It’s been a long, timey-wimey road, but here we are. After dying twice, Clara Oswald has finally come to stay. Perhaps because of how complicated a path this storyline has taken, show-runner Steven Moffat kept Saturday’s ‘Doctor Who’ episode, called ‘The Bells of St. John’, rather low key. However, while it doesn’t have much action, the episode provides plenty of good times and character setup.
Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman), mysteriously alive again after her two past deaths, is living in London in 2013 as a nanny. Trying to get her internet working, she calls a number given to her by a woman in a shop (River Song? Sally Sparrow?), and reaches the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith), currently in exile in 1206. The Doctor realizes who’s on the other end and races off in the TARDIS to find Clara, but not before she accidentally connects to an open Wi-Fi network that puts her in grave danger. The Doctor reaches her just in time, but can he save her from an ever-present menace that seems to be in the very air around them?
The story about a predatory organization that hunts people through Wi-Fi isn’t terribly interesting. Instead, the strength of ‘The Bells of St. John’ is in the interplay between Clara and the Doctor. Following the events of 2012’s Christmas special, ‘The Snowmen’, the Doctor has become obsessed with the enigmatic Clara, whom he also encountered as a Dalek in the season opener, ‘Asylum of the Daleks’. When he finds her, his elation is perfectly matched by her incredulousness. Jenna-Louise Coleman is a great foil for Matt Smith, still exhibiting that trademark Moffat wit but with a softer edge than the often caustic Amy Pond.
Speaking of Amy Pond, she gets a little shout-out here. The book Clara loves is written by one “Amelia Williams,” the married name of Amy Pond. The book is one she wrote following the events of ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’. The episode is littered with references to previous moments in Smith’s tenure, from a fez that he pulls out of a chest to a ride past Big Ben (where a previous Clara claimed to have been born). Even the ultimate villain is one we’ve seen before, although I won’t be so cruel as to spoil exactly what.
The resolution of the episode comes about a little too neatly, though it involves the Doctor driving an anti-grav motorcycle up the side of the Shard of London Bridge, which is pretty darned cool. Even better is a scene where the Doctor pilots the TARDIS onto a plane during flight. But again, the story isn’t the focus here. The characters are. Because of that, ‘The Bells of St. John’ feels more comfortable in its skin than all of the first half of the season. Let’s hope that Ms. Oswald brings out the best in our beloved Doctor, because she’s doing a good job so far.
A note about the numbering for the rest of this season: Because this season has been split in twain by the powers that be at the BBC, the 2012 Christmas special appeared in the middle of the season, and directly affected the events of this episode. Normally, an episode like that would be a regular episode of the season, but as it was labeled a “special,” many consider it outside the season numbering. Given that ‘The Snowmen’ appeared mid-season and is not wholly standalone, I’m going to include it as Episode 6, which is why ‘The Bells of St. John’ is listed as episode 7.07.