The reintroduction of Clara in “The Snowmen” proves to be a more than adequate springboard for “The Bells of Saint John,” the midseason opener that is just a little confused about whether it wants to be a clever social commentary or a straightforward action/mystery.
Allow me to explain.
After an unsettling pre-credits sequence, “The Bells of Saint John” begins with Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) trying to access the internet in a family friends’ house. Not understanding how Wi-fi works is a good gimmick for about thirty seconds (thank goodness they didn’t try to make her lack of technical expertise a major part of Clara’s character), but luckily, the Doctor (Matt Smith) soon arrives, ready to save the day.
The villains are a bit stale and underdeveloped (and the mechanics of their plan are pretty hazy), but this story is really about bringing the Doctor and Clara together. And in that, it succeeds — Smith and Coleman have fabulously giddy chemistry together (teased in “The Snowmen”), and it’s clear from the get-go that Clara will be a welcome member of Team TARDIS. Just give her a backstory of her own that can be utilized as a story point later on, and we’re in business.
In typical Doctor Who fashion, we’re introduced to the problem, we get a taste of the rapport between lead characters, and the investigation gets underway. “The Bells of Saint John” does not break from tradition, but it tries something different, a tactic that will become overused later during the Jodie Whittaker era: social commentary, and attempting to make a point about an element of modern society while also providing the viewers with a good old fashioned Doctor Who stories. This episode tows the line between success and failure in that regard, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad episode — it just struggles with its presentation of social issues.
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Director: Colm McCarthy
Writer: Steven Moffat
Starring: Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman
Available: HBO Max
Available: HBO Max
Fun Fact: A fictional book, Summer Falls, appears in the episode, written by Amelia Williams (née Pond), former companion of the Doctor.
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