The Bells of Saint John

Prequel: The Doctor is sad on a swing, and his misery is compounded when a little girl comes along and calls him old. At least he’s sad about Clara now, rather than Amy and Rory, but I’m a bit bored of the Doctor being angsty all the time. After a good old chat with the little girl, which sets up the Doctor becoming a monk at the start of the episode proper, it’s revealed that she is in fact Clara Oswald. Or at least a Clara Oswald, it’s hard to tell.

So it’s back to Series 7, even though this totally feels like a series opener, and wi-fi is evil now. It seems like quite an obvious and uninspiring hook; it would have been a fresh new technology in the first few new series, but not by 2013. Although seemingly Clara was a little behind the curve, given that she doesn’t know how to type in a password. The first thing we learn about the mysterious companion is that she’s shit with computers.

In fairness, this turns out to be a plot point, as she’s later given l33t hacking skillz by Celia Imrie and her shadowy organisation. The stuff with her controlling her employees’ personalities was an interesting concept, but they could have done much more with it; instead, the bulk of the plot unfolded via the medium of 90s-style hacking montages, complete with flailing fingers and strings of meaningless on-screen text.

There are no monsters as such, other than the big spinny spoons who scoop people into the cloud through some unexplained means. Rather than feeling like the whole world was at stake, it was very much focussed on the threat to one individual – you assume the Doctor wants to rescue everyone who’s been magicked into the internet, but he’s only taking a proactive interest in preventing it happening to Clara.

This is of course understandable considering the Doctor’s already seen her killed twice, and it’s good to tell a different type of story, but it was lacking in scares and stakes. A few action set-pieces tried to fill the gaps, but while it was cool to see the Doctor wrestling control of a jumbo jet, all the dicking about on a moped only slowed things down. Him driving it up the side of the Shard was let down by two things: it was mostly portrayed through reaction shots in order to save on effects work, and it turned out it wasn’t even the Doctor doing it.

You can usually get away with all of the above in a companion’s introductory episode – the story often takes a back seat while we meet the new girl – but I don’t feel that this job was done satisfactorily either. You don’t learn nearly as much about Clara as you do with Rose, Martha, Donna or Amy in their first stories; I don’t mean the mystery element to her, but just who she is, how she interacts with people, what’s important to her. All we know is that she works as a nanny and she wants to travel. This is an area that was much improved throughout her stay, but there’s not much to Clara at this stage, and the two previous versions of her probably made better first impressions.

It threatened to get good at the end, with a fleeting glimpse of Richard E Grant to reveal that TGI was behind all of this, and Celia Imrie’s character being regressed into a little girl. It’s a shame that this was skimmed over, as I wanted to know what became of her and the rest of the staff. Instead, we get the Doctor inviting Clara to travel with him… and she turns him down. It’s such an anti-climax to see the Doctor still on his own after all that – I said something similar when I watched the McGann movie, the companion joining gives you the emotional climax to the episode, and without it, it falls very flat indeed.

RATING: 6

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