Doctor Who returns, smelling as fresh as a daisy
Finally, after waiting through Asylum of the Daleks and The Snowmen, Jenna-Louise Coleman has fully joined The Doctor on his travels. But does The Bells of Saint John live up to the hype? Short answer: yes. Yes it does.
The episodes opening sequence is highly reminiscent of the David Tennant era; a modern-day setting with a threat taking the form of something we all take for granted. However, the fact that this setting has been used far less frequently in Doctor Who of late makes it seem far more unique than it ever did before. Director Colm McCarthy pulls a visual blinder, making maximum of use of the London landmarks and filling the screen with fun visuals (made popular by Sherlock). It's a shame that he doesn't appear to making a return for the foreseeable future. Composer Murray Gold continues his habit of getting better every year, inventing some excellent new additions to the soundtrack. What's more, the visual and special effects used in the episode are truly outstanding; only in Doctor Who could I believe that someone is actually riding a motorcycle up the side of The Shard.
Speeding up the side of a building seems somehow appropriate for this story; the pacing is like a freight train. Not a single moment is wasted and not a line of dialogue could be cut without feeling a sheer weight of guilt. Dialogue is another strong point of the story, whether it be Miss Kizlet's (Celia Imrie) aloof torments ("No one loves cattle more than Burger King" is now a personal favourite), flirty banter or Clara's caring attitude towards the children in her care. Of course, dialogue is only as good as the actors who deliver it, but there's no need to worry on that front. Jenna-Louise Coleman continues to amaze me on how she keeps her role so realistic in a world so fantastical, and Matt Smith maintains his balance of childish wonder and instrument-of-justice brooding as well as he always does.
The plot itself is solid enough, although not as deep as writer Steven Moffat is capable of (and borrows rather heavily from the 2006 episode The Idiots Lantern). It revolves around a sinister organisation, lead by the deliciously evil Miss Kizlet, using Wi-Fi to harvest human minds and feed them to her 'client'. "But who is this 'client'?", I hear you ask. Anyone who's been following Doctor Who with even a medium of interest could probably guess it, but it's still enough to splash a smile across the seasoned Whovian's face. What's more, the reveal of the Spoonhead's (stop laughing) is genuinely quite creepy, although I do have one gripe: the actual robot wasn't shown enough. The great piece of practical design that was there barely get any screentime, and instead we were stuck with people and their spinning heads, which I found a little difficult to take seriously.
This is only a slight niggle, however. Despite the fast pace, fun visuals and verging-on-whacky-in-places soundtrack, the story is genuinely creepy in places. As mentioned before, the opening sequence establishes a real sense of threat, and a recurring theme of people trapped in the Wi-Fi exclaiming that "I don't know where I am!" is almost overbearingly unsettling. The conclusion to the plot is also very clever, throwing an excellent curveball, but also showing off The Doctor's darker side, and the lengths to which he is willing to go to save the world.
The Bells of Saint John truly does feel like a fresh start for Doctor Who. Although the blockbuster-a-week format has been carried over from 2012, this certainly feels like one of the biggest. The new costume, new companion and new (ish) theme-tune all help to add to the feeling that this episode is ushering in a new era for the show, inevitable paving the way for the 50th Anniversary this November.
So, in conclusion, The Bells of Saint John is a fast, fun, and truly welcome edition to Doctor Who. It marks a fresh and interesting introduction for Jenna-Louise Coleman, and makes Whovians all over excited for the approaching anniversary. So welcome back, Doctor Who, we're looking forward to your stay.