Review: DOCTOR WHO S7E07, THE BELLS OF SAINT JOHN (Or, Yet Another Introduction To Clara Oswald)
It's difficult to pretend that being introduced to the Doctor's new companion on three different occasions isn't overkill on Steven Moffat's part. The first time was a genuine surprise, the second was magical and fun, but at this point it's getting a little tiresome. Jenna-Louise Coleman makes for a very watchable presence, and her liveliness is really all that keeps this from being even more frustrating. "The Bells of Saint John" is a frantically paced reintroduction to the world of Doctor Who; it tries to do just a bit too much and while parts of it are effective, it ends up being a little disappointing.
We find the Doctor residing in Cumbria in 1207, posing as a monk. He stares at a painting of Clara, hoping to somehow work out who she is. Meanwhile, in present day London, people who unsuspectingly select dodgy Wi-Fi networks find that their minds are uploaded and stolen, leaving their physical bodies dead. When Clara calls customer service because her internet connection is down, she ends up speaking to the Doctor. He realises who she is and heads over to London to try to help her.
So begins the third occasion on which we as viewers meet Clara. Of course, she doesn't remember the Doctor from their previous encounter (it's not even clear if she is the same person) and she's appropriately confused by his presence. Annoyingly, though, the two of them both rattle through their dialogue at a speed that is far too quick for most to keep track of. While I'm used to the Matt Smith doing this, he and Coleman together can often be too much. Doctor Who would benefit greatly by just controlling this a little. Aside from that, though, the two of them have got great chemistry and manage to make some of the episode's duller points more engaging.
The central plot and villain to this episode are both very disappointing. It all plays out very much as expected and there's a lack of tension to proceedings. I applaud the show for attempting to explore our reliance on the internet and considering the dangers of the web. However, Doctor Who is not Black Mirror. While it continually shows that it loves technobabble, it doesn't convincingly sell its story here or make us really believe that there is a threat at all. It all feels like something we've seen before, and that's probably because previous episodes have already dealt with similar material.
Visually, this is the show at its best. It really does make the most of its London setting, using the Shard as a key location and filming many other scenes in the city. We can also see Moffat's love for ambitious visual effects on display, as the Doctor saves a plane from a potential crash and drives up the side of the Shard in an anti-gravity motorcycle. Annoyingly, though, almost everything that I enjoy in this episode is ruined by Murray Gold's score, something that is becoming increasingly obtrusive.
Perhaps I am being a tad harsh. Sure, it isn't destined to be a classic, but "The Bells of Saint John" certainly isn't an atrocious episode of the show and it does provide a decent reintroduction to the characters while giving us a new dynamic that promises to be very enjoyable. Certain lines and quips are very entertaining, and while the plot seems like a bit of an afterthought, it isn't so poor that it drags the whole episode down.
As for Clara, I really do hope her story doesn't dominate what's left of this series. She's interesting, but the writers have done very little to develop her personality beyond "quick-witted" and "sassy" so far. A little mystery goes a long way but too much will be irksome. I admit that I'm intrigued by this enigmatic companion but I don't believe that she alone is interesting enough to sustain the series. I'm sure Moffat has got some satisfying answers to the mystery, I just hope that, as the series progresses, he is able to focus on the other things that count too.