Doctor Who's return features the third incarnation of Clara Oswald, the reappearance of an old villain, and a dose of internet-age paranoia.
|Jenna-Louise Coleman and Matt Smith in "The Bells of Saint John." Photo courtesy of telegraph.co.uk.|
There is one genuinely horrifying moment in "The Bells of Saint John," the first episode of this half-season of Doctor Who. At the end of the hour, Miss Kizlet (Celia Imrie), who is working for the Great Intelligence (who originally appeared way back in the era of the Second Doctor, and who returned as the villain behind the evil snowmen in this year's Christmas special) is abandoned by the Intelligence and told to erase knowledge of the Intelligence's existence from the minds of herself and her staff. In a wickedly clever, creepy image, Kizlet hits a "Restore Factory Settings" command on the iPad app she's been using to run the operation, leaving behind a room full of suddenly bewildered employees who have no idea how they got there. It's a funny stinger that turns tragic when the UNIT troops sent to assess the situation bust into her office, only to find the formerly powerful woman reduced to the intellectual level of a child who can't find her parents. The Intelligence has discarded her, just as it discarded Dr. Simeon (Richard E. Grant), whose face and voice it now uses to communicate (apparently the show couldn't afford to retain Ian McKellen), in "The Snowmen," and the moment is sad and disturbing in equal measure.
The rest of "The Bells of Saint John" stays away from this kind of harrowing emotion, which is probably best for those of us still recovering from the events of "The Angels Take Manhattan." It's a generally light-hearted episode that serves primarily to re-introduce the audience to Jenna-Louise Coleman's new companion, Clara Oswald, and to establish Clara's relationship with the Doctor. The episode's actual plot, which involves uploading people's souls into the WiFi as food (or possibly pets) for the Great Intelligence, takes a backseat to the Doctor/Clara dynamic; the threat never seems terribly credible, and mostly serves as a platform for lots of Facebook and Twitter jokes. Not that I have a problem with these jokes; the way Matt Smith contemptuously enunciates "Twitter" is, and always has been, marvelous, and the scene in which Kizlet's second-in-command, Mahler (Robert Whitlock) realizes that every employee of their super-secret operation has posted their work information on Facebook is a brilliant little piece of comedy.