Jarring series naming conventions aside (Series 7 part 2 hardly rolls off the tongue), the resurgence of Matt Smith as Doctor Who on the box is always a time of excitement, but will this short injection of episodes prove its worth.
The ball began rolling with ‘The Bells of Saint John’, one of Steven Moffat’s more quirkily-named episodes. The story itself begins back in the 1200s as the Doctor ponders the meaning of Clara Oswin Oswald, “the woman twice dead”.
Oswald, played by young newcomer and guaranteed ‘tween’ pin-up Jenna-Louise Coleman, is the latest conundrum the Doctor can’t quite work out. Like River Song before her, the Doctor is left with more questions after every meeting, having run into her first in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ and then again in last year’s Christmas special, but as two different people from two different time periods and locations – and yet they have a lot of common similarities.
The phrase ‘Run you clever boy’ seems to be the recurring theme for this half of the series, along with discovering Oswald’s identity. Luckily this is an exciting prospect as Coleman creates such a likeable character instantly.
The story uses another clever reflection on modern society in focusing on wi-fi, on of the most prolific technologies across the globe.The most ironic way to watch the episode is through BBC iPlayer at a particularly busy time of day, forcing the video to buffer now and again when you least expect it, somehow it really adds to the unnerving side of the experience.
This plus using The Shard as a setting gives the story a really topical feel. In an attempt to remain spoiler-free we won’t go into the details, but needless to say when the Doctor is around it means trouble.
The episode has the right ingredients but doesn’t quite match the drama of previous opener, ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, not least because of the strength of the villain. The point Moffat is trying to make with this particular yarn is a strong one, but it is unfortunate that the visual style of the ‘monster’ of the episode borrows heavily from another Moffat story, ‘Silence in the Library’.
That said, there is plenty of fun to be had, with some excellent one-liners from the Doctor and bags of character from Coleman at every turn. As usual the sense of foreboding is there, with the audience constantly wondering what tiny detail will carry through this series, and equally one eye on the show’s past with self-references to make even relatively new fans smile. Also the Doctor has a new coat, its purple, and despite the look of the Shard poster (see above) it doesn’t really give him the Willy Wonka look some feared.
In all a strong start, and a memorable one, but not the strongest opener the series has seen. Certainly a step up from Christmas though (which ironically had the better monster but the worse story), and a solid base to grow the series from. Just a shame there’s so few episodes to look forward to.
James Michael Parry