoints Clara, the person he’s been searching for, and travels to finally meet her. It is there where the two get acquainted and share their first adventure to save the day.

And the antagonists in this episode serve to strike close to home: A mysterious organisation that uses Wi-Fi internet connections to effectively hack human beings and bend them to their will and to serve their master.

Writer and Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat has been able to create great villains and great fear from common elements before, such as statues and shadows, but in this case, it is not as effective. It is actually a little bit weak overall for the first episode of Doctor Who’s return, as other series premieres from the show are usually very funny, epic or clever. The Bells of Saint John leaves you wanting more, but it doesn’t give you much to begin with.

There are a few jokes and references that hit, but others seem to miss or even be a little too dated (Clara makes a Twitter joke that works, but another character makes reference to Bebo of all things). Thankfully the comic relief is best when it’s between the Doctor and Clara. Smith and Coleman definitely have a great chemistry, and that’s definitely an ongoing factor to watch develop and be shown on the screen. 

Coleman is definitely an addition that will sure grow on audiences, her character a mystery that could prove to be quite enigmatic until all the pieces come together. She definitely has a distinct character forming around her, a comedic and flirtatious foil who has 101 places to travel and finally has the means to do so through the Doctor and his TARDIS.

Smith continues to be a fantastic Doctor, effectively using space and props in such an eccentric way. He definitely has fun playing the character, and that sheer sense of childish glee about the world that can switch to the most dangerous and intelligent being in the universe continues to be brilliant.

A problem that still remains with some of these recent Doctor Who episodes is that if the episode doesn’t involve a well-established villain such as the Daleks or the Weeping Angels, there just isn’t enough development to make them really villainous. The idea of Wi-Fi taking people over has a good basis, but the motivation behind it all feels rather lacking. Nearer the end of the episode things are revealed a little further, but it’s a turn too late in the game. 

Another element to note is that the music in the episode is really good. It certainly accents every scene effectively, and one can be sure that the soundtrack of Doctor Who never fails to impress.

There are definitely more exciting episodes out there this series yet to come, but it’s a little disappointing that this premiere came off a little lacklustre. Between the episode concept giving a payoff that leaves much to be desired, there’s a feeling that the episode could have been more epic and funny, and the sheer fact it just didn’t have enough heart drags it all down a little.

Thankfully it wasn’t a complete loss however, thanks to mainly Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman establishing rather swiftly and efficiently that they are a pairing to watch. By all means, the Doctor and Clara are going to have some great adventures together in the coming weeks, and they are going to go far and wide, back and forth through time and space, it’s just a shame that it stumbled a little from the starting blocks.

Here’s hoping that the only way is up this series, especially with the build-up to the 50th Anniversary episode, and especially because David Tennant and Billie Piper are confirmed to return for that. It’s going to be a great year; and hopefully this is just a little teething trouble.

The Bells of Saint John premiered on BBC One on Saturday 30th March 2013. It is available on BBC iPlayer, and Doctor Who will return next Saturday 6th April 2013 with ‘The Rings of Akhaten’.

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