After three months, Doctor Who has now returned for its Season 7.5 premiere, where new companion Clara is “officially” introduced. And to help kick off a new era, Steven Moffat brings “The Bells of Saint John”, a sci-fi take on the world of WiFi.
After hiding away in solitary, the Doctor is called back into action by a familiar voice (Clara) asking for help with her computer. As the Doctor begins to celebrate his new find, the threat living in the signal attempts to collect Clara for their own, forcing the Doctor to make quick decisions to save her life. With the threat still chasing after Clara, the only way the Doctor can save the day is by using his enemy’s powers against them.
Much like Moffat’s most beloved episodes “Blink” and “Silence in the Library”, “The Bells of Saint John” attempts to take an over-looked element from society and make it a threat by putting a sci-fi twist on it. Largely successful in its execution, Moffat’s take on humanity’s connectivity does introduce some new and truly compelling – though not actually terrifying – story elements worthy of a revisiting. However, much like the season 7 premiere, “Asylum of the Daleks”, it appears the want to create big spectacle, this time for its official introduction of the new companion (and part 2 premiere), has once again eclipsed its compelling plot – though in this case that’s not entirely a bad thing.
Although this is the third time that audiences have been introduced to some iteration of Clara (or Oswin), viewers have yet to see the Doctor spend quality time with the version of the person he’ll be traveling with. And that, essentially, is what the season 7.5 premiere does, albeit forcefully. For the majority of the episode, it’s enjoyable to watch the Doctor flex his powers, show his strength and seduce the girl he’s been searching for with his little snog box. That is, of course, until the plot of the story gets in the way everything.
As if the whole WiFi tale was but an annoyance to these two star-crossed travelers, the actual plot of the story is largely glossed over, instead used as “the other thing” the Doctor is doing, rather than spending time with Clara. In fact, when it comes down to defeating this episode's threat, the Doctor chose to make use of the underutilized “Spoonheads” to remotely make waste of his foe. A brilliantly ingenious triumph for the Doctor, sure – but the ending, like much of the story, makes minimal use of the actual plot.
Still, watching the Doctor spend time with Clara was enjoyable and, if anything, it helps ease Doctor Who through the dreaded companion transition (where longtime fans of the series need time to warm up to the new addition). That being said, the previous two "Clara" episodes had already helped introduce audiences to Clara’s enthusiastic and adventurous demeanor – which may have some questioning why so much time was spent on the Doctor and Clara together in this episode. After all, watching a new companion experience life with the Doctor (and all the real dangers that comes with it) is what helps endear them to the fans in the first place.
For all intents and purposes, the Doctor Who season 7.5 premiere is an enjoyable return for one of television’s greatest, now with new companion in tow. Although the episode never truly makes use of its imaginative plot, the time spent with Clara and the Doctor is enjoyable enough to see the potential of some wonderful adventures (and interactions) with these two together.
With Moffat now focused on the new companion, it’s only a matter a time before Clara’s mystery takes center stage, allowing fans to truly see what her character is about. And even though it does feel like the series needs to wind itself up again for its return, there’s really no doubt that some wonderfully crafted stories will be on their way. Of course, like most things, we'll will have to wait and see.
Doctor Who returns next Saturday with “The Rings of Akhaten” @8pm on BBC America