Danger. The first uttered word of the long awaited Spring premiere of Doctor Who is still hanging in the air during the eerie new opening title sequence. Before even catching a glimpse of the Doctor, we are hoisted into, literally, a world of trouble as a mysterious wi-fi server seems to be killing all those who try to connect.
Straight from the get-go, we catch up with Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) in the present day as a nanny to the children of some family friends. She has no backstory, setup, or memory of the Timelord (Matt Smith). In fact, she stumbles on both him and trouble as she dials a computer help line to connect to the internet. Recognizing her almost straight away (and having been waiting for her call in seclusion as a monk in the year 1201), the Doctor arrives at her doorstep overcome with joy and the new companion is re-introduced.
With the gift of the ability to pen everyday circumstances into something extraordinary, Steven Moffat sets most of this episode in real London, dragging the bounds of time and space back to Earth a bit. “The Bells of Saint John” is a character driven episode where we really get a feel for Clara and her relationship with the Doctor. Unlike past companions, her disposition is less that of surprise and wonder and more rational and useful. Right away, we are aware that Clara knows what she is doing and speaks to the Doctor on his own level.
The episode is packed with subtle references to Clara/Oswin's past and future lives, none of which she is aware of. In fact, most Doctor Who fans might be put off by the lack of Clara backstory in this long awaited continuation of the seventh series. In a world of instant gratification, asking people to stay along for the ride and wait to uncover answers seems daunting. However, it is interesting that Clara is just as much a mystery to the all-knowing Doctor as she is to audiences. Her character story embodies the notion that there is a force out there conspiring to keep throwing two souls together. It is really just as appealing as it is frustrating.
We are also treated to a welcome return of Richard E. Grant as the “client” controlling the evil wi-fi sending hallow minions to “upload” human souls. Could he have a possible connection to Clara? Oh, and what of the unknown identity of the shop woman who gave Clara the number to reach the Doctor? Could it have been River? Perhaps Amy (anyone notice the name of the author of the book?)? Or...a future version of Clara, herself? Whoever she was, she's sure to show herself again.
The pace of the episode is steady, if not slightly slow in the second act for perfectly worthy character development. This is director Colm McCarthy's first go at a Doctor Who episode and he does not disappoint. If anything, it might be nice to see more from him in the future. “The Bells of Saint John” leaves us all geared up for a spring of Doctor Who. Will the rest of the series hold up? Who knows.